Chapter 1: Arrival
Dr. Angela Ziegler sat looking out the window of the empty dropship. She watched as the misty forests below slowly began to give way to mountainous terrain. According to the tablet sitting in her lap, they were rapidly approaching the small village of Lukla, where they would stop to pick up her old friend and companion for the mission.
The dropship passed through a thick cloud bank, so Dr. Ziegler turned her attention to the files in the tablet that provided the details about her mission. She was being sent to investigate a possible abandoned Talon base, located deep in the Himalayas. The reason she and her companion had been selected for the mission was because it was believed to be an abandoned scientific research base. Because the base was beyond a doubt abandoned, it was deemed a low risk mission, which only required two capable scientists.
As Dr. Ziegler studied the files for clues, the dropship emerged from the clouds, and she was greeted with a spectacular view of Mount Everest, radiating in the afternoon sun. She would have stared at the mountain until they landed had her tablet not started beeping.
Looking down, Dr. Ziegler saw that there was an incoming video message from the young mech pilot, Hana Song. She answered the call immediately.
Hana's face lit up the screen, very close to the camera. Dr. Ziegler could tell from the enclosed space and the sound of howling wind that she was calling from inside her mech.
“Hey, Mercy!” exclaimed Hana, smiling brightly.
“Good afternoon, Hana,” said Mercy, returning the smile. “To what do I owe the honor?”
“I have some information about your mission,” she replied. “A couple of days ago, I did a few fly-by's of that base you've been sent to investigate. I would have stayed to help you but I was called back for another mission. Anyways, it's definitely abandoned, no signs of life anywhere. The only problem is the walls.”
“What about them?” asked Mercy, frowning.
“They're too thick,” explained Hana. “My scanners could barely get through them. You're going to need some serious firepower to get inside.”
Mercy sighed. “So how are we supposed to get inside?”
Hana smiled at her. “I'm glad you asked, because I've already solved your problem. I'm sending some help your way. They're coming in from Paris, so they'll probably arrive an hour or two after you land.”
Mercy squinted suspiciously at her tablet. “They? Who exactly are you sending?”
Hana smiled, looking almost malicious. “You wouldn't like the answer. Good luck on your mission!”
With that, Hana disconnected the chat, leaving Mercy staring at her own reflection in the dark screen. She looked tense already.
“Wonderful...” muttered Mercy dryly as she set down her tablet and returned to looking out the window.
Half an hour later, the dropship slowed to a hover and gently touched down in a small field outside the village of Lukla. The side door slid open, and in stepped the famous climatologist, Mei Ling Zhou. Mercy stood and embraced her, having not seen her old friend for over ten years.
“Angela, you haven't aged a day!” exclaimed Mei, stepping back and giving Mercy a fond look.
“The same can be said of yourself,” said Mercy as she closed the doors and signaled the pilot to take off. “How was your expedition?”
“It was wonderful!” exclaimed Mei, setting down her large travel pack. “The climb up the mountain was exhausting, of course, but the ice core samples I collected along the way are worth it. Between the samples and the measurements I took during the climb, I'll have my own mountain of data!”
Mercy laughed, feeling her spirits lift. “I meant to ask about the view.”
“Oh...” Mei mumbled, blushing. She continued to smile.
The last two hours of the flight went by much quicker. Mei had been assigned to the mission due to her scientific background and the fact that she was an expert in navigating the treacherous icy mountain terrain they would be facing. She had gotten the message that she had been assigned to this mission when she was halfway through her descent from the summit of Mount Everest, so she decided she would stay in the village at the base of the mountain and wait until Mercy came to pick her up.
As they flew towards their own base camp, Mercy explained the details. She told Mei everything they knew about the abandoned base, and she explained that it was too treacherous to fly directly to the base due to the terrain. Because of that, they would have to set up a small base of operations at the opposite end of an old unused hiking trail, which would lead them to the Talon base.
“We have to land here,” explained Mercy, pointing at the spot marked on her digital map. “This area is wide enough and the winds are weak enough to let a skilled pilot drop off three units of a shelter pod, along with any passengers. The shelter we'll be staying in was set up two days ago. We'll stay here tonight, hike across to the abandoned base, gather what we can, then come back here for extraction. Ah, there it is.”
Mei looked out the window and saw what first appeared in the dying light to be three long rectangles sitting in the snow. As the dropship drew closer, she saw that they were shelter pods, one large main area with two small units attached next to each other. The solar panels on the roof glowed orange in the evening sun.
The dropship touched down, and Mercy slid the door open, hoisting her bag onto her back. Mei picked up her large hiking bag and left her samples on the dropship, instructing the pilot to deliver them to Winston to be stored and analyzed.
They stepped off the dropship and were instantly up to their knees in snow. They trudged their way to the base, while the dropship took off behind them, whipping up the snow around them.
Mercy reached the door and entered a passcode, and the heavy door clicked open. They stepped inside and were instantly greeted with a breath of warm air.
The main unit was relatively large, with a small kitchen on the right and a sitting area on the left. The kitchen could double as a lab, and the sitting area held several advanced computers that they would likely need for analysis. Across from the entrance were two more doors, where the other two units were attached.
“Those are the bedrooms,” said Mercy, gesturing to the doors Mei was looking at. “I only had two brought out, but it appears there may be more people joining us on this mission.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mei as she set her pack down.
Mercy went straight for the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. “Our dear friend Hana Song scanned the base and said the walls are too thick for us to get through, so she's sending... backup.”
Mei frowned. “Did she say who she was sending?”
Mercy shook her head. “She told me I wouldn't like the answer. I haven't a clue what she means, but she told me they would be arriving about an hour after we landed.”
“That is... a bit ominous...” admitted Mei. “But either way, I trust her judgment.”
Mercy poured her coffee into a mug and sipped.
They spent the next hour preparing for their mission in the morning. Mei synced Snowball to the base's radio, navigation, and weather station, while Mercy prepared six individual medical kits for emergencies.
A mere hour and a half after they landed, the sound of a dropship filled the air again. Mei and Mercy both went to the windows by the door and watched as the ship slowly descended.
Biting her lip, Mercy picked up her tablet and called Hana. The video chat connected after a few seconds, and she saw Hana in a greasy t-shirt, standing in her workshop.
“Evening Mercy!” exclaimed Hana, smiling guiltily.
“Who did you send?” asked Mercy without prelude.
“Are they there yet?”
In response, Mercy flipped the camera around, and all three of them looked out the window as two men were seemingly thrown from the open door of the dropship. They fell three meters and landed in the soft snow, and the dropship took off without landing. The two men stood up, and Mercy instantly recognized them from both the local news and the criminal database that Overwatch had access to.
“Hana...” growled Mercy.
“Their names are Junkrat and Roadhog, and they're international criminals. You'll love them! Bye!” With that, Hana disconnected the video chat.
Mercy sighed and looked out the window for a moment. The powerful behemoth who towered like a mountain was Roadhog, she knew, and the scrawny man who looked like a burnt skeleton was Junkrat. She remembered from their files that they were experts in demolition, and the pieces clicked into place.
“I recognize them!” exclaimed Mei, frowning. “Aren't they criminals?”
“Yes, they are,” said Mercy as she opened the door.
Roadhog and Junkrat both looked up at her the second the door was opened. Roadhog was dressed in a large, warm-looking furry jacket, complete with a hat, gloves, and thick warm boots. He barely acknowledged the cold. His partner, however, was shivering like a drowned rat. He was wearing a jacket and good pants, but not much else.
“Right this way,” Mercy called from the door, beckoning them inside. Roadhog took the lead and carved a path through the snow, and Junkrat followed in his footsteps. Mercy noticed that Junkrat was limping heavily, and in another moment she noticed that he had a prosthetic leg that was clearly not made for snowy conditions. She realized that Roadhog was dragging his feet to make a larger path for Junkrat to follow.
They reached the door, and Mercy stepped aside to let them in. Roadhog's massive frame filled the room, and Mercy noticed that Junkrat was also quite tall, even though he was hunched over and hugging himself for warmth.
“Bloody hell!” stammered Junkrat, still shivering. “It's fucking cold here!”
Mercy cleared her throat a bit. “Um... it's nice to meet you,” she said, slightly awkward. “I'm Dr. Angela Ziegler.” She held out her hand to shake.
Junkrat ignored her and limped into the kitchen, where he picked up the scalding hot coffee pot and hugged it to his chest to stop the shivering. He then poured himself a cup.
Mercy was staring at him, so it startled her when Roadhog gently took her tiny hand in his massive one and gave it a delicate shake. He then turned to Mei and held out his hand, and she reluctantly shook it.
“I'm Roadhog,” he said, his voice deep like thunder. He looked across the room at Junkrat, who was already on his third cup of coffee. Junkrat raised an eyebrow and acknowledged the look.
“Oh, right, uh, I'm Junkrat,” he said, before squinting at Mercy and Mei. “You're Angela, and uh... what's your name?”
“Mei,” she said stiffly, her face expressionless.
“Right. Anyways, we're here because the Diva told us we were needed... to blow some shit up,” explained Junkrat.
“That appears to be the plan,” admitted Mercy. “Shall we eat some dinner and discuss the mission?”
“Sounds like a plan, Doc!” said Junkrat, clearly eager about the promise of food.
Dinner lasted for three minutes, and consisted of rations that were warmed in a pot of water, along with more coffee. Junkrat ate like he was starving, and so did Roadhog, though it was a mystery how he ate with his mask on. Mercy had looked away for a few seconds to pick up her tablet, and when she looked back his food had been gone. When she asked Mei later that evening, Mei admitted to not having seen either.
Once dinner was over, Mei brought over a hand-held projector and set it on the table, bringing up a holographic map of the area. Their current location was indicated by a large golden dot, and the base they were sent to investigate was marked with a red X. The map showed several paths along the mountain, one of which was highlighted.
“Okay,” said Mei, still sounding a bit stiff, “we are here, and the base is here.” She pointed to the map. “There are old hiking trails littered over this mountain range, and this one that I've marked is the one we are going to hike on tomorrow. It's the shortest route to the base.”
“Doesn't seem that far,” muttered Junkrat, who now looked extremely tired.
“It should be approximately six hours to the base, then six hours back,” said Mei.
Junkrat's small smile dropped and he suddenly looked a bit pale. “Whoa, hold up, we didn't realize there was gonna be walking involved! You expect us to be out there in the snow and cold for twelve hours?”
Mei looked like she was going to say something that would cause more trouble, so Mercy interrupted.
“Unfortunately, we cannot fly there,” she explained quickly. “Because of the landscape and winds, it would be impossible to land a craft anywhere near the base. Walking is far safer. I'm sure we could figure out a way to make the journey easier.”
Junkrat grimaced and looked at Roadhog.
“I could also lend you some warmer clothes,” suggested Mercy.
Junkrat perked up at this. “Do ya have mittens? I would kill for a pair of mittens...”
“Here,” said Mei, walking over to her hiking bag and pulling out a single large mitten. “I lost the other one on Mount Everest, but I can see that you only need one.”
Junkrat put the mitten on his left hand and smiled, clearly pacified. “This'll work.”
Mei sat back down at the table and started to move the map again. “Anyways-”
She was interrupted again, but not by anybody at the table. There was a distant rumbling noise, and the ground started shaking. It shook for less than a minute before stopping.
“Ah, yes,” said Mei, “I forgot to mention... this mountain range recently became host to an active volcano. In fact, the base we are investigating seems to be built into the side of the volcano. The closer we get to the base, the more earthquakes and rock slides there may be.”
Mercy nodded. “Yes, the less time we spend here, the better. These mountains are treacherous, and the weather can change at a moment's notice.”
Junkrat and Roadhog looked at each other for a minute.
“The big guy's right,” said Junkrat, turning to face Mercy and Mei. “This keeps getting more dangerous by the second. We want to know, what's in it for us?”
Mercy was afraid this topic would come up. “What do you mean?” she asked, deciding to play naive for the moment.
Junkrat sighed, sounding exasperated. “First the Diva bullies us into agreeing to drop our vacation plans and help you, then we get kidnapped by your crazy pilot and dropped into frozen Hell, where you tell us that we have to walk for an eternity towards an active volcano, blow up one thing, and then walk all the way back? Altruism only goes so far, mate. We want payment.”
Roadhog nodded in agreement.
“And don't promise us money,” snarled Junkrat. “We've got plenty of that, plus we all know that Overwatch is flat broke.”
Mercy thought for a moment. “Well... I'll have to run this by my superiors, but if you help us with this mission, we could potentially... ignore your past crimes, as well as any minor future ones.”
Mei stared at Mercy, shocked that she would be willing to compromise with world-known criminals. Junkrat and Roadhog, however, looked like they were considering it.
“Okay, Roadie and I will talk about it,” admitted Junkrat. “You must really want whatever is in that base.”
“I'm sure it will be valuable to all of us,” said Mercy, feeling relieved. She knew they would accept her offer. Something told her that these two were practiced in dealing in favors and secrets.
“Well then,” said Mercy, standing from the table and clapping her hands together, “since we're so far north, we only get a few hours of daylight. We need to leave at least three hours before daybreak to make it to the base and back while we have light. We're going to keep this mission short and sweet, so we'll leave tomorrow. The weather forecast is relatively stable, which is rare for this time of year, so we have a limited window of opportunity. Hopefully by this time tomorrow, we'll be on a dropship back home.”
The evening wore on. They went over the plan a few more times, and Mercy managed to find a warm hat, a scarf, and a large pair of fluffy socks for Junkrat. Then, once the darkness had truly settled in, they went to bed.
Because Mei and Mercy were supposed to have been the only two on the mission, there were only two bedrooms with single beds. Mercy and Mei took one room, and Junkrat and Roadhog took the other.
