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?
This chapter is worksafe. [AO3 link]
Laticia Delgado frowned as Gabe nodded.
"A little. I... it's..." She scratched at her head, concentration clear on her face. "He always acted like he was going to be... like he wanted to make us into something. I didn't think he'd just ... bolt, like that."
"He was always good at building a team," the former Blackwatch commander agreed. "Maybe he hoped to build one with you?"
"Maybe," she granted. "He..." She looked down, to her left. "He had a way of making you feel like... he was in charge, sure, but that he cared. That he'd take care of you." She looked back up. "But he was never one of us, you know? He..." She grunted, frustrated. "He always stood back, a bit. I thought it was just being a commander, yeh?"
"Some of it's exactly that," he confirmed. "You have to keep some distance."
"I know, but..." She stopped, and shook her head, clearly conflicted. "I kind of... liked him. But he... but then..."
"But then, Araceli."
"Yeah," she muttered. "Then that."
"Not having second thoughts, are you?" The old soldier gave her a sympathetic look. "You don't have to be there. Our friends can take care of this. They have," he chuckled, a bit grimly, "...experience."
She shook her head. "No. I'm just..." She set her expression and hunched her neck a little. "I guess I'm glad he's run. I mean, he's... away from my gang now. He's away from my friends. We can take him down and it's..." She stood up, suddenly, pacing. "They're good. They've, we've got ourselves out of all kinds of scrapes. And they can take care of themselves, believe me. But..."
She thought of Araceli's face melting, dissolving, into the monster that was Jack Morrison.
"...not against somebody like this. With them out of the picture... I know they aren't gonna get hurt now, you know? I might, but they..." A scowl crossed her face, and she stopped pacing. "This is out of their league."
Gabriel Reyes gave her a considering look. "Yeah," he said. "It is."
"It's out of my league, too. Isn't it."
"A week ago, I'd've said yes," he granted. "Now... honestly, I'm not so sure." He leaned back on the bench, with more than half a grin. "I like the way you think, kid, you know that?"
Laticia Delgado snorted. "I'm not a kid."
He raised an eyebrow - "When you're as old as I am, everybody's a kid" - and checked his watch. "They're gonna call us, soon. Brainstorm, try to figure out where he might've gone. I'm supposed to keep some distance between you and them, but I could push back if you want in on this."
She looked back and forth, a little, as she thought.
"Yeah," she said. "Push back. I might have some ideas."
Widowmaker turned to the doctor, and gave her a little bit of a smile, perhaps a little bit more than she meant to, or thought she would, particularly given that not the slightest bit of it was anything less than entirely genuine. "Yes, Angela?"
"Do you have a moment?"
"For you?" The assassin gestured to another seat in the small room she and Lena had taken up as a remote office. "Of course."
"Thank you," Angela replied, as she closed the door behind her and sat down.
"Have you and Sombra had any breakthroughs in determining how to find and destroy that unfortunate video of the Captain's?"
"A little," the Swiss woman replied. "Now that I've given her better images of Ana, she's able to search more effectively for any sightings. But..."
"Have you considered how we got here?"
"I consider everything," the assassin answered, a you-know-better smirk on her lips.
"Of course. And I know that - if you're right - this has become important, now. But..."
"But... it didn't have to be?"
Angela hesitated, and then frowned her agreement, looking down, looking up, nodding at nothing in particular. "If... if Gabriel hadn't brought in that photo, if Lena had... just left Jack alone... none of this... none of this had to happen, did it?"
The spider smirked, but there was fondness in it. "If everything was completely different, then everything would be completely different, I think you are asking, no?"
"No," Angela replied, sharply, reconsidering it even as she did. "But... fine. Perhaps. But it's still true. Jack could've still been dead, as far as the world knew. Ana, as well. Eventually, he would've actually died - what he is would not prevent that, I don't think. Honestly, I am astounded he is still alive. The mice and rats did not last very long, but... well. He is human, and I cannot be sure of everything, regardless."
