Chapter 1: Convalescence
Angela knew why she was there.
Everything had been going downhill for five years. It was no surprise, and she wondered why they’d even bothered to call her back to headquarters when the situation was obvious. She’d been off active work for almost a month, staying in an Ethiopian hotel on Crisis Control’s dime while supposedly waiting for a new assignment. But here she was, back in America, in a conference room in a tiny Alberta office, looking at what she assumed were the last two executives of Crisis Control. She’d met them both occasionally, received her assignments from their subordinates. A short white man, a lankier black woman, dressed in near-identical suits.
“I’m sure you know what this is about, Angela,” Geoff, the man, began, looking down at his folded hands on the table and pointedly refusing eye contact with her. “You warned us about this a long time ago. We’ve been doing everything we can to stay afloat, but…”
“But you’ve been outbid,” Angela sighed, looking up at Amira, who at least managed to hold her gaze. “By Moira.”
“Oasis,” Amira corrected, nervously tugging at her collar. “We don’t have enough information to say the Minister of Genetics has been behind all our setbacks personally. We just know that we can’t keep a contract and no government wants us in their nation. The fact is, we just don’t have the funding to keep going.”
Angela thought she’d been ready for this. She thought her undirected month in Africa had been preparing for this moment. But when Geoff looked up at her, she felt panic strike at her chest.
“You’ve done more for this organization than anyone. Seven years of incredible backbreaking service and effort.”
Despite the pounding of her heart, Angela chuckled weakly. “Backbreaking, Geoff?”
“Poor, uh, choice of words on my part. But, the point is, Angela...we felt you, of all people, deserved to hear this in person. At the end of today, this office will no longer belong to us. Crisis Control will officially dissolve tonight at midnight. Everyone else has been let go by now, as we tried to refer you to somewhere else that might work for you. We have a dozen contacts for you to look over, opportunities for you to put your skills to use anywhere in the world. We owed you that much. You’ve been with us longer than almost anyone.”
Angela blinked. “You really did all that for me?”
“Of course,” Amira said softly. “You never give yourself enough credit. You’ve done half our work for us over the years, along with your field duties. The least you deserve is to be sped on your way to something better.”
Angela’s nerves didn’t calm. She had an idea, a dangerous idea, that’d been forming in her head like a storm cell for the past month. What to do with herself without the constant demands of CC on her, when she’d felt so helpless and lost, drowning in alcohol and memories. She never told a soul what she was like without something to take her mind off of what she’d been through, the chronic pain that plagued her body, the stimulant injections, the drinking to get to sleep at night with nightmares crawling in her skull. She’d been in the game too long, she knew. Should have retired to a nice hospital somewhere and built a life.
Now, that’s what these two kind souls were planning to give her. And she couldn’t see how to do it. How to go back to a time before the Crisis, before Overwatch, before Moira, how to act like the last decade of her life never happened. Act like a doctor again, a surgeon, a medical researcher.
“Thank you both, very much,” she said softly. “I assume you’ve got digital copies of it all?”
“Of course. We can forward them to your e-mail. Where are you staying?” Geoff asked.
“I’ve a flight to catch, I’m afraid.” Angela smiled at them in what she hoped was a convincing way. “I had a feeling this was coming. I know none of this worked out like we planned, but I’m glad we managed to do some good in the world, while we could.”
“We hoped you’d see it that way,” Amira said with a sigh. “It’s been a real honor working with you, Doctor Ziegler.”
Angela stood and shook her hand before she went. They deserved, at least, a show of gratitude, some hope that their hard work had paid off.
She’d hate to immediately disappoint them.
“Flight 864 to Oasis, boarding now at Gate Three. Flight 864 to Oasis.”
Angela took a deep breath. Boarding a flight under a fake name (courtesy of her work in some more unstable countries), a flash drive in her pocket with data to print out a weapon in the heart of Oasis, thoughts in her head about cutting off the head of the snake. She knew little of the city itself, only the vague rumors that made it out of the place, but she knew Moira, and Moira could never focus on anything but her work. It was doubtful she kept an eye on the other affairs of her organization, and Angela sneaking in right under her nose seemed plausible enough, especially given that no one had come after her since their fight five years prior.
She could do this. She’d die, or go to jail, or fail, but she was going to take the shot while she had the chance. Moira’s expansion across the globe, Oasis’ reaching into all the points of crisis worldwide to spread human experimentation, needed to be stopped by someone who knew what it was. Oasis had guarded its secrets carefully, these last few years. No one knew what was in the treatments they delivered to the population, or the results of their work. Angela could only guess how much had gone wrong and been covered up.
She inched forward in the boarding line, mind still brewing. As she stepped into the boarding tube, her phone suddenly went off.
“So sorry,” she murmured, fishing it out of her pocket. She squinted at it, a slight chill running through her when she saw it was from an unknown number, and in all capitals, besides.
ANGELA YOU CAGEY FUCK
CALL THIS NUMBER BACK RIGHT NOW OR I’LL ZIP OVER TO THE STATES MYSELF AND BEAT YOUR SKINNY BLONDE ARSE
THIS IS LENA BY THE WAY
She couldn’t quite process what was happening. How had Lena gotten her contact information? She’d changed numbers a dozen times over the years with the constant transfers and hasty relocations.
As she stared at the phone, another message came through.
I’m sorry about that. Ms. Oxton offered to enter your personalized recall message and it was a mistake to allow her to do so.
This is Athena. Please call this number back as soon as you are in a safe, private location.
Angela’s heart dropped to her stomach.
“Miss? You’re holding up the line,” a flight attendant said, tapping her on the shoulder. She jumped, then gave him a strained smile.
“I’m sorry, I have to take this. I’ll step out.” She pushed through the line until she was in the waiting area again, her breath shallow, as if she were afraid to take in too much at once. Athena. Recall.
How the hell did an AI who was supposed to be both long-deactivated and confined to a single base of a shuttered organization get hold of Angela’s contact information? And Lena, of all people, helping her out?
A safe, private location. A hotel room would have to do. She looked back at the boarding line, knowing that she could still go — go, and attempt to end the threat herself.
She turned away from her self-imposed death sentence, and sought out how she might live instead.
Angela checked right back into the same room she’d been at before once she arrived back in the city. She checked over her room before she called.
“Good evening, Doctor Ziegler. I hope Lena’s message didn’t—”
“Oi, does this one feed into the line?” Lena cut in. “Hey! Hey Angie! I’m still pissed off at—
“Lena, please let Athena brief Doctor Ziegler before you started cursing at her again,” Winston said wearily.
Angela bit her lip to keep from laughing. Hearing all three of these voices again made her eyes sting and her chest lift in a way she hadn’t felt in years. She’d almost forgotten the urgency Athena’s message had carried, the implication of recall, until Athena did the digital equivalent of clearing her throat by loudly playing a disconnect sound.
“They can return to this conversation if they behave,” she said, and then Angela actually did laugh, sitting down on her bed and running a hand through her hair.
“You’ve gotten a bit more spunk since the last time we spoke, Athena,” she remarked. “How are you even functional? Shouldn’t you have shut down with Gibraltar?”
“Gibraltar never completely shut down, and neither did I. Dr. Winston and I have been living here since the Petras act was passed.”
“How did you manage that?” Angela inquired.
“Winston managed to make a case for us. In exchange for not actually acting on behalf of Overwatch, he would be permitted to stay here and use me to order food and supplies for him to continue his own research independently. We had a...shared hobby of expanding my capabilities. We’ve been tracking former Overwatch agents throughout the world in case we’re needed again, and we believe we are.”
“What makes you say that?” Angela asked.
“Talon. We have reason to suspect they’re still active, and worse, tied to a much larger global conspiracy that seems to aim to restart the Omnic Crisis and plunge the world into chaos once again. We’re not sure what purpose it serves, but deliberate actors are working to destabilize the world economy, rile up omnic tensions, and incite violence.”
“How do you know all of this?” Angela asked, fingers tensing. Deliberate actors. Moira had already admitted her connection to Talon; could Oasis be even further infiltrated?
“The computing power of an AI can be turned to interesting purposes when she is unleashed upon the Internet,” Athena replied, a smug note in her voice. “Pattern recognition is my primary function now, along with keeping Winston from going mad all alone in this base. Well, he was all alone. Lena, Winston, you can speak now — Doctor Ziegler needs to know why she specifically has been called to arms.”
“Finally,” Lena groaned. “Angie, you owe me a hundred letters, and we are talkin’ about it, but—”
“We’ve found ourselves in need of a medical officer, first and foremost,” Winston began. “Fourteen hours ago, we received a distress call from several miles outside of Ecopoint Antartica.”
Angela swallowed. She remembered. Two years before Overwatch’s end, an ice storm had swept in, the base had been presumed lost, and all personnel were marked as MIA. Resources had been stretched so thin that no one had been able to send even a mission to recover the bodies before Overwatch shuttered entirely.
“It was sent through the old Overwatch emergency network, bouncing off the southern Watchpoints and making its way to me,” Athena added. “I’ll play back the message for you.”
“This is Mei-Ling Zhou of Overwatch,” a woman said in her ear. Angela’s heart had leapt enough times by now that she was starting to get seriously worried about going into cardiac arrest. “I hope this is far enough outside of the dead zone...I am stranded, and I can see severe weather moving in. I reached a research camp marked on my map, but it seems I am not in season. I am low on food and supplies. I can use my drone to power the generators for a short time, but...” Mei’s voice broke as she said, “I don’t know if I can make it. But I have to try. If anyone is still listening, please…”
“Please don’t let them all have died for nothing.”
The call cut off in the middle of a sob, and Lena and Winston no longer seemed so cheery. Angela took in a deep breath, but before she could ask, Athena cut in.
“We are already en-route, but she’s likely suffering from severe exposure and possible cryo-sickness, as that’s the only way she could have survived nine years without a supply refill. We knew we couldn’t hope to save her on our own, so I took the liberty of diverting our shuttle to your current whereabouts. We’ll arrive in Albany airspace in less than an hour.”
“Where should I meet you? And how are you getting clearance?” Angela asked, mind spinning from the hundred twists life had just thrown at her face.
“I’ll send the co-ordinates to your phone. And we still have allies within the UN, despite everything. Some people out there never gave up on us. A few strings are being pulled in the right places to get us back online. We’ll be a fair bit more clandestine than we once were, but you’re no stranger to that, are you, Angela?”
Angela bristled. “I’m not going to join you if this is just another Blackwatch.”
“Of course not. I didn’t mean to imply that. We plan to operate with discretion, but with a light touch and a merciful hand.”
“We need you, Angie,” Lena said quietly. “I still remember the Uprising. Without you, I’d have died a hundred times over. I know I’m acting all crazy and all, but I miss you, too.”
Winston cleared his throat. “And with the end of Crisis Control…”
“I don’t have anything else to do. You have incredible timing.” Angela sighed, though a smile still tugged at her lip. “You’re going to reimburse me for this hotel, right? And my cancelled flight?”
“I’m sure we can scrape something up,” Winston said. “Welcome back, Doctor Ziegler. I’ll see you soon.”
“I’ll give you a hug so good I’ll break your back all over again,” Lena said, and Angela could hear the smirk in her voice, daring her to call out the inappropriate joke.
God, she’d missed them all.
She met the shuttle hovering over a field an hour out of Albany, nothing but a suitcase to her name. She left the autocab to its duties, stepping out into the grass and watching as the shuttle extended a boarding ramp for her, its white hull shining brightly in the summer sun, looking like some grand fantasy ship here to take her to the mysterious West. Angela recognized the ship from times long past, a Physeter, huge and equipped with sleeping quarters for long flights. With only three passengers, it would be empty indeed.
Before the ramp was even fully extended, Angela had the wind knocked out of her by a blue blur.
Lena’s arms clutched her tight around the waist. A burst of pain made Angela double over, wrapping her arms around Lena and clinging back only to hold herself upright.
“Ooh, sorry, luv, did I hurt ya?” Lena murmured, pulling back a little and letting Angela hold onto her shoulders. “You’re in a right state, you are…”
Angela grimaced, forcing herself to stand upright. “It’s, it’s not all your fault. My implant…”
“I thought that’d all got sorted out,” Lena murmured.
“Not as much as I’d hoped,” Angela admitted. “Don’t worry, Lena. It’s still so good to see you, even if you do need to stop abusing your Blink.”
“Where’s the fun in that, eh?” Lena said, her smile returning. “C’mon, let’s get in. Mei’s not gonna wait forever.”
Winston stood at the top of the ramp, and he stood up on his hind legs to give Angela a more subdued hug as she entered. She fell into his fur, sighing heavily.
“Been a long time, Doctor,” he rumbled, one enormous hand patting her shoulder. “I hope the years have treated you well.”
“I’d be lying if I said they have,” Angela said. “But I’m here now. What about all of you?”
As the loading ramp folded back into the ship, Lena jumped right in front of Angela’s face and flashed a ring on her finger. “Guess who got engaged? ” she said with a wide grin.
A pang of jealousy hit Angela right in the chest, but she tried to smile through it, for Lena’s sake. “I take it you’re finally making Emily an honest woman?” she joked back with an exaggerated Southern drawl, making her way past the two of them and taking a seat, stuffing her luggage under her feet and sighing with relief as the pressure on her implant lessened.
“Well, I tried to, but the brilliant bint decided to propose to me first. I kept her ring on me all the time just in case she did that, though,” Lena said with a giggle. “It was beautiful. There were tears.”
“I’m sure it was,” Angela said, idly rubbing the back of her neck. Lena’s eyes kept flitting to her throat, to the network of jagged scars that lurked there. Emily must’ve had a calming effect on Lena; the girl Angela had known would’ve already blurted out something like The fuck are those? Angela found herself grateful for the easy conversation.
Winston cleared his throat. “Doctor, we have something for you. We’re not sure if anyone else might have intercepted the transmission. Former Overwatch members have been targeted by Talon and their associates in the past, so we thought it best to be cautious.” He reached up into an overhead compartment and brought down an enormous suitcase, holding it out for Angela. “I believe you left this in storage.”
“It can’t be,” Angela gasped, taking the heavy suitcase into her lap.
“Valkyrie 3.0, and your staff. Welcome back to active duty.” Winston’s grin was terrifying, yet comforting at the same time. “You can suit up now, if you like.”
Angela gulped, running her fingers along the locks. “Do you think it’ll still interface with my implant after all this time?”
“I have no reason to think it wouldn’t.”
“Then...excuse me for a moment. I’d like to see if it helps me. Lena, would you mind coming along to help me get it on?”
“Sure thing, Doc.” Lena followed behind Angela as she left the loading bay, heading into the crew quarters. Angela undressed without looking at her, trying to keep her eyes on the grey walls in front of her, trying to keep her shaking under control as Lena unlocked the case and started preparing the suit. Angela was grateful it covered her neck.
Angela taught Lena how to attach the backplate and wings, then told her to stand back. She took a long, deep breath, closing her eyes tight. She hadn’t felt the Valkyrie surge in seven long years. She had to be ready for it.
When she pressed the button on her belt, and that familiar sensation, of being plunged into a hot spring, washed over her, her breath caught in her throat. Memories surfaced, old memories, things she’d sealed away; the first time she’d done this, with Moira watching over her, and always her mind fell backwards when she remembered Moira, to being implanted by her, to her offer in the hospital, and then forward, to massages and a night in Tokyo, to being shoved up against desks in the lab, to having a hand around her throat again, and she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything—
“Angela?” Lena whispered fearfully, circling around to her front and putting a hand on her shoulder, jolting her back to reality. Her face burned, her eyes stung, and she tasted salt on her lips. Her nerve sensation had expanded into her wings, and she felt them splayed all the way out to her sides, twitching nervously. Angela let her breath go, and it came out as a sob.
“I—I’m sorry, Lena,” Angela choked out, wiping her eyes.
“Nothin’ to be sorry for, luv. C’mon, sit down.” Lena guided her over to one of the beds embedded in the wall, one arm around her waist. Angela sunk down onto the edge beside her, suddenly conscious of the fact that she was completely pain-free again, like the implant on her back had no weight at all. She wanted to cry for that, too. For all the years she’d spent, trudging through life with such a burden on her.
“How’ve you been, Angie? Really?” Lena asked cautiously.
“Terrible,” Angela muttered, and it felt so, so good to just admit it to someone. She gulped, one hand going to trace the scars on her neck under the bodysuit.
Lena leaned into her. “I’m sorry.”
They stayed there in silence for a time, Lena with her head on Angela’s shoulder, one hand resting on Angela’s wrist like an anchor. Angela calmed, her breath coming easier to her, and she found herself so, so grateful for Lena’s sudden reappearance in her life that she couldn’t find the words to speak.
“You know you can talk to me, right?” Lena asked. “Whenever you want.”
Angela swallowed. “I don’t know if I can. Not right now.”
“Okay. Just...I’ve been here, Angie. I wasn’t lyin’ when I said me and Em would let you stay with us whenever you were done with Crisis Whatsits, till you got back on your feet.”
“I know. It’s not anything you did.”
“...Glad to hear it.” Lena patted Angela’s hand. “Whenever you’re ready, we can have Athena brief ya on the base we’re headed to.”
“I’m not ready yet,” Angela said. “But I will be.”
Chapter 2: Hypothermia
Mei was cold.
At that point, it wasn’t an unusual sensation. She’d been very cold for a very long time. However, what had changed was that everything else seemed to simply be falling away, save for being cold. Snowball sat motionless in the generator slot, the wind outside howled, the world all seemed pitch black, and Mei was cold.
She knew she should stand up. Run a few laps around the room, maybe. Get her blood flowing. But the chill had sapped her of energy, and she lay against the silent generator instead, trying to just not give up after walking all this way from the ruins of the Ecopoint. She hadn’t been able to get much out of the databanks there, but she hoped someone would hear the call she sent.
Mei’s eyes, which had been slowly closing, snapped wide open as another sound joined the wind outside. No less cacophonous, but differently pitched, artificial; the buzzing of hover-engines. She turned to Snowball, wanted to tell him they were saved — but then she looked at his blank, inactive faceplate and stopped herself. If she ever got out of here, she would really need to get out of the habit of talking to her drone.
She tried to get to her feet, but could only weakly strain as she tried to hoist herself up. Huffing, she pawed along the ground and grabbed the makeshift cryo device she’d carried all the way here, putting its barrel to the ground to help her up. She just barely made it to her feet before she had to fall back against the generator, knees struggling beneath her. She knew the laundry-list of hypothermia symptoms she’d developed, but she’d hoped she’d have at least a little strength to greet a rescue team. She swallowed, trying to calm the shakes running through her body. I’m going to live, I’m going to live, she repeated to herself, as if it’d give her strength.
Boot heels clicked down the hallway towards the generator room. Mei wet her lips. Her heart pounded in her chest.
The figure that rounded the doorway was tall, feminine, armored. But something was wrong with her face. Mei could swear she looked like Gerard’s wife, but her skin was ash-gray, marked by black veins rising disturbingly across her cheeks. Her eyes were dull black, regarding her colder than the blizzard raging outside ever could, and Mei froze in place, unease settling across her body.
“Target located,” the woman said in a thick French accent, raising her right arm. A needle shone white against the black of her armor. “Appears nonverbal. Capture?”
“W-wait,” Mei stammered. “I’m, I’m Mei-Ling Zhou, aren’t you here to rescue me?”
“Target is verbal after all.” The woman put a finger to her ear. “Understood.” She pulled back her arm and started walking towards Mei. “Cooperate,” she ordered, grabbing at Mei’s wrist.
“Who are you?” Mei asked, taking a hesitant step as the woman started to head for the door.
The woman rolled her eyes. “Not an ambassador,” she said curtly. “Move or I will carry you. You are too delicate to risk sedatives.”
“Sedatives?” Mei asked, trying to tug out of her grip, but finding it much stronger than she’d expect from such a wispy woman. “Wait, I — I don’t —”
Gunfire interrupted her, and the woman abruptly shoved Mei to the ground, bringing an assault rifle off her back. “Minister,” the woman said harshly, “Do we have company?”
Mei’s head swam, and her back ached from the fall. This woman couldn’t be with Overwatch. But she couldn’t exactly say no to her help, either. And what if she got shot? Who was there opposing this woman?
She got her answer a half-second later when a blue flash struck the woman in the chest. A shorter woman with a glowing device on her chest stood on top of Mei’s would-be kidnapper, paying her seemingly no mind because she’s too busy grinning at Mei.
“Hi, Mei!” she said cheerily, giving a mock-salute with one of her twin pistols. “Been a bit, yeah?”
“Lena?” Mei sighed in relief.
“That’s me, all right. Sorry ‘bout the scare, Talon’s all—”
“Get off me,” the woman grunted, swinging the needle on her arm towards Lena. Lena jumped back and seemed to look into her opponent’s eyes for the first time, and the color drained from her face.
“Amelie?” she said softly.
