This chapter is worksafe, but somewhat violent. [AO3 link]
"Well, that's the funny thing, Ana," the assassin told the enraged woman in front of her. "We have you? But we don't actually want you."
Most of the two parties had spread out, in the woods and brush, in separate sectors, looking for any sign of Morrison. Venom had weighed the odds carefully, decided this would be giving Laticia her chance, and stayed back at the house, with Angela, to interrogate their prisoner.
The oldest sniper spat, glaring at the young woman who had once been a test pilot, then the so-called "Hero of London," and a Talon sniper, and then... "So who have they made out of you today, pilot? Is there even a 'you' in there, anymore?"
Lena frowned, and growled a little. "Look, Captain, would you bloody get off it? You can't be as crazy as Jack - though I have to admit, that mail you sent makes me think you've come pretty close."
"That mail I sent...?"
"To Ree. Pretty nasty, I have t'say. But at least it got her off th' pot."
"Ah." Ana wondered, for a moment, what that last sentence meant, before carrying on. "So. You intercepted it, then? Or did she hand it to your controller, there?"
Amari glared over at Angela, in her Devil field kit. One of Lucifer's abilities is to heal, she thought. I will grant that it is clever. "I presume you're doing the same thing to my daughter that you've done to whoever this poor woman used to be, and to Amélie, before that."
Angela's face passed through a series of expressions, from confusion, to brief amusement, to anger, as she realised her mother-in-law was serious.
"You think... that I..."
Ana grimaced. "The suit is fitting. How long have you had it? Since you founded Talon? Was the angel always a joke at our expense?"
"Wow," Venom said, laughing, "you are gone." Then she frowned. "But this isn't my interrogation, Cap - or hers. It's yours."
She hunched down in front of the chair holding the senior Amari. "We know what you saw, thanks to that mail, and we've wiped the video off your rifle. But we're not stupid, and neither are you. You've got a backup, somewhere."
She didn't mention that a copy had already been sent off, to be edited, just so. The first fake version would appear on an Overwatch conspiracy theory site in two hours, from a regular on the board generally believed to be living somewhere in the Philippines, though some suspected they were really in Curaçao. Both groups, naturally, were wrong.
The former Strike Commander's former XO merely glared, and did not deign to reply.
"All we want to know is where the backups are. We're not unreasonable people, luv. You can be whatever kind of crazy old conspiracy nutter you want - we just want that video. Convince us all the copies are gone, and we'll let you walk away."
"So generous of you," she spat. "Give you the one piece of evidence I have that you care about - the one piece of power I have over you - and if I don't, you will... what? Kill me? You will kill me once you have it."
"Rather not, t'be honest. Kill you, I mean."
"I find that difficult to believe. Aren't you Talon's greatest assassin?"
"Flatterer. But that's my wife." She smirked. "Honestly, mate, it's all the same to me. You're part of the same rot who broke the original Overwatch. You're the ones who got my friends killed - who got Reinhardt killed" - Venom noticed as Ana blanched, a little, at that - "and who left me out to die in the Slipstream."
"So you... remember that much."
"Balls! 'Course I do. Why wouldn't I? I remember all of it. 'S far as I'm concerned, we'd be better off without any of you hanging around, still trying t'find ways to screw things up."
"Then why don't you just kill me? Afraid I have some sort of deadman's switch on the video?"
Venom nodded. "It's a possibility. But mostly, that's not it. Mostly, I just don't want to make Fareeha sad."
"Straight up," the assassin replied. "That's the real reason."
"...why do you care?"
"Because she's bloody great, that's why."
Lena stood up, walked over, and opened the fridge, finally finding that sangría señorial she'd been wanting for two days, and grinned, opening it, taking a sip.
"Must be from her pop. 'Cause it sure as hell didn't come from you."
They'd sedated Ana and put her in the small hut's only bedroom, safely away from prying eyes, when she wouldn't talk.
"So, Angela," Amélie asked. "What happened?"
Angela looked at her little projector, all systems functioning perfectly - or so its diagnostics claimed.
"I do not know. It should be working. It should have kept him from being able to ghost, it should have locked the nanites of his swarm into their state, and..."
The two women looked at each other, realising, both, at the same time.
"...he ghosted first," Amélie said, eyes wide.
"...of course! He can't come back," Angela said, astonished. "He's, he's, he must be locked in that form? Is it possible? Yes. It could be. He, he... could be still ghosted, now. Just... moreso. More, more, dispersed, and possibly even still dispersing. There are failsafes, but..."
"Can he survive that?"
"I have no idea how he survives any of it! I certainly have no idea for how long."
"And if we turn this off..."
"...he could pop back right in front of us. Or, if he moves out of range, he could fall back together on his own. At any time."
"How far is that range?"
"Perhaps... 450 metres. 500 at the very most."
The spider picked up her rifle. "Let's get everyone warned."
"Yes," the Devil said, wholly in agreement. "Let's."
"We have to presume," the Widowmaker said, "that he could be here, right now. This very moment. Presumably aware of us, presumably able to control his position, as he appears able, when normally ghosted - we have no way of knowing."
The Talon team had kept the cabin, Ana still bound and sedated in the bedroom; Overwatch, the southeastern ridge, out of sight, but along the easiest escape route.
"When we deactivate the field generator, he could appear in the middle of either team, or nowhere visible at all - or not even appear. He may even not have survived this; Teufel says she cannot know, but given everything else, that we must assume he did, and that he could attempt to absorb anyone nearby as soon as he attempts to materalise, before the field can be re-established. We must all be ready to attack on sight."
She let that sink in, for a moment.
"Is everyone in position?"
Sombra nodded, her scanners set and machine gun out; Angela nodded, her staff at the ready, hand on the field generator's control pad; Venom nodded, pistols and bomb readied, watching the perimeter. On the ridge, Laticia nodded, once, and last of all, Gabriel responded, "We're ready to go."
Angela swallowed, and tested her resolve, and found it... firm enough.
"Deactivating field," she said, "in five... four... three... two..."
...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!"
Ana plans ahead, Sombra thinks maybe Lena has been overestimating Morrison the whole time, and Laticia Delgado knows who to talk to, particularly around here.
This chapter is worksafe. [AO3 link]
"She's saying the old dude is back," Sombra reported, listening in on Laticia's conversation with the older woman running the little store by the side of the road, near the nature preserve. "The creepy gringo who scares off the kids."
Amélie and Lena could hear everything being said over their headsets, and understood it all. But Angela appreciated the translation.
"Does he have a friend with him this time?"
"Sssh, she's asking."
More Spanish, and Sombra grinned. "Yep. He brought 'er along. We've got 'em."
"El es un problema," said the shopkeep. He's a problem.
"Nos desharemos de ellos por ti, Simona," Laticia replied. We'll get rid of him for you. "Gracias por hacérmelo saber. Lo aprecio." Thanks for filling me in. I appreciate it.
"Oye, también nos estás haciendo un favor. Gracias." Hey, you're also doing us a favour. Thank you.
"No es nada," the younger woman said, with a grin, bringing her candy to the counter. It's nothing.
"Nos vemos más tarde," Simona replied, ringing up the small purchase. Don't be a stranger.
"Could you follow the conversation?" Gabriel asked, over comms, as Latica paid for her saladitos and a couple of bottles of sangría señorial, before making her way out of the little shop, into the sun.
"Yes, Gabriel - thank you," the Widowmaker responded. "Her signal is loud and clear."
"We'll still have to pin him down, but now we know where to look." Lena chewed her lip a little. "He'll have the place boobytrapped to hell and back, won't he?"
"Hell yeah he will. He's pretty good at that, too. I used to be better, but he's still in practice."
"You'll run us through his library of tricks?"
"It's nothing you wouldn't know, but sure."
Laticia's voice broke in, now over comms as well, back in the second stolen - 'borrowed,' Reyes insisted - transport. The door closed, making a noise under her voice. "Hey, did you all get that?"
"We did," Sombra replied. "Thanks."
"I bet he's holed up in one of the old counsellor's cabins." The sound of one bottle cap popping, and a second. In the background, Reyes thanked her for the drink. "He's not gonna be in the ranger house, it's too close to a road. But I'd bet good money he's in one of the cabins."
"What?" Angela broke in, surprised. "Counsellor... cabins?"
"This is a park," Laticia laughed. "I thought I explained that. There were older kids from school who worked here in the summer, before things went to hell."
Angela could hear a rustle as the gangster settled in, buckling her seatbelt.
"How do you think I knew to ask Simona? Nosy old woman knows everything. She's trying to get it going again, wants him gone."
"...I like you, amiga," Sombra said, not keeping her grin out of her voice, looking for older maps of rather different sorts, online.
"Not sure how much I want to be liked by a Talon agent," Laticia quipped, "but I'll take the compliment."
Sombra just laughed, as she forwarded around an old camper's map of the extensive park and nature reserve, with all 14 cabins clearly marked. "Venom, I know you keep saying we have to be ahead of this guy, but... I have to tell you... he looks to me like an easy mark."
"I know," Lena agreed, nodding. "But he just keeps..."
She growled a little, frustrated, wishing she had a soda.
"...slipping out of traps. He's way too good at getting away. Don't underestimate him."
"I guess so, la rapidita, but..."
The hacker shrugged, her hands a little in the air, not seeing it, and Lena shook her head and wondered, not for the first time, if they'd been - no, if she'd been...
"...I think maybe you've been overestimating him this whole time."
"He's a legend," Lena insisted, defensively.
"Oooooooor... consider... maybe these days... he's just a myth."
Ana watched, silently, as Jack napped, unsettled, writhing, on the large couch. Occasionally, wisps of grey smoke, foglike, would trail off of his body, and she shuddered when it did.
How much control does he really have? she wondered, again, and not just about his physical form.
Jack had become... erratic, over the years, it seemed. In public, or on mission, or when planning an action, the old man could pull himself back together pretty well. But on his downtime...
If I hadn't known him before, she thought, I probably wouldn't've realised how far he's gone. He's still quite the charmer, and he can put on a good show when he needs to, but...
He'd started rambling, earlier, the previous evening, a little drunk, first about how they would take apart the conspiracy at the UN, and how once they could just show everything, how they'd be hailed again as heroes, and that struck her as unrealistic enough, but then, as the night wore on, he went on about Spain, and about a girlfriend he'd had once, while in the Spanish army.
He'd never been in the Spanish army. Ana knew this. And he'd most certainly never had a girlfriend. Jack could do many things, but pretend to be straight - or even bi - wasn't one of them. When she asked about it, he looked confused, and said he had no idea what she was talking about, and she said she must've misheard, because they both knew that was impossible, and they laughed about it. On the outside, at least.
How many people have you stolen from without knowing, she wondered. And how many pieces of them are you still carrying around with you?
She pulled up the tactical plan they'd worked on, for California, glanced over it again - it was a stretch, to put it mildly, but sound enough - and then back up at Morrison.
Perhaps I should work on a second plan, as well. For afterwards.
She put the tablet down, and sunk deep into thought.
If I am going to finish this, after all... I should really finish it. He may be the lesser monster, but he is, still, a monster. And monsters must be slain, even if they are useful. To a point. For now.
A part of her wanted to grieve at how far they'd both fallen, but she did not let it. Grief, too, would have to wait for after.
"I have him," Widowmaker subvocalised over comms. "Through the west window, off of a mirror. But I have no shot."
"I also recognise the glass. It is not original. It will not stop my bullets, but it will change their course - I should not target through it."
Lena nodded, and smiled. "Good," she replied. "I want 'im."
"Not in the daylight, ma chérie. Not unless you also want a firefight."
"Kinda do," she said, spotting another trap. "But... yeh. I'm still findin' his little surprises."