It was difficult for Mei to fall asleep. The wind picked up after the sun set, and the howling sounded eerie echoing through the jagged peaks around their base camp. They didn't have any more big earthquakes like the one after dinner, but every so often she could feel tremors, and hear the rumbling coming from the distant mountain.
Not only were the sounds of the mountains preventing her from sleeping, but she could also hear Roadhog and Junkrat from the other room. She heard them whispering to each other for a bit, and when they fell asleep she could hear Roadhog's loud snoring and Junkrat's persistent cough, which had gotten worse after dinner.
She was nervous about working with them. While she tried her hardest to be optimistic, she was finding it difficult with these two. They were criminals, thieves and murderers. She wondered what Hana had been thinking, sending them here.
It wasn't until Mercy rolled over in her sleep and wrapped an arm around Mei that she was able to relax. She felt safe with Mercy here, and the human contact was reassuring. Besides, she knew that Mercy would keep everyone in order. As long as she and Mercy stayed together, everything would be okay.
Feeling reassured and safe, Mei finally fell asleep.
The lights in the base flared to life early the next morning as Mercy made her rounds, waking everybody up. She was greeted with a groan from Mei and mumbled curses from the Junkers, but she persisted, and soon everybody was awake and getting dressed, preparing for the mission.
While the others were getting dressed, Mercy went into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. While she waited, she checked the base's weather station.
The path that they would walk on was carved into the side of the mountain range, overlooking a large windy valley. It was a high exposure path, with no shelter from the fierce winds that howled through the ravine. The base's weather station was able to measure what the wind speed would be on their path, and as she feared, they were strong. Already the wind in the valley was strong enough to crash a dropship, and they would only get worse when the sun came up. She knew the winds would be so strong that they would rip the wings off her Valkyrie suit if she tried to fly, so she decided to forgo it.
A few minutes after the coffee had finished, Mei drifted out of her room, fully dressed yet still yawning and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She took the mug of coffee that Mercy offered her and sat down, sipping her drink and waiting for wakefulness to creep in.
It took five more minutes for Roadhog and Junkrat to come limping and stumbling out of their room, looking like sleepwalkers. Roadhog heavily sat down at the table next to Mei, and Junkrat went into the kitchen and poured a small amount of coffee into a mug. He then handed the mug to Roadhog before drinking straight from the pot.
“Some of us might have wanted a second cup,” grumbled Mei passive-aggressively. Junkrat ignored her as he drained the pot.
“Okay,” said Mercy, once everybody was sitting down, “before we leave, I need you all to put these on.”
She opened her medical bag and pulled out a box, which held half a dozen thin silver bracelets. She instructed everybody to hold out their left wrist, and she strapped the bracelets onto them.
“These are trackers and bio monitors,” Mercy explained as she strapped one onto her own wrist. “After half an hour they will sync up to my tablet, and I'll be able to monitor your vitals. The trackers are in the event that we get separated. If that were to somehow happen, the rendezvous point is here at the base.”
Mercy looked at the Junkers and frowned. “Neither of you brought supplies, did you?”
“I got me bag,” slurred Junkrat, lethargically holding up a stained brown burlap sack, which ticked ominously.
“I meant basic survival gear.”
“Oh... in that case, no.”
Mercy nodded. “As I expected. Luckily, I had several extra packs brought out here when I had this base set up, in the event that a bag ripped or was lost.”
As she explained, she walked over to a compartment in the lab and opened a large cabinet, which held three extra large backpacks fully equipped with survival gear, including a sleeping bag, food rations, water, a blanket, and a flashlight. She heaved two of these heavy bags out, one in each hand, and hauled them over to the table.
Junkrat took his bag and gently lowered the sack with the ticking thing into it. Meanwhile Roadhog seemed to have fallen asleep and was slowly tipping towards Junkrat, who was forced to wake him with a sharp elbow to the gut. Mei stared with a blank face, unimpressed. She appeared to have forgotten overnight that the Junkers would be accompanying them on this mission, and she was not happy about the reminder.
“Okay!” exclaimed Mercy, clapping her hands to get everybody's attention. “It's time for us to leave. Make sure to keep a trail snack in your pocket and a water bottle handy. Stay together, and stay close to the wall. If everything goes to plan then we should be on a dropship home in twelve hours.”
They got to their feet and hoisted their heavy backpacks onto their shoulders. Then they lined up at the door, and Mercy put the base into low power mode. The lights dimmed and the air started to cool, and the odd group walked out of their base and into the cold, dark morning.
Immediately, the wind was so gusty and wild that it nearly ripped Mercy's hat off. She held it to her head as she punched in the code that locked the door. She then turned to the group and gave them a thumb's up, and they set off.
Mei took the lead, holding Snowball out in front of her so she could follow the map that he projected for her. Mercy followed her, and she was followed by Roadhog, with Junkrat bringing up the rear. Mei led them to the edge of the clearing towards a set of paths which quickly split. She took the third one without hesitation, and they all followed.
“Interesting...” Mei mumbled. “Several paths converge where our base is set up. There must have been a hub or lodge there when these trails were still in use.”
“What do you think happened to it?” asked Mercy. “We saw no signs of debris or old buildings when we chose this location to set up our base.”
Mei could only shrug. “They likely stopped maintaining the place after the hiking trails closed. Perhaps the weather tore it down over time, or maybe an avalanche swept it off the mountainside and into the ravine below.”
“Speaking of avalanches,” piped up Junkrat from the back, “are you sure it's such a good idea to be blowin' shit up when we're gonna be standing on a volcano that's already got the shakes? Don't get me wrong, I'd blow up the moon if you asked nicely, but I ain't about to start an avalanche and get knocked off a mountain for some mission I don't even care about.”
“We will assess the situation when we arrive, and determine the best course of action from there,” said Mercy, glancing over her shoulder. “However, based on the wind and the fact that the volcano is already quite active, I predict that there may not be enough snow above us to cause an avalanche in the first place. Though... we should take care to watch for rock slides.”
Junkrat grumbled something about “not getting paid enough for this,” and they all continued on, following the trail with sleepy determination.
It was slow going. The sun was not due to rise for another few hours, so they walked in the dark with only the light of their flashlights to guide them. It was oppressively cold, and the wind burned their faces as it lashed at them like icy swords. The snow was so deep that at one point they had to stop, and Roadhog had to take the lead to carve a path for them.
Even walking at the back of the group and taking care to follow everybody's footsteps, Junkrat was struggling to keep up. His peg leg kept slipping and occasionally would plunge straight through the ice and snow, trapping him for a few seconds before he could pull it out. A few times his leg got so badly stuck that he fell flat in the snow. Roadhog helped him up, but already his leg was starting to ache, his clothes were damp and cold, his nose started running, and the persistent cough he had been dealing with for the past few days came back with a vengeance. Needless to say, he was thoroughly miserable.
Junkrat was on the verge of committing a violent mutiny when, after an hour of walking, they came around the corner of the trail and saw a small building sitting tucked away from the path.
The building resembled nothing more than a small wooden shack that was tucked neatly into a crevice. Snow and ice coated the single window by the door.
“Aha!” exclaimed Mei when she caught sight of the building. She led the others towards it. “These outposts were marked on my maps, but I wasn't sure they would still be here.”
Mei let Snowball hover in place, and she took hold of the door handle and pulled, putting all of her weight behind it. Slowly, the ice broke and the snow gave way, and the door swung open with a sigh, revealing a dark and dusty interior.
They stepped inside the outpost, coughing from the dust yet shocked at how much warmer the air was inside.
“Even though it appears to be made of wood, these outposts are made of a rubber composite. They mimic wood to keep to the traditional lodge feeling that hikers used to prefer, but they're well insulated and sturdy, and they don't rot like normal wood does,” explained Mei as she closed the door and turned on the camping lantern she had brought with her. “I'm sure many adventurers and scientists used these outposts before these trails were abandoned. I also saw on the map that the trail we are currently on has the most outposts.”
With the four of them inside, it felt cramped. There was a table opposite the door and benches along the walls, and when they all sat down, their knees touched. However, it was warm, and it provided a welcome relief from the wind.
With a bit of encouraging from Mercy, everybody took the time to drink some water and eat some of the food they brought, since they had skipped breakfast. While they sat, Mercy also took the time to check her bio feedback monitor on her tablet and make sure they were calibrated.
As expected, everybody's heart rates were elevated from the laborious walk through the snow. She and Mei were within a normal healthy range, but she saw that Roadhog had higher blood pressure than normal, and Junkrat was running a slight fever.
Mercy looked up at the two Junkers sitting across from her. Roadhog was breathing heavily and still looked tired, and Junkrat was rubbing his arms to try and bring some warmth back into them. She wasn't sure if it was her imagination or the lantern light, but it looked to her as if Junkrat had lost some of his color.
However, when Mercy opened her mouth to ask the Junkers if they were feeling alright, she was cut off by a distant rumble. The rumble quickly grew into a low roar, and an earthquake jolted the outpost, making everybody jump. Outside the window, they saw several large rocks fly past, shooting over the trail and down into the ravine below.
“We should get moving,” said Mercy, quickly hoisting her bag back onto her shoulders. “If we can feel the earthquakes from here, then I fear the volcano may become too active and block our path with a rock slide.”
The others didn't argue. Instead, they picked up their bags and quickly followed Mercy out the door. Sure enough, several large boulders were sitting on the path around them, but luckily none of them were big enough to block the path. They made their way around the rocks and started back down the trail, feeling anxious yet refreshed from the short break.
“You know,” said Mei after a few minutes of silent walking, “people stopped hiking these trails when the mountain became active many years ago, so this base we're trying to find can't be ancient. It must have been built after the trails were abandoned.”
“Hm...” mumbled Mercy, “when exactly did the mountain become active? It was in the case file but I cannot recall.”
Mei flipped through one of the files in Snowball's database. “The volcano likely became active a few years before the Omnic Crisis started.”
“Ah, that's right,” said Mercy. “Between the volcano and the Omnic Crisis, it's no wonder it took so long to discover this base...”
Mei and Mercy continued to speculate on what they would find at the end of the trail, while behind them, Roadhog listened closely. He made a mental note of the timing. The fact that the mysterious base appeared in the short span of time between the volcano becoming active and the start of the Omnic Crisis was no coincidence in his mind. However, he said nothing, and kept walking.
The journey was largely uneventful for the next two hours. The snow began to thin and the path widened, making the walk easier. At one point Mercy realized that Junkrat was being unusually quiet, and when she glanced back she saw that Roadhog was carrying Junkrat on his back, and it looked as though Junkrat had fallen asleep. Sure enough, she checked his vitals and saw that he was indeed fast asleep, though his resting heart rate was still elevated.
They had walked three hours away from the base when they arrived at the next outpost, which was much larger than the first one. It was also easier to spot, as the sun had started to rise an hour ago and was now peeking over the mountain ridges, giving them plenty of light.
The tired group stepped into the outpost and took a few minutes to sit and catch their breath. Again, Mercy made everybody eat and drink. They sat in silence, looking tired and worn already, except for Junkrat who was now warm, dry, and refreshed after his nap, having woken up a few minutes before they arrived at the outpost. He was now looking out the window at the canyon below.
“I didn't realized how narrow the path was,” said Junkrat. In the pale morning light, he could see that the path was only three meters at its widest, a narrow strip of land above the clouds and rocks. It was a wonder he hadn't slipped off the side in the darkness.
“Actually...” said Junkrat, following his own train of thought, “what's down there? In the canyon.”
“Well,” explained Mei, “there are a few more trails carved into the mountain below us, but besides that it's mostly sharp rocks and snow, and at the very bottom of the canyon is a frozen river.”
Junkrat shuddered, the feeling of vertigo creeping in. He understood why Mercy told them to stay close to the wall.
After a few more minutes of respite, they headed out again. The ground would rumble every few minutes now, and they could hear the sound of rock slides in the distance. As Mercy predicted, the wind had picked up significantly since the sun rose, and the group was constantly battered by the gale, struggling to stay upright. The only benefit was that the strong winds had blown most of the snow off the rocky path, so Junkrat was able to walk easier and keep up with the group.
Time seemed to pass faster now that they could see where they were going. Before they knew it, two and a half hours and another outpost passed, and they were less than half an hour away from the target. However, they had also been walking closer and closer to the active volcano. The ground was constantly trembling, and several times they had to press themselves against the wall as the mountain shook loose some rocks and sent them flying past.
The most frightening moment happened when they were a mere five minutes from the base. There was an earthquake so sudden and strong that it brought them all to their knees. Twenty feet ahead of them on the trail, a small avalanche shot over the path in a river of rocks and snow and ice. The quaking died down after a few minutes, and the avalanche trickled to a halt. It left them all shaken, and after that they practically ran to the base.
It appeared suddenly. They followed the trail around a small bend, which revealed a large open area similar to where their base camp was. The small plateau was fifteen meters across and surrounded on three sides by the towering cliffs of the volcano. The base itself resembled nothing more than a small square of black walls poking out of one of the cliff faces. Mercy glanced up and saw that the base was indeed dug into the volcano. There was a plume of black volcanic smoke wafting out of the open maw of the mountain, a thousand feet above them.
The group walked over to the base. It was a squat little building with walls that resembled obsidian. The entrance to the base was clear of rocks and snow, but as expected, the door wouldn't budge. There was a series of large bolts above the handle that kept the door firmly closed.
“Alright boys,” said Mercy, turning to the Junkers, “your turn.”
Junkrat cackled giddily as he dove into his bag, rummaging around before pulling out a handful of C4 and a detonator.
“I'm gonna start small,” said Junkrat reassuringly as he started to shove the explosive putty into the door handle. “Don't want to blow the whole bloody thing up.”
He wired a blasting cap into the bomb, connected the detonator, and instructed everybody to step back. They moved to the opposite side of the plateau, where a deep crevice in the wall provided cover.