"I see," Amélie said. How... interesting, she thought. Perhaps that would solve our problem, eventually. But he'll last long enough, despite that.
Angela plowed ahead, heedless of Amélie's thoughts. "Instead, the Overwatch project is endangered almost as soon as it's been reborn. Jack has almost killed Lena in view of Ana, who almost certainly recorded both that and her revival, and might expose Talon and Overwatch both, and has... what she said to Fareeha, it is unforgivable, and..."
"And Lena is entirely willing to kill both of them, and eager to kill one, and you don't like thinking of her as being... like that. Like me."
"I..." The doctor sighed, and closed her eyes. "I... do not. I do not deny what she is - what you are. And I've never denied that I have also been a soldier, of sorts."
"It is not the same," the assassin stated, knowing it was not.
"It isn't. I like to... play one, with Fareeha. I joke about the Swiss military, and how we are all trained - and we are - but... now, we are here, and almost ready to move, and..."
"I understand, I think." Améliie gave her a thoughtful look, and leaned back, a bit, in her chair. "I can't tell you if he would never have begun to matter, eventually, even had none of this had happened. But..." She allowed herself a little bit of a laugh. "How many people would Jack have... absorbed... keeping himself alive, until he died? How many would he kill, or would Ana kill, trying to kill him?"
"We can't know."
"Similarly, we cannot know this. We cannot know how it would've gone, had Gabriel, and Lena, done nothing."
The doctor frowned. It seemed valid to her, but...
"And most of all, as far as I'm concerned - had none of this happened, would Fareeha have accepted your gift? Would I have received mine?"
Mercy shuddered, and closed her eyes. "...I know."
Ah, the spider smiled. There it is. She stood up from her small desk, walked around it, and knelt beside her friend, and, once, a little more. "Angela?"
The doctor looked up, eyes open, again.
"You do not need to feel guilty that you have benefited from this."
"But I do. I'm... all this has..." Angela shuddered again. She was so happy about everything Amélie mentioned, but the reasons, the why it had happened... it hurt. "It all hinges on killing - on assassinating - someone, Amélie. Someone who... used to be a friend, even if he has become something else. It's not what I am. But... Lena, and... you..."
"It depends upon assassinating someone - stopping someone, permanently - who has killed hundreds. Many, many people would consider it no less than overdue justice. You seemed to agree with that, back in... back at our previous stop."
"I did. I thought. As... as far as it goes. As long as we can spare Ana. But even if it's just him, I can't look away from what I'm doing. I won't."
"Knowing what Jack is, can you live with there being only one way, really, to stop him? Can you not live, after all, with that? Does benefitting from it make it so much worse?"
"It's hard. Everything I've ever done has been about stopping death, not about... dealing it."
"I know. But you will save lives, by helping us end his."
"That's different than... perhaps it is hypocritical of me," the doctor granted, "but it is different to helping do it."
"And yet, you were a field medic for Overwatch."
"And not for Blackwatch. Ever. That was why."
I see, Amélie thought. So she did draw that line, before. At least, insofar as she knew.
She reached over, and took Angela's hands in her own. "I wish," she said, after a moment's hesitation, "I wish... our world was more... compatible, with your ideals. I wish the lines could always be so clean. That my art, and Lena's art, were not so necessary."
Angela managed a sad little smile. Somehow, she thought, that helps. "Thank you. So do I."
"It is nothing. Talon is... pragmatic, in our own way. Gérard and I were even more so, which is why I know he would've understood what I did." She sighed. "This is the world we have, and we do what we think we must, for the best. But that doesn't mean I can't admit... sometimes, I wish, perhaps... that it wasn't."
"Even though... it is."
Amélie nodded, resolutely. "Even though it is."
"I've missed you," the angel said, looking into those golden eyes.
"I've missed you," her friend replied, those eyes soft, and warm.
"Let's not let it happen again, shall we?"
The blue assassin smiled a most un-spiderlike smile. "Never."
"So you think you might know where he's gone, then?"
