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."
Yep, still working on Old Soldiers. It's really difficult to switch gears between the Oilliphéist and Venom/Fear of Spiders universes, it really is, but it's happening.
This chapter is worksafe. [AO3 link]
[All dialogue in «angle quotes» is translated from the Spanish. Amélie's thoughts are translated from the French.]
Amélie awoke, early. She often woke before Lena, regardless of where they were, but she didn't mind that. Usually, when it happened ahead of the alarm, she'd doze, and wait, so they could rise together. But sometimes, it there was time, she'd slip out, sneak over to the kitchen, make coffee and tea and get out cheeses and creams and preserves and the morning's good bread, delivered, and the scents would reach over, across, to their bedroom, and awaken her partner, and she'd stumble out, eyes still half-closed, usually remembering to put on a shirt, following the delicious smell of breakfast, and she'd say, "y'know what this needs? Bangers!" and she'd grab the sausages she'd bought a day or two before out of the refrigerator and get to work, and everything would be wonderful.
This was neither of those sorts of day.
The spider plucked at her web. What is it? she thought. It is... something. What?
She didn't really care all that very much about this mission. Morrison had been someone her husband knew, the person to whom Gabriel Reyes reported. They'd met, no doubt, at some function or other. But his time for shaking the world had passed, taking care of him - justice, of a sort, their way - was important to Lena, and so, she was willing to put Talon behind it. And finding herself thinking about that, she let her mind trace that strand further, further down, lower, into thinner, lesser strands - but strands nonetheless.
And she was very surprised to discover that for some reason she did not know, some reason she didn't understand, something had changed.
Jack Morrison, left to his own devices, was going to do something very bad indeed. And it had to be stopped, before anyone else even knew it could happen.
"How did you know?" she whispered, shifting up, and looking at her wife, sprawled across the bed, arms akimbo, hair even moreso. "How did you know before I did?"
Lena stirred just as the alarm rang the chimes of Big Ben. She blinked, groggily, looked up at her wife, and smiled. "G'morffin'," she managed, flopping over onto Amélie's legs.
The assassin smiled back at her partner, but there was a firmness to it. "Get up," she said, firmly, sliding out from underneath. "Something has happened. I must find out what. Suddenly, I think, this mission may be... important."
Amélie pulled her helmet off, frustrated, frowning. Nothing, she thought. Nothing of interest, at least. No new news items, at least, nothing that affected this situation. No outbreaks of violence, of disease, no disappearances, no interesting thefts, not even any strange new conspiracy rumours reaching high enough to matter, not even to her...
Perhaps Sombra has had more luck, she thought, climbing out of her lotus position and off the bed. Or perhaps we can make it not matter. She pulled on the rest of her field kit, and walked into the safehouse's living room, where Sombra sat, intently, poking at virtual keyboards and screens, Lena and Angela keeping each other company, occasionally watching.
"Nothing, araña - sorry." Sombra turned around, facing the spider. "If he's done something, it's too quiet even to make my ears. And I don't miss much."
"Gabe's almost here, though. I was about to talk to my old friend again, too. See what he thought about our little video."
"Good," Amélie nodded. "I'll make some coffee. Anyone else?"
Lena waved her off, holding up her mug of tea. Angela smiled, though, and said, "I would. I always liked your coffee."
"Sadly, this is not the best version," the assassin smiled back, fondly, "...but I will do what I can with what I have."
I've missed her more than I realised, she thought, as she walked into the kitchen, glancing over the cluster of information monitors Sombra had set up for her, but seeing nothing new. She pulled the pitcher of water and coarse coffee grounds from the small refrigerator, pulled out a filter, and drained the cold brew into a second pitcher, giving it a taste.
Much better, she thought, pouring two glasses half-full, adding milk, some sugar, and ice, and tasted. Yes. The beans are good. It is just a shame the water is so hard. Still, it will do.
She walked out in time to hear Sombra speaking in increasingly agitated Spanish with her friend in Los Muertos.
«What do you mean, he left?» she said, confused.
«He left! This morning! We'd watched your video and were trying to figure out how to get rid of him without getting ourselves all killed by whatever the hell that was, and he walked in and says he has an outside job, needs to take a couple of weeks to work on it.»
«Well... did he say anything about where he was going?»
«We weren't about to ask, we were just glad he was gone. We're gonna pick up and relocate before he comes back. You're gonna tell your friends in Talon about that, right?»
«Of course I am - and you're welcome.» She thought for a moment. I think he's telling the truth, but we'll have to check... «Did he say anything about where he was going?»
«No - just that he had to get training for some special mission. He wouldn't tell us what, or when, or where - he just made some joke about the animal at the heart of the animal? Which I kind of think probably worked better in English.»
Lena largely kept up, listening as the Spanish went by, and looked confused for just a moment before her eyes went wide, and she whispered, "No!" She looked up at Amélie, who looked confused by the metaphor.
"The animal - the beast. The beast at the heart of the beast," she whispered, as Sombra joked with her friend, trying to weasel out possible training locations without actually sounding like she wanted the data. "I think that means us, and I think... I think the beast means Winston."
Angela's eyes went wide as Amélie tested the idea and nodded, eyes half-closed to slits. It fits, she thought. "It is possible. We must send a warning."
"Embassy security's pretty good. I'm pretty sure he's safe as long as he stays in Geneva," Lena said, nodding, as Sombra told them to shut up, can't they tell she's talking to her friends? And the junior assassin waved everyone into the kitchen.
"I knew we should've just capped him from th' start," she said, closing the kitchen door behind her. "Could've avoided all this."
"I did not take this seriously enough," her wife acknowledged, adding another cube of ice to her coffee, and motioning to Angela if she wanted another herself.
The doctor frowned, not at the ice, but at the entire situation. "I do not speak Spanish, and did not catch enough of your English - what is going on?"
"Jack's bugged out, luv. He's headed off somewhere - don't know where, Sombra's workin' on that - t'get ready for some mission, and I think that mission is Winston."
"Winston?!" the doctor exclaimed. "Why? That makes no sense."
"'The beast at the heart of the beast' is what he told Los Muertos, yah? Given what we know about his obsessions, I'm pretty sure we're the beast. Which means the beast at the heart of it is Widowmaker..."
"Let him try," she sneered.
Venom giggled, briefly, before getting serious again, "...or Winston, if y'want the 'joke' t'make any sense, right?"
Angela sipped at her coffee - quite good, still - and thought. "Ana thinks," the temporary Talon field medic said, "...that she knows 'everyone' you are. Given what she said in person, we can assume that means Talon. She also said that I'm involved. Which means she thinks I am involved with Talon..."
"Not wrong, now. Ironic, innit?"
"Quiet, I'm thinking..." she said, not wanting to think about that too closely, "...and if Ana thinks that, then... what? She thinks I am your... contact? Your superior?"
"...her creator, perhaps? Perhaps also mine." Amélie sipped her coffee, still thinking, as the other two women looked at her, surprised, and she shrugged. "That ludicrous set of documents from the investigation - if Overwatch and Blackwatch actually believed the official story about my 'abduction' and 'conditioning' to be who I am..."
"You're thinkin' that all came from her?" asked Lena, half a smile on her face.
"No. But if she went to Jack, after sending that letter to Fareeha..."
"...it could've come from him," Venom nodded. "Yeh. He signed off on both reports..."