“Now I'm guessing this probably won't work, but that's okay because I've got quite a few tricks of my sleeve,” exclaimed Junkrat as everybody covered their ears. “Fire in the hole!”
There was a sharp cracking noise as the explosive went off like a gunshot. Unable to help themselves, they all looked directly up, expecting an avalanche. However, nothing happened.
“Yeah, the movies lie about that whole sound thing, don't they,” muttered Junkrat. “Alright, let's go see the damage!”
Junkrat stepped out from the cover and looked at the base, and his shoulders slumped with disappointment.
“Oh,” he muttered. “It worked perfectly.”
The lock and handle had been perfectly destroyed so that the door now swung freely on its hinges.
“Well done!” exclaimed Mercy as she followed Junkrat out of cover. She and Mei hustled over to the base, while Junkrat stood still with his hands in his pockets. Roadhog came up behind him and gave him a pat on the back.
“I brought enough shit to blow up a mountain and I don't even get to use 'em,” grumbled Junkrat, while Roadhog nodded understandingly. “Demolition experts my ass, they could have brought their own stick of dynamite and done that themselves. Had to walk through frozen hell and we don't even get to blow up anything fun...”
“Next time...” said Roadhog.
“Quit smilin' at me,” growled Junkrat.
Ahead, Mei and Mercy reached the door, which hung wide open. It was pitch black inside, so they brought out their flashlights again. They stepped inside and started looking for a light switch or a power source.
The Junkers walked up to the door as well. Junkrat was still muttering about not getting to use most of his explosives, when he suddenly stopped right at the threshold. Roadhog stopped behind him, looking curious.
Mercy glanced back at them. There was an odd expression on Junkrat's face, and it wasn't until later that Mercy realized it was mostly fear with a touch of recognition.
“What's wrong?” asked Mercy.
Junkrat seemed to look right through her, his eyes barely focused. “There's ghosts in there...” he whispered.
Mercy and Mei glanced at each other, unsure how to respond. Roadhog, however, responded with a gasp. His shoulders immediately tensed and his hand went to the hook at his belt.
“We'll wait out here,” he said, putting his hand on Junkrat's shoulder and quickly steering him away from the door.
“I don't understand those two...” muttered Mei, shaking her head. She then turned and continued to search the base.
Though the entrance was small, the base itself was ten times larger, clearly having been dug into the side of the mountain. It was well hidden to be sure. The interior was dark and cold and completely without power. The obsidian walls seemed to absorb the beams of light coming from their torches, so they couldn't see far.
They ventured further into the base when something suddenly loomed out of the darkness. They both jumped before realizing it was a large supercomputer that stretched from floor to ceiling, its massive monitors black and dead.
“Look at these,” said Mei, aiming her flashlight at the walls. There were long benches along the walls with tools scattered about. Upon closer inspection, they noticed desk chairs flipped over on the ground. Someone had clearly evacuated this base in a hurry, yet there was not a scrap of paper to be found.
“Ominous...” mumbled Mercy.
After a few more minutes of searching, Mei and Mercy wordlessly split up and went opposite directions, following the wall until they met again. They were unable to find any other doors, monitors, or switches that would turn on the power.
“Well,” said Mercy after she and Mei had swept through the place again, “it looks like the only source of information we have is this computer station. If we can't get the power on, perhaps we could find a hard drive and extract data from that.”
Mei nodded. “I'll have Snowball scan the area for a power source, and while he's at it I can examine these computers.”
“Excellent,” said Mercy, though she was starting to feel uneasy. Her hands were clenched tightly around her staff, and she felt a cold trickle of sweat run down the back of her neck. Something about this place was making her nervous, but she wasn't sure what.
“You know...” said Mei as she looked around, “I thought that we would find a laboratory, or something resembling a medical building. But this... it looks more like a...”
“A workshop,” finished Mercy. Mei nodded at her, and it struck Mercy why she was so uneasy. “Mei... I don't think this was built by Talon.”
“Then... who built this? And for what purpose?”
Mercy squared her shoulders and looked at the computer monitors. “I suppose we'll have to find out...”
This chapter was supposed to be like twice as long, but I realized I better split it up if I wanted to post it before Christmas. Luckily, that means half of the next chapter is already written!
Chapter 3: The Haunted Base
Junkrat and Roadhog stood in the center of the clearing, far enough from the base to feel safe yet still close enough to run inside if the ghosts that Junkrat heard started causing trouble for Mei and Mercy. Junkrat was hugging his arms and shivering more than the mountain. Roadhog wrapped an arm around him to warm him up and give him some comfort.
“It doesn't like it here...” whispered Junkrat, his voice quivering. “I think this is where it was created.”
Roadhog glanced at the entrance to the base. He could hear Mercy and Mei talking within, so he knew that if he responded loud enough for Junkrat to hear him, they would hear as well. He thought for a moment before pulling off his gloves and speaking to Junkrat in sign language.
“Earlier, Mei mentioned the mountain became active a few years before the Crisis. Maybe whoever built this place used the power from the volcano to create the...” He paused, unable to think of the word he was looking for.
“The thing,” Junkrat signed back at him. He then spoke out loud. “Yeah, I agree.”
Suddenly, Junkrat grimaced and clutched his head, gritting his teeth and covering his eyes. The flashlights in their bags flickered on and off for a few seconds.
Roadhog put his arm around him again. “It's hurting again?” he asked aloud.
“Yeah, more than usual,” groaned Junkrat, slowly removing his hands from his face and rubbing his temples as the pain faded. “There's too much electricity in the air here...”
Junkrat tried to take a deep breath, but the cold air just triggered a coughing fit.
“Ugh... we need to get out of here soon,” grumbled Junkrat after the fit subsided. “I am really not built for this weather.”
Suddenly, another earthquake hit, and lightning flashed in the plume of ash above them. Large rocks started to tumble down the mountain, so the Junkers ran for the only source of safety: the haunted base.
The second they crossed the threshold, the building suddenly flared to life. Hidden lights imbedded in the walls, floor, and ceiling suddenly lit up bright green, bathing the base in a sickly glow. The computer in the center of the room started to hum as it warmed up and powered on.
Mei and Mercy had already been tense when the earthquake started, but the Junkers barging inside and the base suddenly powering up sent them over the edge. Mei shrieked and dropped to her knees, and Mercy whipped out her pistol and only just managed to stop herself from shooting.
The Junkers also reacted badly to the sudden flare of lights. Junkrat tried to turn and run out the door only to run into Roadhog and bounce off. His peg leg went out from under him and suddenly he was on the ground with Roadhog standing over him protectively, his hook in one hand and his scrap gun in the other, pointed at Mercy. He also managed to stop himself from firing.
Mercy took a shaky breath and holstered her pistol. Roadhog put away his scrap gun but kept his hook out, looking around for any other potential threats. He then reached down and helped Junkrat to his feet.
“What did you do?” asked Mei as she pulled herself out from under a desk, trying to look dignified. “How did you get the power to turn on?”
“Oh?” said Junkrat, his voice trembling. “M-must have... tripped over a s-switch or something when we ran in...” He was looking around frantically like a cornered animal.
Mercy shook her head and leaned on her staff, still a bit weak in the knees from the scare. “It doesn't matter,” she said. “Mei, see what you can get off that computer, and hurry. We should get out of here as fast as possible.”
Mei nodded and headed over to the computer in the center of the room. The monitors lit up, but most of them were blank.
“Most of the data is gone, but there is still something left,” said Mei. “It looks like a data set about something called... the IRIS program...”
Mercy frowned. “That name... sounds familiar.” She paused for a moment before shaking her head. “We're losing daylight. Download everything you can onto your flash drive and we will analyze it back at the base.”
Mei nodded and began to download the data. While they waited, Mei began to look around again, and Mercy went over to the Junkers, who were huddling in the corner of the room, close to the entrance.
“Are you okay?” she asked them carefully.
They both shrugged. Junkrat was actively avoiding looking at her, and she could even tell that Roadhog wasn't looking at her. They were both scanning the room over and over again, looking for something. Ghosts, she imagined.
“Well,” said Mercy, ignoring the fact that they were ignoring her, “I was checking your vitals earlier and noticed some abnormalities.”
Junkrat scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Please, my whole existence is an abnormality.” He looked at her, seeming to become distracted away from being frightened. “Let me have a look and see if there's anything weirder than normal.”
Mercy pulled out her tablet and opened the bio feedback monitor, but then she stopped, surprised. While she could see Mei's, Roadhog's, and her own vitals, it appeared that Junkrat's monitor seemed to have gone offline.
“Strange...” Mercy muttered. “Let me see your arm.”
Junkrat held out his left arm, and Mercy pushed his sleeve up so she could look at his wristband. Sure enough, the little green light that indicated an active monitor was off.
“It must be a bad battery,” Mercy reasoned. She continued to examine the wristband until she noticed that the green light on her own monitor started to flicker, as if the battery was suddenly being drained. Keeping a straight face, she casually let go of Junkrat's hand, and her light stopped flickering.
“These things have batteries?” mumbled Junkrat, staring at the wristband as if trying to figure out where the battery would go in such a thin device.
“They do, but alas,” said Mercy, tactfully deciding not to mention the flickering light, “you were showing signs of ill health both physically and on the monitor before it went dark. I don't need the monitor to tell me that you're sick.”
Junkrat tried to laugh at her, but the attempt triggered a badly timed coughing fit.
“He has a cold,” said Roadhog, giving Junkrat a firm thump on the back to help him clear some of the gunk in his lungs. “Got it before we came here.”
“Oi, I was gettin' better until we came here,” gasped Junkrat. He turned and spit out the open door. “The cold weather made it worse.”
Mercy sighed. “I wish you would have told me you were feeling unwell before we left the base this morning. I could have given you something.”
Junkrat simply shrugged and went back to looking around the room.
Mercy frowned at him, but before she could say anything else, Mei spoke from by the computers.
“Done!” she exclaimed, removing the flash drive and tucking it into her pocket. “I've downloaded all the data I could find.”
“Excellent,” said Mercy with a small sigh of relief. She didn't want to admit it, but the base was feeling more and more unsafe by the minute. “Let's head back, shall we?”
Mei nodded and started to approach the group before stopping and looking around. “Wait, where did Snowball go?”
Roadhog pointed to the back of the room, at the wall opposite of the entrance. The little robot hovered there, fixated on something on the wall.
Cautiously, Mei and Mercy approached the robot, and the Junkers slowly followed behind them, their curiosity outweighing their fear.
The section of the wall that Snowball was staring at had no benches or chairs in front of it. It appeared completely blank, however, now that the lights were on they could see a faint green outline in the wall. It was a door.
“How do we open it?” wondered Mei aloud. She started to look for a handle or a button, but there was none.
“Perhaps the computer can open the door,” suggested Mercy. She glanced behind her to see Junkrat slowly removing a stick of dynamite from his bag. “No!” Junkrat sighed and put the explosive away.
Roadhog stepped forward, pressed his palm against the door, and pushed. The door gently swung open with no resistance, having been unlocked the whole time.
“Oh...” the other three muttered.
Mei and Mercy stepped forward and looked inside, with Junkrat and Roadhog standing behind them and using their height to look over their heads.
A set of stairs began at the door and led down into a massive cavernous chamber that had clearly been carved into the mountain. The obsidian stopped and the walls in this room transitioned to volcanic rock, which was lined with cracks from the tremors. Because of this, they didn't dare go further than the doorway.
The air in the cavern was extremely hot and smelled of sulfur and ozone. There was so much electricity in the air that it made their hair stand up. In the center of the cavern was a massive machine, pitch black and covered in cables and extremely sharp and dangerous looking arms. It hung from the ceiling like a massive mechanical stalactite, crackling with electricity. Directly below the monstrosity was a simple-looking worktable with its own set of mechanical arms. Green spotlights scattered around the cavern illuminated the machine, casting it in a horrifying ghostly glow.
There were tables and computers around the edge of the room. Every computer monitor was shattered, and there were burns on the benches. And worst of all, on the cavern floor surrounding the machine were several human skeletons, their bones blackened. It was no wonder the place felt haunted.
Mei and Mercy stood paralyzed, shocked at what they had found. Snowball dove into Mei's backpack to hide. In the back of the group, Junkrat clutched his head and stumbled backwards as a sudden migraine nearly brought him to his knees. Roadhog saw this and took him by the shoulders, gently pulling him away from the room.
“That's it...” whispered Junkrat, looking up at Roadhog. His eyes were wide with terror and his nose was bleeding. “That's where it happened...”
If Mei or Mercy heard this exchange, they ignored it. Mercy pulled out her tablet and began to take photos.
“What on earth is this thing?” Mei muttered.
Mercy shook her head and snapped another photo.
That was when the machine started to move.
One of the arms began to twitch. Then another. Then the machine started to hum as it powered on. Sparks started to fly off its bulk, and they saw several places start to drip oil. Green lights began appearing on the machine, and the hum grew into a roar.
That was when something small and round flew over their heads from behind them. It sailed towards the machine, and when it struck it, it exploded.
The machine caught fire instantly, the fire traveling through the tubes of oil faster than they could blink. More explosions went off from within the machine, sending chunks of metal flying. It was making a horrifying screeching noise, as if it were in pain. The entire mountain began to violently shake, and rocks started falling from the ceiling. Lava began to drip in.
Suddenly, Roadhog reached forward and grabbed Mei and Mercy by the backs of their coats, pulling them away before slamming the door closed.
“Run,” he said calmly before turning and picking up Junkrat, who was holding another bomb in his hand just in case. Roadhog sprinted out the open door of the base with Junkrat over his shoulder. Mei and Mercy ran after them. If she hadn't been so terrified, Mercy would have noticed that the power in the base instantly went off when the Junkers crossed the threshold.
