solarbird: (tracer)

"Heya, Winston!"

"Lena! It's been weeks - it's so good to see you," he replied, with a three second delay. "Are you okay? At least you're on the ground this time - where are you?"

"Brighton! Can't you hear - oh, I've got background noise filtering turned on, let me fix that." And the sound of the ocean appeared around her in Winston's feed. "It's cold, but I'm on the beach. Look!" She aimed the camera to the sea.

"It's March and it's not even raining! How about that," came Winston's voice, clearly, over the small speaker. "Is Amélie there? Or any of her friends? "

"Nope!" she chirped, turning the transmitter back around and walking with it. "It's just me, all by myself, kicking around old haunts."

"You're... out, then?"

"Yep. Entirely on me own, footloose and fancy free, walking the earth - or at least this beach - with no way to be found. Nobody even knows who or where I am - except you, I s'pose."

She didn't mention the retrieval beacon in her bag.

"I'm staying a couple of nights in a hostel, a few blocks in. It's cheap! And nice. But mostly, cheap."

"Off-season like this, I'd hope so." The scientist discreetly zoomed his viewscreen and scrolled around, looking for anything out of place in the background. Nothing obvious. "So... Talon just let you leave."

"Sure did. Helped me arrange my story and flew me out."

He leaned forward, and said, conspiratorially and low, "You haven't assassinated anyone yet, have you?"

Tracer laughed. "Only because I can't catch a shuttle to the moon, y'big ape. Which way do you want to go - pummellings or too much peanut butter?"

"Oh, peanut butter, definitely." He put on his best, big, toothy grin, which he let drop to a more genuine smile as a small popup window confirmed, Signal origin: south coast of England (probability 93%), Brighton Beach (probability 77%). "They really just... let you go."

"Yep. I said I needed to go find my old life, and Amélie made it happen." She bit her lower lip. "It's like she even agreed."

"Are you... alive again? Legally, I mean? Do you have money? Did they re-activate your commission?" Location probabilities climbed as more signal data arrived, and Winston dismissed the window. Good enough, he thought.

The smile Lena had been keeping propped up fell. "I'm... still working on that. After they cleared me at the consulate and helped me hitch onto a cargo flight home, I thought it would be easy. I kind of thought I'd be snapped up at Heathrow for debriefing, really. But... I wasn't. I just can't seem to get anybody's attention."

The pilot sat down on the top of a breakwater, propped up the transmitter, picked up a rock, and threw the latter towards the waves. "It's like I'm some kind of ghost."

"That's very strange," he granted. "Overwatch has been out of the news for a couple of years now, but - take it from me - the governments are still keeping tabs on everyone."

"Yeh. But it's fine, honestly!" It wasn't fine, but she managed to mean it through sheer sunny determination nonetheless. She turned back to the camera. "I've got enough money to live on for weeks - a few months, if I'm careful. So I thought, well, I just need to get out of London, right? Take a few days by the ocean, get some of that sea air. Get my head cleared up."

Partial retina image capture, said another, discreet popup. Image quality acceptable. Match probability 96%, margin of error +/-35%. "That accelerator they built you - how's it holding up?" He pursed his lips and shook his head. "I wish they'd used mine," he grumbled.

"Oh, it's absolutely wizard! Once I got the swing of it? Natural as breathing. I'll show you some time, I promise!"

Far away under the surface of the moon, in the research station now again his home, Winston the scientist studied Tracer's face for any hint, any sign, of the kind of programming he believed had been implanted into Amélie Lacroix. Face and voice analytics ran over and through every frame of vision and every millisecond of audio, searching for some hint, some breath of change, and found nothing.

Of course, they'd found nothing with Amélie either. But they'd had less reason to look.

I need someone actually there, he decided. "Lena, would you let me tell Angela you're back, and safe? I'd feel better if she checked you over herself. In person."

The pilot nodded enthusiastically, throwing another stone into the sea. "Let's! I'll be back to it on Monday, trying to get someone to listen to me. It'd be great to have someone from the old crew around to chat." She picked up a little stick of driftwood, and poked at more beach rocks, turning them over, seeing what was underneath. Generally, that meant more rocks. "To be honest, it's been kind of lonely. Funny, innit? Me? Lonely?"

"Haven't you looked up any old friends?"

"Oh, I've looked 'em up all right. It's a military life, though - most everybody I can find's been all moved 'round. Katarina's back in Norway, my graduating class have completely dispersed - a lot of 'em are in Greece, but I don't have the money to fly anywhere. The only one I found still in London was Imogen."

"That's too bad. I'd transfer you some money, if I could. But at least you found her."

"Yeah..." she said, sadly.

"uh oh."

Adequate data received to begin deep analysis, said the popup. Winston deactivated additional notifications.

"It was..." She looked for other words to describe it, and came up with nothing better than, "...it was weird, big guy. We were great friends in flight school, and we kept in touch when I jumped to Overwatch. And now, I'm... I'm literally back from the dead, least as far as she's concerned, and she won't even talk to me."

"That's awful!"

"She recognised me, I'm sure of it. She said she didn't, but I know she did. She said she didn't even remember knowing anyone who joined up with Overwatch." Tracer looked off to the side, not liking where her thoughts went. "She looked scared, Winston. Of me."

I can understand why, he thought to himself. The woman whose death brought down Overwatch is back from the grave, hasn't aged a day, and nobody is talking about it - who knows what you are? But out loud, he said, "I'm sorry," and meant it.

"It's been five years, the world's a different place - it feels like wheels are flying off everywhere, it really does - but now look out everyone, Tracer's coming to town! I thought..." her voice trailed off.

"Those missing five years didn't sink in, did they?"

They really hadn't, she knew. Not until then. "I really miss you, big guy," she said, sad and quiet.

"I've missed you too, Lena," he answered, softly. "I can't get off this rock, but you can always - any time of the day - radio me, and I'll listen." He reached over and touched a few points on a console. "I'm sending you my 'wakeup' prefix code. It will get me up, if I'm here, and I will answer."

Her padd chirped. "Got it."

"And don't wait 'till you're back in Brighton. Any time. Day or night."

"I will, I will! But maybe not tomorrow." She shook her head, brushing off the sadness. "There's a bar just a bit down the way, and it's also just hit me that I haven't picked anyone up in a bar in over five years, and that can't be helping. I think I'm gonna fix that tonight."

Winston howled with laughter, big honking bellows. "Now that sounds like the old Tracer," he said, merrily. "But... how're you going to explain the accelerator?"

"What, you think I've got some bulky ring in my chest, like yours? These are posh, mate!" She grinned. "I figured it out on the flight north. I just call 'em bioluminescent tattoos, and all the girls will want their own."

"Heh," he chuffed. "I believe the traditional Air Force benediction is, 'Good hunting?'"

"Rwrar." She winked.

"Go get 'em, pilot. But promise you'll radio me from London on Monday."

"I will, Winston. I promise."

Winston waited 'till Lena shut down her transmitter, and then threw the whole conversation - sound, vision, raw signal, transmission detail data, everything - into deep computational processing, to send along to Dr. Ziegler. If they've done anything to you, he thought, I will find it. And one way or another, somehow - they will pay.

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: (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."

September 2017

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