The shower had been amazing, but the bed--the bed was something else entirely. A real bed. A real hotel. Room service even. It’s easy to forget these things exist when you’ve spent the last few months sleeping in tents and bathing with wet naps.
But she deserved this cascade of little luxuries. Another mission complete. Hundreds more lives saved. Her legacy preserved, yet again. She had promised and she had delivered.
And you wouldn’t know it, but Angela Ziegler could power through a hotel minibar like no one’s business. She was clean and comfy. She was an exhausted angel on a cloud of soft hotel linens making a champagne toast to herself, straight from the tiny bottle she found in the mini fridge. So what was she to do, to celebrate her first free moment in months? To settle into the relief of a moment between gushing war wounds and the screams of the dying?
Turn on the trashiest of holovid channels, of course. She’d seen so much technological advancement in her life, but damn if it wasn’t hard to find out what channels were what in a hotel. So she flipped through them, like a caveman.
Sports. Action movies. More sports. How many sports channels could there be? News. More news. Sports. News again?
“--the assassin Amélie Lacroix, also known as Widowmaker, has been extradited to the United Kingdom and will soon face trial for the murder of Omnic spiritual leader Tekhartha Mondatta.”
She stopped cold. She suffered from some sort of momentary paralysis which she knew had no medical terminology, no diagnosis she could give. She hadn’t heard that name in years. Widowmaker, of course, she knew, but she didn’t want to believe that was really Amélie. Not the Amélie she had known, anyway.
But the holovid didn’t care. The news anchor continued, “British authorities have detained Miss Lacroix in an undisclosed psychiatric hospital, stating that her legal team intends to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.”
“You’ve got it wrong,” Angela argued with the anchor. “It’s the rest of us that were insane. We believed her and she betrayed us.”
Despite her protests, she sat up, leaning forward, listening harder. But the anchor didn’t get a chance to make it past his next breath. The holo display crackled and fuzzed out of focus. The sound cut out. Then it surged into white noise at full volume. Angela scrambled back onto the bed, as if that would save her from the flood of light and sound.
By the time she reached the pillows, a masked figure greeted her, “Relax, chica. I can’t get you through the holo.”
Most of the picture was black, but the hot pink claws that reached for her didn’t help her to believe she was entirely safe. The only other part of the figure she could see was a skull mask in the same hot pink. It glowed faintly.
Los Muertos? She remembered their glowing skull symbols from a few missions down in Mexico back in her Overwatch days. Beyond the name, she didn’t remember much else. Nothing that would give any reason from them to hack into her holovid binge.
But Angela had seen horrors. Unbelievable horrors. This wasn’t one of them. She was not afraid. “What do you want?”
The claws folded into a gloved hand, disappearing from the display entirely, as if they were swallowed up by darkness itself. The mask shook with a brief laugh. “You’re feisty, Dr. Ziegler. They didn’t warn me. How did you know I’d have a mic planted in there anyway?”
“I didn’t,” Angela replied.
The mask snorted. “The bug is in the lamp on the nightstand. There’s a camera in the picture on the far wall, so I can see that robe of yours. Looks nice and fluffy, but doesn’t leave much to the imagination, does it? Oh and if you decide you’d rather not chat, there’s backups of both the camera and the mic that I won’t be telling you about.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Angela asked the hacker and tried to subtly pull the hotel robe so it covered more of her frame.
“Because no one appreciates the art of it. They think it’s all spooky magic. I’d like to think that you might understand some of the work that goes into this.”
She let the hacker stew in silence for a few moments. “But I still don’t know what you want.”
The mask heaved with a sigh. “Fine then. Down to business. I see you caught a glimpse of the news, yes? Things aren’t going well for your old friend Amélie, huh?”
“What friend?” Angela found herself spitting in response. “I don’t make a habit of keeping up with traitors and murderers.”
A low chuckle was her response. “I wouldn’t be so quick to judge. It might do you good to catch up with her. You’ll change your tune. But you’ll have plenty of time for that.”