The group sprinted across the open plateau and almost made it back to the path when the base exploded behind them, the shockwave strong enough to knock them off their feet. The face of the mountain that had been directly above the base began to collapse, and lava shot from the mouth of the volcano above them. The ground was shaking so hard that they were barely able to regain their feet to continue running.
The massive rock slide behind them wiped out the remnants of the base before shooting into the canyon below, mercifully falling short of sweeping the terrified group off the mountain. However, the ground continued to shake and rocks and ice continued to fall, pelting the group as they bolted down the path, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the volcano as possible.
One particularly large rock struck Mercy on the side of the head above her left ear, knocking her hat off and sending a gush of blood down the side of her neck. She collapsed, fading in and out of consciousness. Luckily, Roadhog heard her cry out, and he skidded to a stop, turning back to get her. He scooped her up, cradling her against his chest with his right arm while still holding Junkrat on his shoulder with his left arm. Then he continued to follow Mei down the path, trying to run as smoothly as possible to keep her head still.
Her vision fading, Mercy clutched her staff close to her chest and squeezed the handle, feeling waves of warm healing energy beginning to radiate from it. She felt the blood flow slowly stop before she passed out.
When Mercy drifted back into consciousness some time later, she was somewhere warm. Her vision was blurry, her head was aching, and her ears were ringing. She was still clutching her staff, so she squeezed the handle, activating the self-healing function. Within a minute, her vision cleared, her head stopped hurting, and she could hear again. Looking around, she realized she was lying on a bench in one of the outposts they had passed that morning. She also realized she could hear yelling.
She sat up and looked around. Junkrat and Roadhog were sitting on the opposite bench, and Mei was screaming at them.
“You could have killed all of us!” she yelled, a rage in her voice that Mercy had never heard before. “What were you thinking?!”
Junkrat's face was white and guilty. His nose was still bleeding freely, so his face was half covered in blood. He shook his head.
“I'm sorry...” he said, his voice sounding uncharacteristically soft. He glanced at Roadhog for support, but his poor bodyguard was doubled over with his elbows on his knees, chest heaving, still trying desperately to catch his breath from the long run.
Junkrat looked back up at Mei. “I'm sorry,” he said again. “I didn't mean for anyone to get hurt... but... it was waking up... You saw it, it was waking up! I couldn't let it... I... I had to destroy it...”
Mei was fuming. “We didn't even know what it was!” she raged.
“The... the bones-” Junkrat tried to explain, but she didn't seem to hear him.
“Our mission was to discover the purpose of that base!” Mei continued to rant, her hands shaking with anger. “And you BLEW IT UP because you got scared! There were no ghosts in there! The base wasn't haunted! It was just old machines and bones! THAT MACHINE was physical evidence of what that base was originally built for, but now we'll never know because of YOU! You've ruined everything! We've lost our main piece of evidence, we've lost the base, and now the only thing we have is a file full of codes! You made the volcano erupt, and you almost got Mercy killed! You weren't even supposed to BE HERE! You have singlehandedly ruined this mission!”
Junkrat cowered away from her accusing glare, looking at the floor. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again.
Mei took a deep breath, clearly ready to continue berating him, but Mercy had seen enough. She cleared her throat, and all three heads snapped up to look at her. Mei's rage instantly evaporated and was replaced by a flood of relief.
“Angela! You're okay!” she exclaimed, pulling Mercy into a tight and tearful hug.
“Yes, I am okay,” said Mercy, standing up. She was still a bit shaky from the blood loss, so she leaned against her staff for support. She looked at the Junkers. “And I am not angry.”
It was Mei's turn to look embarrassed. “Oh... you heard that, huh?”
“It was quite hard to miss,” said Mercy with an amused smile. Mei blushed.
Mercy looked back at the Junkers. “I'm not angry,” she repeated. “It's true, your actions were rash and dangerous, but I know you did not mean us any harm.” She looked at Mei. “While we do not know what the purpose of that machine was, it was dangerous, without a doubt. You saw those skeletons, Mei. You cannot deny that.”
“I suppose...” admitted Mei.
Mercy looked between Mei and the Junkers. “The past cannot be undone. The machine is destroyed and the base is gone, but we are all still alive. I would rather have a failed mission than a dead team. Do you all understand?”
Three heads nodded slowly.
“Good,” said Mercy, her tone now becoming strict. “There will be no more fighting amongst us. Is that understood?”
Again, they nodded.
“Excellent,” said Mercy, satisfied that they understood. She turned to Mei. “How far are we from the base camp?”
“About five hours,” said Mei, “but we have less than four hours of daylight left.”
“That's okay,” said Mercy. “Are we far enough from the volcano?”
Mei nodded. “It is still erupting, but we are several kilometers away and the geography of the mountain range will protect us from debris, although I fear the ash cloud may prevent a dropship from picking us up if the wind shifts.”
This didn't concern Mercy. Their base camp could sustain them for two weeks if necessary.
“There is no need to rush,” said Mercy. “I want everybody to take all the time they need to catch their breath and prepare for the walk back. I recommend you all eat, drink and check yourselves for injuries. We will only leave this outpost when everyone is ready.”
They did as she suggested. Mercy sipped her water for a bit as she watched them, before turning her attention to her tablet. She pulled up the photos she had taken of the machine, only to find that the massive amounts of electricity in the room had distorted them. The images were mostly static and green lights.
With a sigh, Mercy closed the photos and opened the bio monitor, which deepened her frown. It appeared that Mei was the only one who was still in relatively good shape, though her blood pressure was high from the screaming. Her own monitor indicated that her blood count and oxygen were low and her heart rate was elevated. Roadhog's oxygen was so low that she suspected he was having an asthma attack and was amazed he wasn't unconscious yet. Junkrat's monitor had somehow come back online, leading her to believe that the electricity in the base had interfered with the signal. She saw that his heart was racing and his fever had gotten worse.
Taking a deep breath, Mercy stood up and went over to Roadhog.
“Will you let me help you?” she asked him, gently resting her hand on his shoulder. Roadhog nodded and sat upright, and Mercy aimed her staff at his chest. Her staff glowed, and his breathing became easier.
“He forgot his inhaler,” said Junkrat, looking at Roadhog with concern in his eyes. “Left it in his bike, along with those gas canisters.”
Mercy shook her head. “Once again, I would have brought extra supplies if I had known you two were having trouble. I have two spare inhalers back at the base, which I would have brought if I'd known you had asthma.”
Roadhog simply shrugged.
“Well, hopefully there will be no more running during this mission,” said Mercy. Her staff completed its healing cycle, and Roadhog took a deep, painless breath.
“Thanks,” he said.
Mercy went back to her bag and pulled out her med kit, from which she removed a pair of gloves and some alcohol wipes. She returned to Junkrat, who flinched away from her.
“Don't worry, I'm just going to clean the blood off your face,” she reassured him. Junkrat gave her a funny look, which reminded her that she was also covered in blood.
“Hold still,” Roadhog said to Junkrat, who nodded. Mercy began to clean his face, one hand under his chin to hold him still and the other gently removing the dried blood from his nose and mouth. Even through her plastic gloves, she could feel the heat coming off of him. She started to think about which medicine she would give him when they got back.
After she got all the blood off, she sealed the gloves and soiled cloths in a small bio-hazard bag before sitting back down next to Mei, who had been quietly eating and drinking. She could feel her strength returning to her, and hoped that they would be ready to leave soon.
There was silence for a while before Mei spoke up.
“So...” she said to Mercy, “what did you think about the base?”
Mercy frowned and tried to put all her thoughts together. “It doesn't look like something Talon would know about, because they tend to destroy their old bases rather than leave something valuable for anyone to find. Now... that name that you saw on the computer, IRIS. I swear I've heard that name before, but I just can't place it...”
Unconsciously, her eyes drifted over to Junkrat, who quickly looked away from her. His expression looked guilty and haunted. A strange suspicion suddenly manifested in her head: the Junkers knew what the base was, and what that machine had been for. That was why they had been so frightened, and why they destroyed the machine so quickly. But how could they know?
Mei followed Mercy's eyes to the Junkers, who were both starting to look fidgety and anxious.
“What's wrong?” asked Mei, making an effort to sound gentle. “You aren't still upset with me for yelling, are you?”
Junkrat shook his head and looked out the window. “Nah, I would'a yelled too if I were you. It's just... I think that ghost is following us. It wants that flash drive.”
Mei jumped a bit and pulled the drive out of her pocket, having forgotten about it in all the chaos. She handed it to Mercy.
“I suppose this is the only data that remains from that base,” said Mercy as she tucked it into her bag for safekeeping. “But... nobody else knows that we're out here. They don't know what we have. We don't even know what we have! It's not possible for us to have been followed.”
“Not probable, but possible,” said Roadhog quietly, his voice suddenly sounding ominous.
There was silence for a moment, as if they were all listening for somebody outside. That silence was interrupted, however, by the rumbling of yet another earthquake.
“We should leave,” said Mei, standing up. “The volcano is still erupting, so the earthquakes will be worse. There's a risk that a rock slide could block our path.”
Mercy stood up as well. “She's right. Are you two feeling well enough to continue?”
The Junkers nodded wordlessly and stood up, slinging their bags onto their backs.
They stayed close together as they left the base. The wind was somehow stronger than it had been that morning, and a thick layer of clouds were moving in. Still, they pushed on with Mei at the front of the group, followed by Mercy, then Junkrat with Roadhog bringing up the rear. Junkrat kept occasionally glancing back behind them, looking for ghosts.
After about an hour of walking, Mei coaxed Snowball out of her backpack so she could check the radar.
“How does it look?” asked Mercy, peering over Mei's shoulder.
“Not good,” said Mei, allowing Snowball to return to her backpack. “There's a front moving in, so the weather is going to get much worse.”
They continued on, until they were ten minutes away from the outpost that marked the halfway point. Mei was thinking they might have to stop and spend the night in the outpost if the weather got worse. Mercy had fallen back a bit and was walking side by side with Junkrat, who looked exhausted. The snow was getting deeper, so he was having a harder time walking. Not only that, but the sun was setting and the temperature was dropping, and the clouds and wind had kicked up a haze that made it hard to see.
Roadhog walked at the back of the group, keeping an eye on Junkrat in case he stumbled or his leg got stuck. He was just thinking that there hadn't been an earthquake in a while before the hair on the back of his neck stood up and the ground jumped. The path was rocked by a powerful earthquake, and a loud rumbling roar filled the air as the quake triggered an avalanche that rushed down at them.
A blast of snow hit Roadhog full in the face, covering his mask and completely blocking his vision. He heard screaming and Mei yelling to get against the wall. Instinctively, his hand shot out and he grabbed hold of Junkrat, pushing him against the wall and then using his body to shield him. Rocks and snow and ice flew past at incredible speed, and something hit Roadhog's left shoulder, dislocating it.
After what seemed like an eternity, the avalanche lightened and then stopped. Roadhog took a deep, shuddering breath. Unable to move his left arm, he reached up with his right and wiped away the snow before looking down.
His heart stopped. He was not looking at Junkrat, but Mercy, staring up at him with wide eyes and a pale face, trapped between his bulk and the cliff face.
In the confusion, he had grabbed the wrong person.
Slowly, painfully slowly, he turned in a circle, looking around. The path was empty. Junkrat and Mei were nowhere to be found.
Moving like a sleepwalker, Roadhog walked to the edge of the path and carefully got down on his knees, looking into the crevice below. It was too snowy and foggy to see anything.
Wordlessly, Mercy joined him, and together they sat, still as statues, looking down in the canyon.
After several minutes, they finally saw movement. Something small was rising from the gloom. It wasn't until it was hovering right in front of them that they realized it was Snowball.
The little robot projected a video. Mei's face appeared. There were scrapes and cuts on her face, and one of the lenses of her glasses was cracked.
“We're okay,” said Mei in the recording. “We both landed on the path below. This trail also leads back to the base, but it may take us a bit longer to get there. Go ahead and we'll meet you there. You can track us from the base.”
The recording ended. Snowball chirped at them before returning to the depths, flying back to Mei. Roadhog sat back and tried to breathe.
He suddenly jumped and cried out in pain as Mercy snapped his shoulder back into its socket. The pain faded in an instant, and then disappeared completely when she turned her staff on him.
“We should listen to her,” said Mercy as she continued to heal his shoulder, her face white and her hands shaking slightly. “T-these mountains are unstable, and we won't be of any use if we're s-swept into the ravine or crushed by rocks.”
Roadhog knew she was right, but that did nothing to dull his urge to fling himself over the edge, or to try and climb down the vertical icy cliff face. He desperately wanted to make sure Junkrat was okay, but he knew that the best way to do that was to follow Mercy. So, reluctantly, he agreed. He stood and helped Mercy to her feet, then he followed her down the path.
Mei sat in the deep snow, looking up at the foggy cliff and waiting for Snowball to return. She could barely see the trail they had just fallen from, and frankly she was amazed at how lucky they had been to land on this trail and not be thrown into the canyon below.
While she waited, she took a moment to check herself for injuries. She was covered in cuts and bruises, and her glasses were cracked. Her feet, legs, and bottom ached from breaking her fall, and there was a deep throbbing pain in her left wrist. She could feel it beginning to swell beneath her glove and was worried it might be broken. However, it could have been much worse. They had fallen over fifty feet and were lucky that there was a thick layer of snow on the path.
In a snowbank a few feet away, Junkrat was lying flat on his back, looking winded and dazed. He hadn't been entirely conscious when Mei recorded her message, but he wasn't bleeding profusely and his occasional groan indicated that he was alive, so Mei had reported that he was okay.
Mei looked up again and smiled with relief when she saw Snowball hovering above her. She had been worried about him flying in the high winds and happily welcomed him back into her arms.