Lena looked at the young gangster sitting next to Gabe, across the display, her own image and voice disguised via software. Amélie sat across from her, at the same table, at her own display, her voice and image similarly distorted; Angela and Sombra watched, out of camera view, across the room.
"Not exactly. But he's got someplace down south." Laticia leaned forward, her image and her voice not disguised at all. "He never said where, but it's somewhere people won't go, and won't be found, at least, not easily."
"People stay away on their own?"
"I think so. And he can't be spotted from above."
Sounds about right, the junior assassin thought. "Well, it's a start. I don't suppose you have any more specific ideas..."
"'Course I do. But I want some promises."
The younger assassin smiled. "Fair enough. What?"
"I want in."
Lena blinked, surprised, face quizzical. "Wot? You want in with us? We're not recruiting, luv."
"No," the gangster dismissed, "I want in on taking him down. I want to be there. I want a shot."
Oh, Lena thought, unhappy at the suggestion. "Nope. That's for me. I've owed him for more, and for longer."
"You owe him for more? What do you know about it? He was on my side, and killed my last family."
Venom growled, now angry. "Yeh, well, he killed my..." she started, before biting her lip, stopping herself. No. She looked up at Amélie, across the table, who'd tilted her head just a little bit, her hands under her chin, giving her one of those looks, and Lena understood, Professionalism, she thought, and nodded. Control.
"You aren't us, and you aren't going to be - so you have to stay with Gabriel. Got that?"
Laticia nodded, knowing that few people who saw Talon agents in the field ever lived to tell about it. "Got it."
"But if your information checks out... then... if you get a shot... we won't stop you from taking it."
"If we're both there, I want to fire first."
Then I'll have t'make sure that doesn't happen, Venom thought. He's mine. But aloud, she said, "Then you can fire first. Deal?"
Lena watched as Gabe leaned in, and spoke, quietly, off microphone, with the Los Muertos gangster. She tracked Laticia's eyes as they flicked nervously from Gabriel, back to the camera and screen with Lena's distorted image, and back, and eventually, she nodded.
"Deal," she said, a little reluctantly. "Okay." She straightened a bit in her chair. "Here's what I know."
"What," Venom asked, eyes alight, "is that?!"
Angela snorted, adjusting the 'horns' on her headset, securing them down into place. "You don't like it?"
"Gordon Bennett, there's a tail. There's a tail!" The assassin turned, calling down the hallway. "Amé, Sombra, c'mere - you have got to see this!"
Amélie arrived first. "What is the matter, aren't you..." She blinked, seeing, and smiled. "That... is a delight."
Sombra trailed in, behind her, and beamed. "Ah, la ángel - a demon? Or..."
"A devil, if you are to be particular about it," the Swiss doctor said, thinking, and if I am to be honest about it, as well. "A surprising amount of this is my basic kit, with the camouflage modes reprogrammed."
"I adore it," Lena said, finally finding her voice again. "Didn't think y'had it in you, luv!"
"I did," Widowmaker said, a knowing smile on her face.
"I could hardly go into this with my Overwatch colours, now could I? I can at least pretend someone has..." - she whirled her staff around, careful not to scrape it against the ceiling or floor - "stolen, or perhaps reverse-engineered, my technologies. It's far from a perfect solution, but..."
"I think it's pretty great, luv. And absolutely, I get it."
"You know, conjita, I have a lot of makeup, including temporary hair dye... want me to make the eyebrows match the rest?"
"We have time, rápida?"
"Can you do it in ten minutes?"
"I can make her into a completely different person in ten minutes."
If only, Angela thought.
"Brilliant!" Venom chirped. "We'll finish loading up, and meet you outside!"
Angela almost nodded, but stopped, as Olivia grabbed her chin. "No, no, none of that. Let me work!" The hacker grinned. "Trust me. You're going to look amazing."
Hey, look what I haven't forgot! (Tho' it did take a while because I kind of wished I hadn't had Morrison say something in a previous chapter... it took me forever to figure out what it meant and how to make it work without a retcon.)
