solarbird: (tracer)
If you wanted to follow on overcoming the fear of spiders in chronological order - it is kind of futile, and not how I intended it to be read. But here is a chronological ordering of the story, by chapter and part number, as I was asked a couple of times now for that. I probably won't update this post, but it is correct as of today. (Okay, I updated it, it's now correct for the entire story.)

All chapters have final numbers and are posted. I am including only chapters already written. I am redacting titles of chapters not yet published. Chapters numbered ???## have probable numbers but they aren't final. Chapters ??? can't have usable numbers yet, as they will appear after others not yet written.

I consider the second movement, "Restored," to be two related mini-movements, but there is only one name, so they are combined here.

Some people would consider this spoilery (if nothing else, because of movement titles), so enjoy a cut tag.

It's 2068, and Overwatch test pilot Lena Oxton has just been given the go code, ten thousand metres above Greece. )
solarbird: (tracer)

"Ah'm not sure that was the best idea," the cowboy said, from Arizona, in North America, "just lettin' her waltz out like that."

The hacker nodded, from an unknown location, probably further south, but not necessarily. "I know. Amélie has been acting very strange lately. All emotional. When she first started this project, I caught hints of it and thought, 'that'll be useful someday,' but now, it's just splashing around everywhere."

"Hasn't affected her aim any, has it?"

Sombra snickered, and popped some obscenely hot bit of candy into her mouth. "Made it better, maybe. She's always been obsessive about targeting, but since Oxton showed up, it's even worse. She hits targets I can't even see."

"Means she's nervous. Did the same thing in '71."

"We were all very nervous in '71," the hacker shuddered. 2071 had not been a good year for anyone interested in not having another Omnic War.

"Yeah, but she's the only one whose aim improved." He leaned back in his chair and flipped pistols around, nervously practicing spin tricks, before turning back to the conversation. "We're dancin' 'round the point - what're we gonna do if Tracer spills the beans?"

"Oh, is that what you meant?" said the hacker, looking back at the screen. "I thought you were worried about the spider."

"I'm worried about the organisation. You keepin' an eye on Oxton?"

Sombra laughed and slid a display over. "You see this? This is a livestream of MI5's tracking feed. I'm not watching her so much as I'm watching them watch her."

The cowboy smiled and chucked. "Well, then. At least we'll know."

"I'm not worried about Lena giving us up - I don't know if she knows it, but she's tooootally in love with Amélie. It's a little scary."

"I'll take yer word on the love part, but you sure 'bout that not talkin' part? 'Cause I sure as hell ain't."

Sombra smirked, knowingly. "I've kept you in the loop, but you weren't there, and I was. Trust me, she won't talk."

"And if they make 'er?"

"Even if they put her under a deep probe, all she knows is a little house and a couple of labs, and they're scrubbed now anyway. It looks like a tourist rental. I made a nice little lease history and everything."

"If you say so," he said, dubiously.

"I even made a rental listing," she told the sharpshooter. "I can show you. It's in all the archives since last year, as of, oh, a week ago."

He waved one hand dismissively. "Yer good, ah hear ya."

"Me," she said, sending the links anyway, "I'm not so worried about what happens to our little teleporting pilot. What I am worried about is what happens to Amélie if they decide to take her lover apart."

"Gérard all over again, you mean? It's that bad?" he said, pronouncing it almost correctly, but still a bit like 'Gerald.' "That was hard on 'er, I gotta admit."

"Worse."

"Hard t'get worse than that," said the cowboy.

"Worse," emphasised the hacker, darkly. "I think they'd be lucky if they still had a government the next day."

solarbird: (Default)

"There's always a degree of uncertainty with low-resolution scans like these, of course, but it appears to interface throughout her motor cortex, not just on surface, and to be tied into reflex reaction points here," he illustrated, "here, here, and here."

"And its function?" asked the woman at the head of the conference table.

"I'm quite afraid we're not sure." the neural interface specialist replied. "It's heavily shielded. I'm not even as confident as I'd like about what I'm showing you, but it's the best we have - you're looking at composite of data from Heathrow, an assortment of scanners hidden inside CCTV, outer-ring military security, and so on. The consulate data, sadly, was unusable."

The head of the table prompted, "But it's not any type of web."

"Oh!" said the specialist. "Definitely not. We wouldn't have even these shots were it a web. Her brain would look like a big, smooth egg."

Brigadier Shukla turned to her attache. "Have we ever encountered a Talon agent without a web?"

The second lieutenant brought up the small list of scanned Talon agents. "Not that we know of, ma'am. Certainly not in the years they've been known active - no exceptions in that record."

The operations agent at the table jumped in. "They could be anticipating our analysis. Can't we bring her in, do a deep probe?"

"Sadly, no," said the specialist, shifting the primary display. "This may not be a web, but it goes quite deep, and either this is defocused, or it's surprisingly diffuse. Anything strong enough to get past the shielding wouldn't be safe for the subject."

"Damn," spat the Brigadier.

"But," he continued, "I really don't think it's Talon. They know what we have, they wouldn't let a full agent out like this. Of that much, I'm confident."

"We can't rule out her being some kind of delayed-target human bomb. of course."

"No. But explosives say the payload would be poor - there's just not enough mass, even with exotic deliverables. We think it's unlikely."

"All right, let's leave out Talon for now. Omnium?"

The Omnic specialist in the room just laughed, and then sobered immediately. "Sorry, ma'am. No, ma'am. It's not Omnic. I'd bet my life on it."

"You might well do," the Brig replied, sternly.

The specialist nodded, but held her ground. "I would walk up to this carrying known vulnerabilities and not worry. It's not Omnic."

"If I might jump in, get it out of the way," said the corporate entities analyst, "It's not Vishkar either. They don't need hardware."

"Thank you, specialist," nodded the Brig. "So. Foreign powers aside, who's that leave?"

"...aliens?" said the young, short-brown-haired agent near the end of the table, one of the Americans. "Or not aliens, strictly, but beings from other worlds, possibly multidimensionally accessed worlds," he continued, excitedly. "It's been theorised for years, and the Winston files make it clear he considered dimensional travel a distinct possibility - it's how he found the time distortion that..."

"Thank you, agent," said the Brigadier, firmly.

"It's either that or somehow Winston did it himself, from the moon," he interjected.

"Or," said his eternally-exasperated partner, "it's a foreign government."

He turned to the other American. "Come on, why would a foreign government go to these lengths for..."

"Thank you, agents," the Brigadier repeated, more firmly. For once, the Americans took the hint.

She turned back to the presenter. "So, in the opinion of your department, she is most likely not a Talon agent."

The presenter nodded. "In our opinion, it's very unlikely. This just doesn't look like their work. If nothing else, it's too flashy." He changed screens. "See all these extensions around her torso, and down her legs? They glow. Talon wouldn't do that."

"There is one other possibility," said a data analyst, flipping through pages of data. "This new actor, Sombra. I'm not sure why, but it reminds me a little of her work."

"Go on," said the Brig.

"She'd have to have a lot of help - we mostly know about her software, and she doesn't do bioware. At least, not as far as we know, ma'am. But," they looked at the display with intense concentration, "something about it just reminds me of her code."

The intergroup specialist jumped in. "She's too new on the scene for that degree of cooperation with any of our known actors. It takes time to build up those sorts of connections. She hasn't had it."

"So," said the Brigadier, "we're most likely dealing with either a foreign power - which MI6 thinks unlikely - or, god help us," - given the source, she continued with great reluctance - "Winston. Somehow. From the moon."

"Or inter-dimensional beings," said the more annoying American, from the back.

"Thank you, agent - your suggestions have been noted."

-----

"So, Brigadier - what do we do with our little problem?" asked the Group Captain, back in the Brig's office.

"If she'd been in my Forces, I'd bring her in and disassemble her," said the older woman, quietly. "I don't care what the specialists think, I can't rule out the Omnium completely. We're one major incident away from another Omnic war, and I won't have it start on my watch."

"Yes, ma'am. But the air group won't have it. We all protect our own."

The Brig nodded, understanding. Loyalty made commands work. "So, option B. Watch her, let her roam. Don't get too close... just see what she does. It only took a week for the Widowmaker to activate, so." Speculating, she continued, "Or, perhaps she's a slow burn. Perhaps we have some time."

"That's our opinion as well, ma'am," said the G/C.

"I can't believe the consulate cleared her to fly into Heathrow. Who knows what she is now? If it's even her."

"Personal decision of the ambassador, I'm afraid," said the group captain. "Apparently, she has quite a winning personality. Hardly our fault."

"Small consolation had she taken five thousand people down with her."

"It won't happen again, ma'am. She's been listed."

"She keeps trying to come to us," the Brigadier mused.

"Indeed," the G/C replied. "You know, we could just let her."

"Let her waltz right in to some high-value target? I think not. No, keep her off, keep up surveillance, and run every piece of data we collect through deepest analysis. Let's see what we can wiggle out."

"So far, she's mostly just been trying to get undeclared dead through the military. Hardly high-value."

The Brig frowned. "No. Not even if she goes through civilian channels. No recognition, no help, nothing. Block her at every point." The Brig fiddled with her glasses, cleaning the lenses with a small, lintless cloth. "If she's alive, the Overwatch investigation is alive, and we simply can't have that fiasco re-opened."