“Oh you didn’t know?” the mask asked. “You volunteered to serve as an expert witness for her defense. You’re going to be flying to London next week to examine her. You’ll then happily tell the court she’s been brainwashed and doesn’t understand the nature of her crimes and is not fit to stand trial--”
“Check your messages, chica.”
And just like that, an envelope icon appeared on the holo. The holo she’d signed into when she checked in. Of course.
“You seem to be having difficulty. Let me get that for you.” The claws came out again and swiped the message out into the center of the display.
Overlaying the glow of the skull mask was a very official letter. The hacker gave her plenty of time to read it. It very officially thanked Angela for her interest in the case. It very officially questioned if this was maybe a bit too close to home for her to handle objectively, but it also very officially told her that her judgement was trusted. It very officially included flight reservations, a hotel booking, and black car service.
It was very official, and to her eyes, very real.
“I’m not going,” Angela told the hacker flatly.
“I just knew you’d say that. Otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered with the mic. But you see, we need to have a conversation Dr. Ziegler. My employer very much needs to have Widowmaker exonerated, as quickly and as quietly as possible.”
“I don’t care what your employer needs. I’m not going,” Angela told her again. She picked up the remote as if the threaten to shut the holo off. Of course, she knew that wouldn’t work, but it made her feel better.
The claws swiped the message away and retreated back into darkness. “I’m afraid you don’t really have a choice. You see, I am a collector of information. It’s why I’ve got this job, and I’m very good at it. So good that I can dredge up secrets people think they’ve buried so long ago and so deep that no one can find them. But I find them, and you, Angela Ziegler, are a gold mine for this kind of shit.”
Angela let go the remote, resigned that this conversation was going to continue, whether she wanted it to or not. “So you’ll blackmail me into it? Go ahead, but since you know my name I think it’s only fair I know yours.”
“You think I’m that stupid? Come on now. I’ll give you the name Overwatch used to know me by. Maybe that will jog your memory as to how serious I am. Did Jack ever tell you about Sombra?”
If he did, she probably wasn’t paying attention. Jack Morrison liked to ramble about this gang and that terror cell. She really only glanced over the mission briefings now and then. For her, Overwatch was never about which bad guy they were chasing today. It was a platform for her research. It was funding and exposure. It was helping people on the grandest of scales.
Sombra didn’t seem pleased. “Well then we’ll just have to put that much more effort into getting to know one another. I mean, it doesn’t really seem fair. I know so much about you. I know you like to go play doctor in crisis zones to feel needed. I know you ordered nothing but desserts from room service tonight. Really, doctor? That’s not healthy.”
“I know that you’re stalling,” Angela told her.
Sombra snorted. “I’m building up for a dramatic reveal. You really don’t appreciate this at all, do you? What a waste.”
“Then get on with it,” Angela prodded. “I have a tiny bottle of champagne to finish.”
“Fine, since you’re in such a hurry. I could name a number of things that you wouldn’t want to get out, but the timing and the reason for this one are just too good. The gentleman in that letter is right, this case is far too close to home for you, isn’t it? Too close. Too close to be between friends, right?”
The claws swiped across the screen again, dragging with them a grainy image. A time and date stamped on the top. Security cam footage. The date was years back--before, well, everything. In the center, two figures were locked in an embrace against an alley wall--lips touching, eyes closed, hands roaming. A woman with messy blonde hair and another woman with a long black ponytail.
If a mask could smile, Sombra’s did. “I bet you’re going to say I can’t prove it’s you, right?”
The claws pinched at a section of the photo, enlarging it. A badge on her lab coat that read “A. Ziegler” under the Overwatch logo. She’d come straight from HQ that night.
“And her? You’ll say I can’t prove it’s her, right?”
The claws dragged through the image again. A gym bag slung across the other woman’s shoulder, smashed between her and the brick wall, but not smashed enough. Not enough to hide the letters that spelled out “Lacroix”.
Sombra zoomed out to the whole photo again. “Really, it doesn’t get any better than this. Like I said, chica, you’re a gold mine. A date and names and kissing! What a pretty picture of you and Mrs. Lacroix. She was a Mrs. back then, wasn’t she?”