"And he's latched onto Winston, because, because..." The doctor stood up very straight, very tall. "Because of your accelerator! Of course! It couldn't just be me, because I am a medical doctor, not a physicist - it would have to be Winston!"
"It almost makes sense," the Widowmaker said, "in an oddly... detached-from-reality sort of way."
"We need to get Gabe in on this," Lena said, shaking her head. "He knew Jack best, before. And that Los Muertos fighter, Delgado. She might know something. She said he talks in his sleep."
"It means bringing her in on this side of the fence," Angela frowned. "Please do not do that."
"He can talk t'her, we can talk t'him. He should still be an hour out of customs, we should try t'raise him. I'll do it."
The door opened, and Sombra walked in, her expression a combination of bemusement and outright disbelief. "You guys aren't going to believe what I think is going on."
"Yeah?" Venom grinned, happy to have an even better reason to kill Jack Morrison. "Wait'll you hear our version. But g'wan, luv - you first."
Ana Amari looked around the pocket valley not too far outside Jalpan De Serra, a hidden spot deep in the nature reserve. Under a canopy of forest, a small, single-storey house sat in good order. But the interesting parts were around it - the cleared, low-level training camp hidden from overhead view, boxed off in most directions by steep slopes and cliffs.
"Pretty sure it was originally cleared during the war," Morrison replied. "Local resistance against the Omnics. Deep cover. Well hidden. People stay away - bad memories, I guess." He chuckled, a little. "I try to encourage that."
He pointed with his rifle over towards a particularly green patch. "Latrines used to be over there, I think. Found a bunch of old tent stakes, too. Probably didn't want anything too permanent, so they'd just tent up and go."
"Either that, or it was a campground," she smirked. "So this is where you go to hide."
"Hide, or think, or train, Ana. Different things, but it's a good place for all three." He gestured towards the house. "C'mon inside. It's comfortable - I've got a combination of solar and geothermal, and there's an uplink towards the top of the cliff. I figure we'll want to get to San Jose a week before Winston arrives, and until then, we should just lay low, and plan."
I don't like it, Ana thought. It is too steep, and the cliffs are too close. "A hidey-hole is also a trap, Jack. You know that."
"Nobody else in the world knows I know about this place, Ana. Not anymore. If there's any safe place in the Western hemisphere..." He opened the door, and threw his knapsack onto the couch against the far wall of the small living room. "...this is it."
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."
This chapter contains a scene some readers may find disturbing.
All text in «chevron quotes» translated from the Arabic. All text in "double quotes" translated from the Spanish. All thoughts in italic translated from the native language of the thinker.
[Geneva — 2070]
The blue-helmeted Spanish soldier stepped around another piece of debris - a large chunk of glass, heavy, thick, still attached to a piece of wall, and partly buried into rocky ground. Probably fell from pretty far up, she thought, looking around it.
Infirmary, she read, knowing at least that much English. Ironic.
She pulled on it, and it tilted a little to one side in response - not buried deep, not much larger than it looks. Recording its location, she continued on, following the fall pattern of the outer tower's shell. Most of the complex had fallen inward, not outward, the result of the implosion device used to bring it down and end the Overwatch resistance - but some parts had flown out, and away.
She made her way to the next large chunk of debris. ¡Cáspita! she thought, that's a big one! Large enough to have been a small room, or even two, flattened, collapsed in on itself, it lay strewn across several square metres of mountainside, the trail left behind by its impact clear in the landscape.
I wonder if it's more of the infirmary? She logged its location as she walked towards it, skirting its outer perimeter. Something... huh. Something's... hot? Is that steam? What is that?
As the mist flowed towards her, she did not have time to draw, much less fire, not that it would've made any difference, not that she'd even have considered it - it's not as though anyone can shoot the fog. And indeed, it wouldn't've made any difference at all. All she had time to do was recoil in horror and fear as her hands, first, then her arms, and then the rest of her, melted away.
Several minutes later, Jack Morrison awoke, and shook his head, violently, confused, feeling deeply out of joint, trying to place himself. What the hell... how did I get out? He looked down at himself, in UN blues. Or into this uniform?
Must've blacked out, he thought, and looked around, evaluating the situation. The battle was over, the complex in ruins, UN forces above, up the mountain, where Overwatch HQ had once been. We've lost. God damm you, we've lost. He looked the other way, down, towards the lowlands. I guess... it's time to live to fight another day, he thought, and followed the water down, running, running, running away.
«It's been a long time,» the sniper said, changing to Arabic.
«Not that long,» the mercenary retorted, looking up from his chair in the small outdoor restaurant on the outskirts of Tampico. «You were just shooting at me a few months ago. Nice replacement eye, by the way.»
«Thank you,» the former captain said, archly. «By all rights, I ought to be shooting at you now. But... I have been astonished to discover that you seem to be the lesser of monsters, so, here I am.»
The soldier took a drink from his tall glass of ice water, followed by a sip from his whiskey, before pointing to the opposite chair. «Well, if you're here - want to take a seat? Or are you going to stand there and glare at me like some sort of angry owl?»
Ana shrugged, pulled out the chair, turned it around, and sat, facing the table. «You'll forgive me, I'm sure. I'm just finding it more difficult than I expected to look at the man who got Reinhardt so meaninglessly killed though anything other than a rifle scope.»
Morrison winced. «He was a good man. Loyal, to the end - unlike a lot of people I could mention. I miss him.»
«I do, too.» She glared. «Obviously.»
«You're not being fair, though. It wasn't me.» He picked up his whiskey and took another sip. «It was Talon. I know you'll never believe that, but...»
«I have cause to change my mind, on that. Or at least, to reconsider. You gave the orders, but... you may, after all, have had reason to give them.»
Morrison put down his shot glass and stared at his former executive officer. «You... what?»
«I told you, in my message - I had new information.»
He nodded. «You said you had information about Talon. Information I'd want to see, that'd I'd pay anything to get.»
«Yes. It regards Overwatch, as well.»
«And? What's the price?»
She snorted. «I've never been in this for money, Jack.»
He nodded. «I know. None of us were.»
«At least there's that.» She flagged the waiter, walking by, and asked - in Spanish - if he could bring her a strawberry soda. He returned with a can and a tall glass of ice, a few moments later.
"I'll get it," Morrison said, also in Spanish. "Just add it to my bill."
Ana's head tilted, just a little. "Your Spanish is much better than your Arabic. You'd pass for a Madrileños."
Morrison just snorted. "I've had a lot more cause for practice."
"I suppose so."
«But... you were about to say?»
Ana took a long drink of her soda, put it back down, took a deep breath to fortify her resolve, and dove in. «The person calling herself Lena Oxton - whoever or whatever she really might be - is a Talon agent. She is, specifically, the Talon assassin known as Venom. She is also the supposedly-freelance sniper Mockingbird, and the so-called Hero of London, Tracer.»
The former strike commander slammed his hands on the top of the table. «I knew it! I knew it wasn't her.» This is what I've been waiting for, he thought. Vindication. At last. «She was probably the sniper who shot my tactical visor in New Mexico... but can you prove it?»
«I'm not even finished with what I know.»
«Please!» He leaned forward. «Go on!»
«She appears to change who she is, becoming different people to suit a task - I have video of this, of her changing from Tracer to Mockingbird. She can be any of them, and possibly even more people - I do not know.»
«Of course... I never thought of that. That explains so much. She can't be the only one. Maybe they're all shapeshifters.»
