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The Arc of Conflict, Edda 14d: Whispers of an Avalanche

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[Overwatch Tibet]

"We could still do it, Jack."

Angela's bronze eyes focused directly onto Morrison's face, across the distance, through the screen. He was pretty sure she knew how intimidating it was, and did it intentionally, but not completely sure.

"That was always the plan. Save Talon - fix it - then work together to save the world. We've done our part. Now do yours."

The Strike Commander shook his head. "That was never real, Angela. You have to know that - you did, a few months ago."

"It was real to us. And we can make it real, now, for everyone."

"No, we can't - not if you keep up this..." he looked for a polite word for assassination, "...campaign against Russia."

"We are merely defending ourselves. I remind you that they attacked us, Jack."

"Yes. They did. Once, and yes, they wronged you, but - it's over. Now, you're the ones escalating the..."

"No. We consider this attack ongoing, Jack. They haven't even admitted they've done anything, yet."

Propaganda - particularly active measures - is very much a form of warfare, and Morrison would be the last to argue that. "We're talking to them, Angela. You could, too, via the UN. That's the forum for this, Angela. You knew that, once."

Dr. Ziegler smirked. "And they will deny, and deny, and veto anything meaningful. You know that as well as I. No," she said, shaking her head. "If they want to end this, we have given them a way out. But until - and unless - they admit what they have done, we cannot even begin to negotiate."

"And if they did? If you got an admission from Volskaya that they were willing to risk injuring - killing, even - one of your own,"

"Two!" she interrupted. "And trying to take the rest of our delegation hostage. Not to mention what they've done since - raiding Vishkar housing developments?! Are they looking for more of us to capture, or do they think we've hidden missiles in them?"

"...two, then. Two. If they were willing to admit they were willing to go that far to make sure the omnium went down..."

"In direct violation of our agreement," she snarled, still, on some level, furious. "A direct lie, from the beginning, to..."

"...and that it was a step too far, they they went too far, would you talk? Would you go to the UN, and at least try?"

Something in that made Angela hesitate. "...a full confession? Admission of error? Apologies, and restitution?"

"Probably not all of it. The first part, at least. Maybe the second. Would that be enough to start?"

Angela considered the proposition, parts of her saying no, parts of her saying yes, leavened with the knowledge that despite Volskaya's best effort - despite Volskaya's best possible effort - Sombra, at least, would live, and that even Koschei might yet be salvaged.

"...perhaps. We would have to discuss it, amongst all of us. But if and only if all of our partners agreed... then... perhaps."

Morrison weighed the term partners, and wondered exactly how far that tree branched, but was a little surprised and almost pleased he got even that much.

"Thank you, Angela. I'll take it. Right now, I know you think it's a lot, but... thank you."

"I must warn you, Jack. If they push us..."

"I know."

"No, Jack. You really don't. We mean to save the world - to improve it, and humanity. If the current leadership of Russia will not be a part of that..."

She smiled, her eyes half-closed.

"...then Russia will need new leadership."

"That's not your call. Or Oasis's."

"Isn't it?"

The Goddess of Life shrugged, and shook her head.

"Maybe it isn't."

Or maybe, she thought, it is.

-----

[Volgograd, Russian Federation]

"Again, Arkady Feyodorovich?"

"Again," replied Arkady.

"What are you looking for?" The building manager glared at the man in the politsiya uniform, who was, he reminded himself, never quite the same man as he was when he was out of it. Out of it, he was the man who smiled and waved as he visited his son. In it, he was an extension of Moscow.

Mostly, the manager granted, and deciding that, charged on.

"We are up to date on all our inspections and our permits are valid. The regional office representative was just here last month, and met with all city department leads. Everything was fine, then. What has happened now?"

The police captain glared balefully at the development's collected administrative staff, and looked over the roster, again. All locals, he thought. All of them. No one new. No one... suspect.

"We are carrying out an inspection based upon certain information we have received," he said, frustration not completely suppressed from his voice. "None of you are under arrest, but you will cooperate."

"This is nonsense," the building manager groused. "We have work to do, and you are harassing our tenants. Rooftop to basement inspections - for what?"