She had been. They hadn’t cared too much at the time. It was complicated. It was so complicated and so good and so brief. When something is that good, one tends to forget about unimportant things like who is married to someone else and who isn’t.
“It would be a real shame of your Overwatch friends saw this. And look at that date--just weeks before she killed Gérard too. That would look pretty bad, huh?”
A thousand emotions hit her at once. Memories of Amélie--the way she smelled, the lilt of her laugh, the way she ordered her tea, the way she made fun of Angela for drinking coffee instead, her dancer’s grace, her dancer’s body, and guilt. Oh god, the guilt. She’d spent years burying that, shoving it down into the pits of her stomach, so deep inside that she never thought she’d ever feel it crawling across her skin again. It was certainly crawling now, weaving through every goosebump.
“So you see, you’re going. You and Amélie can catch up. You can exonerate her and we’ll all be happy here. This photo will stay in my nice little encrypted collection and never see the light of day again. And this one too,” Sombra said with another swipe of her claws. A picture of her and Amélie flew by, laughing together, their heads bowed too close together over a small cafe table. “And this one,” Sombra said, swiping into a photo of the backstage of a theater. Two figures rushed together past the tangle of curtains and rigging, too close together. “And this one,” Sombra said, swiping into another picture. Angela’s office in the old Swiss HQ. Her mouth on Amélie’s neck. Amélie’s arms pulling her down to lay with her on the couch.
“I’ve got more too, enough to fill up a dirty website or two,” Sombra said reverently as she swiped the last image away. “And if I were you, I’d start checking for cameras when I walk into a room, especially if I’m committing adultery. So, you’ll be ready to head to London next week then?”
Angela was frozen again. This, of all the things she had done, might have been the worst. She had known Gérard for years. She loved him a way, much different than the way she had loved his wife. Everyone in Overwatch loved him. Yet she’d done this. And Amélie had killed him, but Angela was still alive. Well, as alive as she could be.
“I need an answer, Dr. Ziegler,” Sombra reminded her.
She forced the words from her throat. They burned like pure bile. “I will go.”
“I knew you’d come around,” Sombra purred. “Everything you need is in that message from before. Don’t be late, or I might be tempted to start showing off my collection.”
“I will go,” Angela said again, mostly to herself.
“Good girl. Oh and chica, sorry to say, but you’ve spilled that champagne all over the bed. You’ll probably want to hit the hard stuff after this anyway. We only just met and I’ve ruined your whole night. Too bad, huh?”
Sure enough, her legs were beginning to feel a little cold and sticky. “I will go,” Angela repeated all the same.
“Good. I’ll check in with you when you get there. We’ll make sure this is over soon. Quick and easy, right? Goodnight, Mercy.”
Sombra’s pink claws flashed in a brief wave, and then the display went dark.
Amélie came into her life like a whirlwind, just like everything else did in those days. She swept by quickly, wrecked any sense of stability Angela could carve out for herself, and then left. It was just how things were.
They met without meeting several times. She would ask who that woman was at some function or another. The one on Gérard’s arm. Jack would remind her, “For the last time, Angela, that’s his wife. They just got married last summer. You were invited to the wedding and you didn’t go. When I asked you why you kept spouting off medical jargon I didn’t understand, so I left. We all had a lovely time, by the way. Gabe got plastered at the reception and danced on top of the buffet table. You really missed out.”
And every time, she’d just hum in response and move on.
She didn’t know Gérard all that well even. It wasn’t until he got hurt that they really had a chance to say more than two words to one another. Even as she spent the better part of an evening pulling shrapnel out of his leg, she came to understand that Gérard was a good man. He was a good man and he loved his wife. She was professional ballet dancer and didn’t mind his insane schedule, as hers was equally insane. They saw each other only a few times a month, but Gérard told her it was worth it. It was so worth it.
“You’ll be laid up for a few days. Are you sure you don’t want someone to call her? We can fly her out here,” Angela had offered.