«I... don't know that, either.» She closed her eyes, pain across her face. «But I do know... that my daughter's wife is her handler, and she is the one who controls the changes. Or, at least, she is one person who can.»
«Your...» He thought about it. «Angela?! Angela Ziegler was the mole?»
The old soldier dipped her head, once. «It appears likely. In the video I have, she changes Tracer into Mockingbird, using that 'healing staff' of hers. Clearly, it does more than we ever imagined.»
«So.» He took another sip of his whiskey, imagination running with this new information, galloping along unhindered. «Reyes, Ziegler, and Oxton, all Talon, all guiding the new "Overwatch," all under the nose of the Swiss and the UN. Or with their cooperation.» He let out a long, slow breath. «You're right,» he agreed, «I would pay anything to have this.»
«I believe it's clear now that the entire Overwatch revival effort is a Talon project - for what purpose, I do not know.»
«And... if Angela's involved...» He dreaded the answer to the question he was about to pose. «...Fareeha's involved, too?»
Ana's eyes closed, her face scrunched into a knot of pain. «I... I fear so. God, Jack, I stayed away too long, chasing after you... I should've been there, I could've kept her from that witch... I contacted her, when I contacted you, begging her, telling her what I knew, telling her, leave Overwatch, leave Angela, while she still could... if she still could...»
His mouth set into a firm line. «She didn't?»
She shook her head. «No. I... I have to presume she... can't. Or doesn't want to, given her messages back to me. I have to presume... that she isn't who she was. That she...»
«...I fear my daughter is gone, Jack.»
Her mask broke, and all at once, she dissolved, in sobs, and Jack Morrison took her in his arms, comforting her as best he could in his own gruff way. «Ana, I am so, so sorry.»
She cried for a moment, then, as quickly as she broke, she forced herself back together, sniffled heavily, coughed, and sat back up. «My apologies, Jack. That was... unprofessional.»
«No,» he disagreed. «It was natural. I've never had a daughter to lose, but... she was kind of all of ours... we all cared for her, very much.»
«And you... you're... not exactly who you were, either. Don't lie. I know.»
He looked into his whiskey, did not take another sip, and looked back up. «I've done some awful things, Ana. Things I didn't even know I was doing. They - they made me a monster, too. During the attack, I stumbled into Angela's lab, thought I was patching myself up...»
Her eyes widened. «So, that's how...»
«I can't be sure, but - I think so.»
She shuddered. «Even back then, she was... with them. Working on such unspeakable things. And we never knew.»
He nodded. «Is that why you've been after me all these years?»
«No - not originally. I thought you were a monster, but... only metaphorically. I thought I was avenging Reinhardt. But then I saw what you could do, and... put pieces together, and had another reason.»
«I can control it now. It, it took a while, but... I can control it.»
«And you didn't even know, until,» she shook her head, «when?»
«Someone - Mockingbird, I think - shot off my tactical visor, last year, on a convoy run. Then I had another one, suddenly, somehow, and the old one was on the ground, broken. There was dashcam footage, and then... I spent a few months shooting myself to watch what happened. Learning to control it.»
«Desperate times, Ana. Desperate times and desperate measures.»
Ana looked into her former CO's eyes, thinking, for longer than he was comfortable, but she didn't care. He wasn't so wrong, about the owl-like stares. After several moments, she nodded, curtly, once. «So. Now, I have the pieces I have been missing, and you have the pieces you have been missing. What can we do with what we've both made?»
Morrison gave his executive officer half a smile - he knew he'd passed a test, even if he didn't quite know what kind. «I know this - the governments are corrupt. They're all in Talon hands, or, at best, Talon-infiltrated. So we have to take the fight straight to the heart of the beast.»
«That's a tall order, Jack.»
«It is. But I've been building Los Muertos into a real fighting force - I wasn't even entirely sure why, it just felt like I needed to do it.» He took a long drink of his water. «Guess I've finally figured out why.»
Captain Amari nodded. «My message to Fareeha - or...» barely suppressed pain flashed across her face, «...whatever she is now - will have tipped them off. If we're going to act, it will have to be soon.»
«All the more reason not to waste any more time here.»
«No,» she said. «Jack... it's been a long while. We should... if we're going to be working together again, we should take a little time. Catch up.»
The strike commander smiled a very old smile. «Hardly feels like any time at all, to me. Feels good to talk again, too - despite everything. It's almost like picking back up where we left off.»
«I guess we haven't changed as much as we like to think, have we, Jack?»
«Guess not. You still like corn cakes?»
«They make good ones here.» He let himself relax, just a little. «Let's... just have brunch. Catch up, like you said. For a little while.»
She nodded, and then looked over to the waiter who had brought her soda before. "Excuse me?" she called, in Spanish, bringing the young man back over. "I think we're finally ready to order."
This chapter is worksafe. [AO3 link]
Angela Ziegler looked over the boxed-up contents of her laboratory, everything safely put away, new access codes on the doors and cases. The last round of prepared auto-aid kits - capable of handling most of the sorts of injuries an Overwatch agent was likely to encounter in the field - were neatly stacked on the cart outside her office, ready for transport up the elevator and across to the Lunar embassy.
She picked up her bag and backpack, and grasped the cart's handle, making her way to the elevator, then up, to the courtyard, where Fareeha and Winston waited for her, at the line marking the boundary between Swiss and Lunar territories.
"One last time, Angela," the scientist said, "Are you sure about this?"
The doctor nodded, firmly. "I care about this project as much as you do, Winston. We are needed, and... we need her. If this is what is necessary to repair the damage I caused, so be it."
"Then... thank you. And good luck." The ambassador took the cart from his friend, and wheeled it aside, well into Lunar territory.
"You look very much like you need a hug. I know I do," Fareeha said.
"Yes, I do. But - think of it as just another mission. We have been apart before."
"Not like this."
"It's just Lena, liebchen. She's not so frightening as all that."
"But it's not just her. It's all of Talon, and you are going into the heart of it."
"I know. But I should not be gone for so very long." The two embraced, kissing both fiercely and tenderly, before Angela broke away and stepped back to the Swiss side of the line. "They want no one else in the courtyard, so..."
"Come back to me," said the rocketeer, as she stepped back, into the Lunar Embassy's entryway.
The courtyard now clear, the doctor pulled a violet hexagonal device from her bag, and placed it on the ground in front of her. "The beacon comes in two parts. I don't know why, but I know they will respond quickly," she said quietly, knowing her wife could still hear her nonetheless. Then, from a small, round, metal box, she extracted a smaller, round, black device, clicked its power cell into place, and depressed the top button until it beeped, twice. "That's all there is to it." She looked up, looking for a ship. "See you when I see..."
And then she vanished.
Gabriel almost let himself laugh a bit. "Talon has a top-level software and hardware hacker - I don't know her real name, but she's head of the Sombra collective, the one behind that hacking spree last year. That teleporter trick has to be her work."
Hana flipped the image showing Angela's disappearance onto her personal padd, examining it curiously, as Winston said, "An extraordinarily powerful tool, regardless."
"I wasn't worried," said Fareeha. "Not any more than I already had been. If Talon had wanted to kill her for what she did, they'd've already done it." Or, she thought, at least, tried. "They wouldn't hide behind special effects."
Winston shook his head, no. "I wouldn't've cooperated - ever - if I was afraid of anything like that. Widowmaker is very strange, in some ways, but she is also very rational." And still Amélie, he thought, but could not say. "There are confidences I'm keeping, but it comes down to one thing: they trusted us, and we blew it, and now we have to trust them."