An old photo of her flight crew awarding Lena Oxton the callsign "Tracer" spun slowly in the air.

"Assuming she's not carrying a payload, she'll need some sort of status eventually," the G/C insisted.

The older woman frowned. "Eventually. But not now. Not until we have some idea what she is - if she has to be disassembled, I don't want to do that to a legal Briton. Until we know more..." She shook her head, contemplating her options. "Official recognition is just too great a risk."

solarbird: (tracer)

"No blindfold?" asked Lena.

"Quoi?" asked the assassin, amused.

"Traditional, innit? Being escorted from the secret base, all that."

Amélie smiled evilly. "I still have last night's in my bedroom, if you want a souvenir."

Lena Oxton's cheeks flushed a little. "...no," she said, Yes, she thought. Wicked woman, she also thought, making this harder. She took a deep breath. "Right, then." She looked through her small bag, a worn satchel popular in South Africa some ten years before. Remnants of her flight suit, prepared to withstand forensic verification of her supposed journey. Her burnt Overwatch identity card, and a fake of her old passport. One change of clothes, old, but serviceable, from charity shops, similar to the one she wore now.

Memorised, access codes to a couple of different accounts, with enough money to tide her over for a month or two, until she could try to get herself undeclared dead. Memorised, the story about how she found herself in the Orange river, north of Waterfall Farm 497; how she swam to shore, made her way to Lutzberg, and "borrowed" two sets of clothes and a bag from a charity bin. From there, a plan to hitchhike her way to Johannesburg, courtesy of two friendly American tourists from the upper midwest, near where she will appear, tired, dusty, and hungry, not far from the British Consulate.

Two sets of clothes, a worn bag, no money - and identification. Not much. But even that, the maximum a dead person, returned to life, might be thought to have in hand.

"I wish you'd let us create a new identity for you," said the assassin. "Overwatch agents are, shall we say, still out of fashion."

"Not happening," said Tracer. "I didn't do anything wrong; I'm not gonna hide."

"Have you decided how will you explain your accelerator?"

The test pilot had no answer for that. "Not yet," she said, and it worried her. "But I'll think of something."

As headlong into this as everything else, thought the spider. "If they decide we did it, it will not go well for you. If they decide it is Omnic, things will go worse. If they decide Winston did it from the moon... no, it makes no sense, I cannot imagine how they would think that."

"Then I'm just gonna have to make sure they don't worry about it, aren't I?" Lena said. A terrible answer, and she knew it. "I'm a British subject, I've got rights. They can't just lock me away."

"Can't they?" asked Amélie. "I hope you are right." A Talon pilot popped her head through the door to the tarmac and gave the go sign, and Amélie nodded in return. "The aircraft is ready. But there is one more thing." She showed Lena a thin, palm-sized rounded metal box. It looked very much like a powder case.

"What is it, luv?" asked the pilot.

"It's a Faraday cage," - she touched a slight indentation on one side, and it opened, revealing a small device inside - "containing a retrieval beacon." She took out the beacon, with its two buttons, one on top, one on the side. "The transmitter will be good for a year. After that, it will become inert."

She pressed the side button, and a power cell popped out. "Standard KX type, you can buy them anywhere in Europe. Do not force it in backwards; that is how to destroy the transmitter. We will include the cell - but if something happens to it, now you know." She put it back into the device.

"The other button activates the transmitter. Hold it down for five seconds. The device will beep quietly twice, when it activates; it cannot be turned off, and it cannot be reused. Activate it outside, if possible, away from attention, if possible, with a clear view to the sky, if you can. But if you can't, it should still work, and if we hear it, we will still come."

"Airport security won't like me carrying that onboard," Tracer said, dubiously.

"Airport security won't ever see it. It will be waiting for you at the Palace Theatre in London, at coat check, when you land. They will hold it for two weeks. You can pick it up, or not. It's up to you." Doing this, she thought to herself, it's so much harder than I imagined.

Lena reached out for the device, taking it from Widowmaker's hand, examining it, popping the power cell out and back in. "A way back," she said, quietly.

The spider nodded, affirmingly. "Waiting for you, at coat check, at the Palace Theatre, if you want it. I hope you will."

I'd take it with me now if I could, thought Lena. I'd hold on to it and never let it go. Why am I so torn? "London. Palace Theatre. Coat check. When I land."

"When you land."

She gave the device back to the assassin, placing it in the other woman's open palm, closing the other woman's fingers around it. "Don't forget."

The beacon, though deactivated, felt electric in Amélie's hand. "I never do."

solarbird: (Default)

Lena Oxton leaned back on the outcropping atop the crest of the ridge of the old volcano on a cool and clear January day in the Aeolian archipelago north of Sicily. Through the aviator's glasses Tavi had brought her from the mainland, she could see Filicudi easily, to the east; beyond, the trio of Salina, Lipari, and, just visible if she squinted and told herself so, Vulcano, ever-active, roiling just before the dawn.

But her attention, mostly, focused higher. Airplanes crossed the skies around her, red-eyes from Nairobi, Numbani, Johannesburg, sometimes even overhead, mostly civilian, but occasionally, a military transport, and, very occasionally, what looked to the pilot's eyes to be training flights, probably out of the old joint forces base near Naples. "Pad your angle there, cadet," she'd say, quietly, remembering her instructor's calm voice on comms. "You're not that good yet."

But she was. And she knew it, which made it worse.

She came here more often, these days, to watch the skies and think. She was healed. She knew it. The doc had said so, yesterday morning, but Lena made up a bit of stiffness to try to delay full clearance. Why'd I do that?, the pilot thought to herself. I'm ready. I can go home. I had a life, five months ago. I could have it back.

Dark blues and reds yielded to bright blues and yellows as the stars slowly went out, overwhelmed by the new morning sun. Sure, she thought, gaze following a cargo plane making its lazy way south, Overwatch is shuttered, but I've still got my commission and my license. I can get 'em reactivated. I wasn't even around when things fell apart. They'd do me right, I know they would. She focused upwards into the bright blue morning.

I miss the sky.

She somersaulted forward, leapt up, and teleported three times, as high as she could, witnesses be damned, out over the steep slope to the sea. Then she fell more than glided, but pretended it was otherwise, until the ground came up too close, and she rewound time, back up to the top of the volcano, safe and sound.

Though I gotta admit... she thought, beaming, shivering in the rush of cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline, as her body reacted to what her lizard brain was pretty sure had to be imminent death, That's pretty great too.

A private jet flew by, closer than she'd like, pilot possibly attracted by the flashes of light. Fuck it, she thought, and waved briskly at the flyer, shouting, "Heya!" at the top of her lungs. In reaction, or not, it turned away. It's time people know I'm alive.

-----

"I need to go," the pilot told the assassin, abruptly, after their daily combat workout.

Amélie, facing her own locker, stopped, mid-motion, momentarily, then resumed dressing. "I had expected that." She put her right arm through her uniform's sleeve. The words felt leaden in her mouth as she continued, "I'd thought it would come sooner, but, still, here it is." Turning to look at the pilot, she said, almost sadly, "I agree."

Now, Lena's turn to be a little surprised, and almost a little hurt. "...you do?" as she pulled a blouse over her head, the fabric falling down over the dimly glowing blue stripes of her chronal accelerator-interlaced ribcage.

"I do. Dr. Mariani cleared you yesterday morning, I know. Sombra, I also know, would like to have another set of data off your accelerator, if you are willing, but this can be arranged quickly - just a couple of days."

Inexplicably disappointed, the pilot said crossly, "Why? Is this your 'strands of history' again?"

"Would you feel better, or worse, if I said no?"

"I'd say... really?"

The assassin shook her head, a slight nod. "I am not an oracle; I do not see all. This is an emotion, a feeling. Also, I do not think you are yet ready to join us."

Tracer pursed her lips, acknowledging the truth in it. "No. I'm not."

"I understand," said the spider. "I..." she took a long, deep breath. "I have never lied to you, and I will not begin now: I want you here. I want you on my side. But only with a whole heart, and," she waved a finger back and forth, like a metronome, "you have nothing like that at all."

"I'm a fighter pilot, luv. I need the sky."

"You are more than that now," said the spider, pointedly, "and you know it."

That disquieted the Flying Officer in some way she couldn't quite define, because she couldn't quite deny it, not completely. "I've got a few extra tricks, sure. But I'm still a pilot. Flying was always my dream, and defending the world from the air - that was my life. Your way..." she sighed, and ran a towel through her hair. "I've got to get my life back. I get your way now. I don't know I agree with it, but I get it. I just don't think it's mine."

Widowmaker slid her emotional range down, down, down, for now, but it still hurt more than she wanted. Nonetheless, she stabilised, as always. "The next ferry to Filicudi - and from there, to Sicily - departs tomorrow. If you want to be there, you can be. But I would not recommend this route; we have made arrangements, if you are willing to hear them."

"'Course you have," she smiled. "And 'course I would."

"Sombra, as I said, would like to come for a final cycle of readings from your accelerator. It will take two days for her to arrive; that will give us time to finalise our slightly more plausible route for your return, which is not by chance a return point further away. I like this facility, and would hate to lose it."