“No, no that’s okay. I don’t want to worry her. Better she thinks this was just a scratch,” he had pleaded.
It wasn’t really. His leg was a bloody mess, but it could look like a scratch when she was done with him. She could make it happen, because Gérard was a good man and didn’t want to worry his wife.
The first time they did meet was hardly formal. She was in a hallway in HQ, just trying to get from one place to the next. She was navigating solely from the gaps in between the text on her tablet, trying to read the results of her latest round of testing. A familiar voice forced her to look up.
“Dr. Ziegler!” Gérard shouted from down the hall. He waved with one arm and ushered a tall brunette along with the other.
Angela waved in response, not wanting to be too rude, but mostly wanting to not have to stop.
“Dr. Ziegler is Swiss,” Gérard told the woman on his other arm.
“And that means...?” she asked him.
“She speaks French,” he answered with the grin.
“Oh thank god,” the woman sighed, slipping immediately into her native tongue. “Someone that doesn’t have to tolerate my awful English.”
Gérard laughed and responded in French, “Better yet, someone who can help you improve your English so I don’t have to hear that excuse anymore!”
And yes, being Swiss, of course Angela spoke decent French, but she was no match for a native speaker. She could get by. She was about to make that excuse and keep walking, but instead, she made the mistake of stopping. She made the mistake of looking up into those soft brown eyes. This woman--whoever she was--was so desperate. It oozed out of her very pupils. She absolutely needed to speak French to someone right this moment. The need was dire.
It was just like Angela to have to fulfill that need. She tried, in her best, albeit very rusty French, “It’s rude to advertise me to someone I haven’t met, Gérard.” Only she wasn’t looking at Gérard. She was still held by those brown eyes, now lighting up with relief.
Gérard laughed again. “I keep forgetting you’ve never met. This is my wife Amélie. Amélie, this is Dr. Angela Ziegler, head of medical research here at Overwatch. She’s patched me and my boys up many times.”
So this was her then. The wife. The dancer. The best thing that had ever happened to him. Every other word out of Gérard’s mouth was an advertisement for this woman’s greatness. It didn’t seem possible for her to be an actual human being. Yet there she was, standing in front of Angela, grinning.
So, even though there was far too much work to be done and not enough time in the day to do it, she could say hello, like any human would do to another human. “Gérard has told me so much about you,” Angela said as she extended her hand and summoned up a smile. “It’s good to finally meet you.”
Amélie grabbed her hand, but didn’t shake it. She used it to reel her in. Predictably French, she kissed the air next to Angela’s cheek in greeting instead. “I could say the same for you. Gérard tells me you are a miracle worker.”
Angela cleared her throat as she was released. This was starting to become a conversation. Conversations took time. She couldn’t help but look down at the clock on her holo pad. Too much time. “I wouldn’t say that. I actually have to run, but--”
Gérard’s phone chimed loudly, cutting her off. He pulled it deftly out his pocket and groaned. “Shit. I’m late for my briefing with Gabe. Can you do me a favor, Dr. Ziegler? I was bringing Amélie to the Tactics division longue. We’re having lunch with my team after this meeting and she just needs somewhere to hang out for an hour so. Could you show her the way?”
A terrible diagram drew itself into her mind. A happy blue arrow pointed its way down the hall they were standing in, where her latest batches of nanomachines would be ready for testing no more than a hundred meters away. An angry red arrow wove its way behind her, tangling through several more corridors. On and on it went, halfway across the massive facility, to the Tactics division.
“I don’t know if I really have--” Angela started to protest, but the words died on their way out, sloshing against her teeth as only mumbled bad French could.
But those honest brown eyes of Amélie’s were screaming at her again. Why was she still looking at them? They were pleading, speaking volumes that no language that she knew could convey. Help me, they said. He’s brought me to this place where I don’t know anyone and I don’t know where the hell I’m going. I’m totally lost.
Angela was terrible at saying no--just fucking terrible. “I mean, I suppose I could,” she relented.