She crawled over to the tripwire, following it, carefully, found the bullet trigger, and the little pack of explosives it would ignite, when fired. She pulled the cartridge carefully from the rig, and the explosives, but left the rest set up, not obviously molested. Across, on the far side of the ravine, Gabriel and Laticia were doing much the same, up and down the hill. They'd found multiple areas with proximity alarms, but the cordon... well. Once, it had probably been comprehensive. Now, not so much, and they'd make their move before either Ana or Jack could try to fix it.
"Mexican police are gonna spend weeks in here trying t'clean all this out," she muttered, pocketing the cartridge. "Listen to me - he's got me sympathising with the bloody filth." She suppressed a snort at herself. "Another thing he's bodged up, the absolute rotter."
Widowmaker continued to watch, through the scope, off the mirror, as Morrison slept, writhing a bit, wisps of smoke floating around him. We should not assume he is done with surprises - but where is Ana? She has not left him, I do not think.
She shifted her sight, looking for reflections, and spotted a metal pitcher, and through it, reflected in it, distorted, thinned, the other target, the target they still hoped not to take, apparently still, apparently also at rest, and the sniper smiled.
"Ana confirmed," she subvocalised again, over comms. "Sombra, if you could place the beacon within range?"
"Already there," the hacker replied, a smirk clear in her voice. "I planted it as soon as you called Spooky."
So close to ending this, she thought, a little excited by the prospect of the kill, even if - most likely - she would not be the one to get to make it.
She adjusted her scope, and looked again.
I see you, she thought.
Do you see me?
[All dialogue is in translation from the Spanish.]
«Hey, so,» Gabriel said, sitting at the small table in the detention cell, «I don't know your name, not for sure, but - mine's Gabe. Gabriel Rayes.»
The Los Muertos fighter said nothing, just glaring at him from across the little room, not at the table, leaning, against the far wall.
«I know, I know, you don't want to talk to us. So now you're probably expecting some sort of good cop/bad cop deal, here? Or maybe for me just to try to beat it out of you, I dunno. But that's not what we do.» He pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and pulled one out. «Mind if I smoke?»
Her eyes flicked to the package. Morley. The most popular brand in Mexico. She didn't smoke, but Arturo did, and he smoked that.
«I'm not gonna, if you don't say it's okay,» Reyes said. «Lot of people don't like the smell, but I find it relaxing.»
She kept her silence.
«Just as well,» he said, putting the cigarette back in its package. «Angela's been after me and Jesse to quit for years, but I figure - our line of work, lung cancer'll be the last thing that gets me.»
The corner of Laticia's mouth twitched, just a little. Gabe pretended not to notice, and poured himself a glass of water from the small pitcher at the table, and poured a second glass from the same pitcher. Glass wasn't really right, of course, the cups were paper, and the pitcher was plastic, but close enough. He took a sip from one, and put the other on the far side of the table.
«You shouldn't feel bad about losing, yesterday,» he said. «You did well - better, even, than you did in New Mexico, a few months ago. It's just that this time, we knew to take you seriously, and bring in bigger guns. If anything, you should be proud.»
He picked the cigarette pack off the table, put it into his shirt pocket, and pulled out a small candy, which he popped into the side of his mouth. «Supposed to help y'quit. Don't think I believe in it, though.»
He played with the wrapper, making crinkly sounds with the plastic. «Morrison - he's a lot of things, good and bad, but one of 'em's being a good field commander. He picks good people, and he's really whipped you into solid shape. We went into the army together, back in the day. Used to be friends, though that's,» he chuckled, «...long over. Yesterday felt a little like old times.»
Again, a little twitch in the fighter's eyes. He hasn't taught them anything about interrogation, though, he thought. Good.
«You know,» he continued, taking another sip of water, «we're not looking for anything about Los Muertos. As far as we're concerned, that's a Mexican problem, with Mexican jurisdiction. We want to bring in Jack, hand him over to the international criminal court - not for anything he's done with you, but for what he did, before, in Overwatch. He got a lot of my friends killed.»
He leaned back a little in his chair, and finished his glass of water. «You hungry? I'd think by now you'd have to be. I know you didn't eat breakfast, but given what the Swiss call breakfast, I can't say I blame you.»
That got a smirk. Just a little one, but a smirk.
«It's not too late for breakfast, you know. C'mon, sit down. You need to eat, and you don't have to talk.»
He opened the bag he'd brought into the room, and pulled out two covered plates, sealed in large airtight plastic bags. As soon as he broke the seal, the spicy scent of huevos con tortilla filled the small room, and he pulled the plates from their bags, and set them both across the table.
«I made these myself, just before I came in, when they told me you didn't eat. I'll eat with you, so you don't think we've done anything to it. You want the left or the right?» He saw her react to the scent - he wasn't a half-bad cook, and he knew it. «Or, we can combine them, or I'll try anything you want first - whatever makes you feel a little safer. We know Morrison's kind of... out there, these days. Who knows what he's been telling you, am I right?»
Laticia stepped forward, slowly, towards the table, and sat down, giving him her best glare, saying nothing.
«Thanks. So. Pick a plate? Or...»
She picked a plate, then saw there was no fork, or spoon, and looked back up as Gabriel handed her a plastic utensil. «Sorry, no metal. But it'll get the job done...» and as he said that, she pushed the plate back, and took the other one in its place.
«Fine by me,» he said, smiling.
She looked at him, and waited.
«Oh, me first?»
She nodded, and he smiled. There we go, he thought. And now we're talking. «No problem.» He took out his own plastic fork, took a big piece of egg, chewed, and swallowed. «If I say this was my grandmother's recipe, would it be too much of a cliche? I think so, but it's true, so I'm stuck with saying it. She'd never forgive me if I didn't tell people where it came from.»
Laticia smirked, took a taste from her own plate, and then took a second, much larger bite, immediately. Americano can cook, she thought. Damn, this isn't half bad.
«There aren't a lot of things I can make, not right,» he said, between his own bites, «but this is one. I make it whenever I feel homesick. It's LA, not Mexico, but she was from Mexico, and she brought it with her. For me, it's grandma's kitchen.»
She snorted, amiably, just a little, between her own bites, and drank a little water. «I don't remember either of my grandmothers,» she surprised him by saying.
He didn't let on. «I'm sorry about that. I really am.»
A shrug, and she kept eating. «It's what it is,» she said. «You're pretty good at this.»
«Interrogation.» She shook her head, disappointed in herself. «As soon as I nodded, I knew I'd fucked up.»
«I should be good - it was my job, or one of 'em, when I was working for Morrison. And hey, I'm glad you're talking. Makes it less weird in here.»
You worked for Morrison? she thought. «But you're not getting anything about Los Muertos out of me,» she insistently.
«Not even going to try. On my honour.»
«So,» she said, considering that between bites, «why aren't you just dumping me over to the Mexican police?»
«Good question. We've got a few reasons. First, I've already said. We're not Interpol. Second, we're hoping you tell us a little more about where Morrison might go hide. Third... we've got some video we think you'll want to see, first.»
«Video? Of what?»
«Part of it, maybe you can tell us. You're in it. So's Jack.»
She took another big bite of spicy egg. «Your ambush?»
«Nope. One of yours.»
«Huh.» She looked at her paper cup. «You got any coffee? This wants coffee, not water.»
«Kind of, but not the real stuff. The strongest thing we've got is espresso.»
She shrugged. «It'll do.»
[the next day]
«So,» Delgado said, «you guys shoot this video?»
Laticia sipped her mango soda and leaned back a little bit in the padded conference room chair. It was a lot more comfortable than the detention cell's bolted-down metal.
Gabe shook his head, no, as he pulled up the file. «We don't have that kind of surveillance. We acquired it from the shooter.»
«Shooter?» she said, inquisitively. «Shooter... or sniper, maybe?»
Rayes looked over at Delgado, with half a grin. «You surprise me again. Yes. Do you know who?»
«Don't you?» replied the fighter, with a smirk.
«Yes,» he said, «I do.»
«Prove it.» She took another pull from the can.
She still thinks I'm digging for Los Muertos, he thought. Fair enough. «How 'bout we trade? I'll give you the last name, you give me the first?»
«Deal,» Laticia nodded.
«Ana.» She grinned. «We have a winner! Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding! You know her?»
«She was with us, back when Morrison was in charge. His XO, more or less, on the Overwatch side. How do you know her? Or is that Los Muertos territory?»
«Nah,» she said, waving her hands dismissively. «Morrison talked about her after she tried to kill us, or, mostly, him. He says shooting at him is her way of flirting.»
Rayes grimaced. «I don't think she's flirting.»
«I didn't feel flirted with, I felt scared. She's good. How'd you get video out of her?»
Gabe thought about it a couple of seconds before replying. «She gave it to us herself, a couple of months before she decided we were all Talon stooges, or actual Talon ourselves. I can't say why, but...»
«Wait,» the fighter jumped in, «she's bought into Spooky's crazytalk? I thought that's why she was trying to shoot him.»
Gabe stopped futzing with video files, and sat down beside the Los Muertos fighter. «...is that what he thinks? That we're secretly Talon?»
«Yeah,» she nodded. «He keeps this notebook. Very secret. But he'll talk about it, if he's tired enough. You guys are Talon, the UN is Talon, the governments are Talon, everybody's Talon, he's the only one who knows, blah de blah de blah. Don't get him started.»
«You ever get a look at this notebook?»
«He fell asleep with it open once, I looked over his shoulder. Lots of tiny words and lines connecting boxes. He thinks its some kind of master dossier, and maybe it makes sense to him, but to me, it's garbage. Is Talon even real?»
«Absolutely,» the tactical lead nodded. «It's not a large organisation, though.»
«Bigger than you?»
«Yes, but not really - we have similar scopes of operation. It's... kind of complicated.»
She sucked in her upper lip on the right side, and ducked her head just a little, thinking. «...Is 'complicated' another way of saying he's not completely wrong?»
Christ, she's sharp, he thought. «No, he's wrong. Before 2070, Talon was all but a nonentity, a lot smaller than we thought even then. It didn't get any real traction until 2071, after Overwatch fell, and its reach is still very limited. It's...» He took, and released, a big breath. Do I gamble this, here? His gut told him yes. «We... communicate, in certain limited ways. They see themselves as kind of a peacekeeping operation, like we do. They just use assassinations to do it.»
«Huh,» she said, suspicion in her voice, but it didn't stop her from taking another big drink of her soda. «Sounds like bullshit.»
He shook his head. «It's not, at least, not completely. I don't like it, but I used to run covert ops, back in the original Overwatch, and we did some... pretty nasty things in the name of peace ourselves.» He tapped the tabletop with his fingers. «Do you remember the big news last year, that foiled bombing in London at an Omnic Rights rally?»
«Yeah,» she replied. «Biggest 'nobody got hurt' news ever. Things seemed to calm down a lot after that.»
The former Blackwatch commander nodded. «There were two women involved. One, Lena Oxton, of Overwatch, was identified in the press. The other wasn't ever identified at all, but they were both involved, and on the same side.»
Her eyes went wide. «The other woman in that picture that went everywhere... she was a Talon agent?»
He nodded. «One of their best. We know who. And now you know one of our biggest secrets - not that you could prove it.»
Holy god, thought the Los Muertos fighter. «So are you after Morrison, or are they?»
«We both are.» He poured himself some water.
«Why, particularly?» she asked, gaze intent. Wait, wait, wait, I know this guy. Somewhere. Where?
He took a sip. «We want to hand him to the ICC for trial, for crimes under his leadership at Overwatch. They...» he tilted his head back and forth, «They just want to cut to the chase and kill him.»
She stared at Gabe, intently. This guy, this guy... I know you. I didn't realise it before, how do I... She jumped, in her chair. «I know you. I remember you.»
«The public part of my testimony wasn't that long ago,» he said, nodding. «I don't look that much older, do I?» he said, with half a grin.
«You're, you're that guy. You're that Rayes? You're the dude who blew the whistle on Overwatch?»