This chapter is worksafe. [AO3 link]
[All text in «angle quotes» translated from the Spanish.]
Laticia Delgado strapped herself in to one of the Orca's passenger chairs as Gabriel sat beside her, not strapping himself in. She looked at him, confused, and he smiled. «It's a soft launch. Strap in if you want, but it's going to be a long ride and I'm not sitting here the whole time.»
«Oh,» she said, pulling on the shoulder belts. «Don't you always strap in for takeoffs and landings?»
«On civilian flights, sure.» He shrugged. «You know what, it's never a bad idea.» And he strapped himself in, too. "Athena, we're ready whenever you are."
"Thank you, Strike Commander. Departing."
«How long a ride is this?»
«Don't want to attract attention, so we're flying commercial speeds along a standard route. It'll be a good 14 hours.»
«Huh,» she said, disappointed. «I thought Overwatch would have something, I dunno, more... sciencey?»
«We could get there in under an hour if we went suborbital. But Jesus Mary and Joseph, those Sparrowhawk flights are noisy and uncomfortable. And expensive. And they attract a lot of attention. But mostly... ever pulled four Gs before?»
«Pulled four... oh!» She sat up, excited by the idea. «No. Is it fun?»
Gabe grinned at the Los Muertos street fighter, surprised. «Honestly...? Yeah. It's kind of fun. But if you aren't trained up, it'll knock you unconscious, and I don't want to have to deal with an unconscious passenger if we end up going through customs.»
«Too bad,» she said, slumping back down a little. «Probably never get another chance at something like that.»
«You know it'd probably knock you out and you'd still want to try it?»
«Yeah!» she boasted. «Not many people get to do anything like that, Angelino. I'd do it in a heartbeat!»
Reyes snorted, a little, in friendly way, and as the Orca reached cruising altitude. I keep underestimating you, he thought. I wonder if... and he shook his head, and took off his seat belts. «Well, we have fourteen hours, and I brought some games, and some movies. Also, snacks, and breakfast, for later. What'd you like first?»
"All packed up?" Venom grinned at the doctor, the field medic, Angela Ziegler, all fences mended as far as she was concerned, her beloved spider having received her first supply of nanobots the day before yesterday, laying the foundation for more. Unlike Fareeha, it was in a more professional setting, and unlike anyone else, it was being staged, insuring compatibility with her unique physiology.
"Yes, I am quite ready" the doctor said. "I did, after all, pack lightly."
"Anything fragile nice and sorted away?"
"Yes, I followed your instructions carefully."
"Been to the W.C.?"
"Great. Let's get this thing moving, then!"
Lacroix and a second woman greeted them at the door at the top of the stairs, transport ready, outside. Ziegler stood expectantly, looking at the person she presumed to be the pilot.
"You... want something?" van Vliet said, confused.
"I... presumed I would be blindfolded," the doctor replied.
Clara shrugged, and glanced over to Amélie. "Is this another one of your..."
"No, Clara, she is not," she said, with a slight smug smile. "And a blindfold seems unnecessary." She opened the door to the path, and to the small transport, almost invisible except for the pad lights, black body lost against the 4am sky.
Onboard, van Vliet stowed Dr. Ziegler's luggage and then went to the flight deck, as Widowmaker handed out fake passports. "These are already stamped with dates of entry. Sombra will add them to Mexican border control's systems once we're safely down. But show them to no one, if you can avoid it."
"Course not, luv," Lena said, smirking at "Linda Oxford"'s information, memorising it, quickly.
"I know you know," her wife replied. "But..."
"...what kind of name is 'Angelica Steenbakker'? Why have you saddled me with that monstrosity? It is terrible! And the picture is worse."
"It is a photograph that will, I hope, remind you not to use it," the blue assassin said, and her wife laughed.
"Everyone ready?" Clara called from the front cabin, as Tracer put on her headphones, motioning to Angela to do the same.
Angela smirked back at her. "It is hardly the first time I have been in a military transport, and you know it."