“Okay, let's see the map,” she said, and Snowball obliged. She spent a moment studying the map that Snowball projected and was relieved to see that there was an outpost a short walk down the trail. Darkness was falling quickly, and the temperature was dropping faster than before, so they had to find shelter as soon as possible.
While she was looking at the map, Junkrat drifted back into consciousness with a low groan.
“Ow...” he muttered, sounding breathless.
Mei looked over at him. “Are... are you okay?” she asked, although she could immediately tell from how still he was that he was injured.
“Landed on my side...” said Junkrat, still sounding like he was struggling to breathe. His right arm remained stiff and motionless, though his left hand drifted up and carefully touched his chest. “Fuck... landed on my arm... Think I cracked some ribs... It hurts to breathe.”
Mei felt a pit of dread in her stomach. She shakily stood on her aching feet and moved over to Junkrat, kneeling down next to him. While she had broken her fall with her legs, he had apparently broken his fall with the entire right side of his body. There was a large bruise forming on his right cheek, his prosthetic arm looked damaged, and the knee of his prosthetic leg was cracked and sparking. She hadn't seen any blood because all of his damage was likely internal. If he wasn't able to walk, she didn't know what she would do. She was also injured, so she wouldn't be able to carry him, and she couldn't just leave him.
Shaking her head a bit to clear it, Mei thought to herself: what would Mercy do?
“Okay,” she said carefully, “I have a med kit in my bag, but this is no place to administer first aid. We need to get to shelter. There's an outpost less than half an hour down the trail. Do you think you can walk that far?”
Junkrat immediately nodded, trying to appear unconcerned although it was clear he was simply trying to mask the pain. “Yeah, but it's gonna be slow. My leg got fucked up too.” He began an attempt to sit up, but as soon as he started moving, he instantly became winded and deathly pale, and Mei was worried he would pass out.
“Okay, let me help,” said Mei. She moved Junkrat's right arm so it was snug against his chest. “Try and keep your arm in that position. Don't move it too much if you can help it.”
Junkrat nodded and kept his arm still, though he took a moment to slip the strap of his backpack off his right shoulder. Mei saw this and removed the left strap as well. Then she knelt behind him and used her good arm to carefully push him upright. He bit his lip and winced, but once he was upright it was a bit easier to breathe. Mei picked up his backpack and slung it onto her back, on top of her own pack. Then she offered him a hand and slowly and carefully pulled him to his feet.
Almost instantly, his prosthetic leg gave out with a sharp crack, and he would have fallen again had Mei not sprung forward and wrapped her arms around his waist in what looked like an awkward hug. It was the only way she could think to support him without hurting him, but it unfortunately meant that she had to press herself against him, using her whole body to support him.
Holding onto her shoulders for balance and seemingly oblivious to the proximity, Junkrat shifted all his weight to his left leg, then looked down at his busted prosthesis.
“Stupid thing,” he growled. “Gimme a sec.” He used his height to reach over Mei's head and into his backpack, where he pulled out a wrench and screwdriver. Mei stood frozen, her face burning with embarrassment. Luckily, due to their height difference, Junkrat didn't notice that her face was bright red. Unfortunately, that was because her face was pressed into his stomach because of the way he was leaning. She was starting to wish she had just let him fall.
“Can ya prop me against the wall?” asked Junkrat. Mei wordlessly nodded, and she and Junkrat awkwardly shuffled a few feet to the side, so he could lean against the cliff face. Mei let go of him and quickly turned away, pulling her scarf down a bit so the cold air would force the color from her face.
Junkrat carefully leaned over and worked on his leg, resetting the knee so that it would bear weight again. It was a quick, temporary fix, and he knew he would have to spend most of his time later fixing it properly. For now, however, it would hold.
“Okay, I think I'm good,” said Junkrat. He took a small step forward and carefully put a bit of pressure on the leg. It held, but it hurt more than normal. He took a few more steps, and his limp was significantly worse. The jarring walking motion also sent a sharp wave of pain through his broken ribs.
Mei gave a sigh of defeat. “Here, lean on me,” she said, placing herself on his left side and wrapping her good arm around his waist.
“Thanks, Snowflake,” he said, sounding grateful.
“Don't call me that.”
He leaned against her, his right arm tucked close to his body and his left hand firmly gripping her shoulder for support. They started to walk down the path, slow and stumbling at first before getting into a groove and picking up the pace, though it was still exhausting and difficult to walk through the deep snow.
They didn't talk, but Mei's mind was racing. She felt conflicted. When Junkrat and Roadhog had arrived the night before, she immediately pegged Junkrat as trouble. Though she tried to avoid judging people before she got to know them, she found it hard with him. She had seen the files and reports about him that described him as dangerous and insane, so she obviously had a bad first impression. However, since his arrival she had only seen danger in him when he blew stuff up. Everything else was incredibly human.
She had expected him to get angry when she started yelling at him, but he had looked guilty and ashamed. And now he seemed genuinely grateful that she was helping him. She found that the more time she was spending with him, he was starting to look less like a face on a wanted poster and more like a hyperactive man with a caffeine addiction and a tendency towards pyromania. He was clearly more complex than his file made him out to be, and she was embarrassed that it took her this long to realize it.
Well, she thought to herself, your opinion of him started at rock bottom. It can only go up from here...
While Mei was occupied with her introspective narrative, Junkrat found that his mind was becoming more and more blank and foggy. Every step was an effort, even with Mei's support. His breathing was shallow and pained, and it felt like the entire right side of his body was slowly shutting down. Not only that, but he was freezing cold and beyond exhausted, having almost no body fat to keep him warm or store energy. He knew that if they didn't find shelter soon, he was going to black out, and Mei would have to either drag him or leave him to freeze. He wasn't entirely sure what she would choose.
Luckily, Mei didn't have to make the choice. After a slow and laborious hour of walking, they finally spotted the outpost. It had taken them twice as long as Mei said it would because of how carefully they had to move and how deep the snow was, but luckily the last dying ray of sunlight was enough to let them spot the small hut.
The outpost was tucked back into a crevice in the cliff face. It was smaller than any of the others they had stopped at that day, but neither of them cared. They made their way to the door, and Mei pulled it open, revealing a dusty interior with two chairs, a small table, and enough space on the floor for two sleeping bags.
Mei led Junkrat to the chairs and helped him sit in the one against the wall. He breathed an exhausted sigh of relief and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall. He looked pale and shaky, and his breathing sounded worse; it had been shallow before, but now it sounded ragged and pained.
Mei set their bags down on the table and sat down across from Junkrat. She pulled the camping lantern out of her bag and turned it on, filling the dark outpost with warm yellow light. Then, with the help of the light, she rifled through her bag before finding the med kit Mercy had given her. She was slightly surprised to see two med kits, before remembering that Mercy had prepared six. Mercy had likely kept two for herself, given Mei two, and split the remaining two between the Junkers. Sure enough, Mei spotted the med kit hooked onto the side of Junkrat's bag.
Well, she thought, at least we won't be lacking in pain medicine...
She opened the first med kit and saw a very organized variety of bottles, bandages, gloves, splints, and wipes. She smiled when she saw that Mercy had written on every bottle with a marker, clearly labeling what each medicine did.
Mei picked up the bottle labeled Pain Meds (Drowsy), opened it one-handed, and poured four pills into her palm. According to the bottle, that would be enough for eight hours.
“Here,” she said, handing the pills to Junkrat. He opened one eye long enough to see what he was holding, then he gave a small nod and swallowed the pills dry before closing his eye again. He went back to trying to catch his breath.
Mei looked at him for a moment before focusing on her hand. She carefully pulled her mitten off and pushed her sleeve up to inspect her wrist. It was dark purple and had swelled to twice its normal size. She could barely bend it, but luckily all of her fingers were still behaving normally, though her thumb was a bit stiff.
With a sigh, Mei picked up another bottle from the med kit, this one labeled Pain Meds (Non-drowsy). She took a much lower dose than what she had given Junkrat, then she pulled out the bandages and splint and began trying to wrap her hand up.
“Need some help?”
Mei jumped a bit and looked up at Junkrat, who was watching her with tired eyes. The way the light from the lantern was hitting him made it look like his amber eyes were glowing in the dark.
“Um... sure,” said Mei, handing the bandages over and holding out her arm. Junkrat gingerly leaned forward and began to gently splint and bandage Mei's wrist. She was surprised by how carefully and quickly he worked; it became clear that he was experienced at bandaging broken things.
In less than a minute, he had her wrist stable and wrapped. Then he sat back with a small groan, reached under the table, and took his leg off. He wordlessly set it on the table and pulled the wrench and screwdriver out of his jacket pocket before going back to work.
Mei watched in silence for a moment as he reset the delicate mechanisms in the knee, using the same care and focus that he had used to bandage her wrist. While she watched his hands work, she noticed that they were shaking, and looking up she realized that she could see their breath. The sun had fully set, so the temperature was plummeting.
Reaching into her bag, Mei dug out a small device that was slightly larger than the camping lantern. It was a small space heater that she had invented. The solar-powered batteries were full, having been plugged into Snowball's battery pack and charging all day. She turned the heat on full blast and set it on the floor, and within three minutes it had warmed up enough in the outpost for her to take her jacket, mittens, hat, and scarf off.
She watched Junkrat and saw his hands slowly stop shaking, and he started to relax a bit as the air warmed.
“How do you feel?” asked Mei after a few more minutes of silence.
“A bit better since the meds are kickin' in,” said Junkrat, not looking up from his work. “Still... still hurts to breathe too deep though.” As if to illustrate this point, he tried to take a deep breath, but it kept hitching.
There was quiet for another moment. Junkrat set down his tools and held his leg up to the lantern, inspecting it.
“There, good as new,” he said, still sounding exhausted yet satisfied with his handiwork. He glanced down at his right leg and his smile fell. “Oh... I was gonna put it back on but the damn leg's bleedin' again. Can I get some of those bandages?”
Mei slid a roll of bandages across the table. Junkrat nodded then started to work on something on his stump. She couldn't see what he was doing because the table was in the way, but a moment later he set a slightly bloodstained sock on the table. Mei recognized it as a sock often worn by amputees to protect the remains of a limb. She was slightly concerned about the bloodstains, but she jumped when Junkrat produced a handful of blood-soaked bandages from under the table.
“Goodness!” she gasped. She quickly handed him one of the bio-hazard bags from the med kit, and he stuffed the bandages inside.
“Yeah,” said Junkrat, taking the fresh bandages and going back to work on his leg, “that's why I don't much like walking. Lost the leg about a year and a half ago, so it's still pretty fresh. Plus the new leg don't fit right, so if I walk too much or twist it funny it just rips everything open again.”
“You need to tell Mercy about this,” said Mei. “I know she would be able to help.”
Junkrat scoffed. “Yeah, yeah, that's what Roadhog said too. You two would get along well.”
He finished bandaging his leg and put his sock back on. Satisfied that he had stopped most of the bleeding, he set his prosthetic leg aside and went to work on his arm.
“Look,” he said, holding his arm close to the light so Mei could see, “here's the part I fell on.” He pointed to the casing around his wrist, which was badly dented on one side.
Mei grimaced. She could see how sturdy the casing looked, so it clearly would have required a lot of force to dent the metal. He had dented it by landing on it, with his chest bearing the brunt of the impact. It was no wonder he broke some ribs – in fact, she was amazed he hadn't punched a hole in his side.
Before Mei could express these concerns, Snowball, who had been charging in her backpack, suddenly woke up. He hovered above her bag and projected a screen which read “Incoming Message.”
The screen changed to the image of Mercy and Roadhog standing in the base, looking windburned and worried. They were breathing hard and still in their jackets.
“Are you safe?” asked Mercy, looking back and forth at Mei and Junkrat and also trying to see their environment.
“Yes, we're safe,” said Mei. “We found an outpost to spend the night in. According to my map, we are probably a day and a half away from the base camp.”
Mercy breathed a small sigh of relief before immediately looking worried again. “I'm looking at your vital signs and it appears that both of you are injured. What's your status?”
Mei held her bandaged wrist up to the camera.
“And I broke my ribs,” added Junkrat with a smile.
Behind Mercy, Roadhog sighed and shook his head. Mercy was frowning.
“Unfortunately, I cannot do anything to heal you until you return to the base,” she said. “But... until then, take pain medication, stay warm, and don't move the broken parts. If you can.”
“Good advice, doc,” said Junkrat, a touch sarcastically. Mercy ignored him.
“What does the weather forecast look like?” asked Mei.
Mercy shook her head. “It isn't good. There's a storm coming, and the forecast predicts that it will hit tomorrow, late in the morning. Make sure you have shelter when it hits.”
Mei nodded. “According to my map there's another outpost a few hours down the trail. It's a long walk, but we should be able to make it there before the storm hits.”
“Good,” said Mercy. “Oh, and on a brighter note, the volcano has stopped erupting, and the earthquakes have been decreasing in frequency and intensity. The only problem is that the wind is beginning to shift, and the ash will likely prevent a dropship from picking us up. Otherwise I would have sent a dropship to meet you on your path.”
“Don't worry about us,” said Mei. “You can track Snowball from the base, so you should know where we are. We'll try to be careful.”
Mercy smiled a bit. “I wish you good luck. I will try to keep in touch, but the storm may interfere with communication. Just know, I've got my eye on you.”
At that point, Roadhog leaned forward over Mercy's shoulder and stared intently at the camera. Junkrat smiled.
“Aw, ya big lug, that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me,” said Junkrat, his face without a trace of pain for the first time since the fall.
“Make sure to eat dinner and get a good night's rest,” said Mercy. “We will talk to you tomorrow!”
With that, they signed off. Snowball chirped at Mei before returning to his charger.
