She said: "...and if Julie had decided to swing her elbow any closer to my face, I think I would have been required to shove it up her ass."
He said: "Marry me."
Amélie stopped. They were riding the metro together after the show. He wore one of his more monstrous suits. She was sweating like a dog in the slightly older cowl neck she'd taken to wearing after shows. The train stopped at their station. She asked him if he was joking.
"A joke?" Gérard considered. "No, I think I am quite serious. It would be in quite poor taste otherwise."
"You're wearing a purple checked suit."
A bell sang. The doors opened. It was a busy station. Humans and omnics piled out together onto the platform, though no humans stood as close to the other omnics as she stood to Gérard, arm around his so she wouldn't lose him in the crowd. How easily they moved together in a press. The world fell away from them. Some of it was that they walked with great purpose. Some of it was the double takes tourists always did to see them.
"That is not poor, it is exuberant ," said Gérard, "but I am quite serious. Have I ever toyed with you?"
"Have I ever toyed with you in a way you have not thoroughly enjoyed?"
"Hm." Amélie admitted he had a point. "But, as with all things with you, I must ask... how would that even WORK?"
It was easier to question, to needle, as they picked their way to the second platform and their transfer. It was so much easier to laugh him off and not answer her phone. The one that reminded her of calls from the director -- who would want everyone in early in the morning for notes on last night’s show -- and her handler -- who would want an update on on her long term target.
"The way we have managed all things, my sweet peach," said Gérard. "It cannot possibly be nearly as difficult as you are thinking. We have figured out the hard part, like living together, and sex. Unless, of course, that is not to your liking. In which case, you must be aware I am obligated to die on the spot, for I have shown you the greatest dishonor."
"The sex is fine, you overdramatic toaster," said Amélie, rolling her eyes as she watched for their train, "but is it even legal?"
"The way we do it?" said Gerard, delightedly. "Oh, probably not."
"I mean marriage," said Amélie.
"Not strictly," said Gérard, "but, you know, omnics have a Certificate of Title. Like a car, you see."
The train came.
"It is currently deeded to my employer," continued Gérard, "but, if you would like something official, I could have it transferred to you."
Amélie stood very still as the train car came to a halt in front of her. The bell rang. People pushed past her going in and out, but Amélie could not, for the moment, find the will to move.
"You have thought about this," she said, at a distance.
The train doors shut with her still on the platform. The train pulled away into the tunnel. They were alone. He didn't seem to mind he'd missed it, sensors flickering as brightly as ever in the half-dark of the station.
"There is no point to doing anything if you cannot commit to it fully," he said.
"You are an idiot," she said.
"I love you," he said, simply.
The lights vanished in the tunnel. The tunnel stretched on -- oh, did it stretch on. She could hear the clicking of the train mechanisms. She could hear the water in the pipes above them. She could hear the sweet hum of Gérard's processes as he pressed his hand into hers more firmly. He'd never let it go.
"Enough to give yourself to me?"
"Isn't that what humans do every day?"
"Yes, and they're idiots," she said, as the lights got dimmer.
"But they choose to be idiots," he said, with a flare of his sensors.
"And you were a bigger one," said Amélie, "to give something like that to someone like me."
And, then, Amélie had her back to the wall in a dripping supply tunnel, and the only curved metal in her hand belonged to her rifle, jammed against her chest. She touched her visor. The warmth faded.
"Target eliminated," she murmured, as the old OR unit slumped across the rails.
She had a show that evening. She put on sweats and did her stretches by the window, while Gérard worked on the wrecked remains of his left hand. At first she ignored the sounds of automated tools and screeching metal, but, when he made a particularly mechanical hum, she looked up.
“Does it hurt?” she asked, pulling herself into a cross-legged position on her mat.
“Very much,” answered Gérard, with a surprising lack of passion in his voice. The remnants of his old hand, which he’d smashed in a duel with a former Null Sector juggernaut, lay detached on his lap. “I am recalibrating the sensory input. At the moment it has not quite passed my security clearances. I’m receiving a number of error messages warning me about a foreign presence in my systems. They’re triggering a sensory cue demanding that I remove the offending hardware.”
He showed her the new hand, which looked very like his old one -- long spidery fingers, silver plating, brass joints, but untwisted and unstained by the juggernaut’s lasers.
Amélie tilted her head.
“It is the equivalent of a nail being driven into the back of one’s brain,” he explained. He reached for the screwdriver on their tea table. He plunged it into the exposed circuits, twisting it twice. Then, his sensors refocused. “But it hurts less than the error messages from the original appendage. And there. A reboot is all it needs. I’ve wiped the previous owner data and it’s asking me to re-register it under my systems.”
“Old owner data,” said Amélie. Here she pulled herself to her feet. “I thought you’d asked Overwatch for a new one?”
“It is new,” said Gérard, running the new appendage through its motor tests, which necessitated tapping his fingers in swift succession on the table, “New to me, that is. Ah, I’ve asked a lot of them, my dear Amélie. I’m not a common model these days. I can’t imagine what a pain it must have been for them to locate the appropriate parts…”
But he saw the way she was looking at him, eyebrow raised, and, for once, he stopped talking.
“Gérard,” she said, her voice caught in some strange place between curiosity, confusion, and bare disgust, “I did not know omnics could be cannibals.”
“I promise you the unit it came from likely didn’t need it anymore,” said Gérard. “Overwatch and the Guild did their best to salvage the parts from units that were killed during the Crisis.”
“My mistake,” said Amélie, “I did not know omnics could be grave robbers.”
He laughed. Amélie marveled, not for the first time, at how Gérard chose to do that. He never replayed a stock soundbite, simply put his voice modulator through the process fresh, every time. This time though, the sound fell oddly flat. It sounded like a tablet’s boot sequence. She frowned.