Widowmaker checked everyone, sat down, strapped in, and pulled her helmet's microphone into place. "Passengers and payload secure. You may launch."
"How long a flight is this going to" the doctor said, as the transport shot forward, then up, pulling just under 4Gs.
Oh my, she thought, feeling a bit fuzzy around the edges. It's been a while since I've been on one of these... I'd forgot how... She felt her brain start to fuzz, jut a little, before her nanites intercepted the problem, solving it. She turned her head, as best she could, looking over to Widowmaker, placidly sitting down the row from her, unperturbed, as if between stops on the metro.
"Amélie, do you feel all right?" she asked, with a bit of effort. "Are you feeling any unanticipated effects?"
"I am built for this," she replied. "But I admit... it does feel easier than usual."
"I'm good - thanks for askin'!" Venom interjected, between them, and Widowmaker reached over, and bopped her forehead with one fingernail. "Ow! Careful, love, four Gs!"
"Were I not careful, you would not be conscious, ma petite agace."
"That's funny, normally y'don't like me quiet," she said, leaning over a bit, as if to bite her wife's shoulder.
"Clara," Angela asked, over comms, in German, "are they always like this on missions together?"
"Yes," van Vliet replied, also in German. "You had better get used to it now. They will not stop."
The doctor chortled. "Thank you. I will try."
"It took me months."
"I understand completely."
"It's the only thing left that makes any sense," Morrison said. "It has to be him."
Ana thought her way through the timeline again. It could work... but it requires a lot of very large leaps.
"Who else could've brought in exotic matter? It had to have come from the moon." He gestured with his hands, one by his face, open, the other, in front of his chest, a fist. "You can't generate it on Earth, not safely, not in any quantity, or more countries would've done it by now. He caused the Slipstream failure, to create her, and he brought her back from it, him and Ziegler, when he was ready. He used them both to get back down planetside. This time, of course, with diplomatic immunity - and, no doubt, more exotic matter."
He shook his head, a grim smirk on his face. "If it wasn't so diabolical, it'd be genius."
"He and Angela stayed in contact, doing joint research, while he was exiled, didn't they?" She flipped through parts of her own research, confirming. "And if Angela is Venom's controller," she said, "and his primary contact on Earth, while he was in exile..." She thought, harder. "I remember Lena - the real Lena - as a good woman. She would never have done this willingly. So ... Ziegler took control of Lena... how? Using the same technologies she developed in making Widowmaker?"
"No doubt. Lacroix was probably the testbed."
"And that initial meeting in London was probably some sort of... check, to see that her control systems were still functioning."
"Exactly. See how it all fits together?"
"Loosely, at best," she said. "It's just possible, given what we know. But we'd never be able to prove it."
"I agree. Not without a confession. But I think - I think if he was out of the way, no longer directing everything, Ziegler might be pressured enough spill the beans. And once she broke, we could get it all out in sun. Blow the whole thing wide open. Maybe - maybe - even make her put your daughter back together, if it's still possible."
Ana's anger flared, and she tamped it back down. "If there is any chance for that, we must take it."
"Of course. The question is - how? We'll never be ready to launch an assault on Geneva - no matter how much I train up Los Muertos, they're still a regional gang. Even if I picked a few of the best - if Delgado hadn't been captured - a commando assault would be suicidal."
"If we see her again, we'd probably better assume she's being... controlled the same way."
The soldier's face fell. Damn. She's right. That's one more debt to be repaid. "Maybe. I have no idea how long the process takes."
Ana thought on the news briefing she'd read that morning, eyes darting up. "Jack... Winston's going to be in Northern California next month."
"You should pay more attention to the news," she chided, pulling the article up on her padd. "'Lunar Ambassador Winston to visit Stanford.' He's getting an honourary physics doctorate. If we could somehow get ahold of his travel plans, and better yet, his security arrangements..."
Morrison grinned, fiercely. "Then we'd have a shot at the literal heart of the," he chuckled, "of the literal beast. Great catch, Ana. Let's see if we can reel it in."
