...is back on a schedule.
I have a complete draft. All the missing pieces finally fell into my head this past weekend, and filled in all the gaps, and I wrote them, and boy are my arms tired. No, really, I'm taking anti-inflammatories today. But it's fine, because 30 chapters of 30 written, this work is complete pending revision on my side, and we are back on a publishing schedule.
I'm really surprised by this too, and really, really pleased.
Chapter 26: highly experimental work
or, "damn chupacabras getting into everything"
This chapter is worksafe, but somewhat violent. [AO3 link]
"I don't get their whole dynamic," Sombra said, watching the site through one of the multiband cameras she'd left behind, hidden. "Not from what you've told me. She's apparently been trying to kill him since that old Overwatch HQ blew up, and now they're best buds again, all at once?"
Gabriel managed a tiny bit of a laugh, over comms. He worried that this was not enough distance - the fiction of separation became awfully small, this close to a shared target. But, well, here we are. "She's always been a bit ruthless."
"That's pretty damn ruthless, amigo. And that's coming from me. I have done some shit."
"She has!" Lena agreed.
Laticia sat, with Gabe, listening to the voices - disguised on her and Gabe's end, not maybe not enough. She... the way she talks... who did you used to be, chica?
"It's an asset," Reyes said, "in the military. At least, to a point. You do what has to be done to accomplish the mission."
"I guess I'm not very military, then," the hacker replied.
"You're right, though," Gabe continued. "She has to have some sort of plan here. Any guesses what it might be, team?"
"Maybe.. she's going to ground? And trying to talk Jack into going along?" Angela hoped, on the far side, as Widowmaker shook her head, dismissing the notion.
"No," Gabriel nodded his head, from his side of the canyon, unseen. "She's always had contingency plans." He snorted. "You should've seen her this one time in Italy - little part of Venice called Rialto. We were holed up in this restaurant, waiting for extraction, with damn near every omnic trooper in the world coming down on us us..."
Is that the same Rialto that Jesse's talked about? the hacker desperately wanted to know, but would not ask. "What'd she do?"
"Noticed the kitchen was propane and turned the entire building into a giant shaped charge, aimed right at the primary force. Saved us all."
He paused, letting the moment sit.
"She wasn't always like this. Neither of them were. It's been a while but... we were friends, once. Real friends."
"You're really hoping you can talk her down, aren't you?"
"Of course," he admitted. "If I can. Jack..."
"Nope," Venom said, flatly.
"I know that, Venom," Gabriel said. "I get it. As I said, Jack, by contrast, is a clear and present danger, and... we're going along with doing it your way. It's not my first time in the field."
"Y'know," the hacker said, "If we can't get her to cough up all the copies of the video..."
Attention in both vehicles turned to Sombra's voice. "Go on," Amélie urged.
"What if we just... hold her for a while. Get the best copy from her we can, and start dumping altered versions on conspiracy theory sites."
"You know some good ones?" Laticia asked, poking.
"I know all the good ones," Sombra shot back, and Laticia smiled, a suspicion supported.
Sombra hopped up, out of her seat in the back of the transport, and started pacing back and forth in the low-ceilinged space, thinking about the video, her footsteps audible on the link. "The videos, though, right? It's not that she has 'em, it's that they're real. So we make 'em fake. Bad. Like, really bad. And some of 'em good. Maybe the first one. Make one of 'em what actually happened, but with Tracer edited out first and then edited back in, with, maybe, slightly fucked up lighting, and some paste effects you don't notice until you get in close. Looks real, at first, but then doesn't, when checked. Underlay somebody else under Tracer, then put Tracer back on top, leaving a little fringe."
"Dirty the water," Gabe muttered, thinking.
"Yeah, amigo, exactly, right? No, better. Change the question. Get them going, 'this isn't really Tracer, so who is it really - and who's behind it?'"
"Oh," Gabe said, a smile in his voice. "I like that."
"Then maybe some meme versions, right? Making fun of the original. Have Tracer turn into an omnic, or into that gamer from Korea, or Bowser, or," she laughed, "or a chibi version of your friend, Winston. Something like that."
Lena laughed and laughed and laughed. "Seriously?"
"Absolutely!" Sombra said, getting excited by her own idea. "By the time the real one comes out - if it ever does - our fake version of the real one will have been out so long that nobody will give it a second glance! It's just another refinement, you know?"
"I knew there was a reason I kept you around," the Widowmaker said, a small grin across her face.
"Old-style psyop, straight up. Active measures, they used to call it, back before the Omnic Crisis," Gabriel mused, calculating, trying to weigh against his own confirmation bias, wanting so much for it to be enough. "...it could work."