Amelie only growled in response, jumping to her feet and leveling her rifle at Lena. “Enemy contact confirmed,” she said. “Overwatch leftovers.”
“Hey now, no need for harsh language!” Lena objected, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “What’re you doin’ here? You’re — you’re Talon now? How—”
“I am not Amelie.”
Amelie aimed down her sights, then suddenly changed her mind, pivoting to point the gun at Mei. “I’m taking her. If you try to stop me—” she began, but another blue flash kicked her right in the arm and sent the rifle skittering across the floor, clear into the hallway. Lena, now standing in the door herself, narrowed her eyes.
“Mei,” she called as Amelie started to bear down on her, “More help’s coming! Just stay put!” Lena dodged a needle fired from Amelie’s arm and dashed off down the hall, Amelie in hot pursuit.
The gunfire in the base echoed in Mei’s ears, and she felt adrenaline coursing through her veins. Though she stumbled, she got to her feet, taking Snowball from the generator port and plugging him into her backpack. She picked up her gun, took a breath, and tried to remember her way into the base. If she could get outside, she could find the Overwatch shuttle, avoid all this fighting.
She walked out into the hallway, took note of which direction gunfire and French swear words were coming from, and opted to go the other way. She passed by abandoned labs and sleeping quarters, far from the sounds of battle. She wasn’t sure where the fighting was taking place, and couldn’t even get a handle on how much there could be — it felt as if she was hearing war break out around her, and yet she never seemed to get any closer to it.
She found the door to the exterior left open, snow drifting into the hallway. The world was dark and loud beyond the walls. She looked behind her, and saw nothing but empty space.
As she took a step out into the world, the blinding force of the blizzard hit her full in the face, and she walked desperately into the gray. She followed the sound of engines, and took in a hopeful gasp when she saw a great black shape rise from the snow; but then it turned, a great hulking ape, an armored man clenched in one hand. He threw him against a squad of his fellows, who took off running, and then the fight left Mei’s vision.
She realized what was happening to her, and started to shake. Hypothermia. Delusions, unclear thinking. It couldn’t have been real. Why did she come out here, what was she thinking? She’s going to die of exposure, all because she thought she could somehow navigate a blizzard on her own.
She fell to her knees, hugging herself, trying to keep her core temperature up, as if it mattered. No one could find her now.. She was going to die.
An explosion knocked her to the ground, and she lay on her back in the snow, staring up into the dull gray, feeling her heartbeat start to slow. The last thing she saw was a woman coming down out of the fog, bathed in gold, wings spread out to either side of her, one hand offering to take her away.
Mei blinked blearily at the bright lights above her head. A strange, foreign warmth had entered her body at some point, spreading through her veins and making her feel bloated. She smacked her lips, squinting to try and make some sense of her surroundings.
“Dr. Zhou? Dr. Zhou, are you awake?” a woman asked her, a hand laying on her wrist. “Stay relaxed. You’re coming out of shock.”
Mei turned her head to look at her, saw a halo over gold hair, and started, nearly ripping out the IV linked into her arm. “Exactly what I said not to do!” she shouted in a panic, steadying Mei’s arm.
“Oh, I am — I’m really sorry,” Mei said, swallowing. “I — I thought you were an angel…”
The woman chuckled nervously. “I’m afraid not.”
“Quit bein’ modest, Angie,” Lena piped up. Mei looked around to see where her voice had come from, and saw that she was lying across two seats halfway across the medical bay, looking fondly at Angela. “You’re the one who managed to find her out in that shite. If she wants to call you an angel, let ‘er.”
“Angela!” Mei exclaimed. “Angela Ziegler, that’s you? ”
“It’s me, all right,” Angela said, tucking a bit of hair behind her ear. “You might have, er, missed my more exciting developments as an Overwatch member.”
“You were just getting started with Dr. O’Deoran when I left for Antartica,” Mei recalls. “It seems so long ago.”
Angela bit her lip, busying herself with removing Mei’s IV. “We, we’ve had tea ready for a while now. Lena, would you mind…?”
“Oh! Yeah, ‘course, Doc.” Lena zipped off and out of the room.
“Now that you’re awake, we needn’t warm your blood so crudely,” Angela murmured, carefully tucking away the IV.
“Dr. Ziegler…” Mei swallowed. “Where am I? Are we at a Watchpoint?”
“You’re in the medical unit aboard a Physeter,” Angela answered. “We’re transferring you to Gibraltar.”
Mei squinted. “But...there’s a number of Watchpoints far more south—”
“Overwatch doesn’t exist anymore, Dr. Zhou. Not really.” Angela heaved a sigh. “Not for seven years.”
“We’re a...small task force, recently assembled thanks to Winston and Athena. But the four of us are all that’s left. Talon, and...people aligned with Talon, have been active unchecked for those seven years.” Angela ran a hand through her hair again. “Blackwatch’s activities made the world fear and distrust us. I can’t say I blame them.”
“Oh…” Mei looked down at her lap. “And you came all the way out to rescue me?”
“We were the only ones who were supposed to hear your signal, but I suspect former Overwatch personnel are ranked among our enemies nowadays. They might have some kind of access to the inactive Watchpoints.”
“Amelie,” Mei breathed, remembering the strange, harsh woman wearing her twisted face.
Angela sucked in air through her teeth. “Lena said the same thing. She hasn’t been spotted in years, not since she killed Ana.”
“Since she what? ”
“...it was a very long two years after your disappearance.”
Lena entered the room slowly, which was the first time Mei had seen her move at a human speed since Antarctica. She carried a mug in both hands, and carefully passed it to Mei with a “Here you go, luv.”
As Mei took a sip, a memory came rushing back into her, waking up alone and having only this simple sweet comfort and Snowball’s company to sustain herself through the long weeks of trying to get the Ecopoint operational again. Tears struck at her eyes, and Angela put a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yes, yes, I’m sorry,” Mei insisted, wiping at her face. “It’s — it’s been so long since I spoke to anyone, and all I’ve heard is bad news.”
“Um…” Lena began, and Mei spotted Angela’s flinch. “Well, while you were away, I met a girl and got engaged?”
Mei chuckled, and Angela relaxed. “That is nice, Lena. You’ll have to introduce me,” Mei said, and Lena beamed.
“Sure, yeah, I’ll have ‘er drop by the base sometime.”
Mei ran a hand down her face, noticed her glasses were filthy, and took them off to clean them. “So what’s the plan now? I don’t...have a job…”
Winston, standing in the doorway, cleared his throat, and the three women turned to look at him. “That depends on you, Doctor,” he said. “Hope I’m not interrupting, Angela.”
“No, please, come in. I’d like to know what we’re doing, too.” Angela ushered him in, and he lumbered over somewhat awkwardly.
“We’d like to keep you under medical surveillance for a few days, at least,” Winston began, pushing his glasses up his nose. “There’s also the fact that, for whatever reason, you’re a Talon target. I don’t know why they wanted to capture you, but there’s no reason to think they’d give up after failing once.”
“How did you manage to get me away, anyway?” Mei asked.
“Threw a pulse bomb on their shuttle and buggered outta there,” Lena said with a snigger. “Old Amy looked real cross.”
“So she’s still alive?” Mei inquired.
“Yeah, we didn’t wanna risk fighting too much longer so we got away...and I guess I didn’t really wanna kill ‘er.” Lena sighed. “Wonder what happened…”
“Regardless,” Winston rumbled, “I, personally, would like you to stay on with us until we can be sure you’re not under threat, and you might be able to serve us in some capacity. We can always use another scientific mind.”
“You got three of ‘em already!” Lena objected. “Where’s the representation for stupids in new Overwatch? I’m pullin’ all the weight!”
Angela laughed to herself and playfully swatted Lena’s arm. Winston looked confused until Lena clarified, “Relax, Winston, it’s a joke.”
“Right. Excuse me.” Winston scratched the back of his neck. “I have a few people on file I’ve marked for potential recruitment into our new organization, as well as intelligence contacts. We need to shore up the evidence that we need to exist, and go back to full force. If we could get our hands on Talon files, or personnel…”
Mei nodded. “I’d be happy to help however I can. I don’t know what else I can do, really.”
Angela gave her a soft smile. “That’s the boat we’re all in, I think.”
Winston cleared his throat again. “If we’re all agreed, then…” He stuck out a paw for Mei, which just enveloped her hand when she offered it for a shake. “Welcome back to active duty, Dr. Mei-Ling Zhou.”
Chapter 3: Cicatrix
“Angela, come and look at this.”
Angela groaned at the sound of Mei’s voice over the intercom, pinching her forehead between two fingers.
“Athena, would you please tell Dr. Zhou that she is still supposed to be on bed rest and also can you stop helping her work? ” she called helplessly to the ceiling, as though Athena lived there. Lord, she’d gone back to treating the base AIs as essentially a God who’d answer her. It really was like old times.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Ziegler, but Dr. Zhou is very insistent,” Athena replied. “And she’s doing just fine, Doctor.”
“I told you, cryo-sickness passed while I was still trying to repair the Ecopoint,” Mei grumbled.
“But basic protocols—Athena, you could at least stop letting her into the weapons development lab,” Angela sighed.
“Dr. Winston is quite excited about her work as well.”
Angela laid her head down on her desk and moaned. “Do I have authority here or not?”
“Well, since we don’t officially exist, we don’t officially have a chain of command,” Athena pointed out.
“You two are impossible.” Angela sighed and looked at her monitor, the designs for tweaks to the Valkyrie suit. Busywork, really. They worked just fine, but Angela wasn’t really a recruiter nor an intelligence agent, so she couldn’t do the work Lena and Winston were doing, trying to seek out a new leader for their cause.
“Fine, I’ll come to the lab,” Angela announced. “To give Dr. Zhou a checkup. Any incidental conversation isn’t an endorsement of her ignorance of medical advice.”
“I’ll make sure to note that in the log, Dr. Ziegler.” Angela was starting to hate how human Athena sounded. It meant she could sneak a laugh into her synthesized voice.
She rose up, cracked her back, and made her way out of her room, wandering the silent halls of Gibraltar until she found the weapons lab. Ever since Winston had mentioned capturing enemy personnel to learn the plans of their mysterious, conspiratorial opposition, Mei had had quite the glimmer in her eye, despite Angela’s protests that she needn’t exert herself so much after such an ordeal right away. Angela knew that Mei was probably fine if she felt fine, but she couldn’t shake that image of Mei lying on her back in the snow, lips blue, eyes fogged, and Angela raising her hand to activate the Elysian circuit in her helmet.
She took a breath and steadied herself before palming the door. She needed to get back her patience, after all those years of scrambling and being in charge. She was a part of something new. She had to act like it.
As the door opened, she beheld Mei leaning over a holographic display in the center of the lab, her drone hovering almost nervously around her head. As Angela approached, she saw that the display was a model of Snowball, blown out and dissected. Snowball’s faceplate displayed a very concerned expression, little LED eyes quivering. Angela understood how Mei had become so attached to the little thing very quickly once it’d been reactivated.
“Angela, I want your medical opinion on something,” Mei said, waving her over.
“At first, when I was coming in here, I was trying to make my endothermic blaster into a useful capture weapon,” Mei said, tapping the weapon that lay against the display pedestal. “But it’s not smart enough. It’ll cause tissue damage to anything it freezes, and even Athena can’t come up with an AI housing that’ll fit its casing. But Snowball…” She looked over to the drone and patted it, making it swerve in the air. “I think Snowball’s the key.”
“What are you trying to do, exactly?” Angela asked, peering at the schematics and trying to make sense of them.
“Flash cryostasis. Temporary, obviously, eight hours at the most. A thick, protective layer of ice surrounding a cryo field surrounding a person.” Mei rubbed Snowball’s head thoughtfully.
“You don’t slow down for a minute, do you?” Angela asked, a smile coming to her lips against her better judgement. “That’s a very tall order, Dr. Zhou. But creative.”
“Oh, please, just call me Mei,” Mei said, looking away to hide her own smile.
“But if you want my medical opinion, it sounds most likely that you’ll just instantly kill people with something like that. It’d require incredibly precise calculations and applications of cryo technology to function,” Angela pointed out. “So what’s Snowball got to do with it? ...what is it even for, anyway?”
“He’s my assistant. Designed for atmospheric analysis.” Mei made eye contact with Angela, and it all flashed into place. Angela had forgotten that rush, that sudden feeling of everything clicking into place; she hadn’t felt it since she and Moira designed the first Elysian circuit, all those years ago.
“So he can read the immediate environment, and with sufficient data on how to produce a cryostasis field and modifications to his equipment…” Angela began.
“He can determine the exact right way to freeze someone without killing them,” Mei confirmed, nodding along with her. “You understand?”
“I do. Mei, that’s a brilliant idea. We could use it for so much more than just warfare, though…” Angela walked around the display pedestal, peering into the workings of the potential new Snowball. “We could freeze patients on-site and keep them stable long enough to get them to a hospital, for instance.”
“Exactly!” Mei cried, grabbing Snowball out of the air and hugging him, to his confused electronic squeals. “Snowball, you’re gonna be the daddy of a new technology!”
Angela laughed. Mei seemed so upbeat, she couldn’t believe it. After all she’d been through, here she was, on her feet and working like nothing at all had changed. An urge struck her, to just come out and ask her, How do you do it? How did you forget so fast?
But Mei turned to her and asked, “So will you help me?”
“I — I don’t have much experience in this field,” Angela admitted.
“You didn’t have much experience with this kind of technical work at all when you first joined,” Mei pointed out. “I looked up the records, the inventions with your name on them. You produced so much new science in just a few years, you’re brilliant!”
“You’re…” Wrong, Angela wanted to say, because there was a name missing from almost every schematic in the Overwatch archives that bore her name, because she hardly did any of it alone. “Too kind, Dr. Zhou,”
“Mei,” Mei insisted. “I’m sorry if I’m jumping the gun a little bit, I think I just got bit by the invention bug after I made my blaster. It’s really something, to create an entirely new piece of technology, just because you need it right now.”
Angela chuckled. “I know exactly what you mean. But there’s nothing wrong with it. Consider me your partner, Mei.”
Mei grinned. “That’s what I like to hear. We need to develop a testing protocol; why don’t we start with some of the houseplants around here?”
“You’re going to kill Winston’s precious geraniums?”
“On the contrary.” Mei raised one finger in the air. “We are going to try very hard not to kill them.”
Angela chewed nervously on her fingernails, watching the little black rat scurry back and forth in his enclosure. Beside her, Mei sat at a desk, tinkering with Snowball’s insides, checking coolant levels while her eyes flitted back and forth from her computer screen to her drone.
“Are we sure he’s ready for live testing?” Angela asked, looking at the creature in front of her and only being able to think of the rabbit they’d brought to Blackwatch Site Four.
“I’ll run one final check on his sensors, but we’ve had a lot more success than I would have thought already.” Mei patted Snowball’s dome. “You’re smarter than I thought you were.” She closed up Snowball’s chassis, then switched him on. “Besides, even if we kill it, we’ll have a solution to the base’s pest problem.”
“Always looking on the bright side, aren’t you, Mei?” Angela asked with a sigh.
“Somebody has to. Besides Lena, anyway.” Mei flashed her a smile. “Don’t worry, Angela. Your expertise with healing and sustaining life was invaluable. Mostly I just knew how to freeze things. You know how to keep them alive.”
“You’re too kind, as always,” Angela said, rubbing the back of her neck. “Should we start?”
“Yes, I think he’s fully —”
The door to the lab slid open, revealing Winston’s huge form hulking behind it. “You’re back!” Angela exclaimed, trying to peer around Winston’s shoulders to see if he’d actually brought someone in this time. “How’d outreach go?”
“We actually found the person we were looking for, for a change,” Winston said. “I'm here to introduce her.”
“Well, don't stand in the doorway blocking her view,” Angela said, raising her eyebrows.
“Right! Sorry.” Winston stood aside. Standing behind him, clad in a tank top and cargo pants with dog tags hanging around her neck, was Fareeha Amari.
Angela tried to mask her involuntary grimace. It had been two years since they ran into each other in Cairo and had a less-than-fantastic one-night stand. By the look on Fareeha’s face, she wasn't any happier with the situation.
“Fareeha!” Angela forced out. “Now this is a surprise.”
“It's...been a while, Angela. I suppose I should've expected you'd end up here.” Fareeha gave her a somewhat struggling smile. “Neither of us had much direction after Overwatch ended, did we?”
“I suppose not.” Angela cleared her throat and gestured to Mei, who looked extraordinarily confused. “Dr. Zhou, this is Fareeha Amari, Ana's daughter. We've run into each other a few times over the years.”
“Ooh. That explains the tattoo.” Mei smiled at her. “Are you taking charge, now?”
Fareeha laughed. “You make it sound so hostile. Winston asked if I would be willing to be our strike commander, and I said I've never wanted anything more in my life, so here I am. Private security wasn’t the most...invigorating field to be in.” She walked into the room and peered at Snowball. “What is it you two are working on? Winston says you’ve been locked up in the lab for the past month, chasing something exciting. Just like old times, the way my mother told it,” she added, glancing at Angela.
“Mei and I are combining our expertise to create a system to flash-freeze people and keep them alive in cryostasis,” Angela explained. “This drone has been equipped with medical and atmospheric scanners as well as cryo equipment. We’ve had some small success with plant testing.”
“Small being the operative word,” Winston grumbled, shifting on his knuckles.
“I promise we’ll replace your flowers soon,” Angela said, smiling at him. “But the last few tests were successful.”
“...what is this for?” Fareeha asked, looking down at Snowball doubtfully. “Not that I’m not impressed with your work, but what’s the practical application?”
“Well, Winston mentioned capturing enemy personnel early on, and Mei got an idea in her head,” Angela explained.
“...don’t handcuffs already exist? This seems very complex and prone to failure,” Fareeha pointed out.
Angela felt heat rising in her cheeks. She tried to push down her irritation before speaking. “It’s faster and doesn’t require you to convince the opponent to submit. And the medical applications beyond—”
“It’s faster?” Fareeha raised her eyebrows. “How’s that possible?”
Angela grit her teeth. “I’ll show you. Snowball? Freeze that rat, duration one minute.”
Mei let out a small squeak as Snowball puttered over to the enclosure and flashed a blue scan-light over the rat. Fareeha folded her arms, watching as Snowball rose directly above the rat as it scurried back and forth in a panic. And, quite suddenly, with a burst of blue from Snowball’s underside, the rat was encased in a thin sheet of ice.
“Athena, are you recording this?” Angela asked the air.
“Cameras are on,” Athena confirmed. “Countdown is active.”
Fareeha kept her eyebrows raised for the full time, while Mei stared straight at the rat with her lower lip in her teeth. As soon as Athena announced “One minute,” the rat began to move, slowly at first, then vigorously shaking off the water that remained. Mei breathed a sigh of relief and cleared her throat.
“Thank goodness,” she said, turning to Fareeha. “It wouldn’t have made the best impression if we’d just killed a small animal the first time we met you.”
“No, it wouldn’t have.” Fareeha ran a hand through her hair, casting a loaded glance at Angela. “Very impressive. You’ve convinced me, Doctor. I’ll make sure to keep it in mind. Winston, you were showing me around to my quarters?”
Winston nodded. “Good day, ladies. I’ll have a full brief on the latest intel in your inboxes by tonight.”
Mei waved goodbye to Winston as he and Fareeha headed out, and Angela fell against the desk nearby, letting the tension out of her body in one long breath. Mei looked at her with slightly narrowed eyes.
“Are you all right, Angela?” she asked, rubbing Snowball’s dome as he hovered back over to her.
“I--I’m fine, Mei, why do you ask?” Angela straightened her turtleneck, trying to avoid looking into Mei’s big, curious brown eyes.
“You just seemed a little...tense.” Mei cocked her head. “Is there some history between you and Fareeha?”
Angela blanched, feeling the color drain from her face. “A...nothing, nothing antagonistic. Just sort of...awkward. And personal.”
“Oh!” Mei’s face went slightly red. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It’s all right.” Angela looked over at the computer monitor. “Let’s check our little friend’s vitals. Our demonstration will be somewhat diminished if he drops dead in a minute.”
Angela sank down onto her bed, lying horizontal with her legs dangling over the side as she closed her eyes and tried to clear the cloud of numbers from her mind. Mei could get very into the technicalities when she wanted to, which was a blessing; after Fareeha had left, it’d been pure work, and that was something Angela was accustomed to burying her thoughts in.
It hadn’t been like this for years, though. There were no dying patients to attend to, no red numbers in the budget to concern herself with — the base still had plenty of stores for printing material, as well as the freeze-dried food, which might have been less than appetizing but was better than getting food poisoning six times a year. And despite Angela’s permanent confusion as to how Mei kept her good spirits up, she was infectious, and that made working with her so easy it felt like she was on vacation.
