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)

"I think it's time," said the Brigadier. "She seems ready."

"I agree," said the Group Captain, "she should be pliable enough, now. Let's bring her in tomorrow."

MI5, Fleet House, London.

Two surprisingly fit but otherwise almost aggressively ordinary-looking people escorted Lena Oxton towards an almost aggressively ordinary-looking private office with venetian-blinded glass walls in a room surrounded on three sides by other surprisingly fit but otherwise aggressively ordinary-looking people at aggressively ordinary-looking desks.

If Pure Gym had a security division, she thought, as she was not quite shoved, but quite briskly moved through the short glass hallway to her destination, this would be it. Crikey, those are thick walls - I'm in real trouble now.

"I'm a British subject, you can't do this. I've got rights." she said to the man at the desk, after the agents dropped her into a chair and exited the room. The man actuated a control, and the blinds closed, leaving them alone. He tapped at the nameplate on his desk - Group Captain Aubrey Henderson - and said, "Salute your superior, flying officer, or I'll have you for insubordination."

Flying Officer Oxton's heart leapt and she snapped to attention and saluted. "Sir! My apologies, sir."

"Much better," said the G/C. "At ease."

"Thank you, sir!" She burst out, too rapidly, "I've been trying to get someone to listen to me for weeks, and I've had a lot of nothing back for it. You're the first person who's even acknowledged who I am! I, I, I, didn't realise I'd been reactivated!" She beamed. At last, she thought, I've got through! "Sir!" She almost saluted again.

The older man glared, and she toned it down immediately. "I know," he grumbled. "We've been following you since you contacted the consulate in Pretoria. Sit." He motioned Oxton back to her seat, and sat down behind his desk. "Quite frankly, some of us have been hoping you'd just give up and go away, back to... wherever you came from."

"...sir?" said the Flying Officer, uncertainty replacing happiness on her face, as Imogen's words spooled through her memory. "I've been missing for..."

"I know the story," he interrupted. "You've told it about half a dozen times at this point, in full, I think?"

"...yes, sir. Before people stopped letting me in. Sir."

"It hasn't improved."

Not knowing what to say, Lena said nothing.

"Look at it from our standpoint," said the Omnic War veteran. "You die in a fighter test flight, killed over Greece. We retire you, with honours. We investigate, we find out your whole organisation was a horror, ridded with... funds abuse, embezzlement, questionable human experimentation, out-and-out war crimes, and even worse. And so, we put it away." He tapped the top of his cold, metal desk. "I put it away."

Oh no, thought Tracer. "Yes, sir."

"And now, two years after we finally had it all sorted, and the press have moved on and the public have started to forget and forgive, one of the few people not implicated shows back up, out of nowhere, outside our consulate building in South Africa, with a story not even a schoolboy would believe - the prodigal daughter returns, and starts poking her nose where it isn't wanted and no longer belongs."

"Sir?"

"What do you expect us to think? What do you expect us to do with you?"

"Sorry, sir," she said, with just a hint too much insubordination, "I thought the military might want to know one of their missing officers was alive."

Cute, he thought. "It was that ape, wasn't it. Somehow, he brought you back. From the moon." He shook his head - it still sounded foolish aloud. "I can't blame him for that - you were friends. But I can blame him for whatever he's built into you."

Lena froze. I haven't been near a military examination room, how did they know? What else do they know? She swallowed. "...sir?"

"You're a not a terrible liar, pilot, but you're not a good one either. Bioluminescent tattoos isn't the worst line..."

"Regulation-compliant within Overwatch, sir, nothing visible in uniform," she interjected, before he sternly continued "...but it's still a line. You're six kinds of wired up, and we know it."

Shite, she thought, scrambling for some way to salvage the story, "Sir, Winston had nothing to do..." That's not better, think before you talk, Oxton!

"I'll pretend you didn't say that," he said, "because the alternatives are far worse. For you."

"...sir." she said, outright afraid now. He's called me F/O, I must have some standing, I can use that, I have rights. "Has my commission been reopened, sir?"