Fareeha nodded in agreement. "Exactly."
"So what are you worried about, Ree?" asked Gabriel.
The rocketeer's expression grew sober. "I worry about... what Angela might decide she needs to do."
"Yes," she heard the unnamed woman reply, the one who had blindfolded her, the one with the Talon patch on her shoulder. "The way forward is flat. Follow my lead and the direction of my voice, please."
The doctor stepped carefully along a hard-surfaced walkway. It sounded like concrete, but could've been stone, or anything like it, really. She heard the sounds of seagulls, nearby, and sandpipers, in the distance. "When may I remove the blindfold?" she asked, nervously, when she suddenly felt the sun fall away from her skin with a last pair of steps, and she stopped, at a half-height metal gate. Behind her, she heard a door close.
"Now," said the pilot. "Here, I'll do it," and she removed the cloth.
After the blindfold, even the inside seemed bright, bright like midday. Behind her, a grey metal door sat framed in a small concrete entry leading back, presumably, to the aircraft. Directly before her, the gate, unlocked. And ahead, a stairwell down.
"Don't worry," said the pilot, "it's quite safe. Please proceed."
Through concealed camera feeds, Venom and Widowmaker watched Dr. Ziegler walk down the cement stairs. Everything was being recorded, of course. Perhaps they couldn't entirely trust Angela Ziegler on her word alone, but having just a bit of leverage changed the situation entirely. And if proof of active cooperation with a globally-notorious terrorist organisation didn't count as leverage, well - what would?
"I'm surprised she went along with this, honestly," the teleporter said. "But I'm glad she did."
"I am, as well," said the spider. "But I am... less surprised than you, given what I remember, and all you've said. I do not think she is as much of a rationalist as she likes to believe."
"Wot," she said, a small smile quirking up on one side. "You sayin' she's doin' all this just 'cause she's fallen for me?"
"No," her wife replied, "but... that is part of it. She has strong emotions."
"She's married! And - the doc? Strong emotions? You serious?"
"The first," smirked the spider, "I do not think has to matter so much. And the second... I suspected, even in the old days, but is it not obvious now? Everything she's done screams it. Particularly at the end - she didn't even try to triage you, she just swept in like a goddess and rebuilt your body." Her smirk relaxed into a smile, almost sympathetic. "As one who controls her own passions tightly, I recognise it in another. It is part of why I am not so angry at her... poor decision-making."
"Oh, yes. Seeing her again, even if in video - it is enough to confirm it. She may hide it from you, and from her current friends - but not from me."
Venom shook her head, and grinned a little. "Y'know... knowin' that... I almost wish it was returned."
"I have always found her quite attractive. And I suspect she is an absolute beast in bed."
"Oh, now, don't you start."
Widowmaker laughed. "Do not worry, cherie, we were only friends - if close ones. And... one time, perhaps a little bit more. I think I will remind her of it." She squeezed her wife's hand. "But it was not serious. I have already fallen, I have no need to fall again."
"I wouldn't mind tho'. As long as y'always came home."
Amélie leaned over and kissed Lena. "J'adore."
"Aw," said the junior assassin, blushing just a little. "I love you too."
"Doctor Ziegler!" said the grey-haired woman, motioning to a chair, as the pilot disappeared quietly back out to the hallway. "It is an honour. Please, sit down. Would you like anything to drink?"
"Some water would be lovely," said the Swiss woman, as she sat. The older woman nodded to her companion, who scooted over for a bottle of water, and two cups of hot tea, from the sidebar.
"I am Dr. Geanna Mariani, and this is my nurse assistant, Taviano Bonsignore. And it is a pleasure, finally, to meet you."
"I suspect I am familiar with your work?"
"More than you should be, I think? But yes."
"Not actually so, but what I know of it is miraculous," Dr. Ziegler said, sincerely. "You have been described to me as a fan of mine - I am, I think, an admirer of yours. But... amongst other tasks, I have a data delivery to make. Will anyone else be attending?"
"Ah, I'm flattered. Thank you. Yes, and they should be here any moment," she said, as the second set of doors opened, and Venom and Widowmaker - both in full Talon field gear - stepped out. "Ah, there you are!"
"Venom," said the Overwatch doctor, nodding, carefully neutral, getting a small but polite smile in return. "Widowmaker," she said, nodding again, a little wary despite herself.
The senior assassin smiled. "It has been a long time, Doctor Ziegler, has it not? Perhaps too long." She reached out her hand to the Swiss woman, who offered her own only to find her fingers brought to cool, blue kips, and gently kissed. "But there is no need to be so formal. Surely, Angela, you have not forgotten Tripoli."
She remembers, thought the doctor, relief cascading through her. It is you. It was always you, the whole time. I knew it. "Of course I haven't," she whispered, smiling, and kissing that cool blue hand, in turn. "It truly is wonderful to see you again in person... Amélie."
[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 writing this thing and even I'm being surprised at how much Pharmacy milage is in this chapter.
Fareeha read the letter again, face grim, shaking a little, enraged. How dare she. How dare she?!
"Angela! Come here, please!" she called into the other room. This will have to go to all of Overwatch, but... she should know, first.
"Fareeha? Are you all right? You sound..." Her wife leaned around the doorframe and saw that, in fact, her wife was tightly, rigidly angry. "Oh, no. What is it, liebchen?"
"Come here, and hold me, while you read this."
Angela stepped quickly forward to the flying agent's chair and wrapped her arms around her neck, reading over her shoulder. "...I... I... this has to go to the entire team."
"I know. I wanted you to see it first."
"Do not hold any of it back, send it unedited."
"That is not why." The Egyptian turned in her chair to face her wife. "I've decided. I will do it. I want to do it, now. How long will it take to prepare a set of nanites for me?"
Angela gasped, and covered her mouth with her left hand, her heart leaping, and she stepped half a step back, then threw herself around her wife, holding her tight, so tight, so unready for that declaration. "I... That is not the reaction I..."
Fareeha held her wife gently, pulling her head against her strong shoulders, her eyes closed, brushing her fingers through her wife's hair. "I know."
"But... why? I am..." The doctor took a long, deep breath, and pulled back. "I... have committed a serious ethical lapse - it was not my first - and ... I have wanted this for too long. I, I have to be sure. I have to know. You are not doing this just to spite your mother?"
Fareeha laughed, a little bitterly. "No."
"Have I put pressure on you? Have I been..."
Fareeha chuckled and smiled. "No."
"Then... why? Why now?"
Her wife grew quite sombre, quite quickly. "I..." She pursed her lips and looked at the floor, and did not speak for a moment, and then not for another moment, and not for another moment after that. She covered her eyes with her hands, then covered her entire face, sliding her palms slowly down, collecting her thoughts. Softly, looking up, but to the distance, she began, "I was always taught life had phases, and that it mattered to go through all of them." She bit her lip. "That they all have a purpose. That everything has a time, and a place, and that all the phases of life are equally valuable, in different ways. Part of that is... that age brings wisdom."
"I do not disagree," said her wife, softly.
"Mother - Ana - believed in that, particularly. That the wisdom of age is important to humanity. That there is value - and knowledge - in understanding the decay of time, in understanding" - she looked at her own strong arms, and her own strong hands - "that this does not endure."
Angela Ziegler nodded, and her expression subtly changed, as her thoughts raced ahead of her wife's speech.