"You've thought this all out already, haven't you?"

The spider nodded, with the hint of a smile. "Of course. It is what I do; it is second - no, first, nature. The pieces are already placed."

"Huh." Tracer walked over to the eastern window, looking down the steep slope towards the sea. "You know... I'm gonna miss this island." She raised her hands, fingers against the glass. No, she thought, that's not enough. Not honest enough. "I'm gonna miss you."

Stepping up behind the smaller woman, Amélie asked, softly, "Will you then do me the honour of a going-away dinner, Ms. Oxton? Not here; there is a particularly discreet café I quite like on Salina, in Rinella. I think you'd like it, too."

Tracer looked back over her shoulder, with her famous half-grin, and said, "You askin' me on a date, luv?"

"Would you feel better, or worse, if I said yes?" asked the blue woman.

"Better," answered the pilot. "Definitely, much better."

solarbird: (tracer)

[All dialogue in «chevron quotes» is translated from the Italian.]

Tracer ran in the thick December mist, basking in 15-degree weather that to a native Londoner felt almost springlike. She teleported ahead every 10 or 15 seconds or so, through pockets of light rain, well out of sight of the few farmers, fishers, and tourists of the island's south. Ahead of her, and to her right, more hills, some sharp; to her left, a long, steep slope, dropping to the distant sound of waves, the open Mediterranean far below.

The locals thought she was a bit daft, running around all the time in winter weather, but, knowing she was English, also kind of expected that. She did her best to encourage them. Her Italian had improved over the last couple of months, as she would run along the southern roads, amidst the farms, solo un altro turista. But, of course, she wasn't a tourist - not even a medical tourist, in the classic sense. No one goes to Alicudi for medical treatment. Few people not from the island go there at all.

Unless they are with Talon.

With one teleport too many, she overshot the edge of a cliff, and found herself falling, far, and fast. Unperturbed, she rewound her personal timeline, back before the last two jinks, and continued happily on her way. That time, it had been intentional.

Faaan-tastic, she thought, as she dashed across the low, wet scrub like foxfire gone mad, adrenaline and endorphins competing to see which could give her the bigger high; I could run like this forever. Her stomach growled, demanding fuel, but she kept up her accelerated pace until she felt it, all at once, all over, blood sugar collapsing, hitting the wall. She popped maltose-sweetened chocolate into her mouth, with water; the wave of glucose felt like a taste of godhood as she dove for the end of her route, an isolated house which served as entrance to the small Talon research and medical station that had been her home since the previous August.

She touched the front door, dove inside and almost collapsed, but not before checking her watch. Ha, she thought, panting heavily. Just in time. She'd broken her own marathon record, shattering the 90-minute mark - 89 minutes, 20 seconds, on hills, in the rain. Grabbing the towel she'd laid out before leaving, she hit her water bottle again, and threw more of the chocolates into her mouth.

Tavi - Taviano Bonsignore, Dr. Mariani's nurse assistant - waved from down the hallway and grinned at the runner. «Another two minute mile?» he called.

«Better!» she shouted, heading for the shower, stretching as she walked. «Under-90-minute marathon!»

The medic gave her a thumbs-up, spinning 'round as she walked by. "Stupefacente!"

"If I can't fly yet, at least I can run!" and she ducked around the door, into other, warmer water.

Widowmaker's ship landed, and departed, as Tracer dried off. The assassin got to work disassembling and cleaning her rifle, though in this case, it was more ritual than necessity. This had been a simple and straightforward kill, clockwork in execution, marked only by the pleasure of a job well done.

She was still basking in that familiar glow when Lena walked in, hair wet, mouth half-full of Italian ham and French bread. "I see we are both cleaning up after successful missions," said Amélie. "89 minutes, in the rain? Magnifique!"

Tracer bowed, and swallowed the rest of her second round of lunch. She'd been debriefed the previous night - the spider's target today had been for money, not history. But he was also, as she'd been forced to concede, 'a real piece of work - one right bastard.' And while she still wasn't comfortable with it, and didn't think she ever would be, she wouldn't shed any tears. "Another world record falls to T-Racer! If only it counted."

She hit her water bottle again, this time just sipping. "And you," she continued, nodding towards the scarcely-dirtied barrel. "One shot?"

Amélie smiled more genuinely, and more freely, than Lena had ever seen, as something buried deep inside the assassin leapt high in the air and cheered at those words. Eyes so bright they blinded like sun on the snow in winter, she answered, warmly: "One kill."

solarbird: (Default)

"So you're... terrorists, then?" Tracer stared at Widowmaker, mystified.

"That's what they call us," Amélie responded, lightly. "We see it differently, of course."

Tracer looked over the news reports, the government statements, the public record. "You've certainly been busy," she said, nervously. "25 assassinations in the last year! That's quite the murder spree."

Amélie's face betrayed her amusement. "Is that the current count? How foolish. No, we prune the tree, not create topiary." More earnestly, she added, "But we are very convenient people to blame."

The padd fell through Tracer's hands, as she momentarily lost anchor to normal time, the blue flash reflecting off the screen. She gasped, and tried uselessly to anchor herself, physically grabbing the bedsheets - Here. I'm here. I'm really still here. Good. Now more afraid, she asked, "Why'd you show me this?"

Amélie looked thoughtful, and checked the synchronisation panel monitoring Tracer's accelerator. Not so big an event as it seemed; fear made the young pilot drop the tablet, not displacement. But the field coil had degraded again - just a little, but it was there. I'm glad we're upgrading her soon, she thought. "It is important that you are fully informed."

"Informed that the people who pulled me back from oblivion are terrorists. And you're implanting... what are you really doing to me tomorrow?" she demanded.

Amélie smiled that cool, pleased smile she used whenever she felt something significant had been accomplished. "Et, voilà."

"Voila what?"

"A question best addressed now, rather than tomorrow, or the next day."

"...right..."

"We will do exactly what we have said, no less; no more. We will implant in you a next generation chronal accelerator, of our own design, and its necessary neural interface. It will do only what we have discussed. With practice, you will have absolute control over it. And that is all."

"And not some kind of bomb. Or some kind of mind control device. How could I even know?" Red outlines flashed around the world.

Amélie's face flashed with disgust, and she waved dismissively at the articles on the padd. "This contemptible trash has frightened you. I understand why. But we do not use suicide bombers; we do not use unwitting or unwilling agents; both are barbaric. We do not conceive to create terror at all; if our assassinations went undetected, our methods would be more effective, not less."

"But..."

"But what would you have thought, had we let you discover these reports on your own, but only afterwards, too late?"

"I'd've known you lied to me."

"Exactement. And now, you know we have not."

"But it wouldn't matter," she protested. "You'd have me by then. I'd be one of your brainwashed agents. Or a bomb."

"Were that our goal, would we even want your permission? Would we even ask?"

Tracer tried to find a reason, and couldn't. "...I don't know."

"Indeed - we would already have done it. If not that, if it is all some other kind of trick, does showing you all this propaganda against us beforehand make such a deception more likely? Or, is it, perhaps, less?"

While Tracer thought about that, Widowmaker picked up the padd and scrolled through documents, working backwards in time, to the beginning: the Overwatch reports regarding the death of Gérard Lacroix. She pulled them up together on the screen, in columns.

"Here is what they say about me," she said, handing the padd back. "You'll note the Blackwatch and Overwatch reports are vastly different. Neither, I'm afraid, are particularly accurate, except in the one key point."

As Tracer read, Amélie continued. "Since I was very young, I have been able to feel the strands of the past, of the present, and probabilities forward... I do not pretend to see the future itself, but I see the many connected strands of where and how it can be directed, and where, without direction, it is all but certain to go."

"I read once," Tracer said distractedly, still reading, "that spiders think with their webs."

The assassin laughed, lightly, genuinely pleased. "I am delighted! You are the first to see that part of it. Splendid!" She shifted forward in her chair. "And by nudging the flow of history, we are attempting to avert a cycle of Human-Omnic wars which I am convinced will destroy most or all life on this earth. But it is for this, and for our methods, that they call us terrorists. We do not care, because we believe in our cause - and I think, methods aside, that you do as well, no? Otherwise I do not think you could've joined Overwatch and remained untainted."

"I think I met Gérard, when I met you," said Tracer. "At the Overwatch Christmas party, last... six years ago, wannit? This says you murdered him."

"Gérard," sighed Amélie, taking the padd, looking at the seven year old Overwatch photo. "My beloved, my husband. I miss you so." She handed the device back to Tracer. "I loved him dearly - he was everything to me. He was also my second in command, and my most trusted confidante - even the name Talon was his idea."

"But he was in charge of anti-Talon operations at Overwatch!"

"Delightful, is it not? It was a game for us - we fake an operation, Overwatch thwarts it, accolades are handed out all around, the budget goes up, Talon takes a share, the real plan goes by, unnoticed."

"Nice one," she said, sarcastically. "So... who really killed him?" asked Tracer.

Amélie raised an eyebrow. "I did. That is the one and only correct detail in those reports. And to be absolutely clear: it was not an accident, and if everything were the same, I would pull that trigger again."

"That's..." A series of blue and red shifts shook the pilot. "...why?"

"Because it was necessary," said the assassin, resolute.