She sighed to herself. She knew it wouldn’t stay that way. Recruiting Fareeha could only mean that more combat missions were in her future, and that she’d be under the command of someone she’d just proven she couldn’t be in the same room with without coming off like a neurotic mess.
Someone knocked at her door, and she blinked her eyes open. When Fareeha called “Angela?” from behind the door, she tensed right back up again, and felt all the more foolish for it.
She straightened herself up and called, “Come in,” figuring she didn’t really have cause to tell her to go away. Fareeha opened the door and lingered there, two beer bottles between the fingers on her right hand, which she clinked against the doorway.
Angela raised an eyebrow. Fareeha raised the bottles. “Felt like we could both use one,” she said, a nervous expression on her face.
Angela chuckled under her breath. “Well, give it here, then.”
Fareeha walked inside, letting the door close behind her, and passed one bottle to Angela. “Mind if I sit?” she asked, as Angela peered at the cap and realized she didn’t have a bottle opener on her.
“Of course.” Angela watched Fareeha slam the bottle against the side of her desk to dislodge the cap, and felt a little ghost of the attraction that had drawn her to Fareeha in the first place. Awkwardly, Angela held out her bottle for Fareeha to take again. “Would you mind…?”
Fareeha smiled, took it, and swiftly repeated her action. As she passed it back to Angela, she said, “So...I thought you were dead.”
Angela nearly dropped her beer before regaining her composure. “I — what made you think that?”
“I don’t know.” Fareeha looked away and shrugged. “You never called. And when I left you, you weren’t really…”
Angela stared down at her lap again. “...oh.”
“I’m sorry things got so awkward, I just...I didn’t know how I should handle seeing you again. After how we left things.”
“That makes two of us,” Angela admitted.
“So how have you been, really? I gather you’ve been with this...proto-Overwatch, I suppose you’d call it, for some time?” Fareeha leaned back in her chair, sipping thoughtfully.
“Is this a professional question, or a personal one?”
Fareeha visibly withered. “Take it as whichever you want. If I’m going to be your commander, I should know your status. If you’d like us to be friends...it’s just concern.”
Angela tried to let the tension out of her body, taking a swig of her beer. “I’ve been doing better than I expected,” she said, drumming her fingernails on the bottle. “Ever since we rescued Mei...she’s given me a bit of purpose, I suppose. First it was helping her recover, now it’s designing the flash-cryo device in Snowball.”
“Snowball?” Fareeha cracked a smirk. “You named the drone?”
“Mei named the drone. And if he—”
“If he already has a name and gender, I’ll use them,” Angela says, wagging a finger at Fareeha. Fareeha laughed softly, turning her beer in her hands.
“I’m glad to hear it,” she said, eyes flitting up to meet Angela’s. “And what about...physically?”
“My implant was giving me problems for a number of years,” Angela admitted, rubbing her back, feeling the humming curve of the device beneath her turtleneck. “But regularly interfacing with the Valkyrie suit seems to keep me fresh. I make sure to put it on once a week and run some basic combat drills.” Angela touched her neck unconsciously as she swallowed.
Fareeha peered at her quizzically. “What about…” She looked away, took a long drink out of her bottle, then turned back to Angela. “The—the scars on your neck. They don’t…?”
Angela felt goosebumps rise on her skin. “N-no. Cosmetic damage, mostly. I can breathe just fine.”
“...where did they come from, Angela?”
Angela froze, gripping her beer tightly. She should tell them. Someone should know. But she hadn’t spoken Moira’s name aloud since she rejoined Overwatch, never discussed what had happened between them in that Australian scrapyard. Yet it had to be shared, didn’t it? Moira was likely a part of the very conspiracy that they were gearing up to fight, and here she was, sitting on important information just because it made her—
“Angela?” Fareeha asked, alarm in her tone. “Are you all right? I’m sorry, I—I shouldn’t have—”
“Moira did it to me,” Angela breathed, at long last.
“Oasis’ Minister of Genetics. Moira O’Deorain. My former partner from Blackwatch.” Angela took a gulp of beer.
“You were in Blackwatch?” Fareeha’s eyes were wide open now, her whole body leaning towards Angela, one leg jiggling up and down.
“For a brief time. Moira designed my implant. While I was recovering from surgery, she took charge of me, made me a part of her work. We did a lot of incredible things together, then...everything went wrong at once. Partly because of us, Blackwatch disbanded. She sent me off to your mother and disappeared.” Angela finished her beer and set it on her nightstand.
“Two years later, she undercut my organization’s work in the Outback, and asked me to join Oasis while they experimented on the people there. I refused, she revealed she had Talon ties...and I shot her. I missed.” Angela pulled down her turtleneck, feeling the center scar, where Moira’s device had drained the life from her. “She would’ve killed me if her equipment didn’t malfunction, and if she hadn’t buried a failsafe mechanism in my implant. Since then...I’ve been trying to avoid her notice. She kept undercutting me, but I knew I couldn’t fight back. She could’ve wiped me off the map if I made anything public.”
“My God, Angela,” Fareeha said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “That’s — that’s so huge. You really think she’s connected to Talon?”
“She told me herself.”
“I’m so sorry,” Fareeha murmured. “I can’t imagine how you feel.”
You haven’t heard the half of it, Angela thought to herself.
“Do the others know about this?”
Angela shook her head. “No. I’ve been living in fear for so long I got used to hiding it.”
“Not even Lena? I had the impression you two were fairly close.”
Angela chuckled. “To hear Lena tell it, I suppose. I’ve been a pretty poor friend to her.” She paused. “Where is she, by the way?”
“We dropped her off in London on her way over. She wanted to visit her fiance, and apparently she’s a big fan of Mondatta and he’s delivering a speech tonight.”
“That Omnic monk?” Angela allowed herself a smile. “That girl’s full of surprises.”
“She’s a chatterbox, for sure. But you always know she’s got your best interest at heart. I knew that the second I met her.” Fareeha sighed and finished her own beer. “We should let the others know about Moira. It’ll help us guide our intelligence-gathering operations. Well, right now it’s mostly Athena, but at some point we need an intelligence agent.”
“You’re right.” Angela ran a hand through her hair. “...thanks, Fareeha. For trying to make things right. I know I’ve been difficult.”
“I can tell you’ve been through a lot,” Fareeha said, standing up and stretching. “But you’re among friends now. I hope you can see that.”
“You’ve made it clear enough, I think,” Angela said with a smile.
Fareeha headed for the door, but stopped on her way out, looking over her shoulder at Angela. “Mei is very cute. I can see why you like her,” she said, winking.
“I — that’s — commander!” Angela sputtered, while Fareeha laughed.
“I know you're a professional, but someone’s got to tease you once in a while,” Fareeha said. “Good night, Angela.”
As the door closed behind Fareeha, Angela laid back down on her bed, face burning. She hadn’t considered the possibility before Fareeha brought it up, and she found that she didn’t like it. She couldn’t do it all over again. There were rules against this sort of thing for a reason, and that reason had become very plainly obvious to Angela years ago when she’d made that mistake.
It’s not like it was some all-consuming love or uncomfortable sexual tension either, Angela argued to herself as she stuffed her face in her pillow. Just an appreciation for someone else’s way of being. Was that so wrong? Did it have to be anything else?
She wished Fareeha had brought more than one beer. Maybe then she could’ve drank herself to sleep. Instead, she lay awake, as dormant demons that she’d left out of the conversation with Fareeha stirred in her mind.
Chapter 4: Stabilization
The television was silent, but it told Angela everything.
Blue flashes across the rooftops of King’s Row. Muzzle flares in dark corners. An explosion. Lena falling away from it, Amelie LaCroix suspended in the air, rifle aimed directly at her. Lena vanished, the bullet fell through where she once was, and Mondatta’s lights went dark.
Angela sat on the edge of a table in the mess hall, watching the giant screen before her, chewing on her nails. She knew she was the first up. She usually was.
“Athena,” she said, “Are you seeing this?”
“Yes, Dr. Ziegler. I’m waking Winston and Fareeha now. The good news is that Lena appears to be fine, if currently hiding from the cameras.”
“What’s going on?” Mei asked through a yawn as she padded into the mess.
“There was an assassination last night,” Angela replied, gesturing to the screen. “Lena was there.”
“What?” Mei’s eyes popped wide open. “Turn on the volume. Please.”
“Yes, Dr. Ziegler.”
“...Lena Oxton, formerly of Overwatch, has not yet spoken to the press about her role in the assassination of Tekhartha Mondatta. UK officials have stated that she is not a suspect at this time, though her possession of firearms is worthy of concern. No motive is yet known behind the assassin, spotted only briefly by news cameras as she fled the site in a military-style gunship…”
As the anchor droned on, Angela felt herself growing cold, pulling her labcoat around her. Mei walked up to her perch, leaning against the table with Snowball in her arms, stroking him like a cat.
“Why would Talon go after Mondatta?” Mei asked.
“It’s like Winston said.” Angela swallowed. “Sowing discord. Starting a second Omnic crisis.”
“But why? ”
Angela looked over at Mei, wondering why she questioned it at all. People did horrible things. That had been a fact of Angela’s life for a long while now. But Mei had never been involved in Blackwatch, never seen the true horrors of Overwatch’s mission. She was just a climate scientist. And perhaps it was right to adopt her approach; after all, how could she expect to fight an enemy she barely bothered to understand?
“I...knew one of the people who I think is involved in all this,” Angela began, fingertips drumming nervously on the table. “She talked once, about evolution, how the Omnics are our rightful successors, and we should evolve to prove ourselves worthy of inheriting the planet, or...something.” Angela twisted up her face. “I didn’t ask, at the time. It was a tense situation. But maybe...maybe tolerance, coexistence, is a problem for that sort of mindset. One should prevail over the other, so they’re trying to force conflict.”
“How awful,” Mei murmured. “To think that way.”
“What do you mean?” Angela asked, raising her eyebrows.
“It must be so stressful, to think everyone has to be fighting all the time to be at their best.” Mei chewed on her lower lip. “And the things they’re doing for this idea…”
“I’m not sure empathy for them is what we need right now,” Angela pointed out.
“You — you’re right, sorry. It’s better we stop them.” Mei sighed.
“No need to apologize. It’s good you can still think that way.”
Winston walked into the room, adjusting his glasses as he caught Angela’s eye. He cleared his throat. “So everyone knows,” he rumbled. Mei and Angela nodded solemnly. “Well. This does show that the enemies we’re fighting are getting more active and bold. We should ask Lena what happened.” He kept his eyes leveled with Angela’s as he said, “And I think she could use her friends right now.”
Angela nodded. “I’ll go with you. We shouldn’t bring the whole team, though — we’d draw too much attention to ourselves.”
Winston let out a laugh. “As if I don’t bring enough attention to myself just by existing, but I understand your point. We don’t need to crowd her either.”
“We’ll make sure to keep you and Fareeha updated, Mei,” Angela promised, hopping down from the table. “Athena? Prep the Orca for launch. We’re on the first flight to London.”
Angela followed behind Winston, which was her only real choice in the small hallways of the London apartment complex she found herself in. Pushing past the police outside had been a bit of a hassle, but no one really seemed to be worried that the famous Winston and Angela Ziegler, formerly of Overwatch, were secret paparazzi. Winston reared up on his hind legs to knock on Lena’s door, banged his head on the ceiling, and decided to hunch instead.
There was a slight delay before the door opened, and Angela saw Lena’s significant other for the first time since the night they’d all met. “Winston!” she cried, putting her arms around his enormous torso. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said after he’d returned the hug. “Lena could really use you right now.” She peered around Winston and waved. “Angela, you came too?”
Angela nodded. “Of course.”
Emily smiled softly. “She’ll love that. And, um...I think both of you should be here, anyway. Come on in.”
Winston squeezed himself through the doorway, Angela following behind. Emily crossed their living room to a hallway, and knocked on one of the doors. “Lena? Honey? Your friends are here.”
Angela couldn’t hear Lena’s response, but Emily opened the door for the two of them and ushered them in. Angela went in first, this time, and saw Lena sitting in the center of her bed, hugging her knees to her chest. She breathed in and out, slowly, deliberately, while something mechanical clicked unpleasantly every half-second. She looked up as Angela entered, perking up slightly but still keeping herself compressed.
“Hey, Ange,” she offered weakly. “Hey, big guy.”
Angela sank down beside her as Emily excused herself to make tea. “Lena…”
“I messed up,” Lena mumbled, putting her head between her knees. “I let him die.”
“Your accelerator—” Winston began, but Angela put a hand up.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Angela said, putting a hand on Lena’s shoulder. It felt odd, like Lena was charged full of static electricity. “You couldn’t have known. You fought so hard.”
“If I’d just let her shoot me, he’d be alive.”
“How can I pretend to be a hero when I can’t save one person?” Lena scrunched herself up even tighter. “I, I should’ve…”
“No one even expected you to be there. It was never your job.”
“But I should’ve done it. I—I feel like I choked, like...because it was someone I knew, I just…”
“Lena, take it from me. You really can’t save everyone.” Angela swallowed. “You were alone and unprepared, and to be honest...it sort of looked like hitting her actual target was an accident.”
Lena let out a short laugh, then looked up. “Did sort of feel that way,” she admitted, sniffing and wiping her face. “Stupid, right?”
“It is. Nothing happens for a reason.” Angela swallowed. “I’m pretty sure of that by now. It wasn’t your failure.”
Lena unspooled herself slightly, retreating to a cross-legged position. “Thanks for sayin’ it, Angie. Dunno if I buy it just yet, but...thanks.”
Winston cleared his throat. “Lena, your accelerator is damaged. I can hear it ticking.”
“It’s working. Mostly. Took a hit in the fight.” Lena lifted the contraption from her chest, letting it snap back into place. “Can’t quite blink or rewind right, though. Smacked right into the fridge when I tried it last. Em says it’s banned now.”
“That’s very right,” Emily said sternly as she walked in with a plate of teacups, setting them on the nightstand. “But I assume Winston’s planning to fix you up,” she added, sitting down beside her fiance and putting a reassuring hand over her knee, stroking back and forth. Angela’s eyes were drawn to the contact, and an ache formed inside her.
“We really should get you back to the base, Lena. I don’t want to let your accelerator keep functioning like this.” He shifted uneasily on his knuckles. “I know you’re going through a lot right now, but your health has to be your priority.”
“Wait, Winston,” Angela said, remembering the last time someone had decided for her what was best after a mission failed. “Lena, what do you need from us right now?”
Lena took a moment before speaking, sipping her tea. “I dunno.” Angela strained to hear her. “I...I really admired him, you know? For a while, after Overwatch ended, it felt like, like people like him were the next best thing. That maybe we didn’t need a big spankin’ army and guns to solve our problems. Now I dunno. Don’t like that.”
She took another sip, then leaned on Emily’s shoulder. “There’s a memorial service for him tonight in the square. They’re talkin’ about building a statue. I wanna go.”
“Would you like us to join you?” Angela asked.
“Yeah. Yeah, it’d be nice. Maybe just you, though. Winston’d make a spectacle of himself.”
Winston sighed. “I’d be insulted, but as a scientist I have to respect the truth.”
“Still love ya, big guy.” Lena shifted, kissed Emily on the cheek, and got up off the bed. “Let’s order some Chinese or something, yeah? Got some time to kill ‘fore the vigil.”
“I’d like that. Some real food would be a nice change,” Angela noted, getting up as well. Before she could say anything else, Lena hit her with an aggressive hug.
“Thanks. I mean it. S’nice to have you back.”
“It’s nice to be back.” Angela returned the hug, squeezing Lena as close as she could, though the accelerator did poke a bit. Lena pulled back and wiped her face, then went and tackled Winston in the same fashion. Angela laughed softly to herself, and submitted herself to Lena’s hospitality gladly.
The crowd in King’s Row seemed to stretch for miles, and as soon as they arrived at its edge Angela knew that it would take them hours to reach the actual memorial platform that had been set up in the middle of the square. Omnics and humans surrounded them, and Angela found herself grateful that Lena had bundled herself up in a hoodie, the bulk and light of her accelerator hidden away. The two of them, plus Emily, slowly made their way through the masses. Lena clutched a purple hyacinth to her chest, eyes cast down, letting Emily lead the way.
The crowd parted peacefully for them, most staring up at the hastily-erected wooden obelisk with pictures and sayings of Mondatta taped to it, or down at their clasped hands in reverence and mourning. The platform at the base of the obelisk had offerings heaped upon it, all sorts of sentimental objects, from hand-carved statues to copies of Mondatta’s teachings. When Lena laid her flower down, it looked like such a small, sad token that Angela hoped she didn’t think it a waste of her time.
Lena stayed down there a moment, kneeling before the memorial. Angela could swear she heard her whisper, “I’m sorry.”
Emily picked her up, and Lena leaned into her touch. Angela averted her eyes. She was glad they had each other; it was sweet to see, and she didn’t need to be like this, like some kind of lonely teenager bitter over lost love. She hated feeling so off, still, despite the years. But when she did turn her head, she saw someone she’d never thought would appear again.
Standing beside her was a man, covered head-to-toe in a long cloak, his hand on the shoulder of a kneeling omnic with ornately carved orbs circling his neck. As the omnic rose, lifting his legs entirely off the ground and floating in place, he moved past Angela, and the man’s gaze followed. Angela saw what was under his hood and gasped aloud.
“Genji?” she whispered, hoping it’d get his attention. His helmet snapped to her face, and he nearly jumped backward.
“Angela?” he said, his voice a harsh cybernetic tone that drew quick glances from the others. The omnic stopped and turned as well, raising his hand in greeting.
Angela quickly glanced around, and saw that Lena had taken note of Genji as well. “Lena?” Genji asked, and she nodded, putting a finger to her lips.
“Not here,” Angela said quickly. “Let’s find somewhere to talk. You can introduce me to your friend.”
“Coffee shop, this way,” Lena said, cocking her head. “Shh.”
Angela found herself grateful for Emily’s patient nature, as she simply followed Lena’s lead without complaint. As they cleared the crowd, Lena pointed them down the streets, the four of them keeping quiet so as not to disturb the silence of the night. As they walked into the shop, the heavyset woman behind the counter waved Lena over.
“Nice to see you out and about, dear. Here for the memorial?” she asked.
“Yeah. Me and my friends needed a place to talk. You don't mind if we take a booth for a bit?” Lena inquired.
“I’ll get you all drinks on the house, girl.”
“Thanks, Miri,” Lena said with a sigh of relief. “C’mon, guys.”
Lena directed the five of them to a round corner booth, with Lena and Emily taking the middle while Angela hung off one side, Genji and his Omnic companion on the other. Angela cleared her throat. “Genji...it’s been a long while.”
“It has.” Genji’s voice sounded different than Angela remembered, steadier. “I’m glad to see both of you, though I wish it were in better circumstances.”
“What’re you doing here, though?” Lena interrupted. “Weren’t much of a philosopher back when I knew ya.”
“I was an angry, directionless man when you knew me, Lena. After Blackwatch ended and I was put into service for Overwatch, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself,” he admitted. “When that too, was over, I wandered. That’s when I met Zenyatta.” He gestured to the omnic.
“It is lovely to meet you all, though I’m afraid Genji’s never told me about you,” Zenyatta said, holding his palm out towards Emily.
“I’m Emily, Lena’s fiancée. Not a, y’know, big important Overwatch hero or anything,” Emily said, shrinking in her seat a bit.
“Don’t knock yourself, Emmy,” Lena urged, bumping her with her shoulder. “Y’know she works at the embassy? Gets refugees settled. Hero.”
Emily chuckled softly, and Zenyatta raised his expressionless face. “We all serve in our own ways,” he intoned. “As did you, Lena. I am grateful for your work trying to stop the assassination. Mondatta was a dear friend, though we had our disagreements. It is a loss to us all.”
“You’re one of the Shambali?” Lena asked, perking up.
“Formerly. I chose a different path than Mondatta, but we were still on good terms.”
“It’s a real honor,” Lena said, bowing her head. “I never really got to meet him, but I always wanted to.”
“How did you end up in a position to try and stop his death?” Genji asked. “You’re retired, aren’t you?”
“Well…” Lena glanced over to Angela, and she realized that this was an opportunity.
“Not...quite,” Angela said, folding her hands on the table. “Overwatch may not be what it was, but we’re around. Doing precisely what our name implies.”
“I was watching from the roofs. For the speech, but...I was ready,” Lena admitted. “I had my guns. I saw guards going down...I went into action. It wasn’t a planned mission.”
“But here Angela is.” Genji looked over at Zenyatta thoughtfully. “Are there others?”
“A couple. We have some funding, but not a lot. We’re looking to develop an effective task force to deal with the forces behind Mondatta’s death,” Angela told them, sweating a little bit. This was her first attempt at outreach, but if anyone was capable of joining a combat team, it was Genji.