"Not formally," the G/C replied, "which is why you're not in the brig for desertion, first, and more severe charges, later." He sighed, and leaned back off the top of his desk. "I don't think you're a villain, flight officer. The problem is - none of us really know what you are. I've brought you in to offer you a way out. I'm offering you a deal - and I promise you, it was the very best one I could make."

"A deal, sir?" she said, quietly, stalling for time and thinking quickly, I can live without the service, she thought. I can live with that. I can still do good work. There are plenty of other opportunities for a good pilot. Médecins Sans Frontières, maybe, they can always use...

He picked a padd off his desk, and tossed it towards her to catch. "Approve this. We reopen your commission and close it, this time as a medical discharge. We give you five years' back salary - more than enough to get you on your feet. You go away, again, get a job, and and live a quiet life somewhere. You don't talk to the press; you don't write a book; you don't do video; you're Lena Oxton, ex-RAF, not Lena "Tracer" Oxton of Overwatch." He gestured towards the PADD. "Section IV invokes the Official Secrets Act - whether you agree or not."

Tracer shuddered at that, and it took a forceful act of will not to teleport out of the building. "You're one-thirty-fouring my life, sir?"

"No, not your life. Just Overwatch, and Tracer."

"Sir!" the pilot spat out, "This is unfair. This is wrong. You can't do this. Sir."

"Move out of London - preferably, somewhere unimportant - within a week. After that, never get within five kilometres of a military or intelligence base, unless specifically recalled, ever again."

That's a big no-fly zone, she thought. "That'll limit my opportunities as a working pilot, sir."

"Your license terminated with your death, Flying Officer, and you're not getting it back. You've been on every no-fly list in the world since you landed at Heathrow; you are grounded. Most likely, for good."

Horror flashed across Lena Oxton's face, and she bolted up from the chair. "Sir! No, sir! You can't do that to me, sir!"

He barked the words, every syllable a body blow, staccato against her frame, "I can and I have, and if you have any sense at all, your next action will be to sit back down, and your next words will be 'Yes sir, I accept, sir.'"

Lena stopped herself - barely - from screaming at the Group Captain, composed herself as best she could, sat, and managed, shakily, "...but flying... being a pilot... it's all I ever wanted. Sir."

Group Captain Henderson let his expression, and his voice, soften a bit. He remembered that feeling - love of the air, the altitude, the endless sky, the pure speed. "I know."

Flying Officer Oxton straightened a bit, and stood her ground. "I've done nothing wrong. Sir. Except die in an experimental vehicle that exploded around me. It wasn't my fault, I'm pretty sure the record shows that, and I don't see why I should lose my license over it. Sir."

"Your record does show that," he agreed, almost kindly, "and, if you agree, it will continue to do so." Then, with a harder edge, "But if you didn't think we'd find out about that device you have embedded inside you, you underestimated us badly."

Keep it together, Tracer, keep that trim tight, she thought. "I, I..." The jig's up now, but... "I need it. It keeps me from sliding back out of time. Sir."

Thank god, thought the Group Captain, exhaling slowly, she said it. "Good. You admit you know. I'd hoped you finally would." It means if you behave, we might actually honour this agreement,, he did not add aloud. "But we don't know what else it does, and the only way to know, for sure, would be to take you apart, all the way down, and study what was left. The only reason we haven't done that already is that you tried so very hard to get our attention."

"Sir." This can't be happening, she thought.

"Would you rather we changed our minds about that, Ms. Oxton?"

"...no," she said, bitterly, "Sir."

The Group Captain nodded. "Then accept the agreement, and you walk out of here a civilian, and intact. We'll be keeping an eye on you, of course, but stay quiet, let people continue to forget all of this, don't do anything stupid, and we'll leave you alone." The older man - older than Ana, probably older even than Reinhardt - leaned forward, with as much compassion as he could push into his blunt, once-chiseled face, and said, "Just walk away, Oxton. This really was the best I could get you. Walk away, and go live your life."

Lena Oxton sat in the chair, suddenly feeling strangely calm, separate, isolated. This is the second time since the explosion I haven't really had a choice, she thought, as she reached out her hand and pressed her thumb against the acceptance screen. I like it this time much less.