"And why save me?" Tracer questioned, insistently.

Amélie faced the young, frightened pilot, but her real gaze aimed deeply inwards, sorting history and time and probabilities and odds and the strange, random pieces of knowledge she'd been sorting through for all of her life. "I do not expect you to understand this, or even believe it, but there is a broken strand in the web of the world - I can feel it. It has been broken for five years, and it cannot be healed by any number of exquisite deaths."

Widowmaker's focus turned back outward, her gaze firm and voice strong. "You are needed, Lena Oxton. I do not yet know how, and I do not yet know why, but your life, like Gérard's death, is necessary, and so... if I must, I will move the world to save you."

solarbird: (tracer)

[This does not happen. It is not part of the fear of spiders continuity, even if Venom is straight out of there. It takes place out of time (and out of the timeline), and would roughly be Venom of 2077, and Tracer of 2076.]

"I am not your evil twin!" said Venom, popping onto the tall-chaired table outside the chippie.

"Yes, you are!" said Tracer, popping down next to her. "You're an assassin. With Talon. Evil! Also, you're in love with her." She snagged one of Venom's chips, just as her own arrived. "The most dangerous assassin our world's ever known."

"Yes!" Venom beamed, stealing a chip back. "A sexy, sexy assassin, and she's all mine, and I'm telling you - you're missing out." She popped the chip into her mouth, and, through potato, said, "Seriously, you have no idea."

Tracer laughed. "You can't even imagine how much Emily and I are in love. It's impossible! You're just too evil."

"Fffft," said Venom. "Emily's cute, I won't lie. But come on, luv, Amélie is perfection."

"If perfection means an aggressively overstyled shitehawk who loves killing people, maybe."

"Maybe," winked Venom, "you don't know anything about her. But if you're really as in love with this Emily frump as you think you are, I guess I don't feel sorry for ya after all. She probably deserves you. Tomato sauce for your haddock?"

"Tomato sauce? On fish? You daft?"

"You're so wrong about Amélie, it seemed likely."

Tracer laughed. "Oh, did I go too far? I'm sor - no, wait, no, I don't apologise to people like you, you're an assassin, and you like it."

Venom, in violet, snorted. "C'mon, you were military too, weren't ya?"

"Sure! Just like you," said the tangerine-clad Tracer.

"Everything exactly the same, right up to the Slipstream explosion."

"Mine didn't explode! I just disappeared. Then it crashed, but I wasn't in it."

"Yeah, but in my case, a bunch of plane parts disappeared, and the rest exploded. But that doesn't matter - up 'till then, everything's the same, right? We were both out to save the world, and if that means killing people, we do it, right?"

"Yeah, but not for fun. It was war, not what you do."

Venom pointed a chip at Tracer's face. "I bet my body count's lower than yours."

"What?!" exclaimed Tracer, splashing pepper on her breaded fish. "Not likely! I've barely ever killed any..." And she stopped, mid-sentence.

Venom nodded. "...anyone real." Gotcha. "Anyone human, or acting human. That's it, isn't it. Haven't you ever thought about all those other Omnic lives?"

Tracer stood her ground. "I have! But that was different. Null Sector at King's Row, every other Omnic incursion, it was open combat. We defended ourselves, and we saved lives doing it."

"Sure, I get that." Venom continued, munching on a piece of her fish. "Truth is, I even agree. But right or wrong - and I'm not saying it's wrong - how many Omnic lives did you end that day on King's Row? More than we would've, I bet. With a clean kill, we shift the future with one death. It takes you, what, five? Ten? A dozen? Two dozen?"

"My kill tally was 442," Tracer beamed, proud in spite of herself.

Venom laughed. "Funny woman. No, seriously, mate, how many?"

"Y'think I can't count?" Tracer protested, amusedly. "Four. Hundred. Forty. Two. I got a medal!"

Venom blinked, then blanched, as she realised her doppelgänger was absolutely serious, and stared confusedly at the woman who had called her an "evil twin." She put down her fish, and straightened in her chair. Bleedin' hell, she thought, as the weight of that body count struck her. So many dead. In one day. "That's, that's not killing. That's... mass slaughter."

Tracer nodded, munching another bit of fish. "It was a rout, you mean. They were throwing themselves at us the whole time. I almost died anyway - Mercy had to bring me back, once. And we saved a lot of old London."

"Yes, but..." Venom said earnestly, "Widowmaker and me..." She leaned forward again. "You don't understand. We've killed well less than half that many people our entire careers. Omnic and human, combined."

Tracer stared at her opposite. So... few?

"We'd have taken out the command corps. The rest would've been a mop-up. Most likely, the lot of 'em would've surrendered - or just left." Venom pushed aside her chips, frowning. "How many days like that you had, Tracer?"

The Overwatch agent lowered her head, but kept her eyes up, disturbed by her counterpart's reaction. "...several?"

Venom exhaled deeply, as her thoughts raced. I've stopped at a chippie with Pol Pot, she thought. "I'm... I don't even know, mate. We shape history with assassination, not snuggles, but your..." she waved her hands around, not knowing how else to say it, "exterminations... You're proud of them. You slaughter people en masse. It's..." she swallowed, hard. "Grotesque."

Tracer, firmly. "It. was. war."

"I know. And it ain't my world, maybe I can't judge. If you're Tracer, the Manic Pixie Murder Machine, that's what you are." Venom slipped off her barstool, looking grim. "But if you really think what I do is worse than that, I..."

Tracer glared at her opposite, defensive and a little angry. "What're you sayin', mate?"

Venom snapped, "What I'm sayin', mate, is that I'm pretty sure I'm not the evil reflection of you - I'm pretty sure you're the evil reflection of me." And she teleported away.

"Fine!" shouted Tracer, to the air. "Just for that, I'm eatin' your chips!" She rolled her eyes and shook her head. Assassins, she thought. Always so bloody pretentious.

solarbird: (tracer)

"I've made him," said Venom, subvocally, over coms. Her goggles shifted in place, forming lenses, zooming in. "Right on time. He's got his best three bodyguards with him, too - guess he wanted the A team along for the ride."

"Acknowledged," replied Widowmaker, coolly - all business, inside, and out. A small part of her could still scarcely believe this was happening, but she kept it in check - pleasure before pleasure, no? "I am in position."

The three bodyguards scouted the empty restaurant storefront as a stocky man in his late 40s sat behind very strong and very darkly tinted glass. C'mon, you bastards, thought the former pilot, everything is just fine, everything is just like you expect. Take the bait.

They'd arranged a small trade, of course. A trade of extremely important data about Omnics captured from a murdered engineering delegation, in exchange for an attractively low, but still quite substantial, amount of money. Intelligent machines for cash, slaves for Renminbi on the barrelhead, who is going to be the wiser?

A job for the police, Oxton had said. We can give them what we know, a trial would be better for relations anyway. And then Amélie showed her the list of the dead from a previous investigation, and Lena knew it wouldn't.

A blink, and she's half a block away, on another rooftop. C'mon already, give your boss the all-clear and open the bloody door.

One of the guards looked up at where she'd been, seeing nothing, and looked again, and saw a subtly different nothing. Just in time, she thought, but she was wrong.

The bodyguard turned towards the car, quickly. Widowmaker's voice, on the coms: "Merde! Now he's made you. Plan B."

Bugger!, thought Venom, False start. Don't let's cock this up twice!, and she dove in, using all of her teleport charge, taking three tenths of a second to close the distance. Stinger bomb under the car, right on target. "Gotcha!" she shouted, as Widowmaker's first shot took out the first guard, and she simultaneously emptied both clips of her pistols into the second. The third - Pilar, the best of them - had her semiautomatic at the side of Venom's head, the trigger half-pulled, when the younger assassin jinked backwards in time, just far enough to reload and shoot the third down exactly as she'd shot the second.

Her stinger exploded as the car started to move, throwing the vehicle into the air, compressing it, the windows shattering outwards. "One shot..." called Venom, as she flew backwards on her grappling hook. Magnified through her vizor, she saw the shocked look on the target's face obliterated, as Widowmaker laughed delightedly in the coms, "...one kill."

"Nice one," Venom said over coms, as she reset vision.

"Get back here. This got noisy, and we need to leave - quickly."

"Already here, love." Venom leaned forward from behind the senior assassin, and gently kissed the back of Widowmaker's neck.

Amélie gasped - no one surprised the spider. No one.

Except her.

[some months earlier]

"Is this some kind of would-I-kill-baby-Hitler question?"

Amélie laughed, lightly, putting down her glass of dessert wine. "Don't talk nonsense, of course not. A bébé is a bébé, innocent, and easily redirected." She picked the glass back up, and with a cool smile, said, "Although perhaps you might choose to kill its parents. Perhaps they are assholes."

Lena stabbed her fork into a second slice of bananoffe, cut a portion with a knife, and stuffed it into her mouth. It takes a lot of calories to fuel her biology now, thought the spider. "And if they aren't?" Lena asked through crumbs, voice muffled.

The blue woman shrugged, perhaps a little disappointed the ever-so-earnest Lena didn't seem to see the humour. "It doesn't matter. To elaborate, following along the lines of your question - I am not asking, 'would you kill baby Hitler;' I'm asking, perhaps, would you kill Reich Chancellor Hitler, in, say, February of 1933.'"