“A worthy cause. I have felt the changes in the world over the past few years, and I know the enemy you speak of. I am no stranger to fighting for the innocent.” Zenyatta rubbed his chin. “Genji, you have sought direction for as long as I’ve known you, though you’ve come to peace with your nature. I would be willing to accompany you on your journey if you choose this path.”
“You mean...rejoin Overwatch?” Genji looked uncertain. “Returning to fighting and war...it is a daunting proposition.”
“You don’t need to decide now,” Angela told him. “We’re still getting up and running, trying to gather intel on Talon and other potential threats. It goes without saying that this isn’t something you should spread around, I hope.”
“I understand.” Genji looked to his mentor, then back to the women across the table. “I have something to do first, in Japan. I will contact you after I am finished.”
“You know I cannot follow you there,” Zenyatta warned. “That is your journey, and I have told you—”
“I know, Master.” Genji bowed his head.
“I will wait for you with Overwatch, if that’s suitable.” Zenyatta paused, looking over Angela’s expression. “I assure you I can provide more than words.” He lifted one of the orbs from his neck, and it began to float above his hand, glowing with golden light. “Before I left the monastery, I studied your own work, Dr. Ziegler. I can channel my own omnic energy through these devices to produce effects similar to the Caduceus staff in battle, as well as project physical shockwaves from each.”
Angela raised her eyebrows. “That’s an impressive feat.”
“We all have our specialties.”
“I’d love to have ya,” Lena said. “Personally, I mean. I bet Winston wouldn’t say no, we can meet ‘im after a bit, take the Orca back to Gibraltar in the mornin’.”
As Miri brought coffee to the three humans at the table, Lena leaned over the table. “But, hey, doesn’t have to be all business now, does it? We should catch up before we all gotta go, right?”
Genji nodded. “It’s been some time since I took a moment to speak with my friends. You must tell me about your engagement, Lena,” he said, a little laugh creeping into his voice. “And Angela must explain where she’s been.”
Angela chuckled. “Not the most pleasant story.”
“I’ll hear it, regardless.”
Angela relaxed as Lena started telling the story of her double-proposal, Emily leaning into her and smiling. Perhaps a moment of calm was what they all needed. She couldn’t help but feel that it might be their last for a while.
Chapter 5: Opportunistic Infection
Angela sat at a portable terminal in a storage room, watching the screen as Lena lounged about in the glass chamber in front of her desk. The chronal stabilization field had been brought back online with minimal problems, and a cot had been brought down from the bunks upstairs so Lena could at least lie down while she was trapped in there. Angela kept her eye on the medical readouts. So far, there didn’t seem to be any major effect from the damage Lena had suffered, beyond scrapes and bruises.
“Winston says he’ll be down in a few minutes with your accelerator,” Angela announced, reading the message that had popped up. “You can get out of there soon.”
“Ugh, finally,” Lena lamented. “Hated this stupid jar last time, hate it even more this time. At least last time I’d really been in trouble so it was nice to be solid for a while.”
“I’d imagine. At least Zenyatta’s been keeping you company, right?”
“Yeah, I guess. Oi, Zen, juggle again,” Lena said, looking to Zenyatta, who was doing a floating headstand in the center of the chamber.
“Can it be defined as juggling without the influence of gravity?” Zenyatta asked, bringing one hand to the center of his chest. The orbs on his neck floated outward and spun in a circle behind his back.
“Wicked, that is.”
“Thank you for the opportunity to rest in here. It is fascinating to feel the flow of chronal energy altered so,” Zenyatta said, bringing his other hand up to his chest and making the orbs spin in a figure-eight formation. “If nothing else, it’s already been a unique experience.”
Angela smiled, watching the omnic as he righted himself and tossed an orb to Lena. “I believe I’ve worked out a way to channel my own energy to reproduce the effect for a limited time,” he said. “Hold onto that and exit the chamber.”
“Zenyatta,” Angela warned. “What did Mei tell you about experimenting on the personnel here without authorization?”
“She told me to, quote, put Snowball back together right this instant, end quote.”
“That’s very right.”
“I wasn’t experimenting, I was merely trying to show him how to communicate in a more complex fashion. It was best that I transmit binary commands directly in order to—”
Lena giggled. “You’re gonna be a hoot, you are.”
“Very well. I apologize if I have overstepped any boundaries.”
“Still though, neat, innit?” Lena said, holding the orb in her hands and peering at it curiously. “You control it?”
“Make it blink.”
“Lena!” Angela objected, but the orb flashed blue, and then Lena was on the opposite side of the chamber, grinning widely.
“Neat,” Lena said, tossing the orb back to Zen. “Felt weird, though. Maybe give it another couple gos.”
“I will endeavor to perfect the technique while I meditate,” Zenyatta conceded. “My apologies, Dr. Ziegler. I merely hope I can produce something that would stabilize Lena in battle, should her accelerator take damage again.”
“That’s...not a bad idea,” Angela admitted. “We’ll consider testing it later. For now, Winston’s on his way.”
The gorilla in question opened the door behind Angela that very moment, and she turned to face him as he entered, the accelerator in his grasp. Lena pressed her face to the door of the chamber as he came in.
“Winston,” she said with an exaggerated gasp, “Thank God—it’s krrrsssshh malfunctioning — I’m going away—”
“That joke wasn’t funny the first time you did it,” Winston said, despite his smile. “Step back so I can open the door.”
“You’re no fun anymore,” Lena sighed wistfully, but she stepped back as instructed. Zenyatta floated over and helped Lena strap the harness around herself.
“Shutting down the stabilization field in three, two, one,” Angela called, and Lena’s accelerator hummed to life just as Angela hit enter on her keyboard.
“Feel all right?” Winston asked, putting a hand on Lena’s shoulder.
“Yeah. Better.” Lena sighed. “Better call Em, she told me to as soon as I could get outta here.”
“You’ll have to call her from the shuttle. Mayor Adawe contacted Fareeha this morning and asked to meet with you,” Winston says. “She’s gotten word of our reappearance and wants to assess us to see if we’re worth offering Numbani’s resources to. Fareeha agreed that we should visit Numbani, in a somewhat official capacity.”
“Gabby? Been a while since she was around,” Lena mused.
“May I come along? I’ve wanted to meet Mayor Adawe for some time now,” Zenyatta asked.
“You’re known for having a way with people,” Winston noted. “Athena looked you up. You’ve built up something of a reputation in the East.”
“I do my best to live my truth,” Zenyatta said.
“You’re welcome to come along.” Winston turned to Angela. “Thanks for monitoring her for me. This sort of project definitely makes me miss having a full team around.”
“Of course,” Angela said with a nod. “I’ll see you when you return.”
“Are you sure this is the best way to test this?” Mei asked, nervously bouncing on her heels as Angela aimed down the sights of her pistol. Snowball floated down at the other end of the firing range, looking a bit uncertain himself, LED eyes flitting back and forth.
“We’ve backed up his personality and all the blueprints for his modifications. We can only be sure he’ll survive a firefight if he, well, survives a firefight,” Angela pointed out. “I won’t shoot until you’re ready.”
“Snowball, you’re gonna be okay, all right?” Mei called. “Angela will make sure.”
Snowball flapped his ears up and down, which Angela had started to take as a ‘yes.’ Maybe she should’ve let Zenyatta equip the drone with more complex communication capabilities, but it was too late to do much now.
“Okay,” Mei said, bracing herself. “Athena, live-fire test one of Snowball’s armoring.” Angela and Mei both waited for Athena to confirm their log, but nothing came. “Athena?” Mei called. Still nothing.
Angela lowered her pistol and looked at the laptop balanced on the shelf below the ballistic shield. At first, nothing looked out of place; then the screen went black, and a stylized violet skull flickered in the center of the display.
“Athena’s not available right now,” a female Mexican-accented voice said over the intercom. “She’s a bit busy being, just, full of security holes.”
Angela’s blood went cold. “What do you want?” she asked, staring into the skull as if it’d make anything clearer.
“For you to prove yourselves. I see I’m a little late, though. Lo siento. Guess Doomfist’s getting his glove back.”
“What are you talking about?” Angela demanded.
“Well, since I got word that you were on your way to Numbani, I figured I’d see if you were really up to the task of stopping Talon, so I wanted to give you a heads-up. Two Talon agents are breaking into the Overwatch Museum in Numbani today, right around the time your shuttle is going to land. Some genius decided to keep the actual Doomfist gauntlet instead of a replica out on display.”
“We have to warn them!” Mei said.
“How do you know all this? Who are you?” Angela demanded.
“I’d call myself a friend, but that’d be pushing it,” the voice said with a chuckle. “If you manage to stop them, we’ll talk again. Adios!”
With that, the skull blinked out of existence, and the screen returned to normal. “Dr. Ziegler, Dr. Zhou, are you all right?” Athena asked, distress in her voice. “I was compromised, I don’t know what happened—”
“Someone shut you down. She gave us intel. I have no way of verifying it,” Angela said. “But I think we have to pick up on it, just in case. Can you connect us to the Orca?”
“Right away. I’m sorry, I’ll try and trace the source of the attack, and find out what she used to get in. Connecting you now.”
The terminal in front of Angela changed to show Lena’s confused face. “Angie? What’s this about?”
“The Watchpoint was just hacked and someone spoke to Mei and I while Athena was shut down,” Angela explained quickly. “She claimed there’s going to be an attack on the Overwatch Museum in Numbani.”
“Spooky,” Lena murmured. “You guys hear that?”
Winston walked up to the screen and frowned. “It’s not reliable intel,” he mused. “It could very well be a trap.”
“She said they’re going for Doomfist’s gauntlet.”
Winston’s eyes widened. “Talon has been without centralized leadership since Ogundimu was imprisoned. This could be a very serious attempt to reorganize. We have to do something.”
Fareeha came onscreen as well, looking very concerned. “You’re right. But what if it’s an attempt to keep us away from Adawe, keep her unguarded? We should split up. Winston, Tracer, you two can enter the museum and keep an eye on the exhibit. Zenyatta and I will meet with Adawe as planned. I’m sure she’ll understand when I explain the situation.”
“I wish I could be there with you,” Angela said, nervously running a hand through her hair. “We should’ve guessed there’d be people after us after Mondatta.”
“It’s not your fault, Angela. We’ll make do with what we have.” Fareeha glanced up and over the screen. “We’re entering Numbani airspace. I’ll contact you as soon as we know the situation is stable.”
“Good luck,” Mei said, waving at them. Fareeha smiled.
“Thanks for the call. Whoever shut down Athena is probably a threat herself, but it’ll have to wait. I hope Athena can give us more answers. Pharah out.”
As the connection closed, Angela sank against the wall of the booth, rubbing her forehead. “This day got a lot more stressful than I thought it would,” she murmured.
“...do you want to continue the test?” Mei asked. “I’m not sure what else we can do right now.”
Angela found herself grateful that Mei didn’t have her reaction, which was to find whatever alcohol was in the base and drink it. “...yes, I suppose we should. My aim might not be the steadiest.”
“That’s all right,” Mei assured her. “Take your time.”
Angela straightened herself up and raised her weapon again, aiming down at Snowball. She let out her breath, closing her eyes. She couldn’t be there to help if Lena or Winston got hurt. That was just how it was. She had to accept that, and do her best to do the work she made for herself.
She opened her eyes, lined up her shot, and fired. Snowball swung back from the impact, but didn’t fall, narrowing his eyes at Angela. “Come over here,” Angela called, and he puttered up into their booth. Angela caught him in her hands, turning him around to observe the damage. The bullet had lodged directly above his faceplate, but barely dented the new armor they’d installed. He could definitely take a few more.
Mei sighed with relief as Angela released him and he floated into her waiting arms. She probed the impact point with one finger, pursing her lips.
“Let’s go print him some fresh plates,” Mei suggested. “Keep ourselves busy.”
Angela nodded and followed her out of the range, heading down to the lab. She sat down at a terminal immediately when they entered, pulling up Snowball’s schematics, and got so absorbed in her work that she almost forgot Mei was in the room, until the scent of tea wafted over from her side of the lab. Angela looked up from Snowball’s half-reassembled chassis in a kind of daze as Mei brought a cup over to her workspace.
“I just had to sit and watch you for a second, there,” Mei teased. “You’re like a machine.”
Angela blinked. “Oh, I...I suppose it’s old habit. Keep my hands busy when I can’t do anything else. Best to work through the worry.”
“They have backup, and they’ve made it out of all their fights with Talon so far,” Mei assured her, sitting down beside her and helpfully nudging the neglected cup she brought over toward Angela’s hand.
“It’s — it’s not just that. I thought we were safe here, that we were still undercover, but then that hacker…”
“I know,” Mei said, swirling her spoon in her tea.
“And I don’t want to lose any of you,” Angela admitted. “I’m so tired of losing people.”
“...you haven’t talked much about your days with Crisis Control,” Mei said cautiously. “Were they really so terrible?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just how these things always work, and other people leave sooner, for their own health. I just...stayed. Let it all pile up.” Angela finally took her tea and held it in her hands, more for the comforting warmth than for any interest in drinking it. It was kind of Mei to offer, but caffeine and Moira’s formula didn’t always agree. Angela knew she shouldn’t be on it, that it only sent her stress responses higher, but it had become such a habit to inject on work days.
“I’m sorry,” Mei murmured. “I can’t imagine how hard it must have been. And — I hope you know, I’m not making fun of you for how you’re dealing with it.” She swallowed. “You...you know I’m doing the same thing.”
Angela looked over at her, and she quickly ducked her head down, staring at a spot on the table. “I’m so grateful you saved me,” Mei admitted.
Angela glanced away from her, trying not to remember her motionless body in the snow. She hadn’t told anyone yet, about what it was really like to rescue Mei. What she feared she couldn’t do from a thousand miles away, if something happened to her friends. She tried to put it out of her mind for weeks, but it still flashed in her head sometimes, when she caught Mei out of the corner of her eye, when her focus was blurred.
“Mei,” Angela began hesitantly, “When you were going through Overwatch files...did you see the reports on the Elysian circuit? My halo?”
Mei brightened up. “It was amazing. The ability to bring back the recently dead...you must have been so valuable on the field.”
“I used it on you.”
Mei took in a little gasp, eyes widening. “I — I was still conscious when I saw you, but…”
“A blur, after that, right? My suit...it read that you were critical. You wouldn’t recover without a kick.” Angela wet her lips. “That’s what I missed about Crisis Control. I had no real...power, to change anything. I could try and try and do what I could with what I had, but I didn’t have Valkyrie. I didn’t have that direct strength to just...save someone." Angela sighed. “And now I’m stuck there again. Powerless. Hoping for the best.”
Mei reached over and gently took her hand from the cup, running her thumb over the back of her palm. Angela’s cheeks flared, and she gripped Mei back instinctively. First telling Fareeha about Moira, now this. It felt good, to say these things. Angela closed her eyes. Maybe it would all be known, someday, by someone. Maybe someone would understand like this for everything.
God, it had really been too long since someone touched her like that. It made her lose her mind.
“Thank you,” was all Mei said.
They were interrupted by Athena coming over the intercom. “Pharah has a report for you, Dr. Ziegler.”
“Go ahead and patch her through,” Angela called.
“Angela, Mei, I have good news.” Angela could hear the smile in Fareeha’s voice. “Complete success. Talon forces at the museum were routed, there was no threat to Mayor Agawe, and in gratitude for preventing a new Doomfist’s rise, she has offered her full and unambiguous support. Tracer and Winston are all over the news, our secret’s out, but I have the assurance of Numbani that the UN will take a serious look at the Petras Act and likely legalize our current operations.”
“Are Lena and Winston all right?” Angela asked.
“Not a scratch. Lena’s not happy, though. Amelie was there again, and we didn’t manage to kill or capture her. And...there’s another thing.” Fareeha paused and took a deep breath. “There have been rumors about a strange Talon agent for years. I’m sure you’ve heard them. A man who can turn into smoke and somehow heals his wounds through — touching people and damaging their cells. Lena said that he recognized her.”
“Gabriel Reyes,” Angela whispered. Mei gasped.
“You knew,” Fareeha said. “How did you know?”
“A—An early failed attempt at resurrection technology, tested irresponsibly by—”
“Let me guess. Moira.”
Angela swallowed. “Yes.”
“That makes at least three major former Overwatch associates involved in the very conspiracy we’re fighting. If anything will set us back in the UN, it’s that kind of evidence. Not that we can submit your testimony about Moira, but it’s still not a good look for us, and Gabriel himself is a powerful enemy besides.” Fareeha sighed. “But we have to take our victories where we can. If we can operate legally, attracting talent will be that much easier.”
“I hate to interrupt,” Athena began, “But I’m feeling—” A sharp burst of static cut her off.
“You have attracted talent, though the legal thing is actually sort of a bummer,” a familiar voice said. “Nice job. Bit disappointed you didn’t take out Gabe, but still, no Doomfist.”
“Angela, who is this?” Fareeha demanded.
“I’m disappointed! I know Angela told you all about me, you couldn’t make a guess? ” The hacker tut-tutted. “The name’s Sombra. You want me on your team. But first, I’ll need an extraction.”
Chapter 6: Immunomodulator
“So, about our timetable,” came in over the Orca speakers as Angela stared down at Dorado. “It sorta sped up a bit.”
“You need to stop accessing our systems instead of just calling us,” Fareeha groaned, stepping up beside Angela. “What did you do?”
“Well I broke everything on the way out. So they’re gonna know. I’d say we have fifteen minutes before they swarm this neighborhood, ten if they spotted your ship already.”
“Should I thank her or kill her?” Fareeha mumbled under her breath. Angela stifled a laugh. Fareeha cleared her throat. “Mercy, Zenyatta and I are your only backup for this. Tracer and Winston are out, still answering questions in Numbani. Do you think we can handle this?”
“Oh, sure. With Ziegler we’ll make it out no problem, big advantage. Moira can’t get her med-tech into the field unless she’s wearing it. It’s honestly just sad.”
Angela stiffened at Moira’s name, and Fareeha shot her a meaningful look.
“Anyway. I’m sending my location direct to your nav system, it’ll lock on quick. Just don’t get shot down. Te veo!”
“She’s quite the character,” Zenyatta piped up from the center room of the ship, balancing on one finger in the center of the holotable. “I imagine she will bring an interesting energy to the Watchpoint.”
“You two will make a great pair. Who couldn’t use a couple of wild cards in their paramilitary operation?” Fareeha asked, pinching her nose. “Still, she’s obviously got some impressive tech on her side.” She and Angela braced themselves as the shuttle lurched in a new direction.
“I hope she can give us some insight into how Talon’s operating now,” Angela mused. “She obviously knows Moira. She must do more than I thought.”
“Woah!” Fareeha exclaimed as the Orca suddenly started dropping. “Zenyatta, get ready for action!”
Zenyatta righted himself and placed his palms together, droning the Om as the shuttle extended its landing gear in the middle of a back alley. Angela followed Fareeha as she retrieved her helmet from a gear locker.
“Sync comms,” she ordered, touching a button on the underside of her helmet. Angela did the same, and she heard Zenyatta’s system clicking in her ear.
“Yeah, always good to do that,” Sombra opined. Angela nearly jumped out of her skin.
“How do you keep doing that?” Angela asked.
“Direct neural link to digital systems. Easy stuff. Hard to counter. I’ll show you sometime, I know you love cybernetics.” Sombra chuckled. “Now I’m sort of surrounded, so come over to the bank, por favor? Should be just around the corner.”
“Ready for our first flight?” Fareeha asked, a smile in her voice.
“I was usually the only one on the field who could fly before,” Angela said, smiling back at her.
“I can’t adjust my floatation to quite your height,” Zenyatta noted. “I will ensure that I stay in fortified positions.”
“I assume you mean you’ll stick to cover,” Fareeha said flatly.
“Yes, that is my meaning.”
“Great. We’ll scout from above, let you know when you can move in. I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how you fight,” Fareeha noted. “Mercy? Let’s fly.”
Fareeha shot into the air and with a thought, Angela’s wings hummed to life. Angela closed her eyes for her first real ascent in years, breathing in the cool night air of Dorado as she shot into the clear star-studded sky. She carefully followed behind Fareeha, linking her staff to Fareeha’s armor by a blue tethering beam. Caduceus III had taken a lot of long nights to get right; it felt odd to finally be using its more military functions again.
As they crossed over their first set of rooftops, Angela spotted a team of five men using parked cars as cover, surrounding the bank just as Sombra had said.
“Are you in position?” Fareeha asked.
“I am. They have not noticed our approach,” Zenyatta replied.
“I could get out of here no problem if you take out the one on your right,” Sombra said. “He’s tracking me with those infrareds. They’re just afraid to come in here without him having full spot.”
“Understood. He will no longer be a threat in a moment.”