“Well, doctor's orders,” said Mei, reaching into her back and pulling out a handful of rations. They had brought enough food to last a week between the two of them, so Mei didn't worry about them running out. She helped herself to a food packet and slid a second one across the table to Junkrat. She was ravenous after the long exhausting day, so it wasn't until after she finished her meal that she noticed that Junkrat wasn't eating.
“What's wrong?” asked Mei. “Are you not hungry?”
Junkrat took a small sip of water and stared blankly at the table. “I don't feel too good...” he muttered.
Mei leaned forward and pressed the back of her hand against his forehead. “You definitely have a fever,” she said, frowning.
“I've had that since yesterday,” said Junkrat, his voice sounding more and more weary. He looked like he was having trouble keeping his eyes open.
“That didn't seem to stop you yesterday,” said Mei. “You ate like a starving man last night.”
Junkrat groaned and leaned over, one hand carefully drifting up towards his chest. “Yeah, but now I can't b-... b-...”
Suddenly struggling for air, Junkrat let out one sharp, deep cough, which was immediately followed by a strangled gasping noise as a coughing fit overtook him. However, the pain in his chest was preventing him from coughing, so he ended up hyperventilating and dry heaving.
Mei jumped to her feet, afraid that he was having a seizure, but after a minute the struggle subsided and Junkrat slowly sat upright, composing himself. His face was white and he was shaking.
“Shit, this is gonna suck,” he gasped, trying desperately to catch his breath. He was also breathing as shallowly as possible to avoid another coughing fit. “I have a cold that makes me cough and broken ribs that make coughing agony.”
Mei slowly sat back down. She opened the med kit and started looking through it.
“Got any cough suppressant in there?” asked Junkrat, seeing what she was doing.
Mei looked for another minute or two before shaking her head. “Sorry, but no.”
Junkrat sighed a bit. “Alright, I'll work around it... no more coughing.”
Mei frowned. She knew it wasn't healthy for him to repress the coughing, but she imagined it would be worse if he coughed too hard and one of the broken ribs punctured his lung. They were lucky that hadn't happened in the first place, because Mei had no idea how to handle that.
“Are you tired?” asked Junkrat, breaking Mei's train of thought. “I know I am. I also know you gave me the drowsy meds instead of the normal ones.”
Mei blushed. “Oh... you saw that?”
Junkrat smiled a bit. “'Course I did, and I know why. You just want me to get a good night sleep so I can get better. Right, Snowflake?”
“Don't call me that.”
Junkrat chuckled and reached for the sleeping bag hooked onto his backpack. “Help me out, would ya?”
Mei stood up and removed Junkrat's and her own sleeping bags, setting them on the table. She then moved her chair out of the way and laid out the two bags. Unfortunately, because the outpost was so small, the only way she could arrange them was side by side, with only a few inches between them.
Junkrat put his leg back on so he could make the short walk to his sleeping bag. Already, his right side felt stiff and hot, and his leg screamed with every step. Mei gave him a hand and helped him sit down on his sleeping bag, and he was able to take his leg off again.
Mei sat down and started to take off her boots, and Junkrat removed his arm and carefully pulled his jacket off. He then lifted his shirt to look at his chest, and he and Mei both gasped. There was a dark purple and red bruise blooming across his torso. There were also a few deep fissures in his side, where tiny streams of blood were leaking out. The impact point, where he had landed on his arm, looked raw and swollen.
“Yeah, let's not look at that,” said Junkrat, pulling his shirt back down. He glanced at Mei and saw the concern in her eyes. “Don't worry, Snowflake, I've had worse.”
Mei didn't bother to respond. A few minutes later, they were both tucked into their sleeping bags, and Mei turned out the lantern. The only source of light came from the red glow of the heater in the corner. Junkrat was lying flat on his back, and Mei was curled up on her side, facing away from him.
They laid there in silence for several minutes, listening to the howling of the wind and the rumbling of the mountain in the distance. Just as Mei was starting to drift off to sleep, however, Junkrat spoke up.
“You don't seem to like me and Roadie, do ya?”
Mei opened her eyes, suddenly wide awake. “Well, I'm not in the habit of befriending international criminals,” she said firmly.
Junkrat let out a small half gasp, half laugh. “When you look at the big picture, us stealing some shit probably isn't really that big of a deal.”
Mei shot a glare over her shoulder, which was lost in the dark. “I've heard about you on the news! Haven't you two stolen millions of dollars by now?”
Junkrat shrugged. “I dunno how much we stole. We're not really in it for the money, we just needed enough to fill up a cart.”
“Not in it for the money? Then... what was the whole point of the crime spree?”
There was a long pause. Mei could almost hear Junkrat debating whether or not to answer, although she figured the fact that he was exhausted, in pain, and drowsy from the painkillers may have been making him more willing to share than normal. Her guess was right, because Junkrat answered after a few minutes.
“At first it was about getting revenge and getting back home, but when I got out there, I really figured it out. Everyone forgot about us. The whole world forgot about us. They thought everything got better after the Crisis, but it didn't. Roadie and I want to remind everyone that Junkertown exists, even though they're trying so hard to forget.”
Junkrat's voice broke, and he let out a few weak coughs and gasps, then there was silence. Slowly, Mei rolled over onto her back and looked at him. He was staring at the ceiling, eyes half closed and glassy.
“Why did you even agree to come here?” she asked, her voice quiet.
Junkrat smiled. “When one of the best mech fighters in Junkertown asks you for a favor, ya don't ask questions.”
Mei sat upright in shock. “What do you mean best mech fighter in Junkertown?!” she exclaimed.
Junkrat's smile widened and he laughed before closing his eyes and grimacing. “Uh... I'll explain later... or maybe she will, since you seem to know her...”
Mei stared at him for a minute. She expected him to open his eyes again, but he didn't. Instead, his face relaxed and his breathing evened out as he fell asleep.
Perplexed, Mei shook her head and laid back down. Some time later – minutes or hours, she was not sure – she fell asleep. Outside, the snow began to fall.
I had to keep banging my head against my keyboard to prevent this chapter from turning sexy lmao (because I ship these two waaaay too hard). Anyways, hopefully the next chapter will be out soon, since the holidays are coming up and I have time off from work. Until then, have a fun and safe holiday!
Chapter 5: The Storm
This is such a long chapter but it's also really good. Have fun.
Mei woke up at sunrise the next morning with something hot resting against her right cheek. Her eyes snapped open and she looked to her right. She saw that Junkrat had rolled over in his sleep onto his uninjured left side, and the back of his left hand was leaning against her face.
She scooted over a bit so his hand was no longer touching her, although she wondered why his hand was so hot in the first place. She sat up, stretching and then immediately groaning at how sore she was. Her feet, legs, and bottom felt like they were made of stone, her back hurt from sleeping on the floor, and her injured wrist was throbbing. She peeked under the blankets at her bare feet and saw that they were bruised and swollen.
Sighing at the thought of the long walk ahead, Mei reached up and took her glasses from the table. She put them on and looked over at Junkrat, and that was when she noticed a thin trickle of blood coming out of the corner of his mouth. Not only that, but his breathing sounded funny. Carefully, Mei leaned over and pressed her hand against his forehead. Sure enough, he was burning up.
Although she tried to be gentle, the light touch was enough to wake Junkrat up. He blinked his eyes open, looking dazed and confused for a minute before slowly remembering where he was. He rolled onto his back with a groan and rubbed his eyes.
“Wow, can't believe I actually slept through the night,” he mumbled, still sounding half asleep. “Been a while since I've done that.”
“How are you feeling?” asked Mei carefully as she turned to face him.
“Better than yesterday,” he lied with a smile. “Why do ya ask?”
“You're bleeding,” she said, pointing to his mouth.
“Oh,” said Junkrat, running the back of his hand over his mouth and coming away bloody. “Yeah, that happens sometimes. Radiation, y'know.”
As he spoke, he picked up his prosthetic arm and strapped it on, clenching and relaxing his fist to warm up the joints. Then he delicately pushed himself into a sitting position, breaking out in a cold sweat with the effort.
In the cold light of day, he looked much worse than he had the night before. There was no color in his face except for the large bruise on his right cheek and under his eye, and Mei thought his lips looked slightly blue. As soon as he was upright, he shuddered and started rubbing his arms for warmth, even though the heater in the corner was still keeping the outpost warm.
“You look awful,” said Mei.
“Yeah, well you don't look too rosy either,” Junkrat replied. He suddenly let out a single sharp cough, and blood started dripping from his nose as well as his mouth. “Fuck, hand me my jacket, would ya?”
Startled by the sudden bleeding, Mei snatched his jacket from the table and quickly handed it to him. He rummaged in one of the inner pockets before pulling out a small orange bottle with pills in it. He picked up his water bottle, removed a purple pill from the bottle, and took it. Almost instantly, his nose stopped bleeding, and when he wiped away the blood, it didn't return.
“There, all better,” he said, replacing the bottle and gingerly putting on his jacket.
“What was that?” asked Mei, gesturing to his pocket.
“The pills? They help with the radiation poisoning.”
Mei frowned at him. “Do you know what's in the pills?” she asked, genuinely curious.
Junkrat gave a lopsided shrug. “I dunno, ask Roadhog. He invented them, then that scientist buddy of his improved 'em so they work better.”
Mei stared, thrown off by his response. “Wait, what? I have several questions...”
“Well, we can walk and talk,” said Junkrat as he bent over and put two socks on his left foot. “Didn't Mercy say there's a storm coming?”
“Oh, right!” exclaimed Mei, quickly getting to her feet and pulling on her socks, boots, and jacket, then gathering her things.
They spent the next ten minutes getting ready. Mei laid out two packets of freeze-dried fruits along with a handful of pain and fever pills, then she rolled up her sleeping back and tucked it away. She waited until Junkrat was fully dressed to pack up the heater.
Junkrat managed to get himself dressed and packed without standing up. The stump of his right leg was badly swollen, so he wanted to avoid putting pressure on it until the last second. Not only that, but his entire body ached from the fall yesterday. His chest felt tight, he couldn't move his right arm much without a stabbing pain in his shoulder and neck, and it felt like his lungs were full of water. He didn't dare peek under his shirt.
“Ready to head out?” asked Mei when she saw that Junkrat had rolled up his sleeping bag.
“Yeah, just... give me a hand, would ya?”
Mei nodded and took Junkrat's outstretched left hand with her right, and she slowly and carefully pulled him to his feet. The second he was upright, his vision swam and a pounding headache appeared. He would have tipped over had Mei not been holding onto him.
“Here, sit down,” instructed Mei as she maneuvered him into one of the seats. “Take these.”
It took a moment for Junkrat's vision to return, but once it did he saw that she was holding a handful of pills. He took them without question.
“Those weren't the drowsy ones, were they?” he asked, only halfway sarcastic.
“No, they were the normal ones,” said Mei dryly. “I'm not in the mood to carry you to the next outpost.”
“How thoughtful,” said Junkrat with a smile. The blind spots in his vision were starting to fade as the medicine brought his fever back down, and the shivering was starting to lessen.
“Here,” said Mei, dropping one of the bags of freeze-dried fruits into his hands. “You have to eat, or you're going to keep passing out every time you stand.”
Junkrat rolled his eyes at her, but he still popped one of the fruit chips into his mouth. Now that the pain was fading, he found his appetite returning.
“Can we leave now?” he asked after a few minutes. “I wanna get back as soon as possible.”
Mei nodded and offered Junkrat a hand again, but he declined. Using the table for leverage, he carefully pushed himself to his feet, putting almost all of his weight on his left leg. He had successfully repaired his right leg the previous night, but it was still painful to walk on, and every lurching limp sent a stab of pain through his ribs.
“You really look terrible,” said Mei as she put on her own backpack, then Junkrat's.
“Shut up, Snowflake,” grumbled Junkrat.
Mei didn't respond. Instead, she opened the door and the two of them walked out into the cold white nothing.
Mercy sat at the table, a cup of hot coffee in one hand and her tablet showing Junkrat and Mei's vitals in the other hand. Her foot was tapping and her eyes were heavy from the lack of sleep. There were no showers in the base, so though she had tried to wash it in the sink, her hair still smelled of blood.
She looked over the bio monitor one more time. Mei was stable, if a bit better, but Junkrat looked like he had gotten worse in the night. His temperature and blood pressure were higher than they had been the night before, and his oxygen level was much lower.
Mercy sighed and looked out the window. The sun was up, at least according to the clock. The thick white cloud cover prevented her from actually seeing the sun. However, she knew that Mei and Junkrat would be on the move soon now that it was light enough to see.
A large yawn escaped her, and in response she drained her coffee mug then stood to refill it from the pot in the kitchen. Last night had been rough. She and Roadhog had been physically and emotionally exhausted by the time they returned to the base, and though they knew that the other two were safe in an outpost, neither of them could sleep. Mercy had laid awake in her bed for hours, staring at the bio monitor on her tablet and listening to the sound of Roadhog pacing the length of his room. She hadn't seen him yet this morning, so she hoped he was getting some much needed sleep.
She returned to the table and glanced at the laptop she had set up. The screen showed the digital map of the area along with radar. It was too weak to track the wrist bands, but it was able to track Snowball, who had his own comms system. Snowball was represented on the map by a glowing golden dot, which eventually began to move down the trail towards the next marked outpost. Mercy noticed that they were moving slowly, and she glanced at the approaching storm on the radar, wondering if they would be able to make it to safety before it hit.
She took another sip of her coffee and glanced up. She jumped when she saw Roadhog standing silently in the doorway of his room, watching her.
“You scared me!” she exclaimed, setting down her coffee. “What are you...” She trailed off when she noticed that he was fully dressed. In an instant, she realized he was about to leave.
“Oh no you don't!” exclaimed Mercy, standing up.
Roadhog turned and started walking towards the door. Mercy sprinted in front of him and stood blocking the door with her arms out, even though she knew he could easily overpower her. However, he stopped when he reached her.