"Not good with dates, luv," she said, with just a trace of irony. Ah, there is hope for you yet, thought Amélie.

"I should have known, it is fitting. So," she took another sip of her Chateau d'Yquem white, "in 1933, his goals were stated, and he was just appointed the position he needed to follow them through." She gestured aimlessly with her glass. "Oh, there were arguments about what he 'really' meant, perhaps - he was an extraordinary liar. And there were those who insisted he would moderate with power. He, himself, swore his restraint. But - to a clear mind, one that can see the strands of history - everything was laid plain."

Another sip. Lena toyed with her slice of pie, cutting it into smaller pieces, thinking, and took another bite.

"A single death," said Amélie, "could've changed everything..."

Lena looked up, asked, "Had he actually killed anyone yet?" and looked back down, seemingly deeper in thought.

"Does that matter? I don't think so. But fair enough, let us say that it does. March, then, of 1933. The first concentration camp opens, in Oranienburg. All perfectly legal, all perfectly murderous, the first rendering of the first blueprint of the great slaughter to come."

Lena poked at the remaining pieces of her pie, smaller and smaller.

The assassin leaned forward. "Now it is April. The Enabling Act has passed, a bill gracing the Reich Chancellor with unlimited power - but there are still other political parties, to resist. Do you take the shot?"

Bananas. Cream. Toffee. Crust. Divided. Tracer, quiet, focused on the mess before her.

Windowmaker leaned in, still further, speaking quietly. "May, the tenth. Jewish-owned shops are boycott. The first book burnings, targeting 'degenerate' works, science. Perhaps not yet, at Oranienburg, the first death, but they will come. All legal, at least, to some degree."

"And at the heart of it all, one man. There are many others with him, but he is the genius, the crux - the one who truly matters."

With one finger, she appropriated a dollop of cream from Lena's dessert plate, lifting it from the plate. "The one whose death could change everything."

The younger woman looked up, earnestly, into the assassin's eyes. "If I know... if I really know..."

Venom took Widowmaker's hand with her own, and, with an unfocused half-grin, licked the cream off the other woman's finger.

"Everyone seems to forget..." she said, distantly, savouring the sweetness, "...I'm ex-military." She smiled broadly, eyes suddenly bright. Gotcha. "Fighter planes don't shoot kisses, luv," she laughed. "Of course I take the shot."

The assassin's refined pose collapsed completely, and a single, quiet, ha! escaped her lips. "Oh, you horrible woman! I thought we were having a meaningful conversation."

"Gotcha."

"Yes," said the spider, smiling, and feeling it, almost - but not quite - giggling as she leaned back into her chair. "You did. You have me."

Completely, she thought, sipping from her glass.

Damn you. You have me.

Completely.

solarbird: (tracer)

Venom floated over the city, over New London at night, gliding, flying down between buildings, stunting, showing off, like a small fighter jet. Oh, she thought, I'm flying again! I love these dreams.

She looped around the tallest tower, twice, buzzing windows, light glancing off every shiny surface of every new building. Out of the corner of her left eye, she saw Elizabeth Tower, and automatically veered towards it, towards home, laughing.

Drifting lower, following streets, she buzzed passers-by seemingly oblivious to her presence, and giggled. "C'mon, slowpokes, let's get moving already!"

A steady stream of Londoners seemed to be migrating to one particular square, and she flew ahead, with them, but above, a silent, invisible airplane, touching nothing, being touched by nothing except what she saw and smelled.

A rally. Mondatta! He's brilliant! Oh, I wish this were real. She'd first heard of him from the Zero Sector uprising, a few... years ago? weeks ago? months from now? Suddenly, she wasn't sure, and she pulled up atop a building, next to a particularly unobservant security post. The man pipped his radio, and turned away, just in time to be brought down - hard - by Widowmaker.

Her surprised "Oh! Hey, love, what're you..." went unheard, as the assassin ran on by, as if she did not exist.

I've seen this before, she thought. I've... seen this...

One of the flashes, when her Slipstream exploded. It came back to her, now, within her dream. A set of images, blurred together, unfolding now. But those are rubbish, really, she thought. Shock, panic, oxygen deprivation, that's all. Just noise.

She reached down, and touched the rooftop. But this feels so real. It smells so real. They're never so...

Another guard went down, another building over - quickly, all but silently. She smiled, thinking of her lover's perfect violence, and tried to zoom in with her vizor to watch - but it didn't respond. I... don't have it? She looked down, noticing for the first time the large harness over her torso, in that way you never notice things in dreams, until they're important. What is this? What am I wearing? She looked at her bright mandarin-coloured leggings. It's got my callsign on it... this must be part of the airplane?

That's when she heard the sound of her own pistols, and, almost immediately thereafter, the sound of Widowmaker's rifle. Am I here too? I can't be in my own dream, can I?

Glass breaking, the sound of her own voice, and more gunfire. She teleported a few buildings over, to where security guards were scrambling, and saw her Amélie taking them down one, two, three, four, and she cheered. Oh, nice one - go, love!

She saw her other dream self - her dreamelgänger? - leaping up over the next rooftop, catching up and firing towards her partner. She, too, teleported to keep up. Careful, dream me, she thought, she's fine, the guards are down, if you aren't careful you're going to hit...

And then Tracer triggered Widowmaker's mine, and then Amélie was standing over her prone body, not to help, but with a rifle to her doppelgänger's head. And then a flash, and an explosion, and Tracer is falling, Amélie is aiming, Mondatta is dead at Widowmaker's hand, and there is so much screaming.

"No, no, no, no, no, no - NO!" Venom screamed, in her dream.

"Oh, no, no, no no no no - WHY?!" screamed her other self, in her waking world.

"Why would you do this?!" screamed her other self, in grief and rage at the woman she loved.

"This can't happen! C'mon c'mon c'mon wake UP!" Venom screamed to herself, in her dream.

And then there is fire. Fire, and a flight suit, and she is still in the Slipstream just as it flies apart around her, and there are stars and sunlight and flame and her suit is melting and so much pain and flashes and flashes and too many flashes and no air, and she is falling into darkness...

...and then impossibly she is on the ground, and there is shouting, not screaming, and air, not starlight, and she sees her, her beloved blue spider, again, for the first time, holding her so tightly, and she tries to talk, but can't, quite, there is too much, and there is a doctor and questions and pain, but less, and she is Lena Oxton, but more, and there is a sedative, and the nightmare fades into a deep, drugged sleep, and as consciousness slips away, she fights to hold on to the one thing, the one most important thing

this

can't

happen

And then there is darkness.

solarbird: (Default)
Lena watched the hacker's fingers fly across the console next to her bed. Cables ran to the device strapped around her torso, and the world around her occasionally rezzed out, blue and red in surges. She wasn't growing used to it.

"So," she asked, "What's your name, anyway? I still don't know."

A particularly strong bit of blueshift, and she let out an involuntary gasp of fear.

"That... wasn't funny."

The hacker replied, "I'm not trying to be funny, don't bother me while I'm doing math in my head. Bad things could happen, you know?" as her eyes darted between six screens.

Finally, the world settled back down; ░░░░░░ scowled at the monitors, and disconnected the hard links to Tracer's chronal accelerator. "I don't like to say it, but I'm sure now. We're going to have to build another."

Lena laughed nervously, looking at the device holding her in sync with time. It never had looked entirely finished. "You mean, this one's really not quite right, then?"

The hacker looked down at the floor, to the left, to a scorch mark left from another calibration attempt - one Oxton didn't remember, and one ░░░░░░ was in no mood to tell her about. "This one, you see..." She looked back to the pilot. "You were never supposed to have it. Nobody really was. It was a test device. You were supposed to have the one Winston built, he built it for you. I built this to learn how Winston's worked, and, hey, I'm glad we had it when we needed it, but... it's not my best work."

Tracer shifted in place. "You mean it's unstable."

░░░░░░ winced a little. "Unstable is a very unpleasant way of saying it. It's not getting any worse!" At least, not quickly, she added, to herself. "It just will not get any better, and I can't fix it. I'll have to build a new one. It'll be better, I swear - but you will have to trust us maybe a liiiittle bit more."

"Then let's get started already. Build it and slap it on me, what's the holdup?" the pilot nervously joked.

"It'll have to be part of your body."

"...oh." She blinked, and thought about what that meant. "So there's really no... putting the old me back together, then."

"No. But if it means anything, I think Winston knew that, too. His acelerator was supposed to be implanted. I've learned a lot in the last couple of weeks, and now that I really understand it, it's kind of obvious. You would've had a glowing ring in your chest, like that superhero of the old movies" - she gestured at her chest, making a circle - "What was he called?"

"Dunno - never cared much for superheroes, honestly. Not unless they had airplanes. Or spaceships."

"Eh, it doesn't matter. I'm all over it. I already have a design worked out, it'll be verrrry elegant. A lot more controllable." And all but unhackable, she thought to herself. Amélie insisted. The "on pain of death" part went unstated, but understood.

Tracer huffed. "Already worked it all out amongst yourselves, then. Could've told me."

"I think I just did."

"I think if you're going to be building something that's gonna be part of my body, I have a right to know who you are."