Angela peered down into the darkened streets, and spotted Zenyatta in an alleyway directly behind the Talon agent in question, palms pressed together as a ring of energy formed in front of him. She could hear the hum from where she was, and just as the Talon members noticed it, Zenyatta flung a blue beam across the battlefield and directly into the head of his target. Fareeha fired off a rocket that caught two of the soldiers as they rushed to follow Zenyatta’s retreat, turning them into blackened scorchmarks on the cobblestones. Just as gunfire turned towards the skies and Angela and Fareeha dropped to take cover on a rooftop, Sombra came over the radio with an “A- ha, puta! ” and the sound of bullets hitting flesh.
“One to go!” Sombra called. “I could use some backup!”
Fareeha ran over to the edge of the rooftop and looked down, pointing out the final enemy’s position to Angela. He and a short woman with brightly colored hair were struggling physically, guns lying on the ground at their feet.
“I can’t get a shot without blowing you both to hell. Zenyatta?” Fareeha asked, but Angela was already snapping her staff to the magnets on her back. She drew her pistol, jumped off the roof, and glided to Sombra’s position just as Sombra reeled back from a kick to the gut. The soldier swept up an SMG from the ground and fired a wild burst, and Sombra went down.
Angela grit her teeth and twisted herself in the air, willing her generators to increase their speed. She flew into the soldier’s head feet-first, slamming him to the ground as he slid a few feet from the sheer momentum. She stood tall on his body, boot grinding into his chest. She drew her pistol and fired it into his face without missing a beat, old instincts guiding her hand.
A whistle sounded from behind her, then a thud as Sombra braced herself against a van. “Fancy moves, chica,” she wheezed, clutching her stomach. “But, uh…” She pulled her hand away from her body, and blood dripped off her long fingernails.
With a gasp, Angela hopped into the air and sped across to her, tucking her pistol into her holster and bringing out her staff. “Hold still,” she ordered, spinning up the staff and pointing it in Sombra’s direction. She sighed as the golden beam split over her body, probing into the bullet wounds, little lead chunks popping out of the holes, flesh knitting back together behind them. Sombra let out a sigh of relief and took a woozy step forward as the beam shut off.
“Woof. I feel...funky,” Sombra said, flashing a grin at Angela. “Gracias, oh great Angel of Mercy.”
Angela rolled her eyes. “No need for sarcasm.”
“It’s not sarcasm! Hyperbole, sheesh, no one’s got any appreciation for me in this outfit,” Sombra complained dramatically, putting the back of her hand to her forehead.
Fareeha touched down gently behind Angela. “Can you move? Is there backup coming?”
Sombra squared her hands and pulled them apart like she was using a haptic interface — and apparently she was, as holographic audio player window materialized directly in front of her.
“No word from the team. Do we have anyone else we can dispatch?” someone asked.
“ I'm going in,” a deep, unnatural voice rumbled through the air. “I can take care of that pest."
“Ooooh, no no no, we aren’t doing the Gabe thing,” Sombra said, snapping her fingers and closing the interface. “Let’s go, ladies, chop-chop, don’t wanna deal with the creepy owlface man. Where are you parked?”
“Just through the alley,” Fareeha informed her. “Zenyatta?”
“I am already preparing the Orca for departure.”
“Right. Let’s make this fast.” Fareeha walked right up to Sombra and scooped her into her arms. “Hold on tight.”
“Ooh, forward, I like that in a girl,” Sombra teased. Angela couldn’t see Fareeha roll her eyes through her helmet’s visor, but she could feel it. Fareeha blasted into the air, and Angela followed quickly, gliding into the open side of the Orca as soon as she’d cleared the buildings.
“There is a gunship approaching your position according to sensors aboard the Orca,” Athena chimed in.
“Not for long there’s not. Get us in the air and keep the door open,” Sombra ordered. “Gabe’s gonna get a surprise.”
“Keep the door open? Are you—” Fareeha sputtered, but Sombra stopped her with a palm in the air.
“Trust me.” She smirked, and as the Orca rose, she hung out the side, staring intently into the night, her eyes flashing with some electricity Angela couldn’t readily identify. She pointed into the darkness. “Gotcha,” she muttered, expanding a graphical user interface with her free hand and rapidly moving her fingers across it.
A thick black ship materialized out of thin air in the same moment its nose dipped to the ground. “Bye-bye, ghostie,” Sombra said, blowing a kiss as the gunship smashed through an empty shop. “Let’s get going quick just in case?” she suggested, drawing back into the Orca. “No guarantee that killed him.”
“I humbly request that you don’t do that to me or any system I’m involved in,” Athena warned while the Orca’s door closed and Angela took her first breath in some time.
“No guarantees, machine,” Sombra said, holding one finger in the air.
“If you’re defecting I’d hope you’d avoid screwing up our systems,” Fareeha said, scowling as she took off her helmet.
“Defecting’s a strong word. Just done with Talon, and I think you all have the best shot.” Sombra twisted her mouth as Zenyatta came down to the main room. “You’re an interesting choice, that’s for sure. You want to call yourselves a force for order, but I think you’ve got some chaos in your blood.”
“Harmony is not found through rigid adherence to protocol,” Zenyatta said, bowing his head.
“Right, sure. So when do I get to meet Tracer? That’s a girl I could get into,” Sombra said, waggling her eyebrows.
“She’s taken,” Angela pointed out.
“Being taken is a fake idea. Well.” Sombra reached behind her back and cracked her knuckles. “ I’m excited. I get to tinker with your security so nobody can hack into it the way, you know, I did, and what I did on the way out should be working out in a day or two.” She winked at Angela. “You’re all in for something special.”
“Attention, attention!” Sombra called through the intercom, making Angela jump so much that she flung Snowball directly into the air. Mei caught the inactive bot before it hit the ground, and Angela let loose a sigh of relief, their eyes connecting across the worktable in a shared expression of exhaustion. In the past day since her arrival and processing, Sombra had already shut down Athena once “as a prank” and panicked the whole base, so this promised to be even more fun.
“We have another thing Sombra was right about coming in hot!” Sombra continued, her smile evident in her voice. “Agent Widowmaker of Talon has gone rogue! That’s Amélie Lacroix to you all. Meet up with me in the conference room, I’ve got plans.”
Mei put Snowball down and then planted her face into her hands. “It’s too early for her,” she moaned, to Angela’s sympathetic chuckle.
“We haven’t even had time to ask her what she knows,” Angela sighed, patting Mei’s shoulder. “But at least she seems to be forthcoming?”
Mei grumbled wordlessly as Angela led them through the Watchpoint, until Angela palmed the door to the conference room and it slid open to reveal Sombra standing in front of an empty table, looking at a giant screen on the wall. A woman with short, bright pink hair looked down on them all with a bemused expression.
“Hey, team science!” Sombra called out, waving them over. “Of course you two would be first. This lovely lady is—”
“Aleksandra Zaryanova!” Fareeha exclaimed as she stepped into the room, her eyes going wide.
“Oh, you know me,” the woman on the screen said, raising an eyebrow.
“Of course I know you! You’re incredible!” Fareeha gushed, turning to Mei and Angela. “She was almost world champion — I mean, she is world champion, she just didn’t ever actually compete in the tournament because she joined the military, but she holds the record for—”
“Yes, yes, Fareeha, I’ve seen your searches for zarya nude, I know about your crush,” Sombra said, waving her hand dismissively.
Angela’s cheeks burned as Fareeha started to stammer, “She, she did a photoshoot, okay, it was to show her muscles—”
“Is there a reason you’ve called?” Zarya asked Lena, Zenyatta and Winston filed in. “This is...Overwatch, yes? You’ve been in the news.”
“Yes, right.” Sombra clapped her hands together. “So, Sashka is here because she can get us contacts to assist with our extraction of Widowmaker from her current location, which is…” Sombra performed a few extravagant gestures with her hands until a map appeared beside Zarya’s face on the screen, an isolated island in the center of a lake. “Here, in France. Château Guillard. My friend--”
“We are not friends, Liv, ” Zarya chastised.
“Don’t call me that in front of my new friends,” Sombra murmured, ducking her head. She cleared her throat. “We are so friends, ignore her.”
“I let you go once—”
“You know the conspiracy is real, so do they,” Sombra said, sweeping her hand over the people in the conference room. “Help us out. I know you’ve got contact with Katya, she’s got contacts in the French government. You can get us airspace clearance into France and get hold of Widowmaker.”
“Hold on, you’re twelve steps ahead of everyone, like usual,” Fareeha chastised, straightening up in her seat. “What exactly is going on?”
Sombra sighed and pinched her brow. “Before I left Talon, I sabotaged Widowmaker’s conditioning mods, so now she’s gone very nuts and is currently shooting anything that approaches her little castle. Talon’s already trying to recapture her; I’ve recorded several radar hits from the French airforce trying to intercept their gunships. They know how big this is. They already lost me and all my intel is out to their enemies, the last thing they want is Amélie and all her shit getting loose. And she’s got a lot of it. Shit, that is.”
“You talk a lot,” Zarya grumbled. “But I think Katya will understand this situation. I think we can do this. I have one...requirement.”
Sombra rolled her eyes. “Ugh. Fine. I’ll compromise. What’s up?”
“I am coming along.”
Chapter 7: Fugue State
She was alone.
It wasn’t helping as much as she wanted it to.
She had no name for herself, no anchor, even lying down here in the dusty basement that smelled of mold and wine. Her head was filled with a dozen soundscapes from across the mansion, audio feeds from every mine she’d placed, her visor showing the entire chateau lit up in infrareds. She was God, here, she could see and know everything, and all of it meant nothing. Nothing, like the frantic whispers that skittered across the surface of her mind, instructions that didn’t add up.
She pawed across the plane of her throat, feeling the small circles embedded there. What were they for, she wondered? She could feel such things dotting her body, attached to veins and lymph nodes and nerves. Sometimes they pulsed, and she felt a shock of energy, or a surge of pain, and she had no idea what they were linked to, or why they were there. As she pressed down on one hidden at the base of her wrist, she gasped, and—
She was alone.
It wasn’t helping.
She stared down at her hand, clasping her wrist, not sure when it got there.
Something hummed in her ears, and she rose to her feet. She snapped her head up, saw the bright red silhouette of a Talon gunship. She needed to fight. She looked down. Her rifle was slung across her chest. How did she not notice the weight? As she hoisted her weapon up, she steadied her breathing, head pounding. She knew who they were. They had a name. They’d take her away, again. Force their own name upon her, their own desires. Asymmetrical eyes staring into her face, a haughty voice criticizing every aspect of her being. That’s what Talon was.
She waited, watching as figures drop off the ship. Waited for them to pass by the first mine. She triggered it with a press of her finger against her palm, twisting her mouth as she saw no response. They’d learned since last time. Brought gas masks. That was going to make this more annoying.
She headed up the stairs, away from the oncoming soldiers, out onto a balcony. Extravagant, pointless columns rose into the air in front of her, and with a fired grappling hook from her arm she positioned herself on top of one. She had enough time to wonder how she ever could’ve stood living in a place so useless before the first soldier poked his head out of the balcony doorway. One shot, and his helmet shattered like sugarglass, blood spraying the white marble behind him. She remembered sick satisfaction from such sights, but it didn’t come to her then. She was simply numb.
They shouted to each other, fall back, fall back. She rose, grappled over to a windowsill across from her, kicked in the window. Never stay in one position too long.
She found herself in a bedroom, the sheets moth-bitten and mouldy, a hole in the roof dripping last night’s rain onto the floor in the center of the room. She wanted to remember this place. Something in her ached for things outside of her grasp.
Enemies were still alive. She had to take care of that.
She swept her gaze around, searching through the walls for her prey. They’d stayed together as a tight squad, the three that remained. Methodical sweeping. They had no idea where she was.
Then the mansion started to go dark.
One by one, the infrared vision zones that her visor connected to flashed out of sight. A steady panic rose in her chest. She couldn’t be blind. Couldn’t be restricted to only what was around her, not again, not ever again. She didn’t know how it was happening, and as fear crawled through her body, she felt those implants pulse. Shaking with adrenaline, she tried to track the squad; whatever was taking out her cameras wasn’t with them. They were still vulnerable, still visible, and she’d mapped out this house in her mind before she’d done it with cameras. She could take them out, worry about the unknown factor after.
They were in the main entrance hall. Mistake. She could get there in seconds, and they’d be on the lower level, before the grand staircase. Easy.
She ran out to the hall, up against the railing, and braced her rifle on it for a second while she spotted her targets. One. Two. Three. They barely had time to react, and no time to seek cover. Their deaths brought her no relief. There was still something out there, and her vision had gone fully dark, only the sunlight streaming through picture windows into the hall giving her anything.
Something hissed , circling below the staircase, swirling up towards her. She swung her rifle back and forth, searching for the source, but there was nothing.
Until the shadows themselves reached out and grabbed her.
Smoke poured around her arms, tugging and twisting until her rifle skittered out of her grasp. It formed a solid shape and pounded into her sternum, shoving her to the floor, her hands braced behind her. There was something so familiar about this, but it was wrong, all wrong; she never touched this thing, it was her ally, it was an asset, it was—
The smoke coalesced into a tall, hooded figure, his face hidden by a barn-owl mask. Reaper. The codename came to her in a flash, and fear flooded her veins.
“Target disarmed and disoriented. I may be able to convince her to come quietly.” His voice hurt her ears.
She wasn’t going back.
She held out her arm and fired a needle from the launcher on her wrist. It stabbed right through the eyehole of his mask, and he reeled back in shock, cursing to himself as she got to her feet. “Disregard that," he grumbled, swiping at her as she ran for her rifle. She ducked under his clawed gauntlet and picked it back up. “She’s too much trouble anyway.”
He pulled the needle from his eye and tossed it away like it was nothing, slinging out a shotgun from the holster on his back. She could hear someone shouting angry words in his ear, a strange brogue she couldn’t decipher, but she had no time to wonder what was happening. She fired first, the bullet passing through him in a wisp of black. She unloaded the rifle, and he reeled back, some marking flesh, some passing through, like he couldn’t stop all of it. As her rifle clicked empty, he grunted, swirling back a step to reform, leaving black blood staining the marble floors.
“You were never that smart,” he sneered, raising his weapon again. She turned to run, as if it’d make a difference, and the blast rang out through the building.
She opened her eyes. In front of her, all around her, a bright, purple-white bubble shimmered. It vanished a second later, both her and Reaper looking around in confusion until they spotted the woman with bright pink hair and glowing blue armor standing down in the center of the entrance hall.
“You’re welcome!” she called in a thick Russian accent, giving a mock-salute as she hefted a simply enormous...device with one hand. Reaper growled, and she snapped back to reality, vaulting over the railing and hitting the ground running.
“Widowmaker on the move! I need backup! Russians are inside the mansion! ” Reaper called out as he dropped to the floor behind her.
“Wrong again, Gabe,” an entirely different woman said. Widowmaker (was that her name?) turned briefly to see a brightly-colored Mexican woman standing with a submachine gun in Reaper’s face. “As usual.”
Widowmaker ran, not willing to be in the way. She had to get back to the ammo stashes in the basement, then she could fight, defend herself. As she approached the door, there was a blue flash, and an eerily familiar young woman stood in front of her, clad in battle-armor with a bright glowing device on her chest.
“Amelie!” she cried, holding out her hands. “Wait! We can help!”
Overwatch leftovers, Widowmaker sneered in her brain, but that was a memory, not a thought. Nothing made sense. Was she Amelie? This girl seemed convinced she was. But why would she listen to her?
Her gaze flitted to the twin pistols on the girl’s hips, and she couldn’t think anymore, just fired a needle like an instinct. The dart hit the girl square in the neck, and she cried out, doubling over in pain. Amelie shoved her aside, head screaming and full of static, running down the stairs.
“Ang—eh, fuck, Mercy! She’s down below! And...I don’t feel so good…”
Ignore ignore ignore ignore. Why did that chipper, British voice sound so familiar? Why did it fill her with guilt and pain and the strangest urge to laugh? Amelie hated it. Widowmaker hated it.
She left the ammo on a shelf, down here, behind a wine barrel. She sighed as she loaded a magazine into her rifle. This was simple. This was clean. She could wipe all of them out, fill this place with bodies, and then it would be silent once more.
She leveled her rifle on the barrel, watching the entrance she came from. She knew her back was exposed, that there were two ways in and out of this place. She’d just have to rely on her hearing. Surely “Mercy” was coming down the way she did.
Smoke curled around her throat, across her chest, and claws scratched pinprick marks into her skin. “Quiet, now,” Reaper hissed in her ear. She didn’t know he could be so silent. “It’ll be over soon.”
Amelie screamed and kicked backward, knocking his knee out from under him and backflipping over his doubled-over form, running for the balcony she had been on when this whole fight had started, an eternity ago. As she reached out her arm to fire off her grapple, she felt Reaper form on her back, forcing her to the ground with his claws in her flesh.
“You’ve done too much damage to me for me to let you go, ” Reaper rasped. “ You’re just fuel now. ” Pain flared all across Amelie’s body, her nerves burning from end to end, radiating out from where his claws laid in her back. She twisted and writhed, crying out for someone to please, please help her, she was all alone and useless and nameless and so, so confused and frightened.
The loud thud that followed wasn’t what she expected. But something lifted him off of her a second later, something huge. She strained to look up, seeing a massive gorilla holding Reaper in one hand, snarling in his face.
“Pharah!” he called, throwing Reaper out into the sea. A rocket streamed across the sky and hit him square in the chest, and he exploded into a puff of black smoke, hanging lazily over the water. A woman in an armored blue suit dropped to the balcony, directly in front of Amelie.
“What did he do to her?” she asked. Amelie gaped and gasped in her direction. Footsteps pounded in behind her.
“He got her. That’s what he does,” the Mexican woman from before said bitterly. “Ziegler, can you fix her?”
Amelie felt fingers on her back, pressing in, and cried out as they touched her singed nerves. “I’ve seen this before,” a woman’s soft voice murmured. “Caduceus energy should work. Stand back.”
Amelie hated lying there, observed by this rag-tag squad, unable to move, just whimper as something warm started to flow around her back, penetrating her body — and the pain began to dissipate. As soon as she could feel her legs again she shot up, scrambling for her rifle, swooping it up and pinning her back against the balcony railing. She breathed hard, heavy, eyes going to their weapons, but not wanting to pull the trigger, but wanting to be safe—
“Amelie,” the blonde woman called out. “Please. We’re here to help you.” She pulled a small...orb from her belt. “Put your weapon down.”
She wanted to. Her fingers wouldn’t obey. The blonde woman threw the orb at her, and it started to fly towards her on its own accord, little LED eyes popping to life on its faceplate. She aimed her rifle at it without thinking, a bullet or two winging off it before it was suddenly above her, and then —
All was silent, once more.
Angela couldn’t take her eyes off the screen.
She smoothed the scars on her throat unconsciously, swallowing as if to make sure she still could. Amelie’s naked back confronted her on the glass, ten discrete points all like the one on Angela’s throat, with spiderweb scars spreading out from them and across her body. If Angela focused beyond the display, she could see Amelie’s stiff form laying down on a table in a glass enclosure, the only sign of life being registered by Athena’s scanners.
She jumped as the door opened behind her, swiveling in her seat to see Fareeha approaching. Angela put a hand on her chest and breathed out. “You startled me,” she said apologetically, trying for a smile at the commander.
“I apologize, I didn’t mean to. How’s she doing?” Fareeha asked, gesturing at the screen in front of Angela.
“We managed to get the implanted weapons out of her, but we’re still mapping out all of her modifications and injuries. Sombra had some files, but nothing complete. She just grabbed whatever she thought looked important,” Angela explained, turning back and trying to focus. “The chemicals and gene splicing...it’ll be a miracle if we can restore her coherent memory, let alone a stable personality or mood. Sombra’s sabotage didn’t do her any favors.”
“What about these?” Fareeha pointed to the same points on Amelie’s back that Angela had been studiously trying to avoid looking at.
Angela swallowed. “Reaper’s attack.”
“They look like…” Fareeha rubbed the back of her neck. “Well, they look like yours.”
“Moira based her research on what happened to Reyes.” Angela tried to keep her voice steady. “She told me so herself. She weaponized it, externalized it. Reyes is...he was in extreme pain. We thought, before he fully re-manifested. Moira didn’t have that problem with her device. She designed it to take energy from other living cells to restore her own. Reaper was doing the same thing to Amelie before...well.”
“Oh,” Fareeha murmured. “I’m so sorry, Angela. This can’t be an easy patient for you to work with.”
“Moira’s fingerprints are all over her,” Angela spat, fingers tensing on the desk in front of her. “This is exactly the kind of thing she’d do, twist someone around to make them be exactly what she needs them to be. Everyone’s just a, a pawn to her.”
“How do you know she’s...responsible?” Fareeha asked delicately, shifting uneasily on her feet.
“I know what her work looks like. She’s done this sort of modification before, to Genji, and to…” Angela faltered, remembering the implant on her back, the suit she’d worn to save this very woman. “To me. It’s just a more extreme variant.”