"You may find this inconvenient," the Captain replied, "but I could make it far more inconvenient, very quickly. I am telling you, Pasha - just cooperate."

"But you've been here two days, and you're still - what are you trying to find? We could help."

There's nothing to find, you fool, and I know it, and so do you. The Captain thought, again, about the orders which had come down from Moscow. They made no sense to him when he received them, and they made no more sense now. But as long as we're still searching... we do not have to evacuate and blow up the building.

He wondered how many other politsiya had received similar orders, and wondered why.

"The object of our search is classified," he said, aloud. "It is a security matter, and we do not know when or if we will find it. But we will keep looking, until we do."

The building manager just stared at him, confused.

The Captain took a deep breath. The air is always so... fresh, in here, he thought. It is relaxing. No wonder Nadezhda likes her apartment so much.

"I am sorry," the Captain offered, "for the inconvenience. But it is necessary. And we may be here for some days."

"The tenants won't like that at all," the manager replied.

"If it helps - I should not tell you this, but I will - no one here is suspected of a crime. As long as everyone cooperates, that will not change."

The manager nodded, and turned to the rest of the assembled staff. "You heard that?"

A murmur of acknowledgements.

"Let's all cooperate, then." They turned back to the Captain. "But can you back off the apartment inspections, at least? Find some way to make them less of a burden on our tenants?"

The orders... do not say how many teams have to be assigned, do they? thought the Captain. I moved in with a full squadron... but there's no reason I have to.

"Yes," he agreed. "I will... see what I can do."

-----

[Concordat Outreach Office, Voronezh State University, Voronezh, Russian Federation]

"They... what? But the news has been saying... TASS's morning update was all about victory celebrations in Moscow and across Siberia."

"I know what the news has been saying," replied Dr. Ngcobo, in fluent Russian, across comms. "I wish it were not a lie, but it is."

Dr. Babakova sat, dismayed, as the Concordat building filled with visiting scholars, evacuating from their residences in to what was, technically, a rather large Oasis consulate. Moscow had never given final permission for full Concordat status, but had granted permission for a diplomatic presence as a temporary measure, some months before, and operations had proceeded in much the same way as elsewhere.

"So if... are you sure? Volskaya is hero to all of Russia! Her leadership, her company's technologies... she has kept us safe against the omnium for years now. How could she allow such an act against another hero of the Motherland? How...?"

"I witnessed and helped treat Zaryanova's - and our own officer's - injuries myself, incurred in what she could only have intended as a lethal strike. I am very sorry, Natalya, but... it is true. Have they ordered the consulate closed, yet?"

"...the Chargés d'Affaires has been summoned to the Federal office. We haven't heard back yet, but she ordered that everyone not Russian citizens or with separate Russian travel papers to evacuate. Is this why?"

"Yes. This is why."

This... feels like war, the older doctor thought. This feels like... "...am I going to be in trouble, Michael, for working with you? Are all of us - Russians included - going to be under threat?"

"I do not know. I hope not, but we are issuing similar advisories in Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, because..." He paused. "Because we protect our own."

"I understand," she said, not understanding at all.

"If you did not have the hardlight reinforcement hardware we sent installed, have it installed, right away. It will only take a few minutes. And I would suggest not delaying any exits."

"I... see," she said. Oh my god, she thought, scrambling for additional words. "The, um, the... reinforcements are operative. The teleporters are..." - she blinked, rapidly, a few times, suddenly afraid - "we are making as orderly a progression as we can."

"That is good. Believe me, Natalya - we do not want this to escalate. This is in fact the opposite of everything we wanted. But..."

He looked, quickly, to the side, clearly alarmed, and said something inaudible, off camera - but she didn't notice, having looked down at her desk.

"They... attacked you. As you were..." She shook her head, and felt a little like crying. "Are you sure it, that it wasn't an accident?"

"Yes," the South African doctor said, looking back. "I am very much afraid we are. Whatever you are doing to get everyone out? Speed it up."

"What?"

"And be ready to seal exits, to gain time."

"What?!" she repeated, dismayed.

"Doctor - please. I know this is difficult, but for the sake of everyone there, you must do this. Quickly. Do you understand?"