Amélie’s shoulders visibly sagged with relief.
Gérard grabbed Angela’s shoulder and gave it a friendly squeeze. “Dr. Ziegler saves the day yet again! I owe you one.”
He briefly kissed his wife and muttered some reassurance to her before running off down the hall.
Angela watched Amélie throw a pained stare after him. “Gabe is a bit of a…” Did French have a word for hardass? She couldn’t think of one, “...tough...customer. He won’t be happy if Gérard really is late.”
“I see,” Amélie replied, still staring after the jogging spec that was her husband. “Thank you again for this. He didn’t really give you much of a choice, did he?”
Angela felt a laugh escape her. With it, the bubble of her annoyance popped. Her nanomachines could wait. They wouldn’t know if she was distracted for a few minutes. She needed a break anyway. “It’s all right. I’m sure we’d be breaking some international laws by just letting you wander the facility anyway. Tactics isn’t that far away.”
Amélie turned back to her, grinning again. “Liar. I can see it on your face, but I appreciate it all the same.”
Angela shrugged and gestured behind her. They started walking.
“It’s massive in here,” Amélie noted as they twisted through the corridors.
“First time at HQ?”
Amélie nodded. “Gérard wants me to move to Switzerland full time. This is his idea of showing me the sights and enticing me to live here. I thought we’d go to the Alps or see some castles. No, just a big scary military facility and lunch at the pub with his guys.”
“To be fair,” Angela replied, “If it’s the pub I’m thinking of, they do have great food.”
“At least there’s that.”
They moved into less-used hallways. The glaring overhead lights and the sounds of their own footsteps were their only company.
Angela tried to think of something to say--something about Gérard being a military man and that’s just how he was, or how he was probably just excited for her to meet the people he spent most of his time with. But she didn’t know this woman at all. She knew the goddess he described, but not this graceful, but frustrated human walking next to her. She didn’t want to offend her, so silence was the best course.
“Is it true then?” Amélie asked while they waited for Angela to key in an access code for an elevator up to the third floor.
“I’m sorry, what?” Angela asked.
The door opened and they stepped in.
Amélie wouldn’t look at her. “I saw the scars and I eventually got the story out of him. Gérard told me he should have lost his leg.”
And just like they always did, another one of the many favors Angela had granted had come back to haunt her. “A few years ago, I would have agreed with that. Medicine has come a long way in a short time. We can do a lot more than just fix a bad case of shrapnel to the calf. Gérard was never in danger of losing his leg, but it wasn’t pretty, no.”
“Why didn’t he call me then?”
She knew she shouldn’t answer. Even she highly doubted Gérard remembered that conversation, what with all the meds in his system at the time, she still had to honor the whole doctor-patient confidentiality thing. But Amélie was not happy. She was not happy to be in this place, under these sterile white lights, alone but not alone. Angela could say something to make her happy. So she did, “He didn’t want to worry you. I offered to call you for him. He wouldn’t let me.”
Amélie let out a long sigh. The elevator dinged. “That bastard,” she cursed as they stepped off. “That’s just like him. I believe you, doctor. Sorry, but that was the first thing on my mind when I heard your name. I had to get it out.”
They stepped off and began walking down yet another featureless hallway. Angela waved her hand. “It’s fine.”
“I do worry about him, but knowing that he has an entire army of geniuses and top tier people supporting him lets me sleep at night. Even if it was easy, thank you for taking good care of him,” Amélie told her. She was smiling again.
“All in a day’s work,” Angela tried to defer again. “He was walking the next day. The osteoprinters took care of his shattered fibula in only a few hours. The rest was all just easy work for the dermaprinters to close everything else. Hardest part was the debris extraction. I don’t have anything that can do that for me yet.”
Amélie was staring at her. “You started speaking English there, I think. There were a lot of words that sounded like they belonged to an alien language too.”
Angela flushed and tried to hide behind her holo pad. Damn. Who’s idea was it to make all of this technology transparent? “Sorry. People usually don’t let me go on that long. I tend to babble about my work.”
“So those made up words were...?”