«I am,» he said, taking a drink of his water. «One of many.»
«...and now you're helping bring it back?»
«Back, but different. No covert ops, no Blackwatch. None of it. Not this time.» He crushed his cup. «We're not making that mistake again. Not if I can help it.»
The guy who brought it all down. Wow. She blinked. «Morrison's kind of obsessed with you, you know. You're all over his weird little book.»
«Can't say I'm surprised.»
She nodded, slowly, taking it all in. «And this video?»
«You're in it, like I said. We thought... you'd want to watch it. It's you, Morrison, and a bunch of other people we don't know. We think it's your team against the Maras, but we aren't even sure about that, or why. But Amari's trying to kill Morrison, and we think you'll want to know how that went.»
«Show me,» she said, sharply.
«This video's a little grisly. I won't insult you by suggesting you can't take it, but, now you know.» Reyes hit play.
The video showed an MS-13 cargo carrier, escorted, though a familiar street. «Oh yeah,» Delgado said, «I remember this. We were on stakeout for like three days waiting for the Maras to ship these stupid stolen processors so we could steal 'em back. Ha! There I am, there's Jack... oh god, it's Ara, I miss her, she never came ba... WHAT THE FUCK?!»
She stood and spun around on Gabriel. «WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST SHOW ME? PLAY THAT AGAIN. SLOW.»
He nodded, silently, and ran the footage a second time, at half speed. Laticia watched the display, tracing Araceli's progress with her finger, until Morrison was shot, and his nanite clouds enveloped her, and took half her head to repair his own. She sat, hard, shaking with rage.
«He... he lied to me. He said, he said, he didn't know where she went, that maybe she'd circled north, he didn't know what happened...»
Rayes blinked. «I... didn't know she was someone personal to you. I'm sorry. I would've warned you.»
«She was my cousin,» she said, angrily. «We were kids together. Oh god, Ara, you... that bastard.» She punched the holographic screen, which accomplished nothing, not even making her feel better.
Gabriel stood, slowly. «I really didn't know. Do you want to be alone? I'll leave, wait outside.»
The Los Muertos fighter snarled at the video, paused on the spotlessly re-formed head of Jack Morrison. You motherfucker. You lying son of a bitch. You goddamn traitor. You...
She punched the table. At least that felt like something. It hurt, but not the tabletop, and fortunately, not even her knuckles, except two, now bleeding. Carefully, slowly, she opened both her hands, and placed them palms-down on the cool, tan laminate.
«No,» she said, firmly, eyes narrowed. «He killed family. Probably the last family I had.» She looked back to Gabriel. «You want me to help you take this fucker down?»
«Yes,» he said, simply and plainly. «We do. We'll offer...»
«Don't care. He killed family, and lied to my face about it; I'm on fucking board. Where do we start?»
"Still no sign of him?"
"Nope. Not a word. He's laying low - real low."
Tracer leaned against the table set off to the side of Gabriel's office, against the north wall. "It's been weeks."
Gabriel shrugged. "Intelligence is like that."
"I know, I know," she said breezily, but not without a hint of irritation. "So were the Forces."
The strategic advisor snorted knowingly. "It's no coincidence that 'Hurry Up and Wait' has been a running joke in every army ever."
"There's got to be some reason, though. He won't just have buggered off."
The Angelino nodded. "Most likely. Who knows what it is, though."
"It bothers me, luv, it really does." She fiddled with the buttons on her grapple, a nervous habit. "He's doing something. Don't know what, but... it bothers me."
"Me too. But Morrison'll surface when he's good and ready." He flipped through more pages of intel, some from his own sources, some from Lena's friends. "We just need to be good to go when he does."
[three months later]
"So that's how it's going to be, is it, Oxton?" Morrison said, still feeling strange, still feeling sluggish, still feeling as he had since the beginning of the assault when Ziegler had let fly that flare, that burst of light, and his convoy fell under assault again, for the second time in three months. But he kept dancing, around and away, low on ammo, lower on allies - at least, ones still standing - and he wasn't going to go down. Not if he could help it.
He'd broken away from the main corps, trying for high ground to launch his grenades, but this time, the tactical visor had stayed off, thanks to Ziegler's new toy. "The last Overwatch survivor, finally brought down by Talon?"
"Damn you, Morrison - don't tempt me," Lena Oxton snapped back before thinking, pistols aimed but not firing, still circling her target - but as Tracer in orange and tangerine, no matter how much she wasn't wanting to play that part right then. She gestured to the patch on her shoulder. "We're Overwatch, not Talon, and we're here to take you in for charging and trial. We're not here kill you."
"You? Overwatch? Don't make me laugh. There's no real Overwatch, not anymore. Not since the attack. Not since '70."
"Jack, please! Just stand down!" shouted Mei-Ling, peeking around from behind her ice wall. "You'll have a chance to defend yourself. The ICC will hear your case. You will have your day in court!" And I can't wait to testify against you, she did not add aloud.
Where the hell is Delgado's team?! the former Strike Commander thought, stalling for time, running for distance. He snarled at the scientist. "A show trial in front of that puppet theatre, before I have all the evidence of what's really been going on? I don't think so." He fired another few rounds at Oxton, trying to conserve his remaining ammo. "Of all the people - of all the people, Mei - you? Working with Talon, like the rest? I thought you were better than that."
What the bloody hell does he know?! thought Venom, dismayed. He must be bluffing. Got to be. "What is it with you and Ana, anyway? Is everything Talon to you, now?" She glanced around, the briefest of looks. C'mon, Gabe, I can't do this forever. Where are you? Rally the rest of the troops, already!
"Roger that," came her subvocalised reply over comms. "But it's me and Mei against him and he's not being talked down. How long you gonna be?"
"It's a proper strike force on their side. We're wearing 'em out, and we'll win this, but it's gonna take a few minutes. Keep him entertained 'til we can bring the party to you?"
"We'll do our best, but he's getting away from us."
"From you? "
"I'm holdin' back, luv. Playin' my part."
"Right." He rolled between boulders, firing suppression rounds, getting closer to the front line as D.va - who had finally responded to the recall a week before - charged in on their the right flank with a round of minirockets. "We'll get there as soon as we can."
Wow, he's just... out on his own somewhere, isn't he? thought the teleporter. "Jack, this is barmy - what are you even on about?"
"Like you don't know." He threw a volley of gunfire at the teleporter, hitting her arm, and she let out a little "yipe!" before rewinding the damage. "Like that," he said. And like they did to me, he thought. But I'll turn it back against them. I'm the one who can. He backed away, again, further and further from the main fighting, and felt a little better, a little faster, a little less stuck.
"This," she said, teleporting behind him and clocking him hard on the back of his head with the butt of her pistol, wanting to do so much more, but being so very, very good, and hating it so very, very much, "is your fault. Or the Slipstream's. Or both." She teleported away as he turned and fired, calling, "And being stuck there for five years? Definitely on you." She punctuated the 'definitely' with four rounds of fire, two on either side of his head, bullets whizzing just past his ears.
Mei-Ling ran as fast as she could, and as hard as she could, throwing up walls to slow him down, catching up just a bit. "Jack, you must stand down! You can outrun me, but not her, and the rest of the team will be here in very soon. You have no chance!"
"I always have a chance," he growled. "I survived your entire assault force - this? This is nothing." I just need to get a little further back, he thought. Almost there. I can feel it.
And then, suddenly, he was there. His tactical visor reappeared, materialising, as if formed from nothing. Tracer saw, and jinked to the side, shouting, "MEI! GET DOWN!" and she threw her stinger, sticking it to his left arm, all but reflexively...
...and the soldier's whole body turned to mist, not as, but just before the bomb exploded. She teleported away, last one...
...and the mist followed, and she ran, ran like she'd never run, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, seven seconds, just give me seven...
...which was when the the solder's grenade hit her back, hard, followed by the solder's last clip of assault rifle rounds, and she fell, limp, onto the ground, and did not get up.
"LENA!" shrieked Mei, and she charged, throwing spears of ice at the Strike Commander, who sneered, but retreated, choosing the better part of valour, being out, finally, of both grenades and ammo, at least for now. "MERCY!" she shouted into comms, "GET HERE RIGHT NOW, TRACER DOWN AND NOT GETTING BACK UP!"
"We're en route," said the combat medic over comms, "they're retreating and we are on our way!"
Dr. Zhou looked with growing horror at Tracer, who seemed to be struggling to reach something, and not bleeding out, at least, not quickly, and she didn't know how that was possible with a hole that big in her back, How are you alive?! How are you moving?! she thought, but she fired, and fired, and fired, after the Strike Commander, missing, putting up a wall at the end, as he ran out of sight. "MERCY!" she called again. "SHE IS DYING!"
Lena struggled, trying not to black out and succeeding, reserves draining but there is time, there is more than enough time, reaching for one of the hidden venom mines in her pouch but her shoulder wasn't quite working, looking at Mei, mouthing something Mei could not understand. "No! Don't try to move, Angela is on the way!" the researcher said, grabbing Lena's arm, and Lena fought her, getting stronger, not weaker, no, Mei, no, let me, let me get... but she could not draw air, so she could not speak, and then...
"Helden sterben nicht!" shouted the doctor, arriving, as the look in Tracer's eyes screamed No! as loudly as she could make it scream, before she was taken by fear, terrified of what could...
...it was cool. So cool. Unexpectedly so, but not cold, not painful, not like tearing and shifting flesh, nothing like pain at all. She tingled, all over, and somehow, she found herself still aware though it, still awake, still thinking, floating, weightless, glowing, and then suddenly, it was over, and she was standing, and whole. She grabbed at her chest in panic, where some of the rounds had exited, and teleported, successfully, and rewound, and teleported again, and everything - everything - just worked.
She looked around through golden eyes, seeing the world in sniper-sight, and that's when she knew, and again, became cold.
"...you perfected it?!" said Mei, and Angela nodded, briefly. "Yes. A couple of years ago. But... Lena, please!" she shouted, "Do not teleport any more! I need to get you back to the ship at once, for an examination! Please!"
The assassin froze, stopping in place, perfectly still, and tested her web, tested her systems, and found everything right back where it should be - for Mockingbird, anyway.
She hit a set of buttons on her grapple, flipping her armour back to Tracer tangerine and white, but left her eyes gold as she said - with very little inflection in her voice at all - "Yeh. Clearly. And, Mei, luv... you witnessed all this... you need to tell the rest of the team. Fill them in, tell them what he can do now."
She popped the sight off her rifle and separated it back into its component pistols - Tracer wouldn't have that - and re-holstered them both. "Let's go."
Medical data flashed by on the panel over the ship's examination table, and Dr. Ziegler looked at it, but without enthusiasm, or even her regular focus. She knew it all already - she knew that Lena was in perfect health. In every way. She just prayed the woman didn't know...
"I didn't think you could do your resurrection trick without a deep scan," Venom said, in a pointed but quiet voice. "Much less invoke all... this."
The doctor considered the monitor readouts, intently, but Lena did not let it lie.
"That is what you said, isn't it? That's what I seem t'remember."
Angela closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled, shuddering. Well. This is it, then. She swallowed, hard. "That's right. I can't."
Venom's face set, grimly, into an angry frown. "Yeh. That's what I thought. When?"
"In my office. When you agreed you were still my patient. It was automatic, but that is not a defence - I knew it would happen, and I let it."
Lena nodded. "Antineutrino entanglement scanner, maybe? Ordinary scanners won't work."
Angela blinked her eyes open, surprised, looking towards her patient. "Yes. Still considered experimental. How did you know?"
Lena smirked. "Had a hunch."
"So." The assassin propped herself up, carefully, on her elbows. "You lied to me."
"Yes. No. Yes. It was part of the paperwork you signed, back in London, technically, but... yes. But I never looked at the data. Not even once, I swear to you. I have no idea how you work. I did not violate that confidentiality. I swear."