"I have lived long enough to understand that, at least, a little. But - if she... if this is what she calls wisdom..." She glared back to the screen, with its softly glowing text, anger in her eyes. "This is not wisdom, it is insanity." Her gaze whipped back to her wife, and she looked deep into her eyes. "Is this what awaits me in old age? This... paranoia? This capriciousness? This... madness? I will have no part of it. I beg you to save me from this."
Angela met her wife's sight, falling into the dark pools of her eyes, reaching across to her wife, touching her cheek and chin and hair. "I have wanted nothing more in my life." She closed her own eyes, for a moment, and opened them again. "But ... I have to do this correctly."
"Whatever this is," she gestured to the text on the display, "it is not genetic. If it is environmental, it is not in you. You carry nothing that makes this inevitable, or even likely. I do not know what has happened to your mother, but ... I do not think, not even for a moment, that you would share her fate."
Fareeha nodded. "Good." Slowly, she looked down again, contemplating Angela's declaration carefully for seconds, then for a minute, then for another, before looking back up. "But it doesn't change my decision. The only reason - the only true reason - I have said no, is my belief in what she taught me." She reached over, and touched the display, with its texts, with its threat. "I no longer have good cause to think it has value."
"I'm sorry," said her wife. "I'm so sorry."
"I'm not," said her lover. "Illusions do not suit me." She shrugged. "Besides, it's not like you can't turn the nanites off."
"No," acknowledged the doctor. "But they will begin repairs immediately. You will lose your scars, over a period of weeks. They are part of your life, your experience, and they will fade completely, over time."
The younger soldier nodded. "They are mostly hidden, anyway."
"Not from me," smiled the doctor. "I treasure them, as they are a part of you."
The flying officer snorted. "They hurt in rainy weather, you know that. They bother me every time we visit my father. This one, in particular," she pointed to the left side of her ribcage, "I will be most glad to see this one gone."
"You will look younger. Not very much, but somewhat. Overwatch ignores it, in me - but they may not, in a field soldier. In you."
"I will demonstrate to them that I do not care what they think."
"Then you are absolutely sure?"
"Yes," she said, mind clearly made up. "I have no idea what it takes to start the process. If I could take the first dose, receive the first infusion, whatever the procedure might be - if I could do it right now, this very instant, I would."
Angela laughed, just a little - "I have been waiting to do this for so long..." - and sat in her wife's lap, and kissed her, breathlessly, tightly, hard. Her lips tingled against her wife's, like electrics, but without the shock, and Fareeha felt her pulse quicken, and it felt to the rocketeer almost as if their hearts were moving into sync as the electrics moved across her skin, and her eyes widened as the low, persistent, ignored ache in her left shoulder faded, and she realised... Now. And she pulled her wife against her, harder, and they kissed until neither could avoid breaking away for a breath, as hard as they fought against it, and so they broke away, both panting, both shaking, just a little.
"That... was not what I expected... in a nanite delivery system." She laughed, in little huffs, feeling somehow light, somehow bubbly, all over. "But I approve of it."
Her wife took a deep breath, giggling throughout, no, more than that, but she did not have words for the kind of burbling elation running through her mind. "I," she laughed, "I thought it would be a gift on our honeymoon, but I've kept it to myself until you were ready... I am so happy... but... how do you feel?"
The Egyptian laughed, and pulled her wife back against her body. "I feel, doctor, like I need another dose."
Angela grinned broadly, eyes alight like stars. "You don't, but - isn't it convenient I just happen to have one ready?" She leaned in, and they kissed again, 'till nothing else mattered at all.
Two hours later, Fareeha forwarded Ana's message to the rest of Overwatch, flagged "Mission Critical - Urgent," recommending most strongly that regular Embassy staff be warned, that Swiss and UN authorities be notified, and that Athena step up security on all exterior access points. "If Ana Amari has decided to play it like this," she said, in her forward, "we need to take her seriously. I will do what I can to talk her back to sensibility, but this is a threat, and it should be treated as such. And so, unfortunately, should she."
The assassin hit [Acknowledge Signal] on her padd, and jumped in first, saying, "Fine," exasperation in her voice. "I'm here. First things first tho', did Angela tell you..."
"Check your mail. Right now. I'll wait."
Lena glared, angry again. "No. First. Did Angela tell you what happened?"
"Yes," said the scientist, "We know. The whole team. We know all of it, I'm pretty sure. She offered her resignation, I refused to accept it. Lena, check your mail right now. It's important."
Lena looked sideways at Winston, anger in her eyes, but pulled up her Overwatch mail in another window. "That's quite the thread you've... got..." She blinked. "...oh."
The scientist nodded. "That's why I haven't been letting you cool down. I'm sorry, but you can see why."
"Wow," said the Talon assassin. "This is bad." She read Ana's mail - and Fareeha's commentary and recommendations - again. Or maybe, she thought to herself, it's good. Maybe now they'll just step aside. She looked back towards Winston. "Do you know what this means?"
"Fareeha is trying to talk to her. No luck so far, but she's still trying."
"Do you know what this means? Winston, I need to know."
"...yes. I do."
"Good." She sighed and shook her head. "I tried, luv. I really did. I could've solved this weeks ago. But I was nice, and I played it your way... and look where it's got us."
"We don't know that. And I don't like your way of handling these things. I'll never like it, and I'll never not prefer our way, and I'll never stop insisting we get first shot, when it's our jurisdiction. But..." he looked down and to his left. "You had a right to know about this mail. Even if I knew how you'd react. Even if I knew what you'd do."
You made sure I was informed, the assassin realised. You didn't delete the mail. You even called my attention to it. She breathed. Bloody hell, this has to be hard on you.
Lena's face softened a little, and she smiled a sad smile. "Thanks, big guy." She closed her eyes. "I need to talk to Angela - using my codes. I'll drop a new set of keys in the usual place; she'll need access to that drop, or you'll need to ferry the files." She looked back at her old friend. "Will you do that for me?"
The ambassador nodded, deciding not to ask why. "I will."
"No, you're not. You're glad you've got a reason."
Venom snorted. "Fair cop. I really am sorry, though. Not for what we're gonna do, but for how hard it is on ya."
"This is not the first time I've had to be a little complicit... but it may be the most difficult."
Lena nodded. "I didn't want..." Damn you, Morrison - do you have to destroy everything you touch? "I didn't want to put you in that position again. That's all."
"Look, Lena," said the scientist. "Just don't go out of your way. Not with Ana. I know what Jack's done, that's one thing, but Ana..." he said miserably, "Do what you have to, just... don't be extra about it. Can you at least do that for me, if not for Fareeha? Please?"
The Talon agent thought about it, hard. If we can get the video, if we can get that damned gun of hers before she hands off imagery... then she's just another batty old conspiracy theorist who doesn't make any sense. And we don't risk losing Pharah. She gave Winston a dubious look - the most dubious of looks - and set her upper lip, but nodded, just a little. "I'll try. No promises."
"None expected," he said, knowing it was the best he'd get.
She pressed a few buttons on her padd. "I've dropped new codes for Angela. You'll relay 'em?"
"She'll have them in a few minutes."
"Thanks, big guy. For all of it, but... particularly for not trying to hide this from me."
"These were colleagues of mine once, Lena. Yours, as well. Don't make me regret this any more than I already do. Please."