Angela wished she’d stop asking questions. But Fareeha was her commanding officer. She had to answer.
“She took advantage of me. When I was first implanted, she took me into Blackwatch, made herself my medical supervisor. Used me and my skills to keep designing her weapons, completing her projects.” Angela’s never said this out loud, before. Her memory of her time with Moira had soured so thoroughly in her mind, but she’d never spoken the new narrative to someone else, never admitted how foolish she’d been, to believe Moira charitable.
“Angela…” Fareeha paused for a moment, taking a chair and wheeling it beside Angela, taking a seat so she was at Angela’s eye level. All the better for those brown eyes to pierce right through her. “You were...more than colleagues, weren’t you?”
Angela closed her eyes. She took in a deep breath, let it go. Fareeha should know. Fareeha had been kind to her. And if Angela was going to have any hope of piecing Amelie back together, she’d best start properly piecing herself back together.
“Our relationship became...very unprofessional,” she said, as tactfully as she could. “Neither of us were managing ourselves. We both got sloppy. That was how Reyes…” Angela choked, suddenly, remembering the night Moira had finally allowed Angela to touch her, all the gut-wrenching emotion that followed. She squeezed her eyes closed. Not here. Not now. She’s said enough. “I—I’m sorry, Commander, but I’d rather not discuss this right now. I need to work,” she said, after getting her breath back.
“Understood.” Fareeha looked away, as if embarrassed. “I’ll leave you to it. But...if you want to talk again, my door is always open.”
“Thank you.” Angela meant it, and she felt the weight lift off her shoulders as Fareeha got up.
“Let me know if anything changes, all right?” Fareeha’s hand brushed Angela’s shoulder, and she cursed the tingles that ran down her spine. This was how it started before, dammit, she couldn’t do it again, and Fareeha wouldn’t want her anyway. Just work, she told herself.
The clock in the corner of the screen read midnight, and Angela still didn’t have a complete inventory of everything wrong with Amelie. As far as Angela could tell with every tool she had available, Amelie would wake up when she felt like it. She and Athena had managed to activate enough of her implants in the right proportions to get her to a baseline human level of adrenal activity, most of the artificial chemicals had been flushed out of her system via catheter, and her vitals were steady. Who she’d be when she woke up, Angela couldn’t know. What other problems would they find, once she became conscious? How deep did the damage run?
She tapped her finger on her desk, staring at the readouts, willing something to come to her. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t afford it. What if Amelie woke up while she was away, and hurt someone? Lena had been hovering around the lab all day until Angela locked her out.
She reached under her desk, unclasping the case that lay at her feet and taking out the vial and syringe from within. Moira’s formula to fix Moira’s patient. It seemed reasonable enough.
“Now that’s familiar,” Sombra said, materializing beside Angela and pounding her on the back. Angela just barely managed to hold onto her equipment, gasping as she squeezed the syringe and vial in her hands to keep them from spilling out over her desk.
“Scheisse fick! ” Angela exclaimed, turning and shoving Sombra away with her fists while she laughed to herself. “How long have you been in here?”
“Oh, two, three hours,” Sombra said, splaying out her fingernails to look at them, smugly avoiding actually looking at Angela. “I snuck in behind Tracer before you kicked her out.”
Sombra shrugged. “Bored.”
Angela pinched her brow. “Sombra, if you’re going to invade and disrupt my workspace you could at least drop the act for a minute and tell me why you’re here. And why you came out,” Angela added. Familiar how? she thought, a chill running down her spine as she set down Moira’s formula.
“Ugh,” Sombra groaned. “Fine, I just wanted to see if you could fix her. I guess. And that. That stuff.” She pointed at the vial. “I thought that was a Moira thing. You science-types all use it?” The hard glint in her eyes let Angela know it was a rhetorical question.
“You’re a science-type,” Angela shot back. “Or did you invent that translocator and cloaking device of yours with magic?”
Sombra scoffed. “You’re no fun, you know that? Fine. I’m annoyed. That’s her stim. Where’d you get it.” She crossed her arms. “I don’t like not knowing things.”
“I’d gathered that.” Angela considered just taking the shot anyway, but having Sombra watching over her was unnerving enough to stay her hand. “We used to work together. That’s all.”
“Uh-huh.” Sombra raised a critical eyebrow.
Angela put a hand to her forehead and squeezed her eyes closed. “What’ll it take to get you out of my lab? I’m working, Sombra.”
Sombra laughed. “Oh, you definitely worked together. I think she’s said that exact sentence to me like, a hundred times.” She tapped her finger against her lips. “I’ve got it. I’ll make you a deal.”
Sombra shushed her and darted across the lab, rooting behind a trash can. She emerged with a bottle of tequila, plopping it down directly onto Angela’s desk. She whisked two shot glasses out of her jacket and offered them up, a smug smile on her face.
“You’ve been planning this,” Angela accused, recoiling.
“Oh, no, you caught me,” Sombra cried, putting the back of one of her hand to her forehead. “Impossible that a world-threatening hacker could scheme. ”
Angela remembered another late evening, another offer of drinks, and pushed away the glass that Sombra had resumed putting right in her face. “You don’t have any right to try and get answers from me.”
“Oh, my god, have you never had a friend your whole life like her too?” Sombra groaned. “Dios mio, Ziegler, I wanted to get drunk and talk about how garbage Talon was, and I wasn’t gonna do it alone, do you not get that yet?”
Angela crossed her arms. “You don’t exactly make yourself easy to get along with.”
“Fine. Fine.” Sombra suddenly slammed the glasses onto the table, swept up the bottle, uncapped it, and took a long pull. Angela blinked. As Sombra lowered the bottle and wiped her mouth, she pointed at Amelie. “It’s her, all right? She freaks me out. I want you to fix her. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I wanna figure out your deal.” Sombra sighed and grabbed a chair from across the lab, wheeling it over before plopping down in it. “You barely exist after the London Uprising. I tried to find everything I could on everyone in this outfit and you left the tiniest little trail.” Sombra put her thumb and index finger together to emphasize her point. “So, spill. When did you and Moira work together?”
Angela sighed. She still didn’t take the shot glass, though she was starting to very much want to. “We were in Overwatch together. I was her assistant.”
“I knew it!” Sombra proclaimed. “Oh, they tried to wipe her from the records, but I noticed stuff. Moira always wanted to get into the Watchpoints, looking for something left on their computers. She never found anything, of course. I kept what I found. Pretended you guys wiped everything.”
Angela raised an eyebrow. “What did you need that for?”
Sombra shrugged. “You keep ammo when you find it. And my time in Talon was about figuring them out, not helping them. Didn’t have time to look through it all, honestly.” Sombra hummed under her breath. “So. You two make that stuff together? Moira always gets so antsy when she’s on it, but I don’t think the booze helps.”
Angela’s breath felt stolen away. Here was a chance to know what Moira was up to, how she worked nowadays. Sombra may have wanted to pump her for information, but Angela was struck with the urge to do the same thing right back.
“She drinks a lot these days, does she?” she asked, a tiny probe.
“Oh, my god, she’s basically never not half-buzzed,” Sombra said with a laugh. “I’m sure half of Talon’s budget is her fancy whiskey. So when she was in Overwatch, she didn’t drink? I can’t even picture that.”
“Not until we’d been working together a long time. We shared a drink to celebrate when we put Genji back together. Then…” Angela frowned. “I suppose she did start drinking quite a bit. Not all the time, but…”
“Did you drive each other crazy? I bet you did. You’re both so Type-A.” Sombra grinned over at her. “Oh, I wish I’d had a bug in your base, the bickering must’ve been amazing.”
“We did, at first,” Angela admitted. “We found a rhythm eventually.”
“Like you did with me tonight. Such a peacemaker.” Sombra’s eyes were laughing at her. “C’mon, Angie. Have a drink. Relax. I heard you talking to yourself, you’re not getting Widow up for a while.”
Angela licked her lips, staring at the bottle. Sombra helpfully reached over and filled the glasses, taking one for herself and offering it up to Angela.
Oh, to hell with it. It had been a very long day.
She took the shot, savored the burn. It had been too long since she indulged herself in this, her tertiary vice beyond work and stimulants. She wasn’t even sure that alcohol was kept on the base, but it wasn’t surprising that Sombra could sneak some in when no one was looking. While Fareeha had mentioned a wave of legitimate interest, they were still just a small team of specialists, and everyone knew that Athena couldn’t stop Sombra from doing what she liked.
“That’s the spirit,” Sombra remarked with a glint in her eye, before knocking her own back. “You didn’t answer my question, though. That stim. It is hers, right? Not just something like it.”
Angela sighed. “Yes.”
“So did you two develop that together, too, or…?”
“I wasn’t as much of a workaholic as her when we were partners. She made it herself.” Angela thought back to that awful morning, when she’d found Moira’s last gifts to her outside her door. “She gave it to me when we...parted ways. I guess she thought she was doing me a favor. I learned to synthesize it. It...helped, when we were short-staffed in Crisis Control.”
“Yeah, Crisis Control!” Sombra practically shouted, flying back in her seat. “That’s when you dropped off the planet. Ooh, I wanted to know what you were up to so bad. But you guys were hardly ever even online. The juiciest bit was when you got kicked out of Australia when Oasis came calling.”
Angela took in a sharp breath. “Yes, that was…” She swallowed. “A situation.”
Sombra glared at her. “You know I’m digging for more than that, chica.” She leaned forward. “Nobody talks about what happened to Moira’s hand. Or her face. But those only show up after Australia.”
“She tried to kill me. Her equipment malfunctioned. Testing prototypes in the field, like the reckless mad scientist she is,” Angela spat, feeling some power in hating Moira so much, tearing her down with someone else who knew her.
“Oh, so you two were fucking,” Sombra threw out, like it was nothing.
“God, I was so sure, but yeah, definitely. The only people who hate each other that much are exes,” Sombra said, leaning over and filling their glasses. “C’mon, drink, I know I just hit you like a truck, but I couldn’t resist.”
Angela trembled, but she took the shot. Sombra wasn’t wrong. She was irritatingly right, a lot of the time.
“Who else knows?” Sombra asked as they set their glasses down.
“Fareeha,” Angela murmured, looking down. “I told her this afternoon.”
“Are you two…?” Sombra made her first two fingers on each hand into scissors and violently jammed them together.
“No! No.” Angela put her hands out in front of her. “No.”
“Ah, but you did. Fareeha wasn’t nearly as invisible as you. About two years ago, suddenly a lot of searches for Angela Ziegler and Angela Ziegler dead,” Sombra informs her, clicking her tongue. “You ghosted her. Like, really ghosted to the point she thought you died. That’s cold.”
“Sombra,” Angela warned. “This is getting creepy.”
“Just now?” Sombra chuckled.
“I just...I can’t talk about that, right now.” Angela leaned forward, putting a hand to her forehead. “Please.”
“Okay. So. Widow, then.” Sombra glances over at her. “You know she did it all, right? Moira’s work, all of that.”
“You said you two put Genji back together — Shimada, I’m guessing. Anything like...that, in him? Y’know, all the creepy mind-control, conditioning type stuff.”
Angela shook her head. “Just the modifications to his system he needed to survive. He’d been injured very badly.”
“So...none of that’s in him, like, as a backup? Or like, a just-in-case kind of thing?”
“What are you getting at, Sombra?” Angela asked.
Sombra curled up her mouth, and took another swig right off the bottle. “When I joined Talon, I let Moira...adjust my implants. I got them when I was young, and they weren’t the best, and I’d just been sort of...tinkering with them, myself, to keep them working. But I wasn’t a hundred percent, you know? She said she could help. And they work! Obviously I can use them against Talon, but…” She ran her hand along the cybernetic lines in the side of her skull. “I’m carrying something she put in me, and it’s been freaking me out, thinking about Widow.”
“I know how you feel.” Angela’s heart pounded in her chest. She rose, unsteadily, surprised by how hard the tequila had hit her. She had felt perfectly sober, until she stood. It had been a while.
But she wanted to show Sombra. She wanted her to know.
She shed her labcoat, feeling Sombra’s eyes on her back. She pulled up the back of her shirt, just above her navel. Sombra hummed.
“She did that, huh?” Sombra rose from her chair with a creak. “Wow.” Angela shook as she felt Sombra’s long, artificial nails slide along the edges of her implant. She bit her lip. “She hide anything in there?”
“A—” Angela bit back an mm as Sombra’s nail ticked down the ridges on the back of the implant. God, she shouldn’t have drank. It had been a long time since she’d felt that, too. “A, a battery,” she managed to stammer out. “Something for me, not for her. A burst of Caduceus energy, in case I was on the edge of death. It’s actually all that saved me when we fought.”
“So, no, like...remote control of your body, right?” Sombra stepped back. “She didn’t make you into a puppet?”
Angela laughed, despite herself. “Where’d you get such an idea?”
“Her,” Sombra said, pointing back at Amelie as Angela turned around, lowering her shirt. “Just a nightmare, I guess. Paranoia.” Sombra gave her a half-hearted smirk. “Comes with the world-class hacker thing, I guess.” She sighed as she dropped back into her chair, pouring herself another drink.
There was a moment of quiet as the two of them regarded the unconscious woman behind the glass, Sombra finishing her shot and placing it delicately back on the desk. She looked at Angela for a moment, unnerving her until Sombra blurted out, “She’s a pretty wild fuck, though, right?”
“You didn’t,” Angela exclaimed.
“Look, I don’t separate work and pleasure. She got into me after she figured out I invented all my little toys myself,” Sombra said with a helpless shrug.
Angela should have had a thousand questions, but the one that came to her blurred mind then was, “How does she…? With the hand?”
Sombra snorted with laughter. “She fixed it, kind of. I mean, it looks gross, but she put some kind of cybernetic...bone...overlay...thing over it so it can still move and stuff.”
Angela put her face in her hand. “My God, Sombra.”
Sombra gave her a goofy smile. “Can’t help being gorgeous.”
Angela sighed. Her eyelids felt heavy, and this conversation had taken a lot out of her. She spared one last glance at Amelie.
“Hey,” Sombra said. “Go to bed, Ange. I’ll keep an eye on Widow, ‘kay? Call you if she wakes up. Don’t take any more of that shit.” She gestured vaguely at the formula still spread over the table. “Doesn’t do Moira any favors, you know?”
Angela gulped. She knew. She knew all too well. This night had been...surprising, and strangely comforting. Sombra had a way of disarming you and making you grateful for it, she thought.
“All right,” she said softly, rising to her feet again. “...Thank you, Sombra.”
“Anytime. Don’t think this means you get to call me Liv like Zarya,” Sombra warned, waggling a finger in the air. “She gets away with it because she could kill me with one punch.”
“Noted,” Angela said with a laugh, steadying herself on the desk before taking a deep breath and preparing herself for the walk to her quarters. “I hope I could make you feel a little more safe, too.”
“Much as anyone can. ‘Night.”
Angela managed to keep her balance as she left the lab. She slouched against the door as soon as it closed behind her, though, trying to take a breath and remember the layout of the base, especially with the hall lights dimmed. Sombra was certainly...something. A friend, maybe, but not the kind of friend she’d had before, although she guessed Lena and Sombra might hit it off if they gave each other an honest chance. And all the things she’d said, the information about Moira…
She wasn’t sure if she liked knowing more, if indulging the urge to gossip about her ex/arch-enemy had been good for her. It had certainly been more fun than she’d had in a while, though. Surely that counted for something.
As she passed by the weapons lab, she stopped. She heard the telltale signs of Mei working — namely, Mei had a habit of speaking aloud to Snowball if Angela wasn’t there to bounce ideas off of, instead. It was cute. Angela tried to avoid telling Mei so.
She couldn’t quite hear her through the door, and she paused for a moment, lingering outside. Should she go in, ask after Mei’s health? She was staying up awfully late. Not that Angela had any right to act concerned. With her own hypocrisy in mind, she started to walk on, only for the door to open behind her.
“Angela?” Mei whispered, and Angela stiffened. She shouldn’t let Mei see her like this, drunk and wandering the halls of the base after an extremely unprofessional drinking session with their resident rogue. But she couldn’t exactly ignore her, either.
“Mei!” she said, trying to spin on her heel and only wobbling slightly. “What are you doing up?”
“Oh, I couldn’t sleep,” Mei said, coming up to her with Snowball lazily floating behind. “I just kept thinking about that woman you brought in. And I had to fix up Snowball, of course.” She paused, peering curiously at Angela. “You...must’ve felt the same way, right?”
“Y-yes. I was monitoring her.” Angela slumped against the wall, tired of being on her feet.
“Are you all right?” Mei asked in alarm.
“I’m just...tired,” Angela lied, cheeks flushing. “Surely you can’t have been up all night just fixing Snowball.”
“Well, I was also…” Mei’s cheeks turned pink. “I was thinking about joining in field operations. My endothermic blaster could be a good weapon for — for all kinds of tactical reasons. I could help. So I was designing a suit that would keep Snowball safe until I needed to deploy him, and could hold enough coolant to keep me effective for a long time.”
Angela laughed softly. “It figures we couldn’t keep you locked in the lab forever, after your adventure getting to us in the first place.”
“So...do you think it’s a good idea?”
Angela smiled down at her. “I’d be a hypocrite if I said no. After all, I went from researcher to field medic after designing my own suit.”
“I know,” Mei said, looking down and fidgeting, but smiling seemingly against her will. “Your story inspired me. I wanted to be a hero, like you. It’s stupid, I know, but...”
Angela felt a trickle of warmth flow through her. “That’s — that’s very sweet, Mei, I...I don’t know what to say. I’m no hero, though.”
“A lot of people would disagree,” Mei argued, looking up again. “Amelie might disagree. When she wakes up.”
Angela chuckled. Mei certainly knew how to stand her ground. “I’ll concede the point if you get yourself some sleep,” she offered, pushing off the wall. “We all need our rest. Even if I forget that myself, sometimes.”
“All right.” Mei covered her mouth and yawned. “You’re right. Walk with me?”
Angela tried to keep herself very steady as they headed quietly through the halls, but she stumbled over her feet now and again, wincing every time. Mei seemed to be looking at her with concern, but she didn’t say anything until they reached Mei’s door.
“Well, this is me,” she said softly, looking up at Angela again. “I’m glad we got to talk a little today. I missed having you in the lab.”
“It would’ve been nice to have you with me,” Angela admitted, “But it’s not really your area of expertise, and I...I suppose I still have some bad habits to get rid of.”
“Like...drinking?” Mei asked cautiously.
Shit. Angela wanted to smack herself. Well, it was bound to come out sooner or later. “Sombra ambushed me,” Angela admitted. “She had some questions for me and wouldn’t leave me alone until I drank with her.”
Mei chuckled. “That sounds like her. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’ll be okay, Mei. Don’t worry about me.”
“I will anyway,” Mei said, half-smiling. She stepped up to Angela and put a hand on her shoulder. “Drink plenty of water for me?”
“Well, if you’re going to give me the puppy-dog eyes,” Angela said, laughing nervously. She wanted to hug her. Thank her for her concern, and all the nice things she’d said. And she decided to hell with it and put her arms around her. She was drunk, she had an excuse. “Good night,” she murmured, giving Mei a squeeze. She was soft. Nice to hug. And Mei hugged her back, which made it even better.
“Good night,” Mei repeated, pulling back. Her face was as red as Angela had ever seen it, and it just made her cuter. Angela turned before she could think anything else like that, and left Mei to her own room.
She didn’t keep her promise to Mei when she got back to her chambers. She fell straight into her bed without drinking any water at all, and dreamed of better days than the one she’d had.
Thanks for sticking with this so far, everybody who's been reading! Unfortunately, updates might have to slow down for a bit, as Recourse is going in for GCS next week (!!!) and will likely be unable to get a whole ton of writing done during recovery. We hope to finish this in the next few months, regardless!
Chapter 9: Cytopathic
Hoo, it's been a bit, hasn't it?
Housekeeping: I am still in recovery, but doing much better recently and very much on the mend. I changed my username due to...long story, Recourse is Mogatrat now. Jarofbeees is no longer attached to this project. I plan to finish the series by the end of the year, hopefully with weekly updates. Please enjoy the new chapter (and forgive the enormous gap)!
“Ange? Ange, she’s awake, and she’s looking at me.”
Angela groaned at the sound of Sombra’s voice, only sitting up in bed once she understood her actual words. She almost asked Sombra why she was in that room in the first place before she remembered last night. She left Sombra in the lab? Unguarded? God, she must’ve been drunk out of her mind. Or, a voice sneered in her mind, maybe you have a problem with letting your guard down around charming, dangerous women.
She’d shut that voice up later. For now, Sombra was still panicking over the intercom.
“Ange she won’t stop. I don’t think she’s blinking.”
Angela closed her eyes and put her hand over her forehead, trying to summon up some moisture in her dry throat. “Has she said anything?” she managed. “Done anything?”