░░░░░░ gave the pilot a long, hard look, and thought about it for a moment. Always the truth, she said. Fine. "My name doesn't matter, because after I'm done here, this girl be disappearing forever anyway."

"What?" said Tracer, blinking. "Why?"

"Because, you see, I've been noticed, by the wrong people. In my line of work... that's always, always a fatal error."

Shocked, Lena could only get out, "...I'm so sorry."

"What? No, no, no, don't be so melodramatic! I'm not going to let myself be killed, I'm far too smart for that. I'll still be out there, just, not like me, now. Improved. This version of me needs an upgrade anyway." The hacker reached out her hand as holographics appeared in the air, and the room went dark save for her own screens, casting a shadow in purple against the wall.

She leaned forward, and quietly said, with broad grin, "En el nuevo año, busque una nueva Sombra."

"Oooh, scary! Like a bit of drama, then?"

"If you think that's dramatic, you're going to love my new hair." She brought the lights back up, and folded away the PADDs.

Lena chuckled. "At least you can do something with yours. Mine just grows like this." She ran her hand through her hair. "Can't do a thing with it. Not that anything fancy would survive a flight helmet anyway."

"Huh," said the hacker. "You've tried letting it grow, of course?"

Tracer nodded. "Yeh, when I was a kid. I looked like Goku, from Dragonball."

"I'm so sorry."

"I'm so bored. You look finished, can I go back to the gym yet? I need to stretch. I get all stiff if I sit around too long."

"Sure, I'm finished here." She hoisted a small bag of gear over her shoulder. "But you need to decide."

"Decide about what?" asked the pilot.

"...the new chronal accelerator? The embedded one? We just talked about it?"

"Oh. I already did. I wasn't joking, really. I mean..." - Lena jumped off the bed, and blueblurred almost into the floor, until the accelerator stabilised again. "...what choice have I got?"
solarbird: (tracer)
All dialogue is in translation from the French.

«Good evening, Gérard. I've missed you.»

The woman all in black laid her lilies against the gravestone, as she did one day a year, every year. But this was not the customary day, or month, or for that matter, even the daytime at all.

«I know; I'm early. But I do not know what to do.»

She took out a small bottle of wine - a fillette of Chinon red, so dark, almost purple - and two particularly delicate glasses. One, she set on the gravestone. The other, she kept.

«I've got into bad situations before, Gérard. But this one... I'm in real trouble now.»

She poured wine for the two of them, swirling the glasses gently. A little for herself, more for Gérard, and then, on second thought, more for herself after all.

«I love her, Gérard. I thought I had turned everything down so low and far from myself that I would not see it again after you, my dearest. But...»

The woman closed her eyes, sipped her wine, and bit her lower lip, before continuing.

«I love her. As I loved you.»

She opened her eyes.

«To be honest with myself, I was almost ready for that. But then, when I put her in your place, in my memory...»

She drank the rest of her glass of wine, all of it, at once, like someone already a little too drunk, red invisible on her blue lips. To anyone looking on, she would seem a exquisitely graceful lout; to herself, she felt she could barely hold onto the glass's stem at all.

«...I do not think I could pull the trigger this time, Gérard.»

She threw her glass away, violently, the fragile crystal smashing into a thousand pieces against nearby stones. Then, she reached out, poured the contents of Gérard's glass onto his grave, and carefully put his glass back down.

«I'm so, so sorry. I did not think it was possible... but...»

A heavy breath.

«I think I love her more than I loved you.»

Water, from her eyes, for the first time in many years.

«I did not imagine that was possible. And yet I think... I think, with her... I could not do it, no matter the cost.»

She drained the dregs of the wine directly from the bottle, and, rather than destroying it, knelt down and placed it gently on her husband's grave, the water in her eyes pooling, falling, tears.

«Help me figure this out, Gérard. I don't know what to do, and I'm so afraid, afraid that this time...»

«...I would let the world burn.»
solarbird: (Default)

This isn't Greece, thought the pilot, through the haze of shimmering blue and red and rapidly fading sedation. It... smells wrong.

She tried to open her eyes, and to a partial degree, succeeded. The sunlight from the window didn't exactly hurt her eyes, but it didn't feel right either. That's wrong too. She closed her eyes again, tried to think. The Slipstream felt fine. Felt normal. Good flight weather, dry, cool. Ground control confirmed go. Then...

...then blue and red and blue and red and red and blue and blue and explosions and flashes and flashes and flashes and so many flashes and grey and blue and red and even that woman looked blue, she looked familiar though, even at a glance, then the medics, they didn't look familiar though, then numbers and names and a sedative and black and now still more blue and more red, but not as much, and everything feels so fuzzy...

Everything, except the... bandages. Bandages make sense. But those could feel a little more fuzzy.

"È svegli.li.lia. Prendiendiendi i medico," said... someone. Medico. I got that part. Doctor. In Italian. She tried to speak, it came out strange, garbled, distorted. This must be some sedative. "It's o.o.o.kay, p.ot, l.ill, t. .tor is coming." Accent. That accent. Sicilian. "Sicily?" she tried to say, it coming out stuttery and strange, like the words she heard, though her thoughts felt mostly clear. "What's wrong with me, doc?" No better.

Doctor Mariani knocked on the door almost as Oxton spoke, but didn't stop on the way in. Lena forced open her eyes, keeping them open, seeing waving red and blue and shimmers around everything, but the pilot recognised the medic nonetheless. She said something to another woman, who had already rushed to a piece of hardware by her bed. The blurring and phasing briefly became much worse, and Lena shouted and lurched and felt a little sick, making her hurt all at once all over. Ow! Ribs? Leg? Arm? Ow! and there was a

[snap]

"How's that?" said a suddenly very clearly Hispanic-accented voice.

"Much better, I think," said the grey-haired woman she had not realised was beside her, holding her arm. Lena flinched, as the older woman asked, "Let's ask our pilot. Can you understand me? How're you doing?"

Lena Oxton blinked, confusedly, finding herself sitting up, finding surprise at the stability of... everything. "That was... strange. What'd you give me?"

Dr. Mariani smiled. "Good! If strange is the worst of it, amico, you are doing very well. But lean back, please, your physical condition are not so bad as they should be, but you are still, yes, it is 'pretty banged up'? Yes."

The pilot did, for once, as she was told, glad for once to have the world not moving. "What happened?"

The doctor aimed a little light in her eyes, and poked at her with various instruments, being very doctorly in a very old fashioned way. "Your airplane, do you remember? It exploded."

"Yea, I know that part, Doc - I was there. But what happened?"

"I'm Doctor Mariani, by the way. But you can call me Geanna."

"Oh, sorry, right. Flying Officer Lena Oxton. Which, I guess you know. But. What. Happened."

Dr. Mariani didn't hesitate. "Well, we got to you on the ground, got the fire out - do you remember me talking to you in the medical tent?"

"Yea, and my Slipstream exploded and somehow next thing I know I'm in a... room? and then a tent, nothing in between but... flashes..." Flashing. Images. Strange. What? she thought, suddenly anxious in new ways.

"Yes, you were, and the mind can get very confused under stress like that. It's surprising you remember all that you do. But now, here you are, and out of danger." Her voice was calm, but it didn't help.

Tracer frowned, agitatedly, adrenaline spiking all on its own. "Yea. Here I am. Ten thousand metres at Mach 3 over Greece and exploded, and then somehow everywhere and then somehow on the ground and indoors and now here and I'm pretty sure this is Sicily, and I don't know how any of that works but I didn't even black out and I know what blacking out feels like, and something feels wrong and you're not talking about it and I want to know why and..."

The smaller woman working with the strange device next to her on the bed delinked a display and said, "I've got my numbers, I'm out of here" and exercised what appeared to the agitated Flying Officer to be the better part of valour, as the doctor continued, "You shake off sedatives very quickly, don't you?" said the doctor. "But the mind plays tricks, and it's difficult to explain..."

"...no, no, no, everything is shimmery and strange except when it's not and nothing personal doc but your bedside manner is terrible and what is going on?! and..."

"Just tell her," came another voice, French-accented, from the doorway past Dr. Mariani. "If she wants to rush headlong into this, too, then, so be it."

"Woah!" said Tracer, locking on to the voice, as the woman joined the doctor at the right side of her hospital bed.

The woman offered a cool, blue hand. "Hello, Ms. Oxton. We've met before, I believe, a few times."

"You..." The pilot's racing thoughts caught a bit of grip. "...are you blue? You, I mean, I think, do I know you, I think so, but not blue, are you really blue? I thought that was the... what is going on?!" But, shakily, she reached out as well.

Widowmaker laughed, a little, almost delighted, and took Tracer's hand in her own. "You do remember me! I'm flattered. My name is Amélie Lacroix, and I am, really, blue."

This did little to reduce the pilot's confusion, though the one clear thought in her head - my god, she's beautiful - was straightforward enough. "...why? How?"

"That," she smiled, "is a long story." Then, more sombrely, she held Lena's hand more tightly, and - looking directly into the pilot's eyes, her own clear and open - she said, "But, first, what has happened."