“Um,” usually people also didn’t bother to ask her questions either, “different types of nanomachines I work on. They repair bones and flesh like a tiny 3D printer, going cell by cell and--I’m sorry. I’ll stop myself this time.”
“Actually, that kind of sounds fascinating. You can keep going, provided you keep it in French,” Amélie said with another one of her warm, genuine smiles.
Angela beamed, but her eyes skirted past the other woman’s and found the sign behind her. The sign for the Tactics longue. “I would love to, but we’re here.”
Amélie turned around. Sure enough, she found a mostly-empty break room behind her, encased in walls of thick glass. The other side was all windows, overlooking the rich forest greens and mountain greys of the wilderness around HQ. Only a few soldiers were relaxing there amidst its many couches and tables.
It looked pretty nice, actually.
“Or,” Angela offered, or a part of her did. She had no idea where this part came from, but she liked its ideas. “I could wait with you?”
Amélie turned back to her and nodded vigorously. “Please. You can make up as many words as you want. I’ll listen. Do you think they have tea?”
Gérard found them two hours later. He could barely get in a word to apologize for being so late. Amélie was on her second cup of tea. Angela was on her third cup of coffee. Both of them had snatched far too many chocolate croissants from breakfast bar, but would later claim to have just split one between them. Angela had devolved from sketching out diagrams on her holopad to explain things to Amélie and was busy showing her pictures from last year’s holiday party. You know, the one where Torbjörn kept photobombing everyone’s pictures with his bare gnome ass.
“Chérie,” Gérard protested. “We should get going.”
Angela took one more look into those eyes that day. They were too honest. They told her that Amélie would much rather have stayed with her than go with him.
“You know I hate when you call me that,” she heard Amélie mutter as she walked away, on his arm yet again.
They didn’t tell her that Amélie would move to Switzerland as soon as her paperwork cleared.
“Ah, Dr. Ziegler. Right this way, please.”
The whole trip to London had been strange. The flight was private. She met a VTOL at a small airport. The co-pilot took her bags and didn’t say anything. The black car was much the same. At least the people at the hotel had to speak to her in order to check her in. Angela was normally the type to make idle conversation in these situations too, just to break some of the awkwardness of having someone else ferry her to and fro, but even she kept her mouth shut. The silence of these people seemed to demand the same in return. No questions asked all around.
And at the hospital, there was a physician waiting for her in the lobby that knew her on sight, and didn’t bother to offer his own name.
So she offered a handshake in hopes of receiving it. “And you are?”
The man stared at her hand for a moment before reciprocating. “Dr. Bellworth. Miss Lacroix has been put under my charge.”
“I see. Regarding that--”
“Everything in due time,” he interrupted. “We have an office for you to use, and you’re to be granted access to the second floor lab for any testing. Please, right this way.”
She followed, for the same reasons she boarded that silent flight and endured the equally silent rides. She knew what this was. She knew that Sombra’s “employer” could be none other than Talon itself. That much was painfully obvious. She still didn’t know what she was doing here, other than, well, the whole blackmail thing.
This place was awfully quiet for a psychiatric facility. And clean.
He showed her the lab first, which was also oddly stocked for a psychiatric facility. She’d be lucky to get most of that equipment in the world’s best research hospitals. She was pretty sure that the staff wouldn’t need an ultracentrifuge or an electrophoresis apparatus to shrink heads, but what did she know. Psychiatry was not her speciality.
That thought made her dare to ask a question, “If I may, Dr. Bellworth. Why me, exactly? I’m a research scientist who used to moonlight as a glorified field medic. I haven’t looked at a DSM since med school.”
The other doctor stopped in front of a door. He opened it for and waited for her to go in. When she didn’t he gave her a response to entice her. “You specialize in nanobiology. When Miss Lacroix was initially captured, the doctors that examined her found her to be heavily modified with technology very similar to what you invented. Similar, but different. You’ll find their reports on your desk...in your office.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Really, Dr. Ziegler,” he replied flatly.
So of course, she had to go in.