“Nope, just the freaky staring thing. Seriously, Ange, make her stop.”
Angela huffed. “Can you manage to keep an eye on her for another minute or two? I’m…” Angela looked down at herself. Well. She fell asleep with her clothes on. Technically, she was ready for the workday. “I’m on my way.”
“Got it. I’ll try to beat her in the staring contest. Winning makes me less nervous.” The intercom signal cut off, and Angela breathed a sigh of relief. She rose and headed to the bathroom, filling a glass with tapwater and forcing it down. She took a look at herself in the mirror and grimaced, trying to smooth out the wrinkles in her labcoat, bring up her collar to cover her scars. She attempted, valiantly, to tame her hair back into a reasonable ponytail, then after that failed, let it fall to her shoulders and gave it a few tugs with a brush before heading down the hall. She was dehydrated, exhausted, and uncertain of why she continued to bother.
All in all, it was a familiar sort of morning.
As she entered the lab where Amelie was being held, she saw Sombra, leaning against a wall and looking down at her feet, hands nervously twitching.
“I lost,” she said as soon as their eyes met. “Also, took some of your stim, don’t be mad.”
“Do you know how much of a pain that is to synthesize?” Angela snapped.
“Yeah, Moira grumbled about it all the time. Look, can you talk to her? I chickened out.”
Angela paused, looking over Sombra thoughtfully. “She really does scare you, doesn’t she?” she asked.
“I thought Omnics were bad. Before,” Sombra muttered. “Look, I’m gonna go — hack. Something. I don’t know. Just, hey. Fix her.”
“I’ll do my best. But Fareeha’s the one you want to talk to. Help her manage some of the new recruits, maybe get me a psychologist,” Angela suggested, touching Sombra’s shoulder lightly. “She’s been through a lot.”
“If we get a psychologist they’ll be booked all the way up,” Sombra said with a laugh. “Nobody on this base is normal. But, yeah. I can at least dig up dirt on all the little hopefuls. Hope Amari’s in a good mood. I don’t think she likes me.”
“Your keen observational skills are on display again, Sombra.” Angela gave her a smirk.
“Oh, are they hanging out again? Better get them covered up. Later, chica.” Sombra sauntered away, apparently refreshed by the banter, and Angela was left alone with Amelie. As she approached the desk in front of Amelie’s glass chamber, she saw that Sombra hadn’t been lying; Amelie fixed her with an unmoving stare from her sitting position on her bed, wide-eyed and expressionless, like an omnic waiting for its personality imprint to load up. Angela swallowed. This was outside her realm of expertise. She was supposed to have a team — physical therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, lab techs. But for now, it was just the two of them, separated by a mere sheet of glass.
She keyed the intercom. “Amelie? Can you hear me?”
“Do you remember how you got here?”
Amelie paused for a moment and wet her lips, blinking erratically. “No,” she said, her voice surprisingly soft. “I recall — flashes. Pain. Gunfire. You, but, only briefly. Sombra, more.”
“Let’s start with something more simple. Your name?”
Amelie drew her arms up around herself. She shook her head, starting to tremble, and Angela took her finger off the intercom key for a moment. She breathed, in and out, wondering what Moira had done to this poor woman. “How do you feel?” she asked after Amelie had had some time to soothe herself. “Physically?”
“Cold,” Amelie replied. “Tired.” She lifted her arm and peered at the IV line dug into her flesh. “Thirsty.”
“When we transfer you to a proper cell, I’ll make sure you get some actual water to drink first thing,” Angela promised. “Believe me, I know what it’s like to wake up like this. We just want to make sure you’re stable before we put you anywhere you could hurt yourself or someone else.”
“You know?” Amelie asked, their eyes meeting again.
“I’ve had my own share of medical modifications and recoveries,” Angela told her. “I’ve been in...similar positions, in my time. We even share a common designer.”
“Moira.” The word leaves Amelie like she’s dragging it out of a thick mud. “Am I — you’re working for her, aren’t you? You’re — she’s here, Sombra, so Moira—”
“No, no!” Angela exclaimed. “You’re in Watchpoint Gibraltar, under the care of Overwatch. My name is Dr. Angela Ziegler, and you are perfectly safe with us. We’re trying to see what we can do to...undo the damage that Moira did. I once worked with Dr. O’Deorain, but rest assured, our association was terminated long ago.”
Amelie relaxed, leaning back and closing her eyes. “I am safe?” she asked. “Truly?”
“You are. Though, I suppose Talon might have told you as such, before.”
Amelie let out a hollow laugh. “You have not been in a Talon facility, then. Their methods of control weren’t based in deception. It was force. Always force.” She sighed. “The things you say sound familiar. I know your name. Someone told me about you, once. You were a story. Strange to meet you here, now.”
“You’re more lucid than I expected,” Angela admitted. “That’s good. I think we’ve got most of your modifications under control.”
“I noticed,” Amelie hummed. “For so long, I was never tired. I was tense. Drawn, like a bowstring. Just black between missions, firefights. Never rest.” She frowned. “The details...still aren’t clear.”
She spoke like a poet. It felt strange, after seeing how twisted and angry and frightened she’d been in the chateau. She’d resembled a cornered animal, then. Now she was...still slightly unnerving, Angela would admit, but resembled more the high-society French woman she was supposed to be. She felt some small relief at the prospect that maybe things weren’t so dire after all.
“That’s to be expected,” she said, trying to soothe her. “You’ve been through so much.”
“Have I?” Amelie asked, her eyes staring into Angela’s. “I suppose you’d know more than I.”
“I just have Sombra’s files — she defected to us. It’s how I undid as much conditioning as I could, though her sabotage of your mods did a lot of the work for us. It was...haphazard, but it seems to have cleared a lot of your artificial loyalty.”
Amelie sighed. “Should I thank her, then?”
“She led us to you. She was very invested in your recovery.”
“I see.” Amelie ran a hand through her long, black hair. “How odd. My memories of her are...mostly frustration.”
“That makes perfect sense,” Angela said with a chuckle. A call started to ping on her screen, and with a frown, she opened it.
“Sombra says she’s awake.” Lena’s voice made Amelie stiffen up. “Can I come in and see her?”
Angela bit her lip. “One moment, Lena,” she said, putting her on hold and looking up at Amelie.
“I hurt her,” Amelie murmured, holding up her arm and staring at the scars from where they’d removed her gauntlet, a web of electrodes sewn into her flesh.
“We were able to clear the poison from her system, don’t worry,” Angela said, keeping her voice as soft as she could manage. “She knows you weren’t yourself.”
“I’m not sure I know what ‘myself’ is,” Amelie said with a cold chuckle. “I remember her. A little. She and I were...friends, yes?”
“I believe so. She was very upset when you disappeared. But I wasn’t...I wasn’t around for a while, and we never talked much about you. It was a hard subject for her, and those were busy times.” Angela looked away and sighed. She should’ve been a better friend to Lena, these past few years. Maybe then she’d know what to say.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to see her yet,” Amelie said, running a hand through her hair. “Tell her I’m sorry, and thank you, but…”
“She’ll understand. I’ll take some time to speak with her.” Angela noted that choice in her own head. They’d been busy and Angela had been squirreled away with Mei when they weren’t, but it was no excuse for neglecting her friendships. She keyed the console again. “She’s not ready right now, Lena. She thanks you for asking.”
“Oh…” Lena sighed. “Tell her I’m totally fine with her shooting at me, ‘kay? Not a problem. No sweat.”
“She knows,” Angela said with a chuckle. “I’ll talk to you later, all right?”
“Right. I’ll run some drills with Fareeha. She could always use a warm-up.”
Angela cut off the call and looked back up at Amelie, who was staring down at her hands. She shook, curling her fingers into fists.
“Amelie?” Angela asked cautiously, and then Amelie stood up and smashed her fist into the glass wall, levels spiking all over Angela’s screens. “Amelie!” she called, scrambling to access the sedative interface. Amelie pounded the wall, blood smearing with each hit until the IVs hooked into her system delivered their dose and she slackened, woozily falling back onto her bed, staring into the ceiling. Her fingers and toes twitched, her eyes flitting frantically from side-to-side, until she finally stopped moving and closed them. Angela let loose her breath.
This wasn’t going to work.
Her, as the sole medical officer, for a patient this unstable, with this many unknowns? She needed a real team. Nurses, security officers, psychologists. She put her hand to her forehead and leaned forward, groaning. As much as she wished, wanted to do everything herself, she’d need to ask for help.
She was spared further spiralling by the pinging of her intercom. Fareeha. Perhaps it was good news.
“Angela, is the patient stable?”
“Sedated,” Angela replied, sighing. “Not stable. But she won’t be a problem for a few hours. What do you need?”
“First, don’t send Sombra my way just because she’s bored, ever again,” Fareeha said with a chuckle, “Second, I’ve got someone on the line up here that I think you need to talk to. And, well, Sombra probably could talk to her too.” She cleared her throat. “It’s about Moira.”
Will this day ever get any better, Angela groaned in her head. "I'm on my way, commander," she said, willing her body to untense. "I'll see you shortly."
She closed up and locked the lab, heading down the halls towards the old command center. As soon as she stepped in, she heard Sombra's voice.
"Knew I'd get through to her. Lucio owes me twenty."
"Wait, you know Lucio?" Fareeha asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Long story, another time, hey Angie!" Sombra waved at Angela as she walked through the door into the center of the room, in front of a large, currently blank screen. "Guess who hacked a multinational corporation and got one of their top agents to defect?"
"Did you do this in the last twenty minutes?" Angela asked, searching around for a seat.
"Nah, laid the groundwork back when I was in Talon, just got lucky that it paid off now. Fareeha, put her back on, Angie needs to hear this."
"This is who we risked our necks to extract," Fareeha said with a knowing smirk at Angela. "Athena, take Satya off hold, please."
An Indian woman, dressed in a familiar eccentric style, appeared on the screen before them. From one look, it was clear she was in Oasis.
"Angela Ziegler. I see why it was important to wait for you. I apologize if I was short with you, commander," Satya said, with a small nod in Fareeha's direction. "After Sombra sent me the collected details of Vishkar's operations, I can no longer continue working with them. I was once the special operative known as Symmetra, and to prove my intentions and my usefulness to you, I am willing to give you crucial information about Talon's operatives working in Oasis — specifically, their current whereabouts and activities — in exchange for my immediate extraction. I am not safe."
“Do we have any sympathizers in Oasis?” Fareeha asked, turning to Sombra.
“There’s a couple of people I could blackmail, I think,” Sombra said with a shrug. “We can definitely get her a shuttle.”
“I will choose to trust you on that, Sombra,” Satya said, a low tone in her voice. “Very well. Listen closely, in case I am intercepted regardless. Moira O’Deorain, Minister of Genetics, is a double-agent for Talon working to engineer the human race on an unprecedented scale.”
“We...knew that already,” Angela said cautiously as Sombra started to pull up a holographic interface with her fingertips.
“I gathered as much. However, I can provide more — she believes we are close confidants, believes, in fact, that I am about to convert to Talon’s cause. When she discovers who I am making this call to, that will change.” Satya swallowed. “I doubt I have much time. Talon’s artificial intelligence is in the Oasis network.”
“She’s right,” Sombra notes. “I’m fending off his probes right now. Ares was always a nosy one.”
“Moira is, at this moment, in a Talon black site, awaiting my arrival. If you head there right now, it’s possible she may not have time to evacuate — I’m certain she will begin fortifying her defenses the moment she discovers I’ve betrayed her trust. She’s quick-witted.” Satya looks over her shoulder.
“You’re fine for now, Sym,” Sombra assures her. “I’m covering for ya. In a couple of minutes a guy with a stupid hat — sorry, more specific, Oasis, a stupid green hat — is gonna come by your room and take you to the docks. Go with him.”
“Thank you,” Satya breathes. “I’m sending you the coordinates Moira sent to me. Go with haste and with every available force you have. Moira is a key figure in Talon, I’ve gathered that much. Taking her out of operation is vital to world order.”
"Athena will guide you into the base and keep you safe with a remote escort," Fareeha promises. "Everyone else, suit up. Looks like we're going to Japan."
It figured that it would all lead back here.
The little spit of land with the black military bunker covering its surface confronted Angela through the windshield, mocking her with long-buried memories. Blackwatch Site Four was a completely reasonable place to turn into a Talon base, she supposed — long thought abandoned, out of range of Japan’s typical radar routes, easy to miss as just a relic of a war long over. If it was half as functional as Gibraltar, it still had incredibly advanced equipment for whatever terrible projects Moira was dreaming up.
“Must be a closed-circuit system,” Sombra said as she stepped up beside Angela in the shuttle, making her jump. “I’m not getting jack on my implants. If anything’s active down there, it’s hidden good.”
“Do you know the base?” Angela asked.
“It’s an old Blackwatch site, yeah? Didn’t know Moira was using it, or why,” Sombra mused. “What would she go all the way out to Japan for?”
Angela pondered the question for a moment, and then Moira’s words from a lifetime ago echoed in her head, and she winced. “Well...she might be after the Shimadas.”
“Really?” Sombra’s eyes widened and dug into her. “That sounds juicy.”
“Something she said back when we put Genji together. She wanted to figure out how their spirit dragons worked, weaponize them. Or she might just be trying to get the Shimadas to work with them, but…”
Sombra clicked her tongue. “You and I, we gotta talk more often. But, anyway, looks like there’s no external defenses. Anything active must be deeper inside. Probably so it’s not so obvious that the base is still being used.”
“I’ll fly patrol around the island,” Fareeha informed them, stepping up behind them as the craft started its descent. “Zarya will be your commander on the ground. I want everyone to be careful — we only know so much about what we’re walking into, and we have no backup.” She turned around, looking to Mei, who was wearing her new suit, black armor with blue lines running across its surface. “Mei, you especially I’d like to stay at the back lines. We need your technology if we’re going to successfully capture Moira, and we didn’t have time to really test that suit of yours.”
“Got it,” Mei said with a dutiful nod. “I’m just happy to help. I’m not looking for glory.”
“If only some of our other members would take that attitude,” Fareeha said with a sidelong glance at Sombra, who smirked.
“You love it, girl,” she teased. “Anyway, yeah, let Sashka take all the bullets, sounds good to me.”
Zarya hoisted her cannon up proudly. “It is what I do best.”
“Strong as the mountain,” Sombra cooed, blowing a mocking kiss in Zarya’s direction.
“Focus, please,” Fareeha asked as they set down on the island. “Winston, Lena — are you two ready for this?”
“Yeah,” Lena piped up, straightening up in her seat. “Sorry. Little distracted.”
“I know you’re worried about Amelie, but Athena has her in good hands,” Fareeha assured her.
“I’ll be backing Zarya up, and I have shields ready to deploy,” Winston said. “Good luck, Commander.”
“You too. Overwatch, move out!” Fareeha called as the loading ramp extended onto the island. As Angela and Sombra filed out behind Zarya, Sombra whispered, “Bet she’s been wanting to say that her whole life.”
The landing pad was entirely empty, which was to be expected. What surprised Angela was that as they approached the bunker door, they found it open, edges ragged, deep gashes in the metal. Zarya paused and held up a hand.
“Liv, any ideas?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder at Sombra.
“Got nothing. Not even a wifi signal. Like I said before, all closed circuits. Maybe it looks damaged on purpose?” Sombra suggested, shrugging. “Looks more abandoned that way?”
Zarya grunted. “Don’t like this.” As they stepped into the lobby, they found the lights on and nobody home, their footsteps echoing in the cavernous empty space. “Mercy, where would she be?” Zarya asked.
“If I know her, she’s down in the lab. I can get us there, I remember the way.”
Zarya nodded, jerking her head at Winston. “Winston, Tracer, Liv, omnic — to the security center. Ensure we are not interrupted by any security measures. Plug yourself into the walls if you must.”
“On it, chief,” Sombra said with a mock-salute. “I’m really hyped to see your balls in action, Zenyatta.”
“Please don’t call them that,” Zenyatta requested as they headed off down one of the branching hallways, Lena giving Angela a look before heading off with them. Angela pointed them in the opposite direction, and they made their way through the silent halls carefully, Mei and Angela walking side-by-side behind Zarya. Angela tried to keep her breath steady, her mind focused. She had to be ready to face Moira again, really face her, eye to eye.
As they turned a corner, Zarya suddenly stumbled over something and cursed. “Chto— Eh?” she exclaimed as she turned to examine what had tripped her.
Or rather, two halves of a body, spread out across the floor. Mei stepped back and gasped, while Angela couldn’t help but stare — he was clad in black, the line of separation cut from his shoulder to his waist, disturbingly clean. Embedded in his chest were three shurikens, and with a jolt to her heart, she realized what they’d stumbled into.
She put a finger to her ear. “Sombra! Genji Shimada is inside the base. I think he’s attacking them!”
“Yeah, looks like he made a mess of this wing first. All the monitors are smashed up,” Sombra complained. “I’m plugging in now. For a cyborg you’d think he’d know more about computers. Smashing the monitors just makes them harder to use!”
“Focus, Sombra. Any clue where he is?”
“Scanning through now. Uh...well, looks like he’s in the lab. And looks like some reinforcements are headed my way, so call you back?”
“Got it.” Angela looked up at Zarya. “Same objective.”
Zarya nodded curtly and started moving again, their squad passing by more evidence of Genji’s handiwork. Shurikens in the walls, gashes in the floor, corpse after corpse. “Your Genji man, he must be very mad,” Zarya muttered to herself.
As they approached the last corner, the sound of shouting and struggle started to fill the air, and Angela urged Zarya to press forward. As they turned and beheld the torn-open doors of the lab, the sound suddenly stopped, and Angela saw Moira for the first time in five years.
She knelt on top of a table, pinning Genji to the surface of it by the throat, violet lines of energy weaving around the two of them like a storm. “I’m so thrilled you came back to see me, Mister Shimada. It’s so rare one gets a second chance at such a project as you,” she hissed, a flare of purple rising from the pack on her back. “Why, with both of you here, I’ve twice the chances to figure out how—”
Zarya hefted her cannon and fired a blast of energy directly into Moira’s back, sending her tumbling off the table and onto the floor. “Zarya!” Angela admonished, wings springing to life on her back. “You could have hurt him!”
Genji sucked in a staggered breath, managing to wave one hand in the air and point it across the lab. “Fine,” he croaked. “Save Hanzo.”
Angela spared a glance in that direction, spotting a very similar tank to the one she and Moira had once kept Genji alive in, with Hanzo’s comatose body floating within. Angela engaged her suit and flew to Genji as Zarya ordered Mei to watch the door and rushed forward around the table, searching for Moira. Just as the Caduceus staff started up, Zarya shouted out in surprise, and a black blur swept past Angela, stealing her staff on the way. Angela whirled, trying to spot it, when Moira appeared in a puff of smoke at the entry to the lab.
“Angela, darling, it’s a Blackwatch reunion!” she called, hoisting the staff into the air with her left hand. “How lovely to see you both again!”
“Mei!” Angela called.
Just as Moira turned to look over her shoulder, a shard of ice pierced the pack on her back and sent her stumbling forward. “Oh, must you be so serious,” Moira muttered, tossing the staff aside and turning to face Mei. “We should’ve acquired you some time ago, I think I’ll remedy that now.”
She put her hands together and brought forth a ball of violent energy, sending it careening for Mei, but a bubble of light surrounded her and sent it spinning off down the corridor instead. Moira growled and vanished again in a puff of smoke, Mei turning to watch it fly by. Angela ran after her, grabbing her staff on the way, but when she emerged into the hallway she found Moira on her knees, letting out a cry of pain, smoke pouring from the puncture Mei’s shard had left in her pack. When Moira looked over her shoulder, her face was pale, black veins crawling up her neck.
“Cheap trick,” Moira said, standing to her full height. “You’ve a habit of breaking my toys when we fight, Angela, it’s getting tiring.” She thrust out her left hand and sent a wave of violet energy out, its threads entangling around Mei and Angela. Angela felt the fingers of energy searching for gaps in her armor, crawling around the edges of her face, and even as pain started to shoot down her nerves she pulled her pistol and fired blindly in Moira’s direction, gasping in relief as she hit her mark.
Moira cursed, clutching the graze at her side. “That won’t stop me,” she snarled, “Not this time.” She put her hands together, and just as her pack started to glow, Zarya ran in front of Angela and Mei, shield glowing, and threw her cannon directly at Moira’s chest.
It hit her full-on, sending her skidding across the floor on her back, pinned by its weight. With that moment of pause, Mei pulled Snowball from her back and threw him out, and before Moira could say another word, she was frozen in place, her hands pushing against the cannon.
“Moira’s neutralized!” Angela said, putting a hand to her ear. “How is our situation?”
“There was only one squad of guards left in the base and they’re done,” Sombra replied. “Pharah, anything up there?”
“The sky’s empty, no activity on radar.”