“You can't go out there,” she said firmly, trying to stare past his mask. “You have no map. You'll get lost or fall into a ravine, and besides, the storm is going to hit soon. You won't find them in time!”
“I have to try,” said Roadhog, his deep voice quiet. He tried to reach past Mercy for the door handle, but she blocked him, holding her ground.
“No you don't!” she exclaimed, glaring at him. “They are coming to us! You know that, you can see that! They have a map and supplies, and Mei is beyond capable of navigating terrain like this, which is why she was sent on this mission in the first place. They'll make it here, you just have to be patient and not get yourself killed!”
Roadhog quickly turned to the table and snatched Mercy's tablet, shoving it into her hands.
“You said it yourself yesterday,” he growled. “He's sick and injured... he needs me...”
Mercy heard his voice crack, and her resolve crumbled. She looked at the increasingly negative readings on the tablet, then back at Roadhog. She could see that he was beyond worried about Junkrat.
Sighing, she took a step forward and put a hand on his arm. “I understand,” she said sincerely. “But... you're of no use to anybody if you die of hypothermia or fall to your death. Please, stay here until the storm passes. Then they'll be closer and we can meet them halfway.”
Roadhog was quiet for a long time. Mercy thought she felt him lean slightly into her hand, then he sighed and stepped back. Wordlessly, he pulled his gloves off and turned, walking back to the room he and Junkrat had shared before the mission started. He closed the door behind him.
Mercy breathed a long sigh of relief and let her shoulders relax. She looked out the window for a minute before going back to the table to watch the monitors. Outside, it was starting to snow.
Mei led the way down the trail, with Junkrat following close behind her. It was far colder and windier than the day before. The air was thick with snow, as the wind would whip it off the trail or send it raining down on them in mini avalanches. Luckily, the strong winds had blown most of the snow off the path, so Junkrat was able to walk easier. The mountains also seemed calmer. They had only experienced one minor earthquake since the strong one that had separated them from the group.
Mei held Snowball tightly in her hands, using him to navigate. She was so focused that she didn't talk, so as they walked, Junkrat felt his mind start to wander. He found himself thinking of home.
Hugging his prosthetic arm close to his chest for warmth, his mind drifted back to the wasteland. He remembered an incident when he was a kid, no older than thirteen. He had been out in the wasteland by himself late at night, scavenging for parts. While digging through a pile of scrap metal, he had been bitten on the hand by a snake.
Young and inexperienced as he was, he didn't have any antivenom with him, so he had to slowly and carefully walk back to Junkertown. He remembered that journey well. The headache and nausea had started almost immediately, and half an hour later he had started vomiting up blood. He remembered the burning in his hand, and how he held it close while the cold desert winds stung his face and eyes.
The walk had taken two hours, and by the time he reached Junkertown, the sun had come up. Some of his fellow scavengers found him and gave him a triple dose of antivenom, warning him to be more careful in the future. Once the symptoms faded, he returned to the small alley where he often slept, hid away the precious battery he had found, and slept for two days straight.
Junkrat smiled at the memory. Even though it had been a miserable experience, he ended up befriending the group of scavengers that had helped him. He learned from them, and took comfort in the safety of numbers. Some of them had even helped him build his mech years later, and they visited him and brought him parts for a new arm after his mech was destroyed and his arm amputated. He had lost his snake bite scars when he lost his arm.
Still lost in memory, his mind continued to drift. He had fond memories of scavenging and exploring and trespassing. In a group, he would be the one to disable old traps and explosives. He would take them home and put them back together, although one of his experiments went wrong near the end. He wasn't sure where he had gotten the idea to launch himself over a fortified wall with a landmine, but he never tried it again.
Roadhog had been there for that, he remembered. It was Roadhog who caught him before he hit the ground, and Roadhog who had stopped the bleeding, who had carried him back to Junkertown.
Roadhog was there after I found it...
Junkrat felt his heart skip a beat. Against his will, he found himself thinking of his last scavenge.
He had been with two others. Their names and faces were lost to him, but they had both been bigger and stronger than him. He needed the help, having been weakened by the loss of his leg and his eye.
They went deep under the city, into an off-limits area called the Dark. The Queen had outlawed entrance to the area, telling her citizens that it was too dangerous, that the very air could kill. Junkrat and his partners ignored her, and – the Dark don't go into the Dark don't – found a way to sneak past the guards.
The air was black and cold and there were open vents in the floor and walls. Junkrat wasn't used to his new leg, so when he slipped, he couldn't balance himself, and his friends didn't grab him in time. He fell into one of the open vents and went down, falling for minutes, hours, days. He landed on piles of burnt debris, deep in the underground heart of the poisoned city. The air was so radioactive it tasted like metal. And it was dark. The only light was a green poisonous glow, and he followed it, towards the underground river. It was on the edge of the water, surrounded by skeletons – it didn't want them it wanted – and shrapnel. The river was roaring and the glow was whispering, and when he reached out his hand to touch it, the screaming started, and it-
Junkrat's peg leg slipped on a patch of ice and he went down hard, landing on his knees. He let out a sharp gasp at the mental whiplash as his mind snapped back into his body, out of the memory. The pain and cold blasted all the thoughts from his mind, and it took him a moment to realize Mei was kneeling in front of him, talking to him.
“-rat, are you okay?” her voice faded in.
Junkrat shook his head and tried to catch his breath, the last echoes of the memory – who did the Ghost follow? – fading from his mind.
“I'm okay,” said Junkrat, absently rubbing his eyes. “Help me up.”
Mei took his hand and helped him to his feet. He was shaky, and he looked like he was about to throw up, but he steadied himself. His pant leg hadn't ripped, but there was a bloodstain spreading from the knee.
“Great, now both legs are fucked up,” said Junkrat, laughing a bit. “Guess you're gonna have to carry me.”
“Not a chance.”
“Worth a shot.”
They started moving again. Though the sun was higher in the sky, the air around them was darker as the storm drew closer.
“You've been quiet since we left the outpost,” observed Mei.
“How long have we been walking?” asked Junkrat, still trying to recalibrate his mind.
“About two and a half hours,” said Mei. “We should be half an hour away from the next outpost.”
Junkrat whistled. “Two and a half hours? Wow, I'm glad I missed that...”
Mei looked at him, not quite understanding what he meant. He had been unusually quiet throughout the journey, and she kept checking over her shoulder to make sure he was still there. Sure enough, he had been quietly walking along behind her, his eyes glazed over and his head lowered. She wondered what had been going on in his mind to make him lose track of time so efficiently.
They continued down the path, fighting to stay upright in the gale. After a moment, Mei dropped back a bit so she was walking side by side with Junkrat. She wasn't sure about his mental state at the moment, so she didn't want him to wander off the cliff.
She noticed he was walking a bit better, though he was still hunched over, both arms clutched tightly yet tenderly around his chest.
“How are you feeling?” asked Mei after a few minutes of silence.
“My side feels crunchy,” muttered Junkrat, carefully running his hand over his broken ribs. He glanced over at her. “Thanks for carrying my bag, by the way.”
“It's not a problem,” said Mei lightly.
Suddenly, a burst of wind shot up from the ravine, staggering both of them until it passed. The snow in the air thickened and the visibility dropped further.
“How close is this storm?” asked Junkrat once the roar of the gale died back down.
Mei used Snowball to check the radar. “Um... it's close, but we should be able to make it to the next outpost before it gets too bad.”
There was a nervous look in Junkrat's eyes. They started walking again, and this time he made an effort to walk faster. However, he immediately ran out of breath and had to stop and lean against the wall of the cliff, gasping for air. The gasping turned into a coughing fit, which he unsuccessfully tried to repress. He doubled over and clutched his chest, letting out a few sharp, painful coughs before spitting blood into the snow. Mei gasped when she saw the blood.
“It's... fine...” Junkrat stammered between breaths. After a minute, he managed to compose himself and get the coughing under control. His face was gray, and his lips were definitely blue now. “Let's... let's keep moving...”
He started walking, and Mei stayed close to him.
“Are you sure you're okay?” asked Mei. “You may have punctured a lung. The blood-”
Junkrat shook his head. “Don't worry, it's just the radiation poisoning. Makes me cough up blood all the time. Besides, I've busted a lung before and it feels different.”
“You know, saying stuff like don't worry, it's just radiation poisoning does not put someone at ease,” said Mei, flabbergasted that she had to explain that.
Junkrat laughed at her. “Oh, it's not too bad. Everyone back home has it.”
Mei rolled her eyes, but she found herself curious. “So... does being away from Junkertown help?”
Junkrat shrugged. “A little... but mostly the medicine helps.”
“The medicine that Roadhog makes for you?” asked Mei
Junkrat nodded. “Yeah. I don't know exactly what's in it, but it helps. Fewer attacks, y'know.”
“Yeah, episodes or whatever ya wanna call them. High fevers, seizures, puking and shitting out blood. The usual stuff that comes from living in a poisoned city your whole life. The meds give me more time between episodes.”
“And Roadhog made this medicine?”
Junkrat nodded. “He was a famous chemist before the Crisis started. Smartest man in all of Australia, that's for sure. That scary scientist lady is one of his friends... or at least I think they're friends. They knew each other and maybe worked together.”
Mei didn't know anybody who fit that description. She made a mental note to ask Mercy if she knew any scary scientist ladies. “How does this other scientist come into play?”
“Roadie's meds work well, but one time they didn't,” said Junkrat ominously.
“What happened?” asked Mei, seeing that Junkrat was enjoying the attention.
“We went back to Junkertown after months of not being there. Then we left again. That was all it took. A week or two after that, I had the worst episode I've ever had. Really high fever, lots of internal bleeding, and I apparently blacked out for a few days. Roadie told me afterwards that he went and found this doctor friend of his, and she adjusted his formula. It worked, obviously, because I eventually woke up and got better. Here, look.”
Junkrat took out the bottle and opened it, showing Mei the pills inside. Some of the capsules were yellow, but most of them were purple.
“Roadie's original pills are the yellow ones, and hers are the purple,” explained Junkrat, capping the bottle and storing it back in his pocket.
“Why purple?” asked Mei.
Junkrat shrugged. “I dunno, she probably infused the capsules with iodine. Maybe. I'm not a doctor.”
Suddenly, there was a crack of thunder from overhead. Junkrat jumped, clutching Mei's arm.
“Not a fan of storms?”
“No, I don't like storms...” mumbled Junkrat, letting go of Mei's arm. “Back home we had radioactive dust storms and acid rain...”
“You'll be fine,” said Mei, trying to sound reassuring instead of dismissive. She held up Snowball so he could see the map. “Look! We've been walking and talking for 15 minutes, which means were only 15 more minutes away from the outpost.”
Junkrat nodded, looking relieved. “Then after that, how far are we from the base?”
“It should be one last hour and a half walk, and Mercy and Roadhog will probably meet us halfway,” said Mei. “If it weren't for the storm, we could have been there by tonight.”
“Don't remind me...” muttered Junkrat.
They lapsed into silence for a few minutes. The sky above them was slowly becoming the color of charcoal, and the thunder picked up.
“So... what's your story?” asked Junkrat.
“Well, I'm a climatologist,” explained Mei. “That means I study the climate.”
“I know what it means,” snapped Junkrat, even though he didn't.
“Anyways, I've been traveling and doing research on climate anomalies. I've been trying to find and reactive all the Eco Points around the world.”
“Is there one near here?” asked Junkrat.
“Not quite,” said Mei. “Actually, I was on a research expedition to Mount Everest before this mission started. That's why I have all of my extreme weather camping gear.”
“You mean like that little heater thing?” asked Junkrat, gesturing to Mei's backpack.
She nodded. “Yes. I actually invented it after a trip to the Yukon. I came up with it after spending several nights huddled in a tent, trying not to freeze to death.”
Junkrat glanced behind them, and he caught a brief glimpse of dark clouds advancing down the valley towards them. “Not freezing sounds like a good plan...”
Mei checked Snowball's radar, then the map. “It's going to be close...”
Junkrat glanced around for a distraction, and his eyes landed on Snowball. “Did you invent that too?” he asked.
Mei nodded proudly. “I've invented most of the equipment I use for my research.”
“Yeah? What's the best thing you've ever invented?”
“Definitely my climate preservation technology,” she said, smiling. “It was used to save several endangered species and give them safe places to live.”
She glanced at Junkrat and saw that he was clearly aching to say something, so she obliged. “You aren't by any chance an inventor as well, are you?”
“Why I certainly am!” he exclaimed loudly, a large smile appearing on his face. “I built my arm and leg from scratch!”
Mei smiled kindly, thinking that she could have built a better arm and leg before reminding herself that Junkrat had done most of his inventing in a wasteland, using garbage instead of extremely advanced technology like she had.
“I also built my gun,” Junkrat continued, “and Roadie's gun, and then after we teamed up I made an attachment for his gun that lets it fire massive amounts of scrap at high speed!”
He got excited and started laughing, which unfortunately triggered a coughing fit. He had to stop and double over, gasping for breath and spitting more blood into the snow. Mei put her hand on his shoulder to steady him, and when the fit subsided he stood upright, swaying weakly, looking drained. Mei encouraged him to take it easy, and he nodded, then they continued on.
All of the energy that Junkrat had expressed when he was talking about inventing was gone. He was moving slower now, more hunched over. The snow was starting to get deeper, and Mei knew he would be exhausted before long. He also kept glancing anxiously at the sky.
“So... you made weapons in Junkertown?” asked Mei conversationally. She hoped that keeping him talking would distract him from his pain and anxiety.
“Yeah, had to find something to do after my mech fighting days were over, and that's one of the things I was good at.”
This time it was Mei who stopped. “You were a mech fighter?”
Junkrat nodded tiredly. “I was one of the youngest champions ever. It was... pretty short-lived. From the day I finished building my mech to the day it was destroyed was about three months.”