Former Flying Officer Lena "[Redacted]" Oxton left the MI5 building for the first and last time. Money instantly appeared in a bank account, a fair and reasonable sum. Ms. Oxton checked that account, took a little bit out in cash at an access point, and treated herself to a lavish dinner, which tasted like nothing, then box seats at a show at the Palace Theatre, which left her utterly unmoved.

Then she walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, around Old London, past Piccadilly and past St. James and past Westminster and along the Thames and across and past the Tate and past the ruins of the London Bridge and back across the river and past St. Paul's and then she didn't even notice anymore, until hours later, at 3am, when she found herself in the middle of a deserted Trafalgar Square, carrying a worn satchel popular in South Africa some ten years before, with the remnants of her flight suit, her burnt Overwatch identity card, a fake of her old passport, and a change of clothes, old, but serviceable, from a Lutzberg charity shop.

There, standing between the fountains, from a small, round, metal box, she extracted a smaller, round device. Clicking its power cell into place, she held the beacon tightly against her chest, depressed the second button, the one on the top, until it beeped, twice...

...and waited.

solarbird: (tracer)

"Hey, doc!" The pilot waved her arms, and shouted across the square. "Angela!"

"Lena!" The doctor waved back in response, and walked quickly through the thin crowd. "It... it really is you. You look almost exactly the same."

"So do you!" The two women hugged, close. "Gor blimey, doc, it's been so long. You're the first person from the old team I've actually seen in person since Greece. How's Fareeha?"

Angela hugged the pilot again, and whispered into her ear, "I am certainly being surveilled, we should get to my office at the embassy" before leaning back, taking Tracer's shoulders in her hands as if everything were perfectly ordinary. "On a mission, like always. But we're both very well, thank you. I'll be back home with her again in a few days." She showed a decorated gold band on her ring finger. "It's our second anniversary."

"Oooh, nice," said Tracer, looking closely at the interweaved inlays, the halo and the hawk. "Very nice. I'm not surprised, though - you two weren't exactly subtle." She scrounged her pockets for cash. "Let me grab something from the takeaway and we can head over to your place. You don't mind, do you?"

"Of course not! I have the entire afternoon, go ahead." She gestured to the order window. "So tell me, how is life back in London?"

Tracer frowned, and ordered a vindaloo and joined the short queue for pickup. "I'm not alive yet," she said flatly. "Still trying to get that sorted."

"Still?" asked the doctor, confusedly.

"Yah, that's why I'm doing everything in cash. It's like being a tourist in my own home town. Still living in hostels, couldn't get work if I tried, it's just every-day all-day throw myself at another corner of military bureaucracy."

"That sounds terrible. Have you tried the civilian authorities?"

"Yeh, I gave up and submitted a bunch of forms earlier today. But if I could get the bleedin' forces to pay attention, I wouldn't have to. I'm an officer! This shouldn't be so difficult."

"Surely some sort of official status is better than none," said Angela.

"Not too sure about that, luv." Tracer's curry arrived, and she grabbed it, a couple of napkins, and her tea. Turning to go, she confessed, "Honestly, outside flying, outside Overwatch... I'm starting to wonder if I ever even had a life."

-----

"Sorry if this messes up any of your tests," said the pilot, putting away the last of her second lunch. "But I was ravenous. Happens a lot these days."

"Well, I won't be able to tell you much about cholesterol levels or blood sugar, but that's not exactly why we're here, is it? You look quite fit."

Lena just smiled, happy to be looking at anyone she recognised. "Bloody hell, it's good to see someone I know. Even if you were always just 'the doc.'"

Dr. Ziegler smiled professionally back. "Before you say anything else - anything else - authorise this." She offered the pilot a padd, with forms.

"What is it?"

"It confirms that I'm your doctor. Doctor-patient confidentiality is core to my organisation and we're prepared to defend it. I assure you, whatever I see or record, it will not go to the British - or Swiss - governments. We are on Swiss soil, and I am notoriously prickly."

"Brilliant." Tracer keyed her acceptance. The form even looked like an Overwatch document. It felt like being back at old home, and her heart ached a moment for it.

"And this document," the doctor changed pages, "is not standard. But it authorises me to share your data with Winston. He has legal standing with us in ways he does not in Britain." Tracer approved again.