"It has been five years since your Slipstream failed, throwing you completely out of normal time in the explosion. You were gone, without a trace, and Overwatch presumed you lost. But Winston, he felt you might still be alive, and might yet be saved. And though he built a retrieval device, he was not allowed to try."

Not allowed to...?!, thought the pilot.

The assassin continued. "Overwatch was shut down a year later; it no longer exists. You are in my organisation's medical station in Italy, where we transported you, after pulling you back into real time using Winston's mostly-completed chronal accelerator, which was destroyed in the process. We are still making adjustments to our own version, calibrating it, so you do not disappear on us again. That is why you're feeling so fuzzy, and why everything - in addition of me - has a bit of red or blue to it."

She took a breath.

"And many things have changed while you have been gone."

solarbird: (tracer)
Nobody expected a fireball. Or screaming, or the containment chamber suddenly exploding. But it all happened nonetheless when flame, fragments of metal, silicates, plastics, and the distinct tang of burning jet fuel showered the interior of the small building.

And then a small woman in a flight suit collapsed onto the scorched floor. "Get it on her!" shouted the hacker, retrieving the second chronal accelerator from the bench behind her, throwing it towards Amélie, already there, who slapped it onto the body just as it began to shift to red.

The figure solidified, the flight suit suddenly Overwatch blue and grey and still a bit too much red, but with blood.

Mon dieu, elle est en vie! thought the assassin, as she and the medic, Taviano, pulled the young pilot - and freshly-minted accelerator - from the smoking remnants of had been a containment chamber, onto a stretcher. "What happened?!" she shouted, as the medic ripped away the shredded flight shield and threw on an oxygen mask.

░░░░░░ grabbed a fire extinguisher, swearing, spraying down equipment, "I dunno, but get her out of here, I'll take care of this little problem."

The assassin, medic, and pilot were already out the door, moving towards the emergency aid unit set up the previous night. "Vitals are good," the medic told Dr. Mariani, who nodded, "Keep an eye on lung function and blood oxygenation levels, let's get her on the table" - she grabbed the stretcher - "tre, due, uno, hup!"

It didn't take three people to lift the small woman, but three were involved nonetheless. "Thank you, Amélie - now let us do our jobs." The assassin nodded once, and backed away. "Let's get this flight suit off - can you hear me, pilot?"

Tracer's eyes snapped open, and she looked around wildly. The doctor looked at Taviano - "Sedativo pronto?" - "Sì." Buona, she thought. "Pilot, the slipstream you were flying exploded, but we have you on the ground now. I'm Doctor Mariani, I'm a field medic. Do you understand?"

The pilot's eyes locked on the doctor's, and she nodded, blinking.

"We're going to give you a little sedative while we check you out, and then we're going to transfer you to a medical unit. Do you know your name?"

Through the mask, a garbled, strained, but understandable response: "Lena. Lena Oxton."

"How many fingers am I holding up?" She held up three, and Tracer's answer was correct. Occhi non dilatati? Non c'è concussione? The mediscanner verified - no concussion. Che era un buon casco.

"You're very lucky pilot, Lena. Here comes the sedative."

Inside the building, ░░░░░░ put out the last of the fires, mostly caused by flaming debris from the chamber. Now, what the hell was that about? Everything was fine until the fire attacked... Flames doused, she opened the second door behind the bench to clear the remaining stink of jet fuel.

"Oh." she said aloud, getting it all at once, as Amélie marched back into the building. "Nique ta mère, what went wrong?"

░░░░░░ laughed, filled with the delight of success, and the assassin glared evilly. "This is not a good time to be laughing."

"Nothing happened! Well, nothing we shouldn't have expected, anyway." She swept debris off her chair and plopped down with what was left of Winston's original device, poking at it and flipping between screens of data in the air. "It was perfección! We all just forgot something very obvious."

Lacroix narrowed her eyes, smelling the jet fuel again. "...the slipstream exploded."

░░░░░░ nodded, grinning. "...when the field generator failed, sending her out of time, along with the explosion in progress around her."

"C’est le bazar."

"Hey, you're just lucky you hired me. Someone not as good might've brought back the whole thing, and then we'd all be in that tent."

She gestured. "But, don't keep me in suspense - how is she?"

Amélie Lacroix exhaled, slowly. "Alive."
solarbird: (tracer)
"So... you're saying she came to you."

Winston, on the far side of a screen with a three second lag, took off his glasses, and polished their lenses, looking down at his bench. "By radio, of course. But yes."

"Winston, I've... I've read up on what she's done. On what's happened. On what the UN and Overwatch and Blackwatch did, and... But..." She waved her hands around, words not coming. "What."

"It was the only chance I had to pull you back into normal time - the first chance I'd had in years." He shifted his weight a bit, leaning a little on the edge of the bench. "I was almost ready, before - I was this close." He held two fingers a millimetre together to illustrate. "I only needed a little more time, that's all. Not even budget, just time. Just two or three more days." Old frustration radiated through his otherwise-calm tone.

"I was so angry when the UN swooped in and shut us down - I'm afraid I may've lost my temper." He chuckled. "I'm not saying 'excuse me' for that."

Lena Oxton laughed, and ignored her almost-mended ribcage's complaint. It'd been an effort, getting up this high. "I know, I know, Winston, none of this is your fault! I'm grateful, believe me, I really am! I just don't understand why."

The hyperintelligent gorilla leaned back into his chair, looking down. "I'm not even sure shutting down Overwatch was the wrong decision. The black ops group..." he sighed. "I wish I could say I was completely unaware, but I wasn't. I didn't know details, and things were worse than I suspected, but the honest truth is that we were... at least to some degree, we were complicit."

Lena nodded no. "That's not what I meant, Winston."

Ah, thought the scientist. "I see. I presume she's trying to get you to join her organisation."

"Ah, c'mon, big guy, I'm not stupid. Sure, she's put that out there, but that isn't what I meant either, and you know it." She waved her hands around in the air, frustrated, frustrated that words weren't coming as quickly as they should - something else that should improve over time. She shouldn't really have been climbing yet, but she missed the heights - and the adrenaline rush - too much not to. Everything gets so fuzzy at the edges, red and blue shifted, drifting just slightly back and forth, like a boat not fully anchored. "I'm a damned good pilot, Winston, but they don't have an air force and this isn't what they do. So what is going on?!"

The face on the screen scowled, and the delay seemed longer this time, somehow. "I don't know. I don't know why she did it. I'm glad she did, but it bothers me that past a point I don't care, because I'm just so happy to see you back with us again."

The pilot once known as Tracer smiled and spread her arms wide. "Aw, c'mere, y'big lug."

"I would, if I could." He smiled, wryly. "I can't even do a lot of digging from up here. Dr. Ziegler and I talk regularly - we're doing some research together on the long-term effects of artificially assisted gravity on mitochondria, I have some ideas to improve our systems - but the rest of us haven't exactly kept in touch."

"Given everything, I'm kind of surprised you talked to her - much less believed her. In your position, I wouldn't've."

"I didn't talk to her, at first. If that friend of hers hadn't managed.. do you know she started leaving messages on our internal comms? They're not even connected to the uplink. I got one in my bathtub - it took us three weeks to track down how she did it. So I decided, if she was that determined... maybe I should listen."

"That, and she threatened to start shutting down your environmental support."

"I think that was a joke."

"She told me it wasn't."

"Oh, dear." That's bad, he thought, leaned forward, and earnestly - even for him - in a low voice - even for him - continued, "Where are you? Do you need help? I can get Angela at any time. Just give me some kind of sign."

Lena laughed, and leaned back. "No, no, Winston, it's fine, honestly - now I'm the one who's joking. Look, I'm - look, I'll show you!" She picked up the comm and aimed its camera around, showing no one around her, showing the rooftops of old London, with the newer, taller buildings behind it, and then pointed the camera down a bit, showing the height of her perch.

"Is that... that's... that's Westminster?" came Winston's voice from the small speaker. "You're on top of Big Ben?! How did you...?! ...are you sure Amélie isn't there?"

Lena put the comm back into its little improvised holder atop one of the spiky ornaments of the tower roof, and laughed again. "Yes, Winston, honestly, it's just me here. Me and the pigeons! They're after my chips." She shooed one away, and distracted another by sacrificing one chip to the rooftop.

"And it's called Elizabeth Tower, Big Ben's just the bell. Honestly, luv, you're such an American - even if you are from the moon."

"But," she added, "she's been showing me a few of her tricks. And... I just needed some air. I just needed some up."

Winston looked particularly grumpily at his now-even-relatively-younger old friend, through the camera, through hundreds of thousands of kilometres, through seconds of time. "You needed some fear. Or maybe you needed to be arrested. Why aren't the police after you, up there?"

"I needed to feel like myself again. This is as close as I could come without something dangerous to fly." She smiled, and twirled a little grapple around in one hand. "And like I said, she's been teaching me some of her tricks."

"Lena..." He rubbed around his left eye with his left hand. "Just... I don't know the whys. I didn't decide to trust Amélie; it was just the only shot I had to save you, and even then - I didn't think it'd work. I thought you had to be dead. I guess... frankly, I guess I was looking for closure. I thought she'd be bringing back a body."

Lena replied, as soberly as she ever had in her life, "But she didn't."