Venom coughed, a mockery of a laugh. "If that's true, luv, then how did...?"
"I wanted to violate it," she broke in, looking down though wet eyes. "So much, I wanted to. But I didn't. I couldn't, I knew how you'd..." - she finally thought about the question - "I... I compiled it all into the Mockingbird revival database, destroyed the original, and prayed I wouldn't have to use the result. Or that you'd agree, before I did."
"Why would you do that?" Oxton looked down, towards the deck. "Dammit, doc, you know what I said I'd have to do."
"I did not touch your tech," the doctor insisted, desperately clinging to that technicality.
"I am my tech," refuted the assassin, "and you know it."
"Please, no, you don't have to do this, I truly do not know," said the doctor, an edge of fear in her voice.
Oxton shook her head, no. "Don't think that's good enough... 'cause it's not."
Angela shuddered, surrendering to the inevitable. "...I know."
"Well, then." The Swiss woman set her chin, but it was wobbly. "I will quit Overwatch."
"Ah, no, mate, they need you." Lena sat, swinging her legs over the edge of the table. "More than they need me, t' be honest."
"That's a lie, and you know it."
"Is it? I don't think so." Venom rose from the medical bunk. "They've got a tactical planner, now - one who isn't me." She spun her pistols, just trying to feel normal again, and re-holstered them. "Winston can keep the team together just fine. Tracer..." She shook her head. "She's just an act, s'far as I'm concerned." Flipping her armour back to black and violet, she continued, "One I'm not sure I'm comfortable playing anymore."
"Please don't do this."
"Give me a reason not to, doc," she said, finally pushing the gold from her eyes. "I've put a lot of work into this project, I've really wanted it to fly, but it's become pretty clear that it's..."
"Please don't punish all of them because I decided I'd rather see you hating me than lying dead on the ground," whispered the doctor. "They didn't know." Sobbing all at once, the damn breaking, she looked over to the smaller woman, entire face wet. "It's not their fault."
Venom froze in place, hand just short of the Talon retrieval beacon, and Angela desperately kept talking.
"I swear to you, I do not know how you work. No one does. The data is gone - completely - except within my nanosurgeon farm, and even it doesn't understand, it's not intelligent, not really, and the data is too enmeshed with other data to retrieve. Even I couldn't do it. Hate me," she begged the assassin, falling to her knees in front of the smaller woman, "hate me, if you must, I have betrayed your trust to keep you alive, I freely admit that and I will accept your hate - but I could not bear accept death a second time."
Venom felt dismay at the outburst, confused, ...what is going on...? and the doctor stared back down, down, down at the floor. "Just... don't leave. Don't do it. Please. Don't."
Please. Don't. The words rang through Venom's head like a shot not fired, and, unwanted and unexpected, a tear fell from her own eye, as it dawned upon her to ask, "Are you in... lo..."
She did not finish the word. She didn't have to. "...I'll..." she swallowed, shocked, and wiped her face with her hand. It was still cool to the touch, even to her own. "This is really bad. I'll have to tell Amélie what you've done."
"I do not care. I will confess everything."
"I can't tell you what she'll decide to do. I don't honestly know. But whatever decision she makes, I'll accept it."
"For whatever it's worth, doc - I do believe you, when you say you don't know how we work."
"You do?" Angela looked up at Lena, blinking, surprised.
"Yeh. If y'did... you'd know you didn't need to do that."
"We are bloody hard to kill. And... y'did think you were saving my life. With Mei being in the way, stopping me from healing myself... maybe you even did." She bit her lower lip, thoughtfully. "I don't hate you," she said, as she stepped back outside, "...but now I know I can't really trust you, either."
Mercy's gaze dropped back down to the transport's deck. "I'm sorry."
"I want to believe that," Venom said, regret in her voice. "I really do. I think I even might."
"But... for the record? I want it logged. You are no longer my doctor."
Angela Ziegler just nodded, accepting the fact.
Lena Oxton stepped down past the end of the boarding ramp, spotting the rest of the assault team returning from the ambush, not at all far away now, with prisoners. Mei-Ling waved, the scientist's broad smile sharing her relief, and the assassin bit her lip and turned back to Dr. Ziegler, quickly, without acknowledging it. "Tell everybody the truth about what happened, 'cause I will if y'don't. And probably will even if y'do. But for now..." She pressed the retrieval beacon's activator switch. "I'll see ya... when I see ya."
And with that, she teleported away.
"I'm pretty sure I know what we're gonna see on this video," Venom said, back in her Tracer garb, but still more than a bit blue at the edges and entirely gold in the eyes. "'Cause I'm pretty sure I know what I saw." She gave Angela Ziegler a pointed look. "But... I might be wrong."
Most of the current members of Overwatch Lunar Embassy sat around a table in the ambassador's workshop - even Fareeha, though her thoughts clearly chased rabbits elsewhere. Lena glanced over with more than a little sympathy - she hardly even remembered her mother, and couldn't even imagine what it would be like to have one return from the grave.
"If everyone's ready, I'm going to start with Ana Amari's recording," Winston said, to general assent. "I haven't looked it yet - Athena's just finished deep-scanning the media for anything... inappropriate... to our systems."
Jack Morrison looked at the drive containing the video. He didn't really want to play it again - it scared him. He had some ideas about why, but he didn't like them. Being a super-soldier was one thing. Being... whatever this implied... was another entirely.
He sat quietly in his temporary quarters on the small Los Muertos compound just south of the New Mexico border. He could hear Delgado outside, running her fighters through the training regimes he'd taught her, with that new man, Arturo, acting as her second. Jack smiled to himself, hearing the noise. If we're not careful, I'm going to end up with a pretty good strike team here. Already got one that's not half bad, he thought.
The former - and, arguably, again - Strike Commander looked at the drive a third time, thought, the hell with it, and linked it to his padd. A notice came up, saying the file system was damaged, and he let it repair itself, which took only a couple of minutes, and produced a slightly larger video file.
Winston hit play. The large wall display showed a view through a sniper rifle - a conventional firearm, not Talon make - and Venom chuckled a little to herself. Still using the old-style scopes, grams? Good to know. Through it, from above and from two alleys situated a town that looked hot and had signs in Spanish, a group of Los Muertos fighters spilled out, led on the far side by one all too familiar white-haired super-soldier, on the near side by a woman clearly his lieutenant mirroring his actions, and through upper windows by a set of three sharpshooters. Military tactics against cheap street thugs means a battle that would end quickly, until blam, blam, blam, and all three sharpshooters were down, and there was chaos.
Morrison dodged into view, and the sniper fired, again, quickly - Venom could see Jack all but centred in her sight - and again, that blur, and then, Morrison is fine, and dodging away, and one of the fighters with him is dead on the ground.
"What th'..." said Reyes, as Mercy blinked, and looked confused. Mei looked at the screen, and back to the doctor, similarly confused. "What just...?"
Morrison saw himself spill out of the passenger side of the lead vehicle, face bloodied, just as he remembered. He stopped the video, and zoomed in as far as the footage would allow - the resolution wasn't bad, but the lens wasn't great, and the image could've been shaper. Then, the blurriness got much worse, before returning to sharper focus, and his tactical visor was intact.
What the hell, he thought.
He stopped the replay, and backed up the video, and ran it again, in slow motion, frame at a time, zoomed in as before, tracking his own movement manually.
"Winston, stop the replay?"
The scientist nodded, and motion stopped.
"...re-run that last shot at Morrison, slowly."
The sniper's scope tracked the soldier, a second fighter next to him, close by, but not unduly close. The shot rang out, just behind the former strike commander's motion, but still clearly a headshot. Then the blur.
His visor had definitely been wrecked. Whoever took the shot had hit it perfectly, sheering right across his eyes, ripping most of it off his face without touching his skin. Hell of a shot, he thought, complimenting whoever - or, knowing Talon, whatever - had taken it. Then the blur.
He stopped the video, and studied the frame carefully. The compression wasn't too bad, but the resolution could've been better. He zoomed out, and saw the side of the truck in as sharp a focus as it had been a few frames before - just the upper part of his face became an indistinct mass.
"Stop," said Venom. The video froze in place, blur still covering most of the field. She walked up to the screen. "See these?" She pointed at the sniper scope ticks around the frame, still in perfect focus. "And this?" She pointed at a perfectly-focused truck lamppost base, in the upper left corner. "This isn't recorder artefact."
Winston nodded. "I agree. Whatever this is, it's a real effect."
"Sorry luv, but the news gets worse. I saw exactly this happen," Venom said, "though my sight. I didn't talk about it yet, 'cause I figured maybe I blinked" - though she knew damn well that was impossible - "or maybe someone ran between me and Jack right as I took the third shot. But I know I had him dead in my sights, and when I fired, somebody else was dead on the ground."
"You took a kill shot?" asked Reyes.
"Third time, in that mess? Bloody right I did."
Mei looked unhappy and Gabriel frowned, but found couldn't really argue. "...fair enough."
Venom nodded. "Step through, frame at a time?"
Several more frames of blur, and then, one where it seemed to thin, and then form a line along the horizontal centre of the visor, and there the visor was, again, intact, and Morrison saw himself reaching up and activating it, without a second thought, just as he remembered, during the battle.
He flipped through the last set of frames. Nothing more than what he'd already seen - a broken visor, a blur, and an intact visor, in that order. It didn't make any sense. Nothing in the Soldier Enhancement Programme could do anything like that.
Unless it wasn't the SEP.
Several more frames of blur, and then, one frame where the blur, the fog, seemed to coalesce on the right side, and then the soldier's head was to the right, apparently unharmed, and the fighter whose head had been all but out of frame was dead, on the ground, a large section cut out, almost scooped, mostly missing, and Mei made a small choking sound as the view through the scope swept from the dead fighter's body, back to Morrison's intact and dodging head, and back to the woman, and back to Morrison, before the shooter took another shot just too late, into a wall, as Morrison dove down an alley and behind a skip.
Winston blanched, and spread the key frames across the display. Gabriel looked more than a little ill, himself. "I have seen some fucked up things in my life, but that..."
Venom looked over to Dr. Ziegler, her anger controlled, but not entirely concealed. Angela said nothing, staring intently at the images. "Doc? You gonna say somethin'?"
Morrison thought back to the failed defence of Overwatch Geneva, when everything came apart, falling into Angela Ziegler's lab, badly hurt, bones broken, stumbling around in the dark, the only light the emergency exit signs and his biotic field, as he grasped around, looking for the aid kits he knew had to be down here somewhere.
He remembered finding one, no, two, and applying them both, and passing out as another blast hit the base.
And then he remembered nothing until he awoke, having somehow made his way outside, having scavenged a UN uniform from one of the Talon soldiers, and feeling more than a little out of joint, like he didn't fit back together quite right, like everything was just a little off, or a little more than a little off, and he remembered putting it out of his mind and concentrating on getting away, getting as far away as possible, before Talon's UN puppets could get ahold of him, and make him pay for his defiance.
What were you working on down there, Angela? he thought to himself.
"I... this cannot be happening," the doctor said.
"Pretty sure we just saw it," replied Venom.
"What are you talking about?" asked Winston.
"Angela?" the assassin prompted.
The medic shook her head. "I know what you are thinking," she said to Venom. "But you do not understand. My experimental nanosurgeons were not capable of doing what we just saw. Not even the most advanced ones."
Mei jumped in, supporting the doctor. "It's true! I knew that generation, this was not in their operating parameters."
Jack pulled out his knife, pulled up his sleeve, and cut a long gash in his arm - nothing too deep, just enough to test his enhanced healing. The skin knit itself back together, normally, like it had ever since the treatments all those years ago back in California.
He cleaned his knife, put it away, and pulled out a pistol to replace it. He stared at the medium-caliber firearm, not sure he was ready to do what he needed to do, then chided himself for not being enough of a soldier. Enough of a man. It worked.