"Gloves off, luv. We're gonna do what's needed." She shook her head, and tapped the tabletop in front of her. "But I'll do my best t' keep it to that."
"Thank me when it's over - if y'still want to. Y'may not. But right now..." She put her hands on the table. "I need to debrief my team."
"Good luck," Winston said, "...I think."
Lena smiled, ruefully. "Best I'll get?"
"Best I've got to give. Winston out."
"Good girl," Amélie cooed to Ourson, her little black tarantula, a surprise gift from Lena the previous Christmas. "Back into your habitat. I will give you two crickets, one at a time."
She'd spent an hour cleaning Ourson's tank, replacing the soil, cleaning the little shelters where the spider liked to hide, scrubbing the shallow water dish, making sure the spider-safe plants were healthy in their hidden pots. The curlyhair didn't really need, or care, about the plants - but Amélie liked how it made the enclosure look more real, more like the Costa Rica from which the species originally came.
"I think you will be moulting soon," Widowmaker said, quietly, more to herself than to Ourson, who surely knew the truth of it better than her keeper. "I should make sure you are happy before you begin." The large spider did not need very much care, really - as pets go, Lena picked a nicely low-maintenance animal - and Amélie did more than really necessary, and enjoyed it.
"Go on," Widowmaker said, prompting the spider to the ground. It took a moment, but Ourson figured out that this was her home, and stepped lightly onto the new bedding. A moment later, and then there was a cricket, and she pounced, frighteningly quick, surrounding it with her legs and stinging, venom paralysing her prey in moments. Amélie cooed again, "oh, you were very hungry, weren't you? Well, there will be another once you are finished with the first."
When she was very young, Amélie had a fear of spiders, which she now found a little embarrassing, and more than a little ironic. But that was long ago, before she knew herself how to sting.
"Amélie!" shouted Lena, bursting in from the landing pad's exit corridor. "I'm home!"
The Widowmaker replaced the habitat's lid and turned to her lover, smiling the broad smile reserved only for her, and spread her arms wide. "Come to me, cherie!" The two women collided and spun around in the common room that they'd started thinking of a little bit as the family room, which is fairly silly for a Talon base, but not untrue despite it. "I am so happy to see you again." She leaned back and looked into Venom's brown eyes. "I see you've been dropping the sniper kit - have you checked in with Dr. Mariani yet?"
"Nah," said the junior assassin, "I wanted to see you, first." She kissed her wife, gently. "I've missed you so much. Overwatch is wretched. Please tell me we have a mission this week, I want somethin' to go right."
The spider chucked. "Oh, no, I'm so sorry." She returned Venom's kiss, and pet her head gently, running her fingers through that mop of hair. "A mission - pleasantly, we do, and it should be stimulating. I was saving that news for tomorrow, but... what happened?"
"Lemmie get checked out by th' doc first," said the occasional sniper. "It's a long story."
"You're doing well," said the Sicilian doctor, from behind her scanner console. "Could you shift your eyes the rest of the way back, please?"
"'Course, doc." Lena pushed the last of the gold out of her iris. "How's that?"
"Very good. Dilate your pupils, let me check the cornea? Thank you." The doctor had Venom look across eight compass points as small white lights danced around Lena's vision. "All very good. No visual centre confusion around the lack of blind spots?"
"Nothin' I've" - she chuckled - "...seen..."
Dr. Mariani smiled. "Yes, yes, your jokes are terrible. But your eyes are not. Shift dilation back to baseline? Thank you. Yes, everything looks very good."
Venom blinked a bit - shifting her iris felt like nothing, but somehow, dilating and undilating her pupils still felt just weird.
"Well, this is all, ah, very healthy," she said. "There is one thing, but - do not worry, this is not a health question, you are fine. Did you use your chronal accelerator as Mockingbird?"
"Yeaaaaaaah," said the assassin, stretching the "a" sound. "Sorry. I knew it might mess up your data collection, but when Angie pulled that little demonstration of hers, I just... wasn't ready for it. I teleported across the room."
"I thought so. Quite understandable, from what you described." She smiled wistfully. "I wish I could've seen it myself."
"Some of the data got messed up?"
"Eh, there is a... very small bias shift. I can, ah, compensate, yes. It is probably from the slipstream - unless you happened to be near a powerful antineutron entanglement array at some point."
"Wot's that then?"
"A big hummy thing, might make you tingle."
Lena laughed. "Amélie didn't go with me on this one, doc."
The doctor smirked. "I didn't think so. But I understand, your ambassador friend, he is a scientist, yes? He might have one."
"Might do. Want me to ask him?"
"Eh," she waved her hands, "it is not important. I will remember it can happen." She closed the padd and shut off the scanner. "Your blood chemistry is perfect, your metabolic tests are exactly on track - you'll feel warm for a little while, like usual, eh? And hungry in, ah, probably a few hours. Drink extra water until you feel the hunger. Good?"
"Yes'm. And... thanks for comin' out on such short notice."
"It is no problem, I want these readings for my own work, you know. Thank you for letting me take them." She backed away from the examination table and motioned to the door. "Now, shoo, get out of here - I want to make the last ferry home."
"Roger that. Thanks, doc!"
Venom fanned herself as she sat on the couch, back up to her normal temperature, and feeling it. "Terrible, yeh?"
Widowmaker - sitting across the low driftwood-grey coffee table, apart from her wife until she fully recovered - frowned, and shook her head. "I do not know where even to begin." She cast about, and picked one topic of the many. "I would not think one of Gabriel's plans would be so fragile. I know that no plan fully survives first contact with the enemy, but still."
Lena nodded, and drank from her rather tall glass of water. "It's not all his fault. The intelligence wasn't accurate, and those weren't ordinary Los Muertos street rats, but t'be honest - we were sloppy. And y'can't be sloppy like that."
"I hope you, at least, hit your shots," the elder sniper said with sardonic amusement.
The younger assassin snickered. "'Course I did, luv."
"So now, it is our turn?"
"Nope. I've agreed to give 'em another shot."
"When you voted against even the first?" She gave her wife a thoughtful look. "I am surprised."
Venom frowned. "I... I didn't want to. I moved to hand it over, in fact. But..." She ran her hand through her hair. "Y'shoulda heard Mei. You'd understand if y'did. Her whole team got left to die in Antarctica..." She shivered. "I'm not the only one who wants t'see him pay. She just wants it done all out in the open."
The spider hummed, and sipped at her afternoon glass of wine. An Italian table wine, a bit sweet, but not so far as a dessert wine, with hints of almost apricot. "Public justice, courtroom justice - but there is no small amount of revenge to that, as well."
"I dunno?" Lena said, sipping again from her water. "Mei..." She looked over at her wife with half a smile, not sure how to put together the words, realised she was trying to say two things at once, and picked one. "She's not like that. She reminds me of... who I used t'be, y'know? I used to believe in all that a lot more than I do now - and I don't want to be the one to take it from her."
Amélie gave her a knowing look across the top of her wineglass. "You know the only justice he'll face is whatever we deliver ourselves."
"Oh, yah, I know." Lena leaned back against the couch. "If I thought tryin' him would do any good, I'd maybe have different ideas - no matter how much I hate him. But they'll rehabilitate that bastard in nothin' flat. You and I both know it. People like him never get what's comin' to them."
The spider smiled. "Which makes this exactly the sort of job you like us to take on."
"Not so sure of that, either. You haven't seen the video yet. Lemmie show you."