"We should check in with, uh," Venom said, not finishing the sentence. "You know. See what they think. Get their buy-off, 'cause we'd need them to, you know."
Amélie hummed her agreement. "I think I agree. Yes. Venom, that will be for you."
Lena groaned a little at the thought of having to call Overwatch, but couldn't deny her wife was correct. "Mind you," she said, carrying on, "we need t'get them apart before we can do anything." The younger assassin looked back to her drawings of the layout. "Got t'get an original of that video."
"Peel Ana off from Jack. Yeah." Gabriel acknowledged the point. "Tricky, though. If you wound him, and the doc's suppressor field isn't effective - no offense, Teufel -"
"None taken," the Swiss German said, waving off his worry of insult. "It is still highly experimental work."
"...he might... absorb her."
"Or, he may do something more conventional, but still particularly rash," Widowmaker added. "Or she might. It is difficult to tell."
"Gabe and I found a bunch of proximity alarms," Delgado reminded the teams. "Most of 'em were dead, like the ones you found. Maybe we trip one, maybe he comes out by himself, or she does, to check it."
"And either way, then we grab 'er, that what you're saying?" Venom asked. "And the other party goes after whoever doesn't come out."
"Seemed like worth a try," Laticia said, a little defensively. "I mean, she's a sniper..."
"It's not a bad thought, luv. I like it." She grinned to herself. "And, depending on how th' dice roll, we might both get a shot."
"I heard it," Jack grumbled from the couch, resting after working out. He really needed to get to those outer alarms. He knew local wildlife had tripped half of them - that every alert had just been one more false positive - but the situation had become more serious, now. "Probably another chupacabra. Every time one of those alarms gets triggered it's some damn animal or another."
"Perhaps," Ana said, frowning, dismayed a little at his casualness. "But I will check."
"No," the soldier said, rousing himself out of his torpor, feeling more out of joint than ever. Usually, workouts helped, but not as much today. "No. You cover me, while I go out." He shook himself out, trying to rally himself, physically. It worked, to a degree. "And... when I ghost... don't freak."
That much, at least, is wise, she thought, as she picked up her rifle, got into position, and nodded.
In the trees surrounding the small cabin, Venom sat, watching. "He's comin' out," she said, with a predatory grin, "and he's alone. Checking the door..."
"They are rightly suspicious," Widowmaker added. "Ana is..." She activated her helmet. "She is covering him, from inside. Do not underestimate her, even now."
"I've seen her shoot," Laticia chimed in. "I won't."
"Shit," Gabe said, "he's ghosted." They'd let the field generator untriggered, not wanting to tip Jack off, Angela and Venom both suspecting he could feel its effects. "Teufel, hit the trap!"
"Activated," Angela replied. "Is he..."
"Fuck!" Lacitica said. "Where'd he go? I saw him, I saw his cloud, then.... where the hell did he..."
"I do not have him in my sights," Widowmaker growled, frustrated. "How? How could he...?"
"I'm goin' in," Venom spat, through clenched teeth. "He's somewhere, but he's not here. We get Ana, maybe he comes back for her."
"Go. I have her in my sights - let us make sure she knows."
The single shot smashed the window, the bullet deflected as she'd anticipated, missing the Egyptian sniper. As the older woman spun to track back the shot and respond with one of her own, Venom teleported behind her, and with one blow, knocked her to the ground, dazed but not out. Ana's hand dove into her cloak for her knockout pistol, and the Talon assassin grabbed it as she did, the two wrestling, briefly, before the gun fired, once, into the wall, and a second time, into the Egyptian woman's shoulder.
"Sorry, mum," Lena said smirking, as the older woman's consciousness faded. "Not this time."
Jack Morrison floated, sightless, enraged, a diffuse mass, spreading, uncontrolled.
He'd felt himself scatter, when the trap triggered. He'd felt himself fly apart, the thinnest mist, held together for now, barely, buffeted by the breeze - how, he didn't know.
But he could hear. Vibrations in the air also vibrated what was left of him, and somehow, whatever network held him together, that still - barely - let him still think, also let him understand sound. He heard the Widowmaker's shot; he heard the glass shatter; he heard the sound of Venom teleporting, he heard a scuffle, he heard two shots, and he heard Ana fall, unknowing what it all meant.
And then, as he drifted away, he heard Venom's shout.
"Y'STILL OUT THERE, Y'MONSTROUS FUCK? WE'VE GOT 'ER, NOW."
"YOU WANT 'ER BACK?"
"COME GET HER!"