"Delgado!" he shouted.
"Yeah, Spooky?" she replied from outside.
"Pistol's acting up. Gonna fire a couple of test rounds in here, clear it. Don't freak out."
"Sure you don't want to go to the range for that?"
"It's fine, I've got a fire box."
"Oh, okay. Thanks for the warning."
Venom pressed the point. "You're sayin' that's not some kind of experimental nanosurgeon swarm? 'Cause it looks to me like Ana made that headshot, and then somethin' stole some parts from whoever was nearby to fix it."
Dr. Ziegler rubbed her temples. "I agree that is what it looks like. But it cannot be what I made. If nothing else - I am careful! None of my experimental versions will, or even can, remain active for so long. The last time he could've had access was when the UN moved against the Geneva watchpoint, and nothing from that generation could survive."
"The evidence," said Winston, "indicates otherwise."
"It can't be!" She slammed her palms atop the table. "None of the experimental models from that era could!"
Venom narrowed her eyes at the doctor. "None of 'em? You sure about that, doc?"
Dr. Zhou leaned over to Dr. Ziegler. "I don't think you should rule it out, I could help you go over the old records, over everything that was in there when the fighting happened..."
Angela looked over to Mei-Ling gratefully. "I really don't think it's necess..." and she blinked at a thought, and looked back to Venom. Is... that what you think? Venom's face caught the doctor's surprise, as she realised that the researcher hadn't actually put it together herself yet, and the Talon assassin just nodded, and the doctor bit her lip. "...I... it has been some years, and that was a tremendously hectic - even chaotic - time. It... we should investigate. I would very much appreciate your help in that, Mei."
"Sure, Dr. Ziegler," confirmed the eco-biologist.
"Thank you," Venom replied, nodding. About time.
"God damn," said Reyes, "Could it be more than just him? Could others be... infected?"
"Absolutely not," said Angela. "My nanosurgeons would've impressed themselves with the initial contact DNA, it would be impossible for them to spread successfully. All" - she stressed, pointedly - "of my technologies rely on that. All of them."
Morrison pulled up a trouser leg, pulled off his left boot and sock, and aimed the pistol at the outer edge of his foot. It'd hurt, but it wouldn't kill anybody - particularly not him. But he hesitated.
Do it, you coward, he thought to himself. God damn it, just do it.
And he fired.
The pain was brilliant and sharp, more than he expected, but muted itself quickly. He felt suddenly almost like he was in a dream, half asleep yet fully awake, as he watched his foot splatter, then turn into a greyish and pink mist, and reform, in front of his eyes.
"Meanwhile," said the Talon assassin in Tracer orange and Overwatch white, "I don't think there's any safe way to bring him in alive now. I think our friends should get the next shot."
"No!" interjected Mei, with unexpected force. "That's not what we agreed!"
Tracer, or Venom, looked over to the Chinese scientist. "We agreed Overwatch gets first shot, then..."
"No!" she insisted, even more forcefully. "I will not go along with that!" She looked straight into the assassin's gold eyes. "You are not the only one he abandoned to her death. He abandoned my entire team and I want him tried for that. I want it exposed! I want my friends to be..." she choked a little, and suddenly she was crying, "I want my friends to be remembered! I want justice for them! In court, with it all exposed for the whole world to see him for the monster he is!"
Lena blinked, and blinked again, shocked by the intensity of the normally cheerful woman's outburst, and leaned forward, "Oh wow, Mei, I'm sorry, I know what..."
"No, you don't know!" The small woman shouted. "You know what it's like to disappear for years and wake up in the future but you do not know what it is like to wake up and find all of your friends dead because he couldn't be bothered to send a rescue ship! He knew we were in cryogenic suspension and still alive. At least with you, he thought you were probably dead, but with us, he knew we were alive, and just decided to let us die!"
She continued in a small, quiet voice, "And most of us did. Slowly. In the cold. As the power ran out."
Nobody knew what to say. Gabriel and Winston knew it wasn't that simple, but knew better than to open their mouths. Angela just leaned over to the smaller woman and offered her hand, and Fareeha just sat quietly next to her wife, comforting her in turn. And then Venom found her voice, at last. "I'm... I'm sorry, Mei. You're right."
Lena "Tracer" Oxton took a long, slow, deep breath, and let it out. "I withdraw my motion. Our friends will remain on stand down. Overwatch will try again."
God damn you, Ziegler, the stroke commander thought, staring at his perfectly intact left foot, which moments ago he'd shot through for a second time. He shook with unreasoning fury. What the hell did you do to me?
[All comments in «angle quotes» translated from the Spanish]
"Mockingbird, got a moment?"
Mockingbird looked up from where she'd been watching Angela tend to Mei and Fareeha on the troop carrier's medical bunks. Still deep in the web, she replied, almost without inflection, "Yes, Strike Leader?"
Gabriel caught the tone and knew what it meant, took a deep breath and decided to take the careful route. "I need to apologise to you formally, Mockingbird, and I want to do it in front of everyone. Tracer, are you still on comms?"
Mockingbird tilted her head, and touched her microphone. In the same flat voice, she said, "Gabriel, Tracer here. Monitoring."
Not even really trying to keep up the illusion, he thought. Damn, she's hella mad. He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry. I should've stepped in against Ana's ... I don't even know what that was ... sooner. Immediately, even."
"She's not under my command, so I can't reprimand her, but I could have stopped it. That's part of my responsibility - to defend my team - and I didn't do it, and I apologise."
"I will not let it happen again."
Lena let herself lift a little of her controls, and shook just a little, taking in a quick breath, quicker than her current physiology needed. A hint of inflection returned to her voice. "...I appreciate that, Strike Leader."
"I hope you will forgive me."
Mockingbird nodded, slowly, and lifted a little more of the web up.
"Tracer, Gabriel - you got all that?" Reyes said, towards his microphone.
"Gabriel, Tracer - roger that," Oxton said, towards hers, in a voice a little more like Tracer's.
"I screwed up, Tracer. I... god, I thought she was dead in the rubble, like everyone else. Seeing her again after all these years... I wasn't ready. And if I'm going to play this role, I need to be at least a little ready for anything. So - I apologise to you, too."
Lena lifted another layer of the web, and a little bit of a smile crept out. "Roger that." She blew out her breath. "Guess none of us were expecting..." She shook her head, and felt a little better, a little less like demonstrating what it meant to be a murder machine, and a little more like a proper Talon assassin. "What d'ya think happened to her? "
Gabe shook his head, slowly, glad to see a little more of Venom in those gold eyes, and just a little surprised by that feeling. "I really, really don't know. Ana never used to be so..."
Fareeha stirred herself from her medical bunk. "...Ana?" she said, "...who...?"
Angela gently intervened to help her wife. "Awake already?" She checked Mei - still out. "Be careful, I've got you in good shape but I'll need to do more when we are back at the embassy."
"No." The rocketeer struggled upwards. "I heard a voice, and it sounded like... and you said... Ana."
Gabriel, Lena, Winston, and Angela all glanced at each other nervously, and the assassin spoke first. "She's gonna have t'find out. I'd want to."
"Tell me," demanded the flying agent, an intent look on her face. "Tell me what I'm afraid I already know."
Angela's face went a little grim, and a little paler even than usual, but she nodded her agreement. Taking her wife's hand, she looked into her eyes and said, "I will tell you everything, but we will start with the beginning." She braced herself. "Your mother... she is alive."
Morrison looked over the wreckage. Half the cargo destroyed, five fighters injured, one critical, one dead, only one transport running, and now, apparently, this so-called Overwatch - Talon, really, of course - on his tail.
But that isn't what bothered him, or rather, he thought, that's not what bothered him most. He looked down at the dirt, at the wreckage of his tactical visor, and at the one he'd just taken off, the one tied into the neural network inside his head - and back at the one in pieces on the ground.
This... doesn't make any sense, he thought, picking up the wrecked visor. He replaced the one he'd been wearing, and put it through its self-test - it came up fully functional, targeting at one hundred percent, which was pretty damned strange in and of itself, given that it hadn't tested above 85% in three years.
«Did anybody get any pictures of the ambush?» he called out to his surviving team members. «Anybody here armed with a camera, not just guns?»
Leticia pulled hard on something inside a panel, and a second transport roared, glowed, and floated back into operation. «Ha! Damn, I'm good. Sorry, Spooky, you say something?»
«Nice work. Did anybody get video of the attack? Pictures? Anything?»
«Not me, I was getting the shield generator going. Arturo, you got anything?»
Arturo shook his head. «Nothin', sorry. The best shot I got was getting a pistol load into that rocketeer.»
Leticia smiled, grimly. «Nice job. Anybody else?» she called out, but got no positive responses. «Sorry, Jack.»
«Worth a try,» Morrison replied, brusquely.
«That sniper - not the same one, were they?»
«Well spotted. No. Different gun, different MO. God damn, I wish I had some photos.»
«You check the dashcams? Maybe they caught something.»
The dashcams. Of course. They won't have erased themselves yet. What the hell is wrong with me? thought the former Strike Leader, as he half-barked half of a laugh. «Good call.»
The first hadn't recorded anything but the road ahead, and he found the second smashed against a rock next to the road, pieces of windshield scattered around it. Crawling into the wreckage of the last transport - the one beyond repair - he found the third camera's lens had been smashed. But the user interface responded, and he pulled down what video there was into his padd to watch it while the rest of the team moved the surviving cargo to the two functional transports.
Two-side flank attack, he thought, watching the video. Heavy fire from the northeast, sniper and... single infantry on the southwest, maybe. The camera hadn't caught any of the attackers, but had plenty of their work. He watched himself, too, as he came out of the passenger side of the lead transport, face bloodied from the sniper's missed - or was it missed? - shot, the one that wrecked his visor, and blinked as he saw his own face blur, almost mistlike, in the image, then focus again, unbloodied, visor intact.
He replayed the video. It did not change. He played it again. What... what am I looking at here? he thought, touching his tactical visor.
«Any luck?» called Leticia. «We're about ready to move. Bring it with you!»
«No need,» he called back, quietly crushing the camera's control screen, before dropping it on the wreckage of the front seat. «It got trashed early on in the crossfire - nothing worth keeping. Let's head out!»
Ana watched the "so-called Overwatch" strike force lift off, and, once they were out of range, shuddered quietly. What Talon must've done to that poor girl... She shook her head, sad at the thought. And now they're working together? Rayes, that's one thing, black ops do what they must, but how Winston can go along with it... maybe Jack really isn't so...
She stopped herself, mid-thought, remembering her daughter fighting alongside the Talon agent, and considered again. No, she concluded, it can't be all true - not if Fareeha is involved. She's a good girl, she would never go along. Perhaps... perhaps their sniper broke away from Talon. It has happened before.
The eldest sniper packed away the inactive beacon, her rifle, and her dart pistol, crisply snapping the case shut, satisfied for now. And even if Jack's not completely wrong, he's still become a monster. And monsters must be destroyed.
She headed down the hill, towards her camouflaged flyer.
All of them.
Sorry this one took so long. I'm not good at large action sequences, and this chapter was difficult to write, mostly because of that. I was trying to keep it gamelike, in that it would be evocative of a failed charge onto take a point with a payload on it in game, as opposed to a realistic infantry scenario. I hope it works.
If nothing else, it's way longer than most of my chapters, so at least nobody's being short changed. ^_^
The opportunity came sooner than expected. An arms shipment, escorted by Los Muertos, task force almost certainly to be led by Jack Morrison - or, as it seems they called him, the white ghost.
Jesse McCree had been the one to catch the rumour, talking with some of his old Deadlock Gang contacts, who, turns out, would be happy if a rival gang did not get to run goods through their territory. And so, they passed the news to him, and he passed it to Amélie, who passed it to Venom, who gave it to Overwatch, and Gabriel Reyes, who built a plan.