Winston nodded. "She didn't." Not yet. "But it's what she does. The first time we trusted her, and that turned out to be a very bad idea. This time has worked out - so far. Be careful."

Lena blinked. He doesn't know. She told me, she thought, but he doesn't know. Why not? She smiled briefly, and tried to make light of it, but found she just couldn't. She wished she could hug the big ape, instead. "I will be, Winston. I promise."
solarbird: (tracer)
before this, this, and this

The woman in blue sat perched on the walkway, still, and waiting, sniper rifle - for once - not at the ready. Across the broken strip of road before her, on the roof of the low empty building found there, a macaque sucked on a bit of orange, pointedly ignoring the seagulls settling in nearby for the night.

If he was right, thought the woman who waited, it should not take very long.

In the corner of a room visible through the open front door of that building, a small hexagonal device lay silent, looking entirely like just another piece of abandoned hardware in this place strewn with abandoned hardware, forgotten. Of course, it was not; and it, too, waited.

From the far distance, across the bay, came the noise of a freighter, anchoring down; a sharp ear could almost hear the crew talking amongst themselves as the stars came out, one or two or four or eight at a time. A small boat launched, towards shore, possibly carrying sailors on leave, and possibly not.

The macaque, finished with its fruit, climbed around the front of the building and leapt over to the cliff face, disappearing into the low shrubbery clinging to pockets of rocky, hard soil. Further down towards the beach, sandpipers briefly argued, then apparently settled things amongst themselves, leaving only the sound of waves and far-distant traffic.

The watcher touched the side of her headdress, and goggles slid quietly into place over her eyes. The device was warmer than the rest of the building, the power supply and sensors creating the smallest glow of heat - not even enough to attract the animals, but just enough to measure.

She waited.

Only after the last maroon of twilight fled, and the bright nearly full moon set, only then, just visible through the entrance, did a glow arise in the deep black gloom, inside the building, past the doorway. The faintest trace of colour, a deep, dark blue - and the device reacted instantly, throwing all of the power it had in its tiny power cell into its small accelerator field. The blue glow strengthened sharply, and the woman on the walkway breathed sharply in, thinking, Now I see you, as the glow briefly attained form - and the field collapsed, power supply exhausted.

The glow yellowed, turned red, darkened, and vanished.

Hooking her grapple, the blue-haired woman dismissed her goggles and dropped to the ground below, running over to the device. Of what she'd just seen, no trace remained, dust on the floor and walls not even disturbed - but the data remained, safely tucked into a small, heavily shielded storage card.

The assassin held it up, and smiled. Now, she thought to herself, I have you.
solarbird: (tracer)
also before, but only just, and not as far before

Amélie punched a very old access code into a keypad lock, and the door opened, silently and quickly. The morning sun lit the small workroom inside, the overhead lights popping on unnecessarily. "Will you have enough room to work here? The medic can set up just outside the door."

The hacker stepped around the room, carefully avoiding one corner. "I think so. This tracking equipment needs to go - we'll need to set up the containment chamber in the corner. And I want that workbench from the main floor. The nice one, with the grey top, against this wall." She pointed towards the western wall. "It'll block the other door, but we don't need it."

She paced around the room. In the corner she avoided, a faint flicker of light, then gone.

"So let's say she's alive, and this works, and we get her back, and she survives that too... what's your plan?"

Widowmaker raised an eyebrow. "Recruit her, of course. You know that."

░░░░░░ shook her head, no. "I know you said that, but, well, I've read her files, and I have to tell you - that's hilarious."

"Not at all. If this device works as Winston believed it would, she'd become a tremendous asset."

"That's not what I mean and you know it."

Lacroix said nothing.

"What are you going to tell her? What could you tell her?"

Ah, thought the assassin, a question I can answer. "The truth."

░░░░░░ threw back an amused, you-cannot-be-serious glare. "...the truth."

"Yes. Starting with the truth about me. And about Gérard."

What?!, thought the hacker. "Now I know you have to be kidding. Mi dios, why?"

"Because that way, cherie, she'll know."

"Know what?

"She'll know that if I'll tell her the truth about that, I will not lie to her. Not about anything."

░░░░░░ tilted her head to the side, and thought hard, trying to figure out how Amélie Lacroix telling Lena Oxton about how she assassinated the head of Overwatch's anti-Talon task force - and her husband - could convince anyone of anything other than running away now seems like a really good idea. "'I assassinated my beloved husband but I'm totally fine with it.' That's very reassuring."

"You know nothing about him. Or her."

"I know none of this makes sense and I don't think I want to be here if she wakes up."

Amélie laughed, delicately. "The support staff will be so disappointed."

The hacker sighed. "Fine. It's all pointless anyway if the accelerator doesn't work. Help me haul this gear - we have a lot of setup to do before I can test anything."

before

Apr. 13th, 2017 12:07 am
solarbird: (tracer)
[this bit of story, chronologically, goes before the previous story post here]

"Okay, hang back a second, I've set the lifter but I don't know how much charge is left in the battery pack..."

Lacroix backed away from the wrecked door as ░░░░░░ punched a sequence into a small handheld pad. The sound of metal scraping against metal followed a loud, low hum and electrical snap, and half the ruined door slid into the ground, and the other half bent upwards towards the ceiling.

"...Impressionnant."

░░░░░░ looked atypically confused at the damage. "ah... I don't..." She shook her head. Materials science wasn't really on her list of priorities. "eh, whatever. We needed it open, it's open, I'll take it."

Widowmaker activated her visor, scanning for potential targets, finding none. "We're still alone, for now." The two women stepped into the ruined research lab. "But be careful. I do not think we've done the floor any favours."

"No, I don't think so either." said the hacker, throwing a light onto the ceiling. "Do you see the accelerator?"

"Yes. It's still here. Incredible." Widowmaker retrieved the small chrono-tunneler from its storage case, and laughed a little, in her best mission-accomplished way. "It's not even dusty."

░░░░░░ frowned. "This was too easy."

Half of a smile. "Leading you down through 15 stories of collapsed building was not 'easy,' even for me."

"Yeah, well, whatever." She pulled down the light. "I don't mean to crash the party mood, you know, buuuut..." started the hacker, drawing out the u.

"Yes, we are finished here." Lacroix replaced the tunneller core into its protective case. "Let's go."

"That's not what I mean."

"No?" said the assassin, stepping back into the ruined hall.

"No." replied the hacker, following the blue woman upwards towards the next level. "I mean, don't get me wrong, this is a neat bit of tech, and I'm glad to get my hands on it. But..."

Amélie's expression didn't change, as she launched her grapple upwards through three stories of ruined training room. "We don't even know that she's not already dead."

"She probably is, you know. It's been years."

The assassin nodded, and triggered the winch. "Elle est en vie ou elle est morte. De toute façon, nous allons le découvrir."
solarbird: (tracer)
"You know," said ░░░░░░, carefully manipulating microforceps above the small silver device sitting atop the matte glass workbench, "I really have to hand it to the gorilla. This is a very clever piece of hardware."

A short series of beeps, a blue light, and she leaned back, smiling at her own cleverness. "It's a shame they sent him back to the moon."

"He always was the smart one," agreed Amélie. "I met him... a few times, before." Before Overwatch was shut down. Before its agents were decommissioned or exiled. Before many things.

"But can you make it work?"

░░░░░░ laughed. "Can I make it work. Please! Of course I can! All it needs are some tweaks to its software. And a few more functions." The Talon hacker raised some screens, flipping through lines of code. "He obviously never got to finish this code. There are all sorts of missing case handlers." And, she thought, peering at class stubs, extensions. What they don't know won't hurt them. "But the core functionality is all in the hardware. It'll be easy."

Beside them, in the corner of the room, an empty chamber flickered, and lit up, glowing right blue, then briefly yellow, then brighter, almost taking form - before, after a flash of red, it was again empty. For just a moment, if the right person looked at the right time, they might've seen a small figure in a pilot pressure suit, before it was gone.

"She keeps almost being able to land here, doesn't she?" said the assassin, who most definitely did see it. "I wonder if she has any idea what has been happening since..." She looked back to Winston's little device, and then to ░░░░░░. "How long?"

"If I had to push it?" said the hacker, "...eh, two, maybe three days. But if you want me to be suuuuuure..."

"Be sure."

"...oh, give me a week. And unlimited access to hardware, so I don't have to waste time stealing things."

She'd lied, of course. She could write and test the software in a day. Even Winston - who was far better at hardware than software - could've done it in two or three, if the UN hadn't stepped in when they did. But it would take that long to make a second version of the hardware, for herself, which the upper-ups would find and she'd say was for testing, which was even kind of true, and a third version, for herself, which they would most definitely not find and which she would most definitively keep. As she was fond of saying, a girl always needs the latest tech.

"Very well. I'll talk to the directors, but - consider it approved. On my authorisation." She touched a panel; a door unlocked, and opened, revealing the ruins of the Overwatch research facility outside. "Don't short-cut this, ░░░░░░. Be. Sure."

That, thought the hacker, almost sounded like an emotion. Let's file that away for later. "C'mon, Amélie, am I ever not? Stop bothering me. Go outside, shoot some wings off of mosquitoes or something." She cracked her knuckles, dramatically. "Let me get to work."

June 2017

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