"That did not take long at all," Angela said, rising from her seat, almost six hours earlier, by the clock, than she'd left the Mediterranean Sea. "Gabriel will not make Tampico for at least another twelve hours."
"Life's easier when y'don't have t'give a fuck about customs," Lena said, grinning. "This direction's easier - makes leavin' so late worthwhile. Goin' back's not so much fun." She stretched, and yawned.
"Indeed," the Widowmaker agreed, as van Vliet opened the hatch just in time to see Sombra came walking up from the little Tamaulipas safehouse to meet their flyer.
"Hola, amigas!" she called, waving. "'Bout time you got here."
Widowmaker waved back, and checked the time on her grapple. "It is just after 10pm, locally. We have melatonin tablets inside; I suggest that we all use them to get a good night's sleep. We should all be well rested before we begin."
[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?»
"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 dialogue in chevron quotes is translated from the Spanish]
Jack Morrison shook his head, tried to clear it up. Mornings were hard - a lot harder than they used to be, and he didn't know why. He just knew he didn't like it. He'd always been a morning person, even back in the Army.
He did a quick set of forty pushups, quietly, twenty each arm, try to get the ol' blood moving, and it helped. He still felt out of joint, but these days, he always felt a little out of joint. Had ever since the bombing, back in '70. But everybody would feel a little out of joint after that. He didn't even remember how he got out of the complex, but he got out alive - and that's what mattered.
«Morning,» he growled to the small Los Muertos stakeout team in the front room of the small apartment. Araceli waved and Leticia nodded, her combat helmet tipping in his direction as he started some coffee.
«I just made that pot you threw out, gringo», Leticia grunted back at him. «Why you always wasting my good coffee?»
Morrison snorted. «Because I make actual coffee, the kind you drink, not eat.»
«You make tinted water.» She shook her head, but with a little smile. «Americans.»
«Yeah, yeah,» he groused, amicably.
Araceli patted Leticia's shoulder. «Now that the white ghost is awake, I'm taking my turn.»
Leticia nodded. «Get some rest.»
The steamer finished its work, and Morrison drew a cup of the brew. Not bad. Leticia wasn't wrong about it being good coffee. «I'll buy you some more beans later, make up for it. Anything new on our friends outside?»
«Nah, it's all nice and quiet.»
Morrison settled in for the first half of his stakeout shift. He didn't really like working with Los Muertos, but with his history, well, he took what he could get. And Leticia - she had chops. He could respect that. Araceli's just another street rat, no discipline, but Leticia - he could turn her into a proper soldier, if he had time.
«Oh, hey,» she said, «Get out your padd, there's been another show with your old band.»
«What?» growled the former strike commander.
«Something in Vietman? Maybe in China, I forget. There's pictures this time.»
Morrison almost snarled. «Goddamned Lena Oxton and her so-called Overwatch, what the hell does she think she's doing, pretending to run my organisation...» He found a video taken live on the scene, saving a freighter and crew from a large pirate gang operating around the edges of the south China sea, one armed with a strange new weapon that froze everything it touched. They just want that freeze ray back, they don't give a damn about those sailors...
He watched the video, as the self-proclaimed Overwatch jumped in, with good power, if not in the best of order. Oxton wasn't there, he noted, and the resulting mess lived down to the worst of everything he expected out of a band of wannabe heroes with no god damned sense of discipline. Overwhelming power saved it from being a fiasco, but the sloppiness enraged the soldier, in his mind disgracing the name of Overwatch and everything I built...
«Huh?» said Leticia, startled, looking to her right. «Hey, spooky, where'd you go?»
«I'm right here,» he said from her left, where he just barely stopped himself from punching a hole into the wall.
«Fuck, you can be creepy quiet sometimes, you know that?»
«Part of the training.» He sat back down where he should've been, and shook his head. Discipline, soldier, he thought to himself. One mission at a time.