"Now, we may talk freely. But clothing off, please. Let's get you looked over."

Lena threw her shirt and trousers off, onto the chair, revealing the intricate pattern of bands of light, blue or red or white, flowing across her body, from upper right shoulder to lower left leg.

Angela was visibly taken aback. "Gott in Himmel. It's beautiful. You are living art."

"Clever, innit? I can control how it looks," she said, and faded it to a series of thin lines across her skin. "But I wanted to show off."

"This is what it takes to keep you in time, then?"

"S-," ..ombra, she almost said, but did not quite, "Since I got pulled back, yah. There was an earlier version that just belted on, but it wasn't stable. I kept," she shuddered, a little, remembering the feeling, "trying to phase back out of time."

"One broken strap from vanishing? That does not sound like a good solution, no," offered Angela.

"I'd've lost the plot in a month from stress and lack of showers. Can't lose this, though - it's part of me." She ran the traces through a cycle of soft, calming blues. It reminded her of No, she thought to herself, leave it. "I tell people it's bioluminescent tattoo. The latest thing, in Greece! Everybody wants them now."

"I understand why." Dr. Ziegler selected a pair of scanners. "With your permission?"

Lena hesitated. "You sure this place isn't bugged?"

The doctor smiled, and nodded. "Quite sure."

-----

"Good morning, Winston," said the doctor, a week later.

"Angela," he said pleasantly, sipping at a cup of tea, one and a half seconds ago. "How are you this fine morning?"

"Quite well, thank you. I'm in Egypt; Fareeha's just off to work. I'm ready to transmit the data, if you're set up to receive it."

"Go ahead," said the scientist.

"Sending," she said, pressing confirm.

"How was she, in person?" he asked, as the progress metre slowly climbed.

"Physically well. She's in fantastic aerobic condition. She has some new scarring - in my opinion, almost certainly burns from the explosion. She lost a toe, and broke several bones, but I see nothing to worry about. On the whole, she had to have been remarkably lucky."

"But is she still herself, to you?"

"As far as I can tell, she is. But while were perfectly friendly, before - professional friends, yes? - I didn't know her like you did. I would miss subtleties." She looked thoughtful. "Even so... even to me, she seems very lonely."

Winston nodded, sadly. "I can't even imagine what she's been going through. If I could just get down there..."

"I think that would be good, if only it could be done." The doctor paused a moment, collecting her thoughts. "But to the larger question..."

"Don't say it."

Mercy smiled, as close to wickedly as she ever came, "the ten thousand pound gorilla in the room..."

"For the last time, Angela - I am not ten thousand pounds!" he huffed.

Angela giggled, the Swiss equivalent of a guffaw, and continued, "...the hardware itself. It's extraordinary. The shielding is perfect, and where it cannot be shielded, it is too fine for nondestructive deep scans. I could get nowhere with it."

"Damn," said the ape. "So we still don't even know what it does."

"Not so," she gestured with her left hand, "we know it's a chronal accelerator. Of that, I am sure. We just don't know what else it might do."

He put more sugar in his tea. "Like mind control."

The doctor drew in a deep breath. "No, I don't think so. The brain interfacing is all motor cortex and reflex. It's meticulous work - it had to have been grown into place - and the guiding was magnificent." She highlighted some of the interface points, and at each level further down, the integration became, if anything, more complete. "It is truly a part of her, as much as any other part of her body."

"Huh." Winston peered at data sets as the first files completed upload. "Like your nanites?"

"A different approach, but if anything," said Mercy, "moreso. Whoever did this - it's not new to them. They've been doing this. They have practice."

"You could replace someone's whole brain with these techniques, couldn't you," he said, grimly.

"Certainly. But you can also do that in a chair with a combination of drugs, conditioning, and high-precision electromagnetic fields, and not leave so much evidence." She leaned forward on her elbows, towards the screen. "I know what you're thinking. Amélie had nothing like this in her brain. Whatever has been done to your friend Lena - I think her mind is still her own."

"With respect, doctor, you thought that about Amélie. We all did."

Dr. Ziegler nodded, resolutely. "I still do."

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."

May 2017

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 45 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28293031   

Most Popular Tags

Syndicate

RSS Atom