Mei was blown away by this. She also wondered why he hadn't mentioned a mech when he had been talking about his inventions. “So... you stopped fighting after your mech was destroyed?”
“Well, I lost more than just my Fireball on my last day,” he muttered, sounding a bit lost in the past. He held up his hand.
“Oh...” she mumbled, feeling embarrassed.
Junkrat shrugged a bit, pulling himself back to the present. “It was bound to happen one way or another. I liked playing with fire a bit too much. But... now that I think about it, I probably got off lucky. Most of the champs don't stop fighting until they're killed.”
He trailed off as the wind picked up again. Thunder crashed above their heads, and there was hail mixed with the snow.
“How close are we?” asked Junkrat, having to yell to be heard over the tempest.
Keeping Snowball tucked under her arm to shield him from the hail, Mei looked at the map. “It should be up ahead, right around this bend!”
They turned the corner, eager to get out of the storm, but what they saw made them stop in shock. A large rock slide had blocked most of the path. Underneath the rocks, they could see the remains of the outpost, which now resembled a pile of wood and nails.
Although she was not one for swearing, Mei felt it was appropriate given their circumstance, so she let loose some of her favorites. Meanwhile, Junkrat reached into his bag, nearly pulling Mei off balance. He rummaged around before he found the bomb he was looking for.
“Wait, how many bombs have I been carrying around?” exclaimed Mei.
Junkrat ignored her and knelt down next to the giant pile of rocks. He set up the bomb, placing it as strategically as possible. He could see that there was one large rock at the edge of the path that seemed to be holding the rest of them back. If his plan worked, all of the rocks would be dislodged and the path would clear.
“We need to back up,” he said, returning to Mei with a detonator in his hand.
They backtracked twenty meters down the path until they found a deep crevice in the cliff wall with an outcrop that would protect them from debris. It was a tight fit, especially with the backpacks. They wedged themselves inside, and Mei couldn't help but notice how much heat was radiating from Junkrat. She could feel his fever through his jacket.
“Cover your ears,” said Junkrat. Mei did so, and he pushed the button on the detonator. A sharp blast echoed through the valley, followed by an impressive rumble. It took several minutes for the noises to stop.
Wordlessly, they extracted themselves from the crevice and walked back down the path. The rocks and most of the outpost were nowhere to be found. The only thing left was a large wooden door, miraculously still intact, lying flat on the path. They stepped over it and continued walking.
By then, the storm was upon them. It became so dark and windy that they could barely see, and the temperature had plummeted far below survivable levels.
“What are we supposed to do now?” yelled Junkrat, pulling his hat down as far as possible to protect his face from the pelting snow and ice.
“We have to keep going,” Mei responded, also yelling over the wind. “Hold on to me.”
Junkrat clung to Mei's shoulder, and she wrapped an arm around his waist. The temperature was too low, the wind too harsh. The outpost had been the last one on this trail, and it was too far for them to turn back. Mei knew their best chance was to keep moving, but if they didn't find shelter soon, they were both going to die from exposure.
They walked for ten more minutes. Mei was numb with the cold, and Junkrat was barely able to stand. She was certain that he was about to lose consciousness. That was when, in the swirl of white and gray, she spotted something black on the path ahead of them. There was a bare patch of rock on the path where the snow had melted. Looking at the cliff wall, she saw the entrance to a cave.
Unable to speak, she dragged Junkrat towards the cave. The entrance was tiny, barely four feet tall and one foot wide. She forced Junkrat down and made him crawl through before following him and instantly breathing a sigh of relief.
The inside of the cave was warm and steamy, and the entrance was angled at such a way that it was protected from the wind. Wild animals didn't concern her, because they were too high up the mountain range. They were safe.
Mei set their bags down and brought out several camping lanterns. She turned one on, and light filled the cave. Though the entrance was small, the cave itself was wide and round, and it curved out of sight deeper in. Mei realized they were sitting in an old lava tube.
She looked around to tell Junkrat, and that was when she saw him collapsed on the ground a few feet away from her. She gasped and knelt down next to him, using the lantern to get a good look at him. He was unconscious, and if she hadn't felt his rapid heartbeat, she would have assumed he was dead. It also appeared that the critically cold wind had worsened his breathing significantly. He was struggling to draw air, and his chest made an awful rattling noise when he managed it. His face was raw from frostbite.
Gently, Mei got her arm under his head and propped him upright so that he was leaning against her. The movement stirred him back into consciousness.
“Ugh...” he groaned. “Am I dead?”
“Very nearly,” said Mei, handing Junkrat a bottle of water. He drank slowly, and his breathing gradually eased up as the warm humid air from the cave found its way into his lungs.
“W-where are we?” he asked after a few minutes. He slowly sat up under his own power and looked around.
“I think it's an old lava tube,” said Mei, turning on more of the lanterns.
“Why's it so hot?” wondered Junkrat.
“I don't know,” said Mei, as she pulled a large tarp out of her back. “I'll look around in a bit. Right now, I'm going to cover the entrance with this in case the wind shifts.”
“What should I do?” asked Junkrat.
“Lie down and rest for a bit,” she replied. “I'm kind of worried you might die if you don't.”
Junkrat rolled his eyes and sipped some water. Mei took the tarp to the entrance of the cave and began the process of covering it. With her broken wrist, it took her twenty minutes to secure the tarp. The only thing she could hear while she worked was the deafening roar of the storm outside. It was chilling to know that they would have been dead by now if she had not spotted the cave entrance.
After watching the tarp for a minute to make sure it was secure, she turned back into the cave. It took her a moment to realize something was wrong, but then her heart skipped a beat. Junkrat was gone, along with his bag and one of the lanterns. She snatched one of the lanterns from the floor and ran into the cave.
He hadn't gone far. She slowed to a walk and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the light from his lantern around the bend in the tunnel. It appeared that the reason the cave was so warm and humid was that there was a hot spring at the far end. The pool of water was steaming, heated by the thermal energy from the nearby volcano. Junkrat was sitting in it, his back to her. His clothes, bag, and prosthetic limbs were in an untidy pile on the edge of the spring behind him.
Mei walked around the edge of the pool. It was very steamy, so Mei could only see Junkrat's head barely poking out of the water. His eyes were closed, but he opened them when he heard her coming.
“What are you doing?” she asked, standing on the left side of the pool so he could see her.
Junkrat sat up a bit. “Warming up. Breathing again.”
Mei frowned at him. “That's probably not very good for your fever.”
“Who cares, I can breathe!” exclaimed Junkrat. “And besides, this is certainly helping with all the aches and pains. I know you must be sore too, we both got knocked off a cliff by rocks and had to walk for hours.”
“Well... you're not wrong,” admitted Mei, suddenly aware of how sore and tired she was.
“Oh come on Snowflake, take a load off,” said Junkrat airily. “We're safe now, you can relax a bit.”
After a moment of hesitation, Mei sat down at the edge of the pool and pulled off her boots and socks. She rolled up her pant legs and sat with her feet in the hot water. It burned at first because her feet were so cold, but after a minute she adjusted, and the pain in her feet melted away. The air was even warm enough for her to take off her jacket. She breathed a deep sigh of relief, then looked at Junkrat.
“Why do you call me Snowflake?” she asked. “Do you not know my name?”
Junkrat looked slightly offended. “I know your name, Mei. I call you Snowflake because you've got snowflake patterns all over your clothes.”
“Oh...” said Mei, looking at the prominent snowflake patterns on her boots and jacket. “I suppose that makes sense...”
“Do you know my name?” asked Junkrat.
“No, I don't know your name,” said Mei, rolling her eyes. Before Junkrat could respond, however, she noticed something. “Wait, is that a towel?”
Junkrat glanced behind him. There was a clean white towel lying on the ground. “Uh, yeah. I always bring one with me for safety.”
Mei squinted at him.
“Okay, I stole it from the base.”
“Did you know you were going to be swimming?”
“What, no! It was just really soft... Also, I wouldn't call this swimming, more like simmering.”
Against her will, Mei started laughing, and Junkrat joined in. It felt good to laugh, especially after how stressful the last two days had been.
They quieted down after a few minutes. Mei looked at Junkrat and saw that he was taking properly deep breaths for the first time since he broke his ribs. In the light of the lantern, she saw that there was color in his face again, and his lips were no longer blue. His nose was still a bit raw from the frostbite, but there were salves in the med kits that could fix that.
A few minutes passed in silence, then Junkrat started laughing to himself.
“What's so funny?” asked Mei.
Junkrat shook his head, still smiling. “I can't believe we came here... me 'n Roadie... This was such a big mistake.”
Mei frowned at him. “So why did you come here and help us?”
“I told ya last night... When one of the best mech fighters in Junkertown asks for a favor, ya don't question it. We were on the road when this giant bright pink mech landed right in front of us. She hopped out, and of course we recognized her, even if she had a different haircut. Told us she needed a favor.”
“But... how does Hana know about you, or that you two would be willing to help with this mission?” asked Mei.
Junkrat paused. “Her name's Hana? Huh... Well, turns out, she knew Roadhog from back in the day. The Scrapyard champions are always on good terms with the Queen, and there's nothing our dear leader loves to do more than talk and torture. She ended up tellin' the Diva the story about how Roadhog interfered with a fight just to save some scrawny kid from gettin' killed. That caught her interest, so she went off and found Roadie... got to know him, found out he's a good person...”
Junkrat stopped talking and let out a deep, hacking cough. It obviously hurt him, because he clenched his teeth and refused to cough any more.
“And the kid he saved?” asked Mei, even though she already knew the answer.
Junkrat held up the stump of his right arm and pointed it at himself.
“So,” said Mei, “Hana fought mechs in Junkertown, from there she met Roadhog, and then what? She found you two and asked for help?”
Junkrat nodded. “Obviously, we're all over the news. People tend to remember when a pair of giant shirtless Australians blow shit up and steal money. She said she recognized Roadhog first, then realized we could help her blow something up... She didn't tell us we'd freeze our balls off trying to help though...”
He sighed and laid his head back, closing his eyes. Mei had never seen someone look so tired and defeated.
“I was already coughing and feeling like shit for two days before she found us and asked for help... I thought nights in the desert were cold, but this? It's so cold it takes your breath away. Made my cough worse, but now I can't even cough.” He let out a raspy sigh, which turned into a low groan. “Feels like I'm gonna drown...”
He sat in silence for another minute or two before opening his eyes and looking at Mei.
“I'm... Thank you... for helping me,” he muttered. “I don't know what would have happened if I was stuck out here by myself.”
Mei was tempted to say that he would have been dead by yesterday, but she didn't. Instead, she leaned over and put her hand on his shoulder, giving him a smile.
“You would have been fine. Besides, we're nearly back at the base. Once we get there, Dr. Angela can heal you, and you and Roadhog can go back home.”
Junkrat smiled at her. He reached behind him and picked up his arm, strapping it on. “Thanks Snowflake... means a lot...”
He then pushed himself out of the pool and sat down on the towel. Mei shrieked and covered her eyes.
“WHY ARE YOU NAKED?!” she screamed, falling backwards and using her jacket to cover her face.
“What, I didn't want to get my clothes wet!”
Mei screamed into her jacket.
“Alright, alright, I get it,” laughed Junkrat. He scooted away from the pool and pulled on his underwear. “All clear.”
Mei slowly lowered her jacket, bright red in the face from embarrassment. She averted her eyes and put her socks back on.
“Oh don't act all shy,” he laughed as he looked for his shirt. “Stuff like that happens to me all the time. Even yesterday, Mercy saw me naked when she came in to wake up me and Roadie for the mission.”
Mei shuddered a bit, but she also couldn't help but giggle at how absurd the situation was.
Junkrat smiled at her, then looked down at his chest and sighed. “Ooh, get a load of this.”
Mei risked looking back at him. He hadn't put his shirt on yet, so she could see that his entire right side was one large bruise of purple and red and black. His right side looked swollen and tender. It looked far worse than it had the night before.
“Goodness... no wonder it hurts too much for you to cough...” muttered Mei, scooting a bit closer to get a good look. Since she was right next to him, she could feel the heat coming off his body, and she heard his breathing suddenly worsen again.
Junkrat carefully put his shirt back on, trying not to move his right arm. “Yeah, I can't... can't even touch it anymore...”
Mei noticed that he suddenly sounded exhausted, and she saw the color draining from his face again. His eyes became glassy, and he started to sway, even though he was still sitting.
“Junkrat, are you okay...” she asked carefully.
“I don't... feel too good...” he muttered, before he tipped over.
Mei caught him and carefully laid his head on her lap. He was burning up and shaking so badly that she thought he was about to have a seizure. Quickly, she snatched a small washcloth – probably also stolen – from Junkrat's bag and dipped it in the water of the hot spring.
“Snowball!” she called towards the front of the cave. Snowball zipped over to her a moment later. “Chill this for me,” she said, holding the wet washcloth out to him.
Snowball obeyed her instructions and chilled the cloth. He also chilled Mei's hand to the point of numbness, but she didn't care. She laid the cold washcloth on Junkrat's forehead, and put her frozen hand against his neck.
“Snowball, I need you to blow some of this steam away,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm. Snowball chirped at her and started flying in circles around them, clearing the steam with a cool breeze.
Slowly, Junkrat stopped shaking. After a few minutes, he groaned and opened his eyes.
“Junkrat, are you okay?” Mei asked quietly.
“Jamie...” he whispered, his voice weak. “My name's Jamie.”
His eyes closed, and he passed out.
I spent 20 minutes googling poisonous Australian snakes for one single part of the chapter. In case you're wondering, he was bitten by a western brown snake. Anyways, I had fun writing that weird flashback scene because run-on sentences convey insanity. Also I wrote this entire chapter in like a day and now I am blind. Next one out soon!