Mockingbird lay atop the crest of the hill, silent, even her breath inaudible, even to herself, even she wasn't entirely sure she was bothering to breathe right then, as the small three-vehicle convoy stirred itself, beginning its early-morning trundle out of the two-building ghost town that had once called itself Cloverdale. There had been more here, once, before the climate warmed, but really, it had ended before then, a former bit of a farming town, a little store, a dance pavilion, enough water - just - for a bit of crop and cattle raising, but now, even that last was gone, which is, of course, why they were all where they were.
The sniper had been in her nest since two days before, had watched the convoy trundle its way across the desert and to a stop, loading out into the little stone ruin, and calling it a night. She had not slept; she did not need to, for this watch. Once everyone had tucked themselves in so nicely, so quietly, she'd then confirmed via radio to Gabriel that Jack Morrison was, indeed, in the front truck, and that they were not, in fact, transporting refugees or undocumented workers - there were no innocents to get in the way. Just a simple cargo delivery - maybe the weapons, maybe a side delivery before the main delivery, no way even to know.
Not that it mattered, really.
She watched as the convoy slowly rode its way west, towards her and past burned out soil, past former farm gates, now collapsing along the road, the paint bleached in the sun. She took in a breath, just enough to speak. "They're on their way."
Gabriel's voice in her ear. "Do you have the target?"
Lena allowed herself the smallest of smirks. Less than a kilometre. No breeze, at all. Crystal clear skies. Do I have the target. Honestly, Gabe. But she kept it to herself. "Target confirmed and moving into go/no go. Do I have go?"
Reyes ran through the numbers one more time in his head. Everyone in position for the ambush. A lot more fighters on the Los Muertos side - more than they expected, and it bothered him - but only one hard target. The gang side wouldn't be trying for a capture - they'd be shooting for kills, without hesitation - but Overwatch had surprise on their side.
"Nearing optimal range, Gabe. Go or no go?"
Who knows when we'll get intel even this good again, he decided. "Action confirmed. All team, on my mark - go."
Venom - no, Mockingbird - smiled the spider's smile, and pulled the trigger. Morrison's head jerked to the side as the tactical visor went flying out across the desert in pieces, and he swore, loudly, in Spanish, blinded by his own blood, but not really hurt, despite the proximity of the bullet. The transport vehicle swerved, blocking the road forward, but did not fly out of control, and seconds later he was shouting orders to his team as the Overwatch group moved in from the northeast, from the dried-up spring.
"Visor down," the sniper confirmed, as Mei threw up a wall behind the convoy, Gabriel lay down fire blowing out the front vehicle's tires, and the unlabelled Overwatch carrier blared its orders to drop weapons and be commandeered. Pharah charged into the air, letting loose with a series of rockets aimed at vehicle engines, as Mockingbird readied for a spray of long-range discouragement fire from her position, to keep the grunts under cover. She grinned as she watched the Los Muertos gangsters circle their vehicles and swarm for weapons, and then her grin froze as Jack darted away from her sight, without a visor, then reappeared on the other side of the transport vehicle, with one.
What th'...?! She looked back towards the wreckage of the visor. Yes, there, pieces, still on the ground. She called into comms, "Gabe, he has a second visor somehow, watch it!" just as Jack triggered the device, visual overlay screen appearing almost instantly, knocking Pharah out of the air just as she'd disabled the third vehicle. Mockingbird adjusted her sights and took a second shot, surely hitting him dead on, but somehow apparently not as he just kept shooting through the visor, after briefly jerking to the left.
She waited for a third shot, and Jack's head popped up again, again through the front transport, behind two windows. Mockingbird reacted instantly, and fired. Her vision seemed to blur, and suddenly, it was a Los Muertos grunt splayed out across the sand, her head smashed, and Jack Morrison was still firing.
Nobody's that lucky, she thought, coolly. Something's going on.
Los Muertos got a shield generator running as Mei threw up another wall while taking bullets to the shoulder and chest, saving Gabriel, who had also been hit and hurt by the barrage of bullets. Pharah limped back into the air, got off a single rocket knocking Morrison down, and went down again herself almost immediately, Mercy flying to her wife's side. Gabriel, Mockingbird, and - a moment later - Mercy's fire kept most of the rest of the Los Muertos fighters ducking for cover, as Winston leapt down, shield in place over the wounded Mei, Tesla cannon keeping braver Los Muertos back, as Athena flew in as pickup for the injured.
"Gabriel, Tracer here," Mockingbird shouted into comms, trying to force some emotion back into her voice. "Mockingbird's hit this guy in the head three times and he just shakes it off, something is very wrong. We need to..."
And then Jack fell to the ground, unconscious, and an older woman's voice came over the Overwatch comms, saying, "He's down, but it won't last more than 30 seconds. Get your wounded out while you can, and regroup at my position. Tracking beacon enabled."
"Don't care," insisted the woman in black and green. "I shot the first one off, just like we planned it. It was on the ground, in pieces." She folded her arms. "My sight takes pictures, I can show you."
"But a second visor - that's not possible," Gabriel insisted.
"I know I hit him. I know I did. Three times. There's something we've missed, Gabe. This should've been easy and it was a disaster."
"You look very familiar," said the older woman with the beacon, looking with narrowed eyes at the younger sniper.
Mockingbird blinked, and looked over to the older woman, finally realising who she was seeing. "...no question of it on my side," she said, recovering. "The legendary Ana Amari, in the flesh. You're supposed to be dead. What the hell, mate? And how'd you get on our comms?"
Gabriel glanced away from Mockingbird and brushed dust off his hands, looking resolutely unsurprised. "Ana, this is our sniper specialist, callsign Mockingbird. Mockingbird, this is Ana Amari, apparently not dead."
Ana snorted at her former Blackwatch friend, and gestured over to Mockingbird. "You think that can replace me?"
"You have been dead since 2069," said Winston, stepping in between the new and the old, "as far as we knew." He gave Reyes a look, a look that said they would be talking about Reyes's lack of surprise in the very near future. "She's an independent contractor willing to work with us, and we're happy to have her service."
"I know that kit," said the Egyptian, with a sideways glance back to the younger woman. "And I know that blue tinge. Working with Talon, are we, now? Maybe Jack's not so crazy as I thought."
"Not with Talon, luv," Mockingbird lied. "But I always buy from the best. No second chances in this game. 'Cept for you, apparently. And Jack." She looked around at Angela and Gabriel and Ana, and frowned. "And apparently all you old lot."
Amari glanced disdainfully at the young assassin, then returned to ignoring her, looking back to Gabriel. "And where's the so-called Hero of Old London supposed to be, then?"
Mockingbird glared, anger a flash across her face. No, she told herself. Lena's not here. Ana's trying to provoke you. Realising that, she found she didn't even need to bring up the web further to keep control. It's a game. She knows, she just wants us to admit it. Spill the beans, grams? Not likely.
"We all thought it was for the best if she stayed out of any direct action involving the man who left her to die in the Slipstream." He looked directly into the sniper's eyes. "Knowing you're here, I'd say that was the right call."
"Afraid she'd lose her cool, get hurt?" She made a little unimpressed sound, a kind of pffft. "And yet here you hand whatever they've made of her" - she waved at Mockingbird, without looking - "a sniper rifle. You're fools."
Lena almost spoke up, then almost laughed, but kept her expression flat. Nice try, she thought. "So I shouldn't ask for your autograph, then?"
Winston shook his head at Mockingbird's verbal jabs, and Gabriel crossed his arms, with a frown. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Ana. More importantly - where the hell have you been all these years?"
"Really? You're going to keep up this laughable facade?"
"Whatever. You gonna tell us where you've been all this time?"
Amari glared. "No. But I will give you this." She pulled a small memory card out of a coat pocket. "It's video and notes from a... previous attempt to solve the Jack Morrison problem. If you're going to try to kill him, I need you not to make things worse."
"We aren't trying to kill him," Winston said, taking the card. "We're trying to bring him to justice."
Amari spat at the ground. "There's no justice for what he did, or for what he's become. I thought you understood that."
Well, thought Mockingbird, there's one place we agree. She found she didn't like the agreement. "That's what I thought, too. Maybe I ought t'reconsider the point."
"Does it always make this much noise? Maybe it should be reprogrammed again."
"ENOUGH OF THIS." Mercy glided down from the flat spot on the hillside above, where she had been tending to Mei and Pharah, watching since Ana showed herself, stunned to see her mother-in-law, of all people, reappear from the dead - not her way, but alive and well the entire time.
"Angela, why are you mixed up in this idiocy? I thought you'd know better."
The field medic marched over to the old military officer, and slapped her across the face, hard, staggering her back. "You dare show your face? You dare act like this to my friends, after what you have put us through?!"
"Woah!" interjected Mockingbird, jumping forward to restrain the doctor. "Angela, no! It's fine, she's just horrible!"
"No," she said, looking back, and shaking her arms free, "it is not fine!" She turned back to the old soldier, and pointed to Pharah, unconscious, but recovering. "She mourned you. You ignored her as a child and she loved you anyway and then you died and she put it behind her and now you are here and alive and she is here and wounded and you have not even acknowledged her existence?!"
"I've done what has been necessary, and I've stayed out of the way of the medic while she works. Fareeha will understand that."
"Will she? I hope not! But I will make sure she knows. I will make sure she knows everything. Including how horribly you have just abused our Mockingbird. 'It?! '" She shook herself, as though fluffing feathers she did not have, except in her wings. "You call her an it?! She is a person, not a tool, and you have become a monster."
Quietly surprised, Lena's heart tore, just a little, at the medic's furious defence. "Doc, really, it's fine, she's just digging..."
"I know what she's doing," Mercy said, not looking at Lena. "And I don't care why." She turned to the openly astonished Reyes and Winston. "We should get the wounded out of American territory as soon as possible. They will not be happy with our actions today."
"I agree," said Reyes, taking the opportunity. "Ana, we can pick this up later. Do any of your old dropboxes work?"
"No. Do yours?"
"I'll leave a contact point there, then."
"Thanks. And... thanks for helping out."
"You're welcome. Maybe next time we can work together, make sure the grown-ups are in charge."
Mockingbird's face showed absolutely no sign of emotion, and her hands did not tighten visibly on her rifle.
"We'll talk later," said the former Blackwatch head. "Team - back to the ship. Mockingbird, give Mercy some help with Mei; Winston, I wouldn't mind a little help myself. Let's roll out."
The Lunar gorilla offered his friend an arm, as Mockingbird turned towards the Chinese scientist with a curt "acknowledged." Behind Venom's mask, beneath the web, the assassin roiled viciously, but no hint of that storm made it outside.
Maybe I've got more than one problem to solve, she thought, as she guided the semi-sedated Mei up off the ground. Maybe I've got two or three.
"Letting us take the first shot, then?" Gabriel Reyes asked Venom, eyeing the new intel sent along on sideband. "We got Sombra's location reports - thank you."
The Talon assassin nodded. "Yeh. I..." she frowned. "Gabe, luv, I'm gonna get this out there. I voted no. But I lost, so I'll go along."
"I appreciate that." Reyes gave Oxton a considering look. "You sure, though? The way you stormed out..."
The assassin nodded. "I've got my reasons, and I've made my promises - to Amélie - and I keep 'em." Just ask G/C Henderson, she thought, Oh wait, you can't, he's dead. The memory made her smile, just a little. Small but lasting comforts.
"Glad to hear it. Thank you," replied the tactical advisor. Promises to the Widowmaker? That'd do it. "We collectively - all of us at Overwatch, Tracer possibly excepted - want to bring him to justice, intact. Not just have him disappear again."
Lena "Venom" Oxton snorted, a little. "Might be right about Tracer. But for us - well, it's better than nothing."
Reyes breathed out. Good. "I'm putting together some plans, based upon your intel - and ours." He brought his right hand to his chin, thoughtfully. "I just wish we had a sniper. Closest we've got is Mei, and she's good with that ice pistol of hers, but it's not the same thing."
Venom thought about the problem, and a solution. Would Amélie be okay with it? Yes, she thought so. With the right conditions attached. Maybe even... proud. Let's float it. "You might. Have a sniper, I mean."
Gabriel tilted his head and stared into the screen. "...Amélie's suddenly willing to work with me?"
"No," Venom said. "But I am."
"Since when are you a sniper?"
Another snort. "C'mon, mate, how long have I been with the world's best sniper? Like I've told Winston - she teaches me her tricks."
"I can't see how you have the patience for it. How good are you?"
"I'm good, mate. Not Amélie good, but... good. Very good."
Gabe looked dubiously at her, through the screen. "How very good?"
Venom thought about it. "I keep a list of better snipers than me, right? Amélie's on top, of course; Zhanna Orlov's below her, Shimada Hanzo a few steps down, all that."
She's good enough to keep that list? he thought. But aloud, he kept it to, "Sure."
"Everyone on that list keeps a list like it. Amélie's still on top, but theirs has a question mark, down... maybe below number ten? But on the list."
"And that's you?"
Venom smiled. "Can't confirm that, luv. But."
"You willing to demonstrate that at the embassy?"
"Maybe. There's conditions." She looked thoughtful, glancing down to the side. "I have to check with Amélie. She might veto this."
Gabriel nodded. Talon secret tech, or something like it. Fair enough. "Let me know. It sure would be nice to have a sniper available."
"Honest, luv, it's me," came her voice through the door speaker. "Horizon Angle Delta Vector Seventeen Nine Seven Nine Banana Clown."
The gorilla opened the door, still wary, and Lena Oxton stepped inside out of the sunlight. In the office, she looked less blue around the edges, thanks to the warm lighting overhead, but the tint was still there, and her goggles had a fleet of extra red eyes, in mobile plates, along the sides and top. "I wanted to arrive dressed as Tracer, so's nobody'd notice, but..." She pressed buttons on her grapple, now equipped with familiar and frightening extras, and her suit changed to black and green. "Mockingbird reporting for sniper duty."
"Lena, what did you do?!"
She smiled in a broad way, most unlike her spider, and most like herself. It helped, a little. "Nothin' permanent. I swear. This is just what I look like when I'm a sniper."
Gabriel and Angela came up the stairs to the ambassador's office, and froze in their tracks at Winston and Lena. Angela shrieked a little, and Gabriel shuddered. "That... that is... deeply disturbing. Lena, are you still you?" asked the doctor.
Gold-tinted eyes - regular brown still visible underneath, if you looked closely - darted to Dr. Ziegler. "Guess I shoulda warned ya, huh? Yeh, it's still me in here." Her voice was the slightest bit slower and lower than usual, but clearly still hers.
"What have you done to yourself?!" Angela leaned forward, and Mockingbird stepped fluidly back, with an ah-ah-ah finger motion. "Sorry, doc, no scans. That's the rule if I'm gonna be here like this."
"I wasn't going to. Is it, is it..."
"Permanent? Nah. Nothin' to it, really. Some drugs, some other tricks."
That's a lie, thought the doctor. "Why?!"
"All the sniper traits. Night distance vision. Stability, in motion. Patience - well, for me, anyway. Stillness, too - I can stop my heart for three minutes in this mode and be just fine. But I keep my twitch reflex, and the energy I store up is barmy! I won't need to eat for four days. Which is good," she joked, "'cause don't ask me to read a menu in the dark right now."
Gabriel shook his head back and forth. "Your whole organisation is not right in the brain."
Mockingbird laughed, a very Tracer-like laugh, and that, too, helped. "When we're on the range, I'm gonna be even scarier. I'll ramp down my emotions s'more and turn the spider all the way up." She brought up her vizor's extensions, and her goggles' primary field went dark red.
Winston reached out to her, without words, and she took his hand. "Or maybe I won't." She reset the vizor to standard mode. "Didn't think you'd be this fruck out, big guy. It's okay, honest."
"You weren't here when Amélie killed Gérard, you don't..." He felt her hand. "You're cool to the touch," he said, quietly.
"Not that cool. Just enough to avoid bein' picked up on infrared. Won't fool the best models, but it helps."
"Please say you aren't turning into Amélie. I... I don't want you turning into Amélie."
Mockingbird snickered, saying, "Well, they do say married couples start to look alike," and activated the vizor again.
"Lena, no! Be serious! I don't want to lose you."
She smiled, waved the magnifiers away, and held her friend's hand against her face. "Aw, luv, no. I like who I am. This is fun, but not... as fun. It'll all go away later. But right now, you need a sniper." She lowered his hand, and patted his shoulder. "I can shed most of this in about an hour, if I really need to."
"That's all it takes?" asked the Swiss doctor.
"For me? Yeh, in an emergency. I can throw 'bout half of it off in under a minute, if I really gotta - but it hurts like the dickens."
Gabriel shook his head. Crazy people, Talon - all of 'em. "Where's your rifle?"
Mockingbird, it seemed, had Lena Oxton's famous half-grin, and she flashed it, and flipped her pistols. "Right here." She popped them together, they locked, and the barrel extended. From a pouch, she pulled out a surprisingly conventional-looking scope, which snapped right on top. "But: ground rules. One: no scans. Sorry, doc. Two: I'm not Tracer, I'm Mockingbird. Stick to it, I mean it. No "Lena," no "Tracer," not outside this office. Three: nobody, and I mean nobody, touches my tech but me. Anyone does, I walk away completely, and for good. No more Mockingbird, and" - she said this slowly, and clearly - "no. more. Tracer. either."
She waited a moment to make sure all that had sunk in. "These are the terms. Otherwise, I leave now, no harm done, and Tracer comes back tomorrow wondering if she missed anything. Agreed?"
"Le... Mockingbird, this cannot be good for you," said Angela. "I promise, just a circulatory..."
"No," the sniper said firmly. "None."
The doctor sighed. "You are not the only one here who experiments with her body in extreme ways. You are stressing it more than I think you know. I want to help."
"We do this before breakfast, luv. But, y'know, if you ever want to switch teams, you could do all the scans you..."
"I don't think so," the doctor interrupted. "But how am I going to know how to treat you in the field, if necessary?"
Mockingbird tipped her head, and smiled. "I'll give you this." She held up a small memory card. "Complete treatment protocols for anything that has to happen faster than a Talon extraction team can reach me. You can have it once everything's settled."
"I insist that I be allowed to practice these protocols. At least the physicality of them. In battle," she did not really have to say, "it matters."
"Ah, yeah! As long as your nanos aren't taking samples, that's fine."
"And may I please, at least, examine you later? When this is over? To be sure you've handled this well? Your own doctors may want that data."
Mockingbird thought about it. The compassion was genuine, she was pretty sure, but so was the desperate curiosity to know how all this worked. There would be things for her to find, later, but little she wouldn't've had a chance to see before, and she'd be looking in all the wrong places... good enough, she decided. "They'll already have it, but - deal."
"Thank you." The doctor looked a little bit relieved, if still more than a little concerned. "I accept."
"Winston? How 'bout it?"
"Gabriel, are you willing to work under these conditions?"
The former Blackwatch head nodded. "I've worked under way worse than this. I'm good. Uh, I... accept the terms?"
"Oh, right," said the assassin, "This has to be for the whole organisation." She switched to Tracer colours, and said, "On behalf of Overwatch, I, Lena "Tracer" Oxton, agree to the terms of Mockingbird's service," before switching back. "Sounds like a bloody software license, don't it? That just leaves you, Winston. And Mei, but she's not here yet."
"I don't like it," said the gorilla. "But... deal. No scans, no handling, no anything."
Mockingbird smiled. "Brilliant!" She tossed Angela the memory card. "Have fun with that. The rest of us - let's go shoot some wings off mosquitoes!"
"We've been over this," responded Gabriel, watching as she took the head off a second target on the way down, before even landing on her cliffside perch. "We want him alive." He took notes that started with 'Terrifying in flight.'
"And we want him dead," she retorted. "I want him dead. Don't get me wrong, Gabe, I'm here, I'm goin' along with your plan, but alive's not the sniper's job." From that upper perch, she hit three for four on moving ground targets. Two headshots, one ricochet shot that missed, a follow-up direct shot leaving a grazed neck. That last one would walk away, with medical aid. "Damn."
'Never really stops moving,' the new Overwatch tactics expert added to his notes. 'Highly mobile.' "We just want the tactical visor gone."
She spun around from her nest and ticked a faceplate off the sixth target dummy. "And that's a headshot."
"Tracer's not here, luv."
"Hiya!" She triggered reload, and launched herself to the second perch. He noted she wasn't jinking at all, no teleports, no rewinds, just running, moving with the grapple, and nothing else. Still all about movement, though.
Bang, target down. "No additional shots after the visor's gone." He could almost feel her dirty look from the ground. Bang, another ricochet shot, target missed.
She landed, swore, and took a second shot on the second target, moving within her section's perch point for a direct shot, taking the dummy down. "Not even to save another agent?" She ran a strafe pattern against moving dummies, bang, bang, bang. Four for three, including a domino shot. All perfect.
Jesus, she's good, Gabriel thought. Maybe not Amari good, those ricochet shots aren't working, but... Aloud, he said, "Except to save another agent."
"Short day for me, then." Another reload, and she launched herself into the air, diving to the final shooting perch. Gabriel surprised her with three airborne targets. Bang, down, bang, down, bang, bang, down. "Seems a shame if I have to get all gussied up." She landed and rolled to the third sighting point.
"A short day would be very, very good indeed."
Three fast targets, running along the ground, zagging, all with faceplates - the most human of them all. Three shots, three faceplates off, all targets down. "My way would be even shorter."
"Mockingbird. Please. I know what you are. Don't make it harder."
Lena Oxton breathed in, carefully. She wondered, occasionally, how long she could make this Talon-Overwatch joint arrangement last, and this was one of those times. It's for the best, she reminded herself. If, occasionally, a right pain in the arse. "Sorry, Gabe. I'm workin' so hard to remind everyone it's me in here, maybe I overdid it a bit. Is that it for the first round?"
"Yeah, that's the first set. What'd you think?"
"I liked the surprise skeet, that was fun! But I was sloppy. I can do better, if I drop the banter. And nothin' returned fire!"
"This is a target range, not a combat simulator, what'd you expect?"
"Might fix that."
"If we had the money. You're supposed to know that."
"Maybe Tracer's supposed to know that - I'm not."
Right, he thought. "Mockingbird, secure weapon, and return to start. We'll reset the range for another round."
Fuck me. What was I thinking? Venom thought, throwing up the throttle on her aircraft. How'd I ever think this could work? Why can't that bastard just stay dead?
A couple of years of therapy and liberal use of the web spread across and through her brain had helped. She didn't wake up screaming any more, at least, not often. But the rage - the rage that still laced through her being like the chronal accelerator which kept her in place in time - hadn't gone anywhere.
I should've known. I shoulda known, she thought, as her craft jumped high towards suborbital space. The old guard had to start showing up. Just bloody had to. And ruin everything.
She'd thought she was okay with Reyes's return. She liked the Angelino, and they needed a strategy expert. Amélie was not exactly thrilled, but then, she wasn't the liaison, and she wasn't going to break the project over it. But this, she thought, this... no. No more. We find him, we kill him, we fix it.
Her thoughts had mostly turned to a stream of comfortingly creative swear words by the time her ship's comms board lit up, with Amélie and Winston both, trying to make contact. She took Amélie's signal at once.
"Cherie, are you..."
"Jack Morrison is alive."
"I've been talking with Winston. I know."
"He doesn't get to stay that way."
The spider hummed a little; Lena could see in her mind the little smile that went with it, and it calmed her just a bit. "I think I agree," the spider said. "Winston does not, yet, but that is not important. Regardless, there are times and places and ways to consider. Please return to base. We should plan."