“Sounds right,I sent an all-clear signal out to the nearest Talon base. Let’s clean this up and go home.”
Angela spared one last look at Moira’s frozen face, contorted in rage, before she turned back to find her staff and see to Genji. She felt a drop in her stomach, knowing this wouldn’t be the last she saw of her.
Chapter 10: Post-Infectious
Angela stared down Moira’s frozen body, watching the seconds tick by on the monitor above her head. Behind Moira stood Mei, a laser cutter hovering inches off her body, ready to spring into action.
Ten seconds to thaw.
Genji and Hanzo were stable in the medbay. Amelie was still sedated. Moira remained the unknown. Despite her condition, she still had yet to be fully disarmed — with her pack frozen to her back, there was no way to ensure that she wouldn’t try to fight her way out as soon as she regained consciousness. Others were guarding the door, the rest of the Watchpoint, but it fell to the two who had designed her containment to ensure that Moira remained contained.
Moira’s eyes started to move.
“Now!” Angela called, and Mei fired up her cutter, and with surgical precision, cut the lines connecting the pack to the rest of Moira’s modifications while Angela grabbed Moira by the wrists and forced them together in front of her, clicking handcuffs together just as Moira started to blink out of her stupor. As soon as her eyes focused on Angela, she grinned.
“Well, now, this is hardly our usual dynamic, is it?” she mocked, thrusting forward and leaving Mei with the pack in her arms. “Angela, darling, if you want me alone—”
“We’re not alone,” Angela said through gritted teeth, trying to ignore the chill down her artificial spine, the cold plunge in her stomach as she heard that voice again, saw those mismatched eyes with their crazed shine staring into her.
Moira paused for a moment and checked over her shoulder. “Ah, Doctor Zhou,” she sighed, rolling her shoulders. “You must be the one who designed that cryo field.”
“Dr. Ziegler helped me,” Mei murmured, backing away and placing the pack down on a table.
“Of course she did. It’s what she does, isn’t it, turning big dreams into mundane realities,” Moira cooed, rolling her head back towards Angela. “I hear you finally got that Elysian circuit working after I was sacked, is that right? And of course she made it into a halo,” Moira added with a toss of her head over her shoulder. “An obsession of hers, I swear it—”
“That’s enough, Moira,” Angela spat, tightening the handcuffs by a notch and tugging her forward. “You’re an Overwatch prisoner now, this isn’t your lab, and we don’t have to listen to your mockery.”
“Oh, look at her getting so serious, so authoritative. You were never this way when I’d—”
Angela slapped Moira across the face.
“Angela!” Mei gasped as the metal patch that Moira had worn around her eye clattered to the laboratory floor, revealing the ugly, twisted scarring beneath. Moira blinked a few times, her mouth twitching.
“Shut your drunken mouth,” Angela hissed, tugging on Moira’s handcuffs and leading her towards the door. “Fareeha will take you to your cell. She’ll handle your interrogation.”
Moira sniffed, swallowed, and stood up straight. “I see. You think you can hold me. It’s adorable, truly.”
Angela buried her growl in her throat and palmed the lab door, pushing Moira out in front of Fareeha. “She’s ready,” she said. “Take her away. Please.”
“Ah, Ms. Amari, please, do show me to my luxurious guest quarters,” Moira began as Angela quickly retreated and locked the laboratory door, pressing her back to the wall and closing her eyes. Her hands shook at her sides, fingers twitching, her throat closing of its own accord. She tried to fight it, squeezing her eyes shut, shoulders tense, not letting it out, not—
Mei’s fearful whisper broke through the rush of panic, and Angela gasped for air. “Angela!” Mei exclaimed, taking hold of Angela’s wrists. “Do you need help?”
She’d buried it down, had work and battle to distract her, and now her heart raced and her palms sweat, and she couldn’t see clearly, even when she opened her eyes. Mei looked up at her, face open and terrified, and Angela could give no answers. She gulped, waited, took in a breath, held it, let it go. “Let me...sit down,” she managed, slipping out of Mei’s grip and crossing the lab to her a table, collapsing into the chair there. She laid her palms flat on its surface and counted the seconds between breaths, while Mei hovered uncertainly behind her.
“I’m sorry,” Angela said, after she felt she had control again. “I…”
“Don’t apologize,” Mei said softly, approaching her and laying one hand over hers on the table. “You...don’t need to tell me anything, if you don’t want to.”
“She’s so much worse than she used to be,” Angela muttered, drawing herself inward, resting her forehead on her palm. “God.”
Mei pulled up a chair beside Angela, holding her hand again once she sat down. Angela’s eyes stung. It was such a small thing, but it felt enormous, made the void of memory seem less vast and daunting. Her breath still came in ragged gulps, and she fought to keep them from turning to sobs, fought the memories of feeling so ravaged and abandoned and in pain, the memories of her nerves frying from the neck outward.
She didn’t want to tell Mei. Mei seemed so taken with her, idolizing her, modeling herself after Angela’s supposed successes. She was...perhaps not innocent, but still so optimistic, so willing to believe the good in people. She didn’t want to shatter Mei’s image of her, because when Mei was around, Angela could forget the reality.
But now she couldn’t. Now she was here, still trying to breathe, to get over the panic attack that seeing her ex had given her.
“Is there anything I can get you?” Mei asked, after some time and silence passed between them.
“No. Thank you, Mei.” She knew this had to stop. At some point, she needed to get up, and move, and work, and yet staying here, in this moment, seemed like all she could do.
“...do you want to talk at all? I’m...I’m really worried, Angela. I want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m not,” Angela said with a hollow laugh. “I thought I could handle this. Or I didn’t really think at all. It all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to think.”
“I gathered that you worked together, but...the things she said…” Mei’s voice faltered. “Angela...what you must be going through…”
Angela met Mei’s eyes, and looked away again just as quickly, cheeks burning with shame. “Do you...know about my implant?” she asked at last.
“There was some mention of it in your service record,” Mei admitted, rubbing her thumb over Angela’s hand. “..not much, though.”
“Moira designed it for me. After I did something stupid, that she warned me was stupid, and it nearly cost me my life. She oversaw my recovery, transferred me into Blackwatch to keep an eye on me, or that’s what she said. She wanted my talent. Used me.” Angela’s mouth felt dry. Something in her told her to stop talking, but the words burned in her throat like vomit, she had to expel them before they disintegrated her vocal chords. “I hated her, at first. I knew how smart she was, and so did she, and she was...not like that, but close. But over the months…I tried to make an effort. To make our partnership work. We grew closer, and…”
How could she explain it? The way she started to grasp for Moira’s approval, the annoyance at her arrogance turning to attraction to her confidence? The late-night drinks and massages to ease Angela’s back pain? The way Moira had been so sweet and concerned, despite pretending otherwise? The night in Tokyo, where Angela had called upon Moira to rescue her, and pushed things too far?
“Angela?” Mei asked softly. “You don’t need to—”
“I fell in love with her.” She’d only used the word to describe her feelings for Moira once before, as a way to spit in her face, but she had to say it now. “I pushed things, and...we never really talked about what we were doing. But she kept herself at a distance. She hurt me, a lot, and then she threw me aside when her attempt to impress me backfired. Sent me back to Overwatch and disappeared.”
“I’m so sorry,” Mei murmured.
“The next time I saw her, she was undercutting Crisis Control and trying to recruit me. She let it slip that she was working with Talon, and I tried to shoot her.” Angela pulled down the neck of her sweater, closing her eyes so she wouldn’t see Mei’s reaction to her scars. “She almost killed me. Her technology was the only thing that saved me — again. Her weapons malfunctioned, but my implant had a failsafe that saved my life. I haven’t seen her since...until today.”
She turned to look at Mei at last, and her eyes were wide, her face pale. “Who else knows?” Mei asked softly.
“No one knows the whole story,” Angela admitted. “Fareeha and Sombra know parts. I was too ashamed to tell Lena. And...I never told anyone this, but…” She gulped. “When I got the recall notice, because of your distress signal, I was about to board a plane to Oasis and try to kill her.”
“Crisis Control had just been disbanded, and I was...I was ready to end it. Everything. Since I came back, I’ve been able to...process, and feel like I was doing good in the world again.” Angela sniffed, looking down at the table. “...I’m so glad you survived the Ecopoint, Mei. Without you…”
Mei pushed her seat forward and wrapped her arms around Angela, squeezing tight. Angela leaned into her gratefully, and finally let her tears flow, silently.
“I’m glad you’re here, too,” Mei said softly. Angela pulled her closer.
As she started to whisper her thanks, Athena’s voice came over the intercom.
“Dr. Ziegler to the infirmary. Hanzo’s vitals show signs of improvement and he is due to wake any moment. Dr. Ziegler, to the infirmary.”
Angela pulled back and wiped her eyes. “I’m on my way,” she called to the ceiling. She swallowed and tried to compose herself. “Duty calls,” she sighed. Mei bit her lip.
“...I’ll talk to Fareeha about getting you some help,” Mei said after a moment. “You need rest, Angela.”
“Thank you,” Angela said, standing and smoothing back her hair. “I...I’m sorry you had to see all of that, I—”
“Don’t apologize,” Mei insisted. “You’ve been through so much, and Sombra keeps pulling us all into missions.”
Angela chuckled. “We need to find some way for her to entertain herself. Give her something shiny, so she stops for one moment and lets us actually rebuild.”
“Dr. Ziegler, to the infirmary,” Athena repeated.
“I’m going,” Angela grunted. She didn’t want to leave Mei, didn’t want to get back to work. Mei stood and gave her one more hug.
“Go on, go save some lives,” she said, gently pushing her towards the door. “We can talk later, okay? I’ll be here for you.”
“Thank you,” Angela repeated, and before she could make a greater fool of herself, she finally left the lab. As she made her way to the infirmary, she did her best to get herself together, to remember that she didn’t need to see Moira again, possibly ever. Numbani was due to start sending them staff any day now, and that included medical personnel (who, according to Fareeha, were very excited to meet the famed Dr. Ziegler), which meant she could finally offload responsibility to someone else for a change.
That thought calmed her as she palmed the door into the infirmary, where the two Shimada brothers lay on adjacent cots. The first thing Angela heard as she walked in was Genji’s voice, speaking in Japanese to his brother as he sat on the edge of his cot, one arm lying limp at his side.
“What was that, Herr Shimada?” Angela asked. In response, Hanzo groaned and lifted up his head.
“He said, ‘I told you so,’” Hanzo said with a dry laugh.
“You’re awake, just like she said,” Angela said with a sigh, rushing over to him. “How are you feeling?”
“Better than me,” Genji piped up. “All his limbs work.”
“I’m sorry, Genji, we haven’t had much time to treat you,” Angela replied, looking over his shoulder. “But, Hanzo, are you well?”
“I am thirsty, but I do not think I am anything else. I believe Moira wanted me alive, just asleep,” Hanzo said, bowing his head respectfully. “This isn’t the way I expected we’d meet again, Dr. Ziegler.”
“It’s been a long time since that party in Tokyo,” Angela said, ignoring the pang in her stomach as she thought of that night. “Now that you’re both awake...how did you end up in Moira’s lab?”
“My brother saw fit to interrupt the ritual that I performed in honor of his death,” Hanzo said. “Which was surprising.”
“I tried to recruit him into Overwatch, but the clan interrupted our talk. And he thought I was an assassin for a time,” Genji added. “After he escaped, a Talon gunship came down and kidnapped him. I saw Moira taking him onboard, and I knew where she’d be headed. I stole a shuttle and tried to rescue him, and then...you saw.”
“You did most of our work for us,” Angela noted. “But you could have reached out to us.”
“I didn’t think about it,” Genji said, hanging his head. “I suppose I haven’t completely overcome my...impulsive nature.”
“I am grateful, Genji,” Hanzo said softly. “I do not know what I did to deserve your forgiveness, or your aid.”
The door to the infirmary opened, and Zenyatta floated in, hands clasped in his lap. “You did not need to do anything to earn forgiveness,” he intoned, “For it was Genji’s inner strength that decided that.”
Hanzo raised his eyebrows. “Who are you?”
“This is my mentor, Zenyatta of the Shambali,” Genji said, bowing to him as he entered. “A welcome sight.”
“You have much to explain, brother,” Hanzo said.
“Well, he can do that, if he holds still for me,” Angela said, heading over to the cabinets to get her tools. “Let’s see about getting that arm of yours working.”
Angela cracked her back as she left the infirmary, satisfied with a job well done. She’d been able to remain largely silent while working on Genji, as the brothers and Zenyatta filled the conversational space quite well by themselves. While Hanzo hadn’t made an official commitment to Overwatch yet, she felt confident that he’d be happy to stay for a while yet, if nothing else to reconnect with his brother and sort out their complicated past. It felt good to see some healing happening, despite the circumstances, and the work had kept Angela’s mind off of Moira.
It was almost eleven already, and Angela was considering her options between sleep and stimulant (after all, Amelie might need some attention — though Lena was on watch, at least) when a voice came over the intercom. “Dr. Ziegler, to the commander’s quarters,” Fareeha called, “Dr. Ziegler to the commander’s quarters.”
Angela raised her eyebrows, but set off in the direction of Fareeha’s quarters regardless. She probably wanted to talk about Moira, she realized as her stomach fell. Fareeha must’ve been interrogating her as best she was able, but Angela possessed valuable insight into Moira’s mind, unfortunately enough for her. But duty called, and hopefully this would be a less intense conversation than the one she’d had with Mei.
She knocked on Fareeha’s door, and Fareeha called “Come in!” from the other side, the voice command opening the door for Angela. As Angela stepped in, she was surprised to see Fareeha’s hair out of its usual braids, a shaggy mess falling just to Fareeha’s chin as she leaned against her desk, a half-drunk beer in her hand.
“Hey, Angela,” Fareeha said, waving her inside. “Sorry for the late call, but Athena said you were up.”
“I see Moira got to you,” Angela said with a small smirk, the door closing behind her.
“Oh my God, Angela, your ex is the worst, ” Fareeha moaned, covering her forehead with one hand.
“Don’t I know it,” Angela said with a chuckle, grateful that Fareeha seemed to be in a light mood, if not a particularly good one. She sat down on the edge of Fareeha’s bed and added, “I had her awake in my lab for maybe three minutes and she nearly drove me to a nervous breakdown.”
“I can see how. Ugh. Want one?” Fareeha asked, picking up a bottle from the six-pack behind her. “Sure it’s been a hard day for you.”
“It has,” Angela admitted, gladly reaching for it after Fareeha popped off the cap. “Did you really call me in just to spleen-vent about Moira?”
“That’s at least half the reason,” Fareeha said. “How’d you ever fall for her?”
Angela swallowed, but it was a fair enough question. She took a swig of her beer before she answered, trying to think about those months. “If she sees you as someone who’s standing in her way, she’s at her worst. But if she...likes you, or thinks you’re useful, you feel like you’re special, because she treats you nicely when she treats everyone else like garbage,” Angela explained, mulling over the way things had started in her mind. “She can be charming, in her way. When she tells you you’re good, you believe it. And…” Angela stopped, staring down Fareeha seriously. “Don’t repeat this, but she gives really good massages.”
Fareeha laughed. “Really? Her?”
“I know! I was surprised too, but it was just what I needed after my surgery.” Angela sighed. “But...well. She wouldn’t be an ex if she didn’t have some issues, let’s say.”
“I bet. She kept insisting she wouldn’t answer any questions until I got her a good whiskey, ‘not that swill Sombra drinks.’” Fareeha made airquotes with her free hand. “But we got her on video admitting she’s part of Talon. Haven’t gotten anything specific about her projects yet, but it’s a start to building a case against her for a UN court, plus some evidence that this conspiracy is real and big.” She sighed. “Do you think we’ll be able to get anything out of her? She seems pretty confident that she won’t be here long.”
“Moira O’Deorain is the most stubborn, obstinate woman I’ve ever met in my life,” Angela said, enunciating as clearly as she could. “Forcing her to do something she doesn’t want to do is virtually impossible.”
“So, you’re not optimistic, then.”
“Sorry, Commander, but my reports must be accurate.”
Fareeha chuckled. “Yes, because this is so official.”
“Isn’t it just?” Angela took another drink, then finished off her bottle. She fell backwards on Fareeha’s bed, spreading her arms out. “Thank you, Fareeha,” she said softly.
“Being my friend. After everything that happened.”
“I wanted us to be friends,” Fareeha said softly, walking over and sitting next to her. “Are you...are you doing all right, Angela? With all of this?”
“I told you I had a breakdown,” Angela mumbled, closing her eyes. God, was she tired. Sleep would be nice. Lena was reliable. “But...Mei was there to help. I spilled it all.”
“Oh, Angela.” Fareeha absently stroked Angela’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m glad I’m not alone, anymore. I’ll need to talk to Lena tomorrow, too. I want her to know, I want to reconnect with her.” Angela let out a long breath. “I spent so long keeping secrets, and isolating myself, and working myself to death. If you, and everyone else here, wasn’t so supportive…”
“We all want the best for each other,” Fareeha assured her. “We have a hard mission ahead of us, but we can’t kill ourselves to get it done. I care about everyone here. I won’t let them hurt themselves.”
“Your mother would be proud,” Angela told her. “Moira hated her too.”
Fareeha laughed, slumping against the wall. “If you say so, Angela.” She finished off her own bottle and set it on the floor, then stretched out her arms. “All right. We should both get some rest. Everything’s stable, for the moment, and Agawe contacted me earlier and sent me a list of personnel to approve for transfer soon. You’ll have your medical team the day after tomorrow, if everything goes well.”
“Oh, that’ll be nice,” Angela murmured, not stirring. She felt quite comfortable there, and when she opened her eyes, the view was good. She was only a little buzzed, but Fareeha was still gorgeous and tempting. She bit her lip, and thought about asking to stay — then reconsidered, and quickly lifted herself up. For once, she wouldn’t be stupid when it came to women, she promised herself that.
She stood up, brushed off her coat, and headed for the door, stopping on the way out to bid Fareeha goodnight. Despite the exhaustion of the day, she went to bed feeling like perhaps, things could get better from here, at long last.
Moira sat at the table in her cell, staring at her hands.
They shook. They’d been shaking for hours. She couldn’t make them stop.
Her left hand ached, as it often did. She hadn’t asked for her usual painkillers. If they wouldn’t give her whiskey, they certainly wouldn’t give her those. But she sat, and waited, and shook, sweat beading on the back of her neck. Soon all these irritations would cease, and she’d be whole again. She just needed to wait for the right time.
As the clock struck midnight, Sombra materialized in front of the cell’s glass door. “Knock knock,” she said, her eyes flitting back and forth across something Moira couldn’t see. The door opened for her and she walked in, drawing a flask from inside her jacket and tossing it on the table in front of Moira.
Moira raised an eyebrow. “So that’s where that went.”
“I watched the interrogation,” Sombra said, pacing back and forth in front of Moira’s desk. “You kept asking. You’re not doing too hot, chica.”
“Is it that obvious?” Moira sighed, taking the flask and unscrewing the cap. The familiar taste warmed her chest. “Why the generosity?” she asked after re-capping it.
“DTs aren’t any fun, and I’m not a big fan of torture,” Sombra said. “You’d never tell them that’s what’s happening to you, so I figured I’d help out. For a bit.”
“Just what are you here to do, Sombra?” Moira asked, leaning forward with a hand under her chin. “I didn’t think you had any great love for me.”
“Oh, I don’t. But I got questions of my own, and I’m not keen on letting Fareeha hear ‘em, ‘case she thinks I’m a security risk.”
“Aren’t you?” Moira inquired, one corner of her mouth turning up.
“Oh, yeah, sure, but she’s “accounted” for that. My questions are a little scarier than me sneaking into places I’m not technically s’posed to be in.” Sombra ceased her pacing and looked into Moira’s eyes. “I’ve seen everything you did to Widow.”
“I had a feeling you were behind her disappearance.” Moira leaned back in her chair. “If you already know everything, what’s your question?”
“When you tuned up my mods, you didn’t stick anything like that in me, right?” Sombra asked, dragging her nails across the surface of the table.
“An interesting question.”
“Tell me,” Sombra said through gritted teeth.
“Oh, but why would I do that? What motivation have I, to answer your questions, when I wouldn’t answer Amari’s? You just said you’ve got something against torture, so what leverage do you really have?”
“You know I can do things for you. Get you treated nicer than you deserve.”
“And you are an expert in what I deserve, I should think.” Moira chuckled. “Very well, Sombra. I have an answer to your question. Do you speak Gaelic?”
“What are you talking about?” Sombra asked. “Are you gonna make me solve some kind of riddle?”
“Something like that. Listen closely,” Moira urged. “Come closer.”
Sombra leaned over the table, their noses nearly touching. “You gonna say something?” she asked after a beat.
“Géill do mo thoil,” Moira whispered.
And Sombra’s eyes went blank.