Leticia sulked at the building down the street. How long can it take to prep a shipment of stolen processors, anyway? Hurry the fuck up and move out so we can steal them back from you, she thought. «We've been here three days! I wish these idiots would get going.»
«Me, too» said Jack Morrison, settling down for another day of hurrying up to wait. «Me, too.»
The sniper round flashed by Jack Morrison's ear, nipping flesh, as he ran zig-zag through the warehouse district. God damn that woman, he thought as blood ran down the side of his face, and he spun around, launching a grenade towards the perch he knew she had to have. His reward was another round by his other ear - but it wasn't a good shot. He'd knocked her down, and that confirmed it.
The shipment had been real. The security had been expected. The sniper waiting for them, though - that had been a surprise.
Sprinting to the left and down an alley, the old soldier charged forward and found Leticia, in a zig-zag run from the other direction. «Spooky?!» she shouted, surprised. «You're still alive!? I thought they got you back in the...»
«No time,» he grunted, wiping the blood from his face with a rag from his pocket. «Join up with me. Where's Ara?»
The street fighter looked confused. «I thought she went with you.»
«Didn't see her.»
«Huh... She must've headed north,» Leticia decided. «Taking the long way home. For us, there's a sewer access two blocks ahead my way, if we can make it.»
Morrison spun around. I really could make her a soldier, he thought, and said, «I shook the sniper out of her nest, we have a window. Let's go.»
They ran, dodging between gates and down tiny side paths. Morrison thought he heard a ricochet, but he couldn't be sure, not completely, not until they could see the access down the end of a narrow walkway, when he looked back just in time to see the glint off a scope. «Get down!» he shouted, and dove behind a skip.
Leticia dove beside him, rolling, aikido-like, to his side, as a bullet ricocheted, grazing her arm. «Jesus! Who the hell is shooting at us? The Maras don't have anybody this good!»
«I'm not sure, but I've got a pretty solid guess. How long will it take to get that door open?» Another round, bounced by the shooter off a wall, whizzed behind them. Given a smoother surface to bounce off of, it would've hit.
«No time at all, I broke the lock when we first got here.»
«Smart. I've made her, and she wants me, you're just collateral damage. I'll lay down suppressing fire, you go for the door. Get it open, get inside, then aim where I was aiming, and I'll dive for it.»
The Los Muertos fighter nodded, and bolted, as Jack sent a flurry of bullets towards the sniper. In a single long, jagged sprint, she reached the access door and threw it open, diving inside, then spun around from the shelter and threw a full clip towards the same spot Jack had sprayed with bullets. A moment later, he was beside her, slamming the door shut as a bullet made a large, angry dent directly in front of her eyes.
«Keep your head down,» he said, smirking, «or lose it.»
«Hooooooooooo...» Leticia breathed out, slowly. «How?»
«There's only one sniper in the world that good,» said the soldier. He bolted the door from the inside and broke the mechanism, wedging it in place, as Leticia motioned down one of the access tunnels.
«If she follows us down here, I have a lot of surprises ready. Keep your hand on the left wall, it's important.»
Morrison shook his head, no. «She wouldn't risk a tunnel. Night vision's not so good since I took one of her eyes.»
«Wait, you know her?» Leticia asked, as she led the way through the foul air.
«We're old friends,» came the soldier's voice from the darkening gloom.
«Some friend,» replied the fighter in the darkness, «trying to kill you.»
A snort from the soldier. «She's been trying to kill me for six years. At this point, I think it's her way of flirting with me.»
«You are messed up, Spooky, you know that?»
«You have no idea.»
The MS-13 grunt poked at the body with her rifle. Los Muertos, she thought, from the arm tattoos. I wonder who? She rolled the corpse over, careful to avoid the blood.
"¡No mames!" she exclaimed. A section of the body - the left side of the head and neck, and part of the shoulder - was simply gone, cut cleanly away, as if sliced neatly off a wax sculpture of a woman.
One of the other guards - Samuel - came over to check the corpse. "¿Qué pedo?"
«Hey, Sam,» asked the grunt. «What kind of gun does this?»