"Don't worry, sweetie - I'm not flyin' off to Mexico half-cocked. I'm already a third of the way home."
"Good." A moment passed. "I have missed you these last few days."
"I've missed you too, love. How was Calgary?" Calgary, and a minor target. Normally, beneath Talon's radar, but something twigged in the spider's web, and so, off she'd gone.
"Magnificent," replied the spider, warmly. "Not the town, of course, it is provincial in all of the worst ways. But the shot," she continued, voice liquid, "ahh, that was exquisite. I missed you all the more for it."
Venom smiled and relaxed a little more at the tone of her lover's voice. Reunion sex was always good sex, but reunion sex after a kill that made her spider's voice do that? Magnifique, as she would say. "J'ai hâte de t'embrasser encore."
"Très bien, mon bien-aimé," the blue woman replied. "Ton accent s'améliore."
"J'ai étudié beaucoup."
"Ça se voit. C'est merveilleux et je t'aime."
Lena flipped briefly to autopilot, closed her eyes, and breathed. "You're calming me down on purpose, aren't you?"
"Of course. But nothing you've said was wrong. Not even in French."
The younger assassin laughed a little, nodded, then laughed a little more at herself - nods don't make sounds. "Merci." She opened her eyes again, and took the little ship back off automatic. "Love you. Be home soon."
"I'll be waiting. Widowmaker out."
Winston's hail still blinked on the comms pad. Hoo, do I wanna take this? she asked herself. It took a moment. ...yeh, I need to. She punched the acknowledge signal. "Tracer here. Sorry 'bout that, big guy. Got myself into a bit of a race."
On the other side of the signal, Winston slumped in his chair, relieved. He looked over at Angela and Gabriel though the office window, and motioned for them to come in. "It's okay, Lena."
"Nah, it's really not," replied the pilot. "I should've reined myself in, and I didn't. No excuses here, I've got the tools, I didn't use them, it's my fault. I'll do better next time, promise." Gabriel nodded a small silent approval, hearing that.
"Where are you?" asked the Lunar Ambassador.
"Sorry, luv. But nowhere you'd mind."
Heading home, then, he thought. Good. "Our new friend has some more information for you. I'll put it in the expected place."
"Talk to me later?"
"Will do. Tracer out."
"Well," Gabriel said, "at least she owned up to it. That's something."
Winston and Angela both glared at the former Blackwatch lead, but it was Angela who spoke first. "Do. Not. Dare."
Gabriel raised his arms in a shrug. "Hey, I'm not the one who charged out of a staff meeting just because..."
"No," said the doctor. "Do not. This isn't your Overwatch either."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, doc, this isn't a power play..."
"I know you, Gabriel. Yes, it is."
"No, it's... really not," he insisted. "I'm not a senior officer anymore. I'm done with that."
"Then don't act like one," replied Dr. Ziegler. "You are not her CO, and you are not her father."
"She was already on edge about letting the old guard in at all, other than Angela," Winston said, quietly. "She bought in with you, because she likes you, and she respects you - but I'm the one who really wanted you onboard."
"But Winston, she can't do things like that, not in her position. I'm not a senior officer here, but she is."
"Then tell her that, to her face," said Angela. "Not to us, behind hers. You may say she's a senior officer, but you are not acting like you believe it..." She frowned. "This is not the old Overwatch. Do not bring in its baggage."
Gabriel slowly nodded, and his eyes narrowed. "...damn, doc, you're good. This'll take some serious getting used to, won't it?"
Mercy smiled and let herself look a little smug. "At least you owned up to it."
Gabriel laughed, something he rarely let himself do in the old days, and said, "I deserved that," and the tension drained from the room. "My CO is half my age," he said, rubbing his eyes. "I must be getting old."
Angela chuckled. "She's not really your CO."
"No, but you can't take the Army out of a man. Let me think of her like that for a little while, it'll help."
"As long as it's old Army, and not old Overwatch," insisted Ziegler.
"It is," answered Gabriel, chuckling, and shaking out his arms. "I feel like a First Lieutenant again, showing up, screwing up, getting my ass in trouble... Ana would have a field day if she ever heard me say that."
"Let's not bring up any more unpleasant stories right now," said the doctor.
"Agreed," said Winston, bringing the Morrison dossier up on his displays. "We have enough old soldiers to deal with already."
"Gabe!" Lena shouted, running down the stairs towards the former Blackwatch head. "Hi!"
"Lena!" the tall Angelino replied, beaming. "Wow, you look good in black and violet." He picked the younger woman up like a doll, and she giggled. "I still can't believe you pulled this off," he said.
Venom laughed. "Hold on a mo, I'm on Lunar soil." She pressed a set of buttons on her grapple holster, and her clothes went to tangerine, orange, and while. "There we go."
Gabriel Reyes looked over the Overwatch version of Lena Oxton, and considered. "I like the violet better."
"So do I, luv, but - appearances, you know. Does this mean you're in?"
"An Overwatch where I don't have to run black ops? Hell yeah, girl, I'm in! I've been watching you operate, you need someone who can make some plans that work in the field."
"Ah, c'mon mate, we're doin' all right."
"Sometimes, yeah, when you're there calling the shots yourself," he agreed. "But then you look like badly-disguised Talon, and I don't think either of you need that."
"True 'nuff," Tracer smiled. "So you're here to run strategy for Winston?"
"I'm right over here, you know," said the Lunar Ambassador. "It took some talking, but yes, he's in."
"Hi, Winston!" Lena teleported over and gave the gorilla an enthusiastic noogie.
"Hey! Cut it out!" But he still laughed. "You're in a good mood - I take it you have something for me?"
"Here y'go!" She popped a small memory card out of one of her pockets. "Everything we'd hoped for and more."
"Oh, that's great news!" He knew not to ask how she'd got it. "You'll want to see this immediately, Gabe."
"Excellent. And yeah, if that didn't make it obvious, I'm in," said the former Blackwatch head, picking up the card, all smiles... until he wasn't. "But Lena, there are some things you need to know. Amélie too, for that matter." To himself, he thought, Not that I could tell you and not be telling her, even if I wanted to...
Lena looked down at her scientifically-minded friend. "What's this about, then?"
"It's... Jack Morrison," said the ambassador.
"...oh," said the assassin. "Him." She frowned, an unpleasant coldness twisting in her stomach.
"Yeah," said Gabriel, confirming. "Him."
Lena took a long, deep breath. "Right. Let's get the staff together."
[A Lunar embassy conference room, half an hour later]
"I thought Jack was dead," Lena said, anger, nervousness, and some small dismay in her voice. "I thought he died when the UN moved on him, in Geneva."
Gabriel Reyes nodded. "We all thought he was dead. Everyone. When the UN stand-down order came through, I ordered my chain of command to obey it immediately. We knew it was coming, and frankly, we deserved it. I've been owning up to that since it happened."
"Before," Angela noted, charitably.
Reyes looked down at the table in the direction of the doctor for a moment, left whatever he was thinking unsaid, and continued. "Jack, of course, decided he knew better, and I guess we all know how that went down..." He shook his head. "What the hell that man thought he could get by launching a counter-assault, I'll never know."
"He was bound and determined to keep the mission going, no matter what," said Winston. "Maybe it was the statue, maybe it went to his head."
"Yeah, well, it had all come apart by then, he should've figured that out," Gabriel replied. "Public opinion was not on our side."
Mei-Ling Zhou - present in virtual form, at least, from her satellite research laboratory in the north of China - shook her head, looking down. "I can't believe he changed so much. He used to be so nice!"
"And he really just outright refused the stand-down order?" asked Tracer. "I'd read that, but..." She kept tapping the buttons on her grapple, fidgeting. Winston eyed the device nervously, a little worried she might accidentally launch the hook across the room, but kept it to himself.
"Yeah," said the Californian. "Shouted something about the Talon threat and then flat out said no."
"I agree. I evaced my team as soon as I saw where the show was going, and we mostly got out fine. Some of Jack's side of the organisation got out too, but... a lot stayed with him, for whatever reasons." He shook his head. "He always had a knack for putting together a loyal team."
"Yeah," said Tracer, flatly. "Loyal. One direction, anyway."
"Regardless," Rayes carried on, "the UN response was heavy, and his counter was heavier still, but utterly futile. Nobody could've survived the implosion - or so we thought. I sure as hell wouldn't have."
"It's not just a solid pile of rubble, though," Oxton insisted. "There's big sections still intact, deep enough in. Amélie got pretty far down."
Angela contemplated those words. "That was when she retrieved Winston's accelerator, yes? The medical unit near Winston's laboratory... could it have been reached?"
"No idea, luv. She's never mentioned it." Tracer said, nervously.
"Find out, if you could."
"What're you thinking, Angela?" asked Winston.
The researcher and field doctor shook her head. "We had a full compliment of medical supplies there - including ample stocks of regen gel and nanomachines. More than enough for a badly injured man to repair himself, if he knew how."
Mei-Ling looked over to Angela, her expression uncharacteristically severe. "The research unit versions? Do you think maybe he might've..."
"Regardless of how," Rayes interrupted firmly, "there is evidence he's active again. Not openly, but there have been rumours for a couple of years - mostly in Mexico - of a white-haired American soldier vigilante. And I received this yesterday." He threw an image up in the centre of the table - "It's not the best photo in the world, but I'm pretty sure this is him."
The shot, taken in an alley in Dorado three weeks earlier, was from the back, at night, in fog, a bit blurry, and showed a leather-jacketed man, white-haired, with the clips of what could - with a lot of imagination - be a tactical visor showing over the ears. Really, it could've been anyone of that general build - but the way the figure carried himself, that was familiar, and the gun slung over his back - that was unique.
Mei-Ling gasped at the image. «Halla die Walfee,» exclaimed Angela. "I think you may be correct."
"I'm sure you are," Lena said, voice low and quiet. "That's him."
"And if it is," the Angelino said, "given what went down, I'm pretty sure he won't be happy there's an Overwatch not under his command."
"I have to go," Venom said, suddenly again in black and violet. She hit more buttons on her grapple, and talked into her collar. "Widowmaker, message, urgent: Venom heading back immediately. Will brief en route."
"Lena," said Winston, alarmed, "What are you..."
"I owe him," said the Talon assassin, as she strode to the door, old anger drawn across her face. "If he's still alive, I've got a job to do."
"Lena, don't..." called the scientist, but it was too late, she younger woman was already down the corridor. "Athena, raise Amélie, if you can. Route it to my office, I'll be there in a minute. We've got to try to talk Lena down."
"Wow - she didn't used to get that mad that fast," Gabriel said, confused. "Is this about the Slipstream failure? She still torn up about that?"
"Oh yes," said Angela. "She is. Amongst other things."
"For good reasons," Mei said quietly.
"That wasn't even Jack's fault," protested the former Blackwatch head, "Not at all."
"No, it wasn't," agreed Winston. "But not letting me try to save her - that was."
"Why'd you do it, Gabe?"
"Send those killers to her house."
"Lena, I don't know what you're talking about. Fill me in."
"Why'd you send those idiots after Gérard Lacroix?"
"I didn't! Hell, they weren't even field agents. It never should have happened. Not the way it did, anyway."
"Amélie doesn't know that."
"Amélie should know that, she has the logs. She just doesn't want to."
"Wot? Why not?"
"As long she doesn't know that, there's someone else alive to blame."
"That's shite, Gabriel."
"It is, and you know it. She blames herself. Always has."
"'Course she does, girl. But she also blames me. I was head of Blackwatch, so she's kinda got a point."
The younger assassin just grunted, a "huh" sort of sound.
"Trust me here, having someone else to blame? It helps."
Venom thought about that, for a moment, sizing up Gabriel Reyes through anger-narrowed eyes.
"I'm not so sure it does."