She replayed the Amari video, highlighting the key points, and then her own, more recent video, showing the identical outcomes. "We'll need Angie's help to take him down - keep him from doin' this trick - and even she doesn't know how to make that happen yet. Figurin' it out's gonna be hard work. I don't think she'd do it to help us kill him - but for Overwatch, for a capture? She'll sort it in a week."
Widowmaker frowned. "That is indeed a complication. But I can't imagine even the best nanosurgeons could restore an adequately pureed brain, and I have some delightfully messy rounds."
Venom's grin returned, this time properly wicked. "Maybe. I like the idea. But I'd rather not risk it - you didn't see her revival demonstration." She frowned, and maybe even shuddered a little. "That was scary, and I know from scary. If he can do that..." She shook her head, and put it out of her mind. Why ask for trouble?
"It sounds to me like we should get her and Doctor Mariani together sooner, rather than later." She pointed with her wineglass in the direction of the base's medical laboratory. "Even if it's not on our preferred terms."
Tracer took another sip of her water. "I did get her to admit she's not ageing."
Amélie hummed, a little pleased sound. "So, at least, that much was accomplished."
"Yeh. Baby steps."
"So. The plan is that we let Overwatch fail again..."
"I'm gonna do my level best to help 'em succeed. I have to. But yeah, assuming..."
"...then we know how to kill him. But if we're wrong, and they take him into custody? Can you live with that?"
"Then..." the junior assassin scowled. "Then... I suck it up. Overwatch hands him over to the ICC, they score big political points, which'll help keep PETRAS act pressure down to a simmer. He gets off light - least, for a while, 'till he's out of the news." She smiled a very hungry smile, "And then, when everyone's forgot him again, we take him out for good. On the quiet. Everybody wins."
Widowmaker smiled. "Ah - the best of both worlds. Finesse, across time."
"I can in fact time-travel, love." She took another big draw of water, and felt her stomach shift. "Oooh, there we go. There's the ol' appetite. I am peckish. Feel like dinner?"
"I thought you would never ask."
"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?
[It's about time I showed this story deserves that pharmercy tag, don't you think?]
"She's alive." The rocketeer looked up at the ceiling from a small private berth in the medical wing. The nanosurgeons and biotic field had done their work, and both she and Dr. Zhou were fine, all checked out and ready for action - at least, physically. "No call, no letter, no hint she'd survived, and now... this?"
The combat doctor sat by the bed, holding her wife's hand. She shook her head. "It's..."
"I can't believe it," Fareeha continued, unheeding. "I can't believe she's still alive. I just can't." She squeezed her eyes half-shut, still looking at the ceiling, but really, looking at memories. "We buried her, years ago, how...?"
"I remember." The funeral - like so many, at the time - had lacked a body. But there was a ceremony and a marker and a reception and most of all that empty feeling that wouldn't ever entirely go away, as much as Angela might try to fill it, a feeling of finality that did not sit well with being undone. "I had no idea."
"I know," said the soldier, gently squeezing that slender hand. "How could you have?"
"Are you angry at me for hitting her?"
Fareeha snorted. "I... no? Why? I don't think so. It sounded to me like she deserved it. Had I been awake, I think I might have given her more than a good slap - but I don't know." She rubbed her forehead with her free left hand. "She is my mother, and I always loved her, but she has always been like that, and now this, and now I don't know what to think."
"It feels unreal to me, even now, and I was there," said Angela. "I saw her myself, with my own eyes, but..."
"'Unreal.'" Fareeha sampled the sound of the adjective. "That's a good word for it." She shook her head. "I know, at some point, this will sink in. But right now, it hasn't."
Angela leaned down on her lover's shoulder, and no, that did not work. "Scoot over, there is room," she said, sliding onto the berth with her wife. "I am still very angry at her."
Fareeha put her head on Angela's shoulder. "I'm not surprised. I will be too, I think, eventually." She took a deep fortifying breath, trying to steady herself. "But she's right about one thing - about doing what is necessary. It's a military ethic, and I do understand it."
"Schiisdräck. It's just another excuse. She has always found excuses."
She has indeed, Fareeha thought, though she did not want to admit it. "You are not from a military family," she deflected. "You wouldn't understand."
"Don't give me that," she replied, poking her wife with pleasant indignity. "I'm Swiss - we are all military, in one way or another."
"Real military," goaded the Egyptian, a little smile on her face.
"Oh ho ho, is that how we are going to play this?" she chortled. "Do I have to slap you today as well? I remind you whose army has not lost a war in two and a half centuries."
"Do I have to remind you who hasn't fought a war in two and a half centuries?" retorted the rocketeer with a bit of a smile, for the moment.
"Because no one dares fight us," she said, with customary Swiss satisfaction. "Of course."
"I certainly will not fight you, not in the face of that logic," said the rocketeer, a quiet wryness in her voice as the sound of it went soft. "I surrender."
"Another glorious Swiss victory! But so easily?"
Fareeha rolled onto her side and wrapped her arms around her wife, and let out a long, low, shuddering sigh. "Would you just... hold me, for a little while, until we have to go upstairs?"
Oh, beloved, Angela thought, is it starting to register with you? "Of course I will. Come on, love, let it out." She pulled her lover's head against her chest, and slowly, softly petted her head as she quietly started to cry. She put away her angry thoughts about Ana Amari, and comforted her wife, instead - a far better and more immediate concern. "I'm here for you," she whispered, "as long as you will have me."
Hopefully, she thought, forever.
[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.
Mercy sat, shaking, alone, at her desk, her composure collapsing the moment Lena Oxton had walked out the door.
Mein gott, had I not known, and had I needed to revive her...
She shuddered, and swallowed, hard. She did not like thinking about what might've happened. Not to anyone. Particularly not to Lena.
But now, I do know.
Lena Oxton never really did really read medical documents she signed. In this case - as far as Dr. Ziegler was concerned - that was a very, very good thing, and she pulled up files from the deep scan which had been triggered as soon as Venom acknowledged that the previous documents still applied.
Now, thought the doctor, let's see how you are made...
Her hand stopped, just above the console surface, just above the file. ...No, she thought.
She blinked, surprised at herself. I've done this with everyone else, she thought. Why not her?
No, her mind insisted, again, at war with herself. This is different.
God, she wanted to. So much. So very, desperately much. It was all right there, flagged, sorted, available, ready to open, ready to be known. But...
She would be so angry.
Angela Ziegler leaned against her desk, hands over her eyes. Do not be foolish, doctor, she told herself. She's a patient. She can not be anything else. Your job as a combat medic is to keep her alive, whatever it takes.
And yet. No.
If the not knowing ached - and it did, viciously - the unreadiness for disaster ached even more. Losing Lena, or Tracer, or Venom, or whatever she called herself today? She shook her head, firmly. I can't. I won't. It is unacceptable.
And so, she took a deep breath, and compromised with herself. She pulled the dataset off the scanner, onto a small card, securely deleting the original. Then, she physically moved the card over to the nanosurgeon programmer for her Caduceus staff, and inserted that card into a small slot, compiling the deep-scan data set into the knowledge base for the Overwatch agent known as Mockingbird.
Compilation completed, she looked at the card, now removed, sitting in her hand. The original data, the raw scan, not the abstracted assemblage merged into so much other data, unrecoverable - or essentially so - from the nanosurgeons, and even then not comprehensibly, at least not to human minds - available, intact, only here, in one tiny chip.
So much I could learn, she thought. They'd done impossible things at Talon, and the key to it lay in her hand.
She slid the small protect tab along the edge of the medical data card, and firmly pressed her fingers against the centre. The chip briefly glowed, hot, as it destroyed itself, and then, she threw it away.
As long as they know, she thought, putting her hand gratefully on the nanosurgeon farm, watching as it built a special nanite cluster just for the Talon sniper, that is... good enough. For now.
"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."
[All dialogue in «angle quotes» is translated from the Spanish]
«Whatcha doin', Spooky?»
Jack Morrison looked up upon hearing Leticia Delgado's question from where he sat with his notebook. Paper, pen, overstuffed chair - old school, like he was. «Updating the dossier.»
«On your old friends?» she asked, putting away her phone, and grabbing an orange off the counter separating the small kitchen from the small living room.
«They're not my old friends,» he growled. «But this attack by Amari, and this fake Overwatch news - maybe it'll help fit some more pieces together.»
Leticia nodded, peeling the orange. Morrison had been hauling that notebook around as long as she'd known him. He'd never let her look at it, and she'd never pushed too hard. But she'd been curious, and if he was going to open up a little, well, it beat sitting around, anxious and bored. «Why you so obsessed with this new Overwatch, anyway?»
He shook his head. «It's not Overwatch. The real Overwatch - my Overwatch - went down with me, when Talon moved against us.»
The street fighter cocked her head to her left. «I thought that was the UN.»
Morrison snorted. «Talon, UN - it's all the same thing, has been for a long time. Early 2068 - a few months before the Slipstream exploded - that's when I started to realise what was really happening, what was going wrong.»
«Talon,» she said, before biting into a wedge, «...controls the UN?»
«Talon proxies. Maybe mind controlled, like Lacroix, maybe conscious traitors, I don't know. But they're pulling the strings. I just have to find them all, cut them all down, show the world what they've done.»
«I know they're terrorists, but that's what they call us, too...» She swallowed the piece of orange.
«They really are, though. More than anyone knows. More than anyone understands. But I'm the one who's seen it.» He poked at his notebook. «I'm the one who's figured it out.»
«You got evidence?» She peeled threads off another piece of the orange. «I mean, if they're that kind of dangerous...»
«It's everywhere you look, once you start to see it. Start with Gérard Lacroix's murder - Talon eliminated him as soon as he got too close. You think he was their mole? Of course not. He just knew too much.»
The young Los Muertos gangster bit into another wedge. «I don't even know who that is.»
«You...? Yeah, I, guess you wouldn't. You'd've been, what, 12? 13?» He chuckled. «Gérard Lacroix was head of Overwatch's anti-Talon task force. Good man. Murdered in his sleep by his wife - or rather, by whatever thing Talon put in his wife's head after they took apart her brain.»
«Wait. I've heard part of this story... are you talking about la blue girl?»
«The killing corpse? The purple assassin? Yeah. The Widowmaker. Second-best sniper in the world. I was friends with the woman they killed to create her.» He flipped to the Amélie Lacroix section of his notebook, filled lately with his notes on her partner, the teleporting assassin known as Venom. «I'm not sure who they killed to create her girlfriend. I thought it had to be Lena Oxton, somehow back from oblivion, because...»
«Lena Oxton... the Widowmaker's girlfriend? Wait, you think the hero of Old London is the spider's sidekick? Really?» Laticia snorted. «Put this in your notebook, I heard about it from the old squad leader. Those two showed up at an arms show together a couple years ago, right? Got disrespected by a some anglo Texans, and killed like a dozen people just to make a point. They're not...»
«I know. The girlfriend part, that's what made me think it might've been Lena.» He tapped the page with the tip of his pen. «Still think it might be. Just can't figure out why they'd keep the lesbian angle. I didn't even think Amélie liked girls, not that there's anything left of her in that machine. But it has to be important, for some reason.»
Hoooo, she thought. This is kind of nuts. «I'm sorry about your friends, Jack. But this - it's a lot to take in.»
Jack looked up at Laticia, and nodded. He trusted her. He hadn't trusted anybody in a long time, and he didn't trust the trust, but it was still there. «It's a lot more to live through.»
She let out a little bit of a 'heh,' and replied, «This's why you don't talk about your past much, huh?»
He nodded, flipping through pages, adding small notes in tinier text. «One of the reasons.» He dotted a couple of lower-case Is and put the book down. «The part I can't get past - there is just no way that the real UN would ever have moved against us. Not like that. They'd never have shut me down, not us, we mattered too much. Not even with that bastard Gabriel turning on us, turning on me...» He'd run through the story too many times in his own head even to get angry anymore. «I don't know whether they brainwashed him or reconditioned his mind or whether he just got bought out, but he turned on us. All those lies at the hearings, all that slander, all those leaks...»
«I remember that part,» she said, finishing the last of the orange.
«Big news, even to the tween set?»
«We watched the hearings in school.»
The solder smirked. «Not surprised - schools are about control. But all that propaganda aside - we mattered too much. The real UN - an uncompromised UN - wouldn't've shut us down. Never.»
She tapped her fingers, one, two, three, four, on the table, working out bits in her mind, before sweeping the peels away. «So... if Talon took over the UN, then...»
He nodded again, this time, approvingly. She gets it, he thought. «Then they have control over a lot of the governments, too. Deep state agents, fingers in key parties, big and small.» He picked the book back up, made a few more notes, and closed it again. «But I'll get it all out there, sooner or later. Once I have it all figured out. Then everyone will know, and we can start to put the world back together.»
The soldier looked down at his empty mug, feeling all talked out. «Hey. You mind making some more of that coffee?»
Delgado looked quizzically at Jack Morrison. «My coffee?»
«Who else's? I can't make it the way you do.»
«You can't... you hate my coffee. You always dump it out, and by the way, you still owe me new beans.»
«I don't hate it, I...» and he remembered, oh, yes, he kind of did, didn't he? No, that's not right, he loved her coffee. Nobody else could get it quite right, particularly not that white-haired... he shook his head, no, that doesn't make sense. «I'm getting used to it. It's kind of growing on me.»
«Ha!» She grinned. «I'll teach you how to appreciate good food yet, gringo. If I do this, you can't pour it out! I have to make a whole pot, or it comes out too weak, like yours. Just, you know, not as bad as yours. Which is terrible.»
«Wouldn't dream of it,» he groused, and stood up. «While you make that, I'll go out, get some more beans. I do owe you.»
«It's been quiet long enough, yah, I think it's safe.»
He nodded his agreement. «You heard anything from Araceli?»
Laticia shook her head, checking her phone again. «No, not yet. I'm worried.»
«Afraid the Maras got her?»
«Worried they might've.»
«I hope not. She's no soldier, but she's... a pretty good kid.»
Delgado smiled, surprised. «Thanks, Spooky. That's the nicest thing you've ever said about her.»
Morrison looked through the edge of the blind from the gang house. Twilight, and all clear - at least, as far as he could tell. Amari doesn't double-dip, he thought. We should be fine, for now. «I'll be back in a few minutes,» he said, throwing his gun over his shoulder. «With dinner.»
«No hunting in city limits!»
«Not even for tacos?»
«Okay, maybe for tacos. You know the kinds I like?»
«'Course I do,» said the soldier, opening the door. «If I'm not back in 15 minutes - leave, and don't look back.»
«Don't have to tell me twice!»