solarbird: (tracer)

A violet sphere of energy burst overhead, and most of the nearby lights went out. Two sniper shots, muffled, but audible to a practised ear, came in rapid succession. A short burst of less-muffled machine gun fire - and then a small armoured ship appeared from overhead, dropping hard and fast to low hover. The large hatch on the side blew open; from inside, a masked figure shouted in a machine-like tone, "GET OVER HERE."

Lena ran. Ran, and dove, reacting, not thinking, onto the platform, and it raised, carrying her with it. As she tumbled to the deck, the masked figure said, "Trafalgar Square?! Points for style, but are you insane?" now with a distinctly Hispanic accent.

"It was either that or blow up Fleet House, mate. I thought this would be better."

"I'm not so sure."

"I could still change my mind."

"Get in the crash chair, we're moving quickly."

Widowmaker appeared at the opposite hatch shouting, "GO, GO, GO," slammed its close button, and dove into a second crash chair as the ship shot forward, horizontally, low, and vanished from sight over a partially darkened Old London.

"Fourteen... thirteen..."

The ship shot west, tilting upwards, pulling four Gs for 12 straight seconds, as it just cleared buildings.

"That... was fast..." said Lena from her crash chair as the retrieval ship broke towards the Channel.

"We've been keeping an eye on you," said Sombra, with some effort, from the pilot's seat.

"Several," said Widowmaker, somehow effortlessly. "No one escapes from my sight. But... Trafalgar? Êtes-vous une folle? Why?"

"I... I'm not even sure. I think I wanted to give 'em the two-finger salute. I wanted them to know."

"Well," Amélie admitted with a mix of amusement and irritation, "they certainly know now."

"Four minutes thirty seconds to international airspace," said Sombra, from the pilot's seat. "33 seconds to cloak recharge."

"I didn't expect you to bring in a bloody troop carrier. How are we not shot down?"

Sombra mocked, "World's greatest intelligence agency! Spycraft is in our blood! And they still rely on CCTV. Pathetic - they won't even be sure you're gone until we're too far away to care." As gravity returned to normal, she turned and tossed the semi-prone Lena a seemingly-random collection of electronics. "Much better. Here, a present for you."

"What are they?"

"CCTV relays, a couple of encoders - it's all stuff they were using to track you tonight. Junk, really." A chime from the console. "Cloak reactivated. 15 seconds, changing course."

"So you knew," said Lena, looking towards, but a little past, Amélie.

"We watched them watching you," said the spider, looking back, "and I anticipated, and made contingency plans. I did not know, until they took you in. I'd hoped, if you came back out, that you'd go out of town to summon us - not go as far into town as possible." She checked the tactical board visible on the wall from her crash chair, and to Sombra, said, "No one is painting us. I don't think we need to use the backup boosters." From the pilot seat, Sombra agreed. "Boosters on hot standby."

Lena's focus moved further out again. "They one-thirty-foured me. And they took my license. Amélie," she said, distantly, as the adrenaline surge faded. "They took my wings."

Amélie reached across the lengthening gap, and took Lena's hand. "That, I did not know. So that is why... all this." She scowled. "I know what it meant to you. I am displeased, but much more than that, I am sorry."

"I told you they were bastards," Sombra chimed in. "10 seconds to full cloak charge..."

"Tactical board still clear. At recloak, bring us down to noise level and evade; we should be able to demicloak the rest of our way out."

"Cloaked... dropping... we're in the muck. Stealthed."

"Thank you," said Widowmaker. But she stayed in her crash chair, counting seconds. Three minutes to international airspace. "Once we hit the channel, deploy the decoy east and drop below Mach 1 - let's take the long way home."

"Got it."

-----

"I want to kill him," the now-signless pilot said, awake again, fury seeping from every syllable. "I get it now. I want to kill him."

"I understand," said the spider, carefully. But it is unnecessary, she thought.

Tracer - no, not Tracer, she'd need a new name - paced around the small cabin, as the ship flew quiet and low over the north equatorial Atlantic, moving slowly towards normal traffic lanes, just another surplus straggler finding its way back to its place.

"I want to kill him," the pilot repeated. "With my own hands. I want it to be close, I want it to be personal, I want him to know why."

"I am hearing you," the assassin said again, soothingly. "I am listening; tell me. Tell me all of it."

The former Flight Officer raged, "They knew I was back. They knew who I was the whole time, toying with me, trolling me even, I see it now. They were watching me since I showed up at the consulate and they cut me off and they moved my friends and threatened the one they didn't and they bled me 'till I almost gave up and died and then they took me and they put me in a box and told me to go do nothing and be nowhere and they took my wings and they took my life and they treated it like some kind of favour and now I want to take them and show them what kind of favour it was."

"I believe you, and I hear you. Keep going."

"Why?!" the flyer shouted, "What else is there? The box, the glass room, it was a bomb chamber, I get it now, I didn't get it at time, they were ready for me to explode, or they were ready to blow me up, I don't even know which, they'd planned it since I reappeared, I am so angry and feel so sick..." Pain and anger radiated from her body, so clearly the assassin could almost see it, as she slammed her fists down onto the flattened crash chair, now a bench, and then sat, face in her hands. "Why?! Why would they do that?"

If she did not want to kill them, I would..., thought the spider, struggling to keep her own emotions controlled. No, she realised, I do want to kill them. Not for history. For her. "I will tear through them until not one is left standing, if that is what you truly need," she said, voice quick with her own unexpected cold fury.

Lena looked up, face wet, and the blue woman thought, She has had no one, for weeks. "I have missed you," she couldn't not continue, aloud, reaching out her hand, "more than I could have possibly imagined. May I sit with you?"

Lena grabbed Amélie and pulled the taller woman down beside her, sobbing as the dam broke, digging into Amélie's shoulder and gasping for air, just holding her, so tightly, "i've missed you so much, it's hurt so much "

"I stayed away," Amélie said thickly, through her own new tears. "I didn't want to, but I did, until you called. It's what you said you wanted." She pulled the smaller woman closer against her, holding on tight in return. "Please say it's what you wanted. Please, please, or I will burst, I..."

"It was..." Lena managed slowly, though shuddering breaths that she fought to control, "...I thought I needed..." another heaving breath, "oh god, Amélie, I was so wrong..."

"Everyone," said the blue woman, finding herself suddenly, confusingly happy, "is wrong. Sometimes. But you are not, for me. Not ever."

"Don't let go. Never let me go again."

Not unless you want me to, the spider thought. Only then. But that is not what you need right now. And the most rational part of her mind raced, I need you with a whole heart, but I need that heart to be whole, and it is tearing...

And then, with the clarity of stars in a deep black sky, she knew.

"Pilot," she said softly, "would you fly us home?"

Lena gasped, eyes instantly wide open. "..."

"Sombra needs a break, she has not slept, and we are not too far away now. Are you cleared on this kind of craft? Could you take us home?"

A final heaving sob out of Pilot Oxton, and then she sniffed and laughed amidst the crying, and for the first time in what felt like years a smile peeked through the tears falling like rain. "uh," she sniffed, and swallowed, "B, uh, B-10M class, right?" She looked around. "Yeah. I can fly her. If... if Sombra doesn't mind..."

"Sombra needs a nap," came a voice from the flight deck. The hacker, being no fool, had already put the ship on autopilot, and stood by the empty flight chair, smirking and motioning towards the empty seat. Lena stepped up to that chair, and looked back to Amélie. "Stay with me? It's been a while."

"Always."

Lena sat down, put on the flight headset, and grasped the pilot's yoke. "Yeah," she said. "Let's go home."

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)

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: (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)
"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."

August 2017

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