"What about the Chargés d'Affaires? This is Thulile's job. She should..."

"She's just been thrown on a flyer and ordered out of Russian airspace. Please, Dr. Babakova. If you cannot do this - you are Russian. I understand, and hold no grudge. Just hand me over to someone who..."

Dr. Babakova thought, hard, pushing her way through her political confusion. I... what do I... do?

"Please, doctor."

She took a deep breath.

We made promises to... all of these people, she thought. Promises... we meant.

"Doctor?"

She stood, bracing herself with her arms, leaning a little on the desk.

"No," she answered, shaking her head. "No. I will... take operational command."

Dr. Ngcobo paused, for a moment, before answering. "Are you sure? There are other staff."

"Yes, but none with as much knowledge. I suppose... I will be seeing you in Oasis, in a few hours."

He bowed his head. "I'm very sorry. I hope you know that."

She laughed, a little, more of a sigh than anything else.

"Thank you."

-----

[Moscow, Russian Federation]

"They're moving straight up the command chain."

"I know."

"Madam President, we cannot stop them. They really are like... demons. Actual demons, from the literal hell."

General Maklakova placed a series of photographs and video screens floating beside her, before the President's desk.

"Who this time?"

"Ilia. He was a friend of mine."

"Two steps away, then. Everyone else is at secure installations?"

"Nikitin and Osintseva were in a nuclear bunker. It did not matter. None of it mattered to people who can teleport - and one who can, we think, travel in time." She turned to the screens, and highlighted one sequence in particular. "General Chernikov lasted longer, because they found him in the open, and he could try to flee. His security staff slowed them down, mostly by making them separate, delaying them."

An overview, a map, showing the security squadron, and the general, and the three Weapons all as different colours of dots, animated, lights going out as the people they represented died.

"That is sped up?"

"No."

The two women watched in silence as the last of the Russian lights, after leading the Oasis agents on a short but dynamic chase, went out.

"Madam President, we cannot stop them. We cannot contain them. We can barely slow them. We must go public. Our active measure efforts and our statements are not working - we must appeal to the global community, directly. Show them what they are."

"We cannot show that kind of weakness. We cannot appear this vulnerable. Everything that Russia has ever been has been, every trial Russia has survived," and it has been so many, she thought, "has been because we do not surrender and we do not admit weak..."

Her words trailed off.

The General shuddered, knowing, agreeing, all too completely. But she also knew what would happen - and that it would be inevitable, like the frost, on the steppes, in winter.

"...but we... are Russian. We do what we must."

The general nodded.

"Plan Svarshchik has been finalised?"

"Yes, Madame President."

"The cabinet has already voted to approve - I am the last step. How quickly can it be enacted?"

"At your order, Madame President."

"I will meet the General Staff in the war room in 20 minutes. We will compose a statement, together, and engage."

"Thank you, Madame President."

"You may not want to thank me, when this is over."

"Ma'am."

"Dismissed."

The general saluted, and left the room, as Volskaya closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and brought up the link to Overwatch. They warned us, she thought. I have been... unfair, perhaps, to Morrison, and their security is good, and without Sombra in action - she let herself smile, a little, at that - their security is good. We owe them notice.

"Commander Morrison," she said, as the link connected up.

"You're doing it, aren't you?"

"Yes. We have no choice."

"Not Plan Dugovoy," he asked.

"No," she said. "We never seriously considered it." Not yet, at least. "Plan Svarshchik."

"Madame President, I'm pleading with you. We have them willing to talk. They may be willing to negotiate this down. All you have to do is admit..."

"Believe me," she growled, "I know their demands. They will not be met, and they will accept nothing less. Talking is a waste of time."

Volskaya saw it in Jack's face. That they'd almost had a balance. That this would destroy the last chance of preserving it. "Don't," she stated, her voice flat, and firm.

"Don't need to. You just did it for me." He looked down, pinching the bridge of his nose, angry, but suppressing it. "You know what I think of this plan. I can't say good luck, and I wouldn't mean it if I did. But... I hope you get out of this in one piece."

Katya allowed herself a little bit of a laugh. "So do I."