“I suppose there is a bit more paperwork behind human donations of this nature,” allowed Gérard. He was running through the second stage of motor tests, curling his hand open and shut. “But I’m afraid for us we have very little choice in the matter. Our bodies may be more durable than an organic system, but we lack your self-repair abilities, and your rather magnificent method of replenishing your population. Humans are responsible for their own production line. Ours, sadly, have always been limited.”
“That is the most robotic way I think you ever could have said that,” said Amélie.
“Forgive me,” said Gérard, “I have my inflections turned off to speed up my re-initialization. Would you prefer I reactivate them?”
“It’s fine,” said Amélie, pulling a seat up beside him. It was morning, but the sun had passed out of their apartment complex’s courtyard. The room filled with shadows. “You’re talking about the omniums, aren’t you?”
“What else, my dearest?” said Gérard, picking up the ball of clay he’d left out for the third stage of his motor tests: pressure calibration. “To put it in plain terms, this replacement should require me to make a request from my manufacturers, but my manufacturers are, alas, no longer in business. It comes from a little thing like going to war with humanity. Now, what happens to other machines in this position-- like a coffee machine? You find a part from a similar model, or you take them to the scrapyard.”
He squeezed the lump of clay to pieces. His sensors dimmed in a sequence Amélie knew was his equivalent of a frown.
“You see,” he said, and rolled it back together into one piece with the same hand. “We omnics do have our limits.”
Amélie watched the motion almost in a daze. With the protective panels stripped from his wrist, she could see every interaction between his joints.
“Does it bother you, Amélie?”
“Yes,” she said, distantly.
“Ah,” said Gérard, softly. It snapped Amélie out of her spell. She brought her hand down next to his on the table. It made a louder sound than she meant. It echoed in the room, as it would a long underground tunnel.
“Not to that ,” she said, scowling, “What is it to me who you cut up for spare parts? I mean to the question you asked me the other day. Yes.”
And, for lack of any other options, she grabbed his hand.
“Yes,” she said fiercely, before he could remark on it. “Yes.”
And, in the present, Amélie held her hand out in the empty air, as she watched the single eye of the sentry ahead of her shatter in a splash of red sparks.
“I will,” she murmured, slouching to her knee in the waterway. “I will, Gérard.”
Tracer rematerialized beside her.
“Oy,” she said, and here completely, the parlor in the morning faded away. “You all right?”
“Does it really matter?” murmured Widowmaker.
“Um, yes?” said Tracer, “Kind of. I am here to help you.”
“That’s right,” said Amélie, her mind returning with the rest of her. She was vaguely aware of hands on her shoulder, helping her back to her feet. Tracer handed her a med pack. Amélie didn’t really need it, she’d only suffered a light strafe on her shoulder, but, at some insistence, she took it to shut the other woman up.
“They’ve really got this place under guard,” said Tracer, marveling at the two sentries, now slouched on either side of the next gate. It was the eighth of sixteen, the locations of which had been reproduced in the 3D map provided by Athena, along with the data to open each of them, remote installed into the drive they inserted at each point. Tracer confirmed the number when she checked the serial code printed on the open frame, while Amélie slid down along a wall, clutching her rifle to her chest as she let her head clunk back against the metal paneling.
“This is nothing,” said Amélie, “They’ve left these halls untouched for years. These are just remnants. Old models. They are completely out of date.”
Tracer threw up her hands and sprawled out next to her, stretching the stiffness out of her calves with an audible crack of her joints.
“Whatever they are, they’re still making us work for it,” she said. She offered Amélie an energy bar. When Amélie didn’t take it, she shoved it into her hand. “Come on, you need that. You really alright?”
“I’m functional,” said Amélie, allowing at least one moment of prim propriety before tearing the wrapper. It tasted like fake cherries.
“Didn’t answer the question,” sang Tracer. She tore open her own bar with her teeth, eating it messily in about two gulps. “Mmf. But if this is nothing, why leave it like that? Especially if that’s how the original Strike Team got in in the first place. You’d think they’d have it locked down .”
“I imagine at some point they did,” said Amélie, “but thirty years is a long time. Especially for a machine. Look at how tight these halls are. You could barely pass a bullet train through them, let alone an army. What human would be so foolish to take the risk without one?”
“Commander Morrison and Commander Reyes?”
“More to the point,” said Amélie. “Why would they do it when their enemy has upgraded so thoroughly?”
“A few sentries and some extra gates.”
“Not that,” said Amélie. “Don't you hear it?
Tracer paused. In that silence, she could hear it. A distant rumble, like a train passing below. Despite its loudness, it was easy to dismiss it as ambient noise, so deep underground.
Except the rumbling never stopped, as though the train was just too huge to pass in a single hour.
Except it had gone on so deep and for so long that they had both put it out of their minds.
“It’s not a train,” said Amélie, answering the expression on her companion’s face. “It’s them .”
Tracer bent down and put her head against the ground. Her face went pale. She mouthed a rude word.
“Engines,” she said, “OR units, artillery, transport. Must be… I can’t even count them. How would they get them this far? They built another tunnel under this one?”
“Thirtyyears,” Amélie reminder her.
“Sounds like a whole army under there.”
“Yes,” said Amélie. “So, isn’t it a good thing we are doing this quietly?”
It was a to-do. Amélie was used to far more uncomfortable costumes, but this dress was the strangest she’d ever worn. She’d tried it on many times, had selected the material, the lace, the long sleeves that ended in elegant gloves. She’d had it tailored here and there for maximum movement, but still in this moment it pulled her shoulders and pinched at her hips. Nevertheless, she stood poised, waiting for the proverbial curtain to rise. She held her head and her gaze high, ignoring how she could feel the outline of every single pin in her elaborately woven braid.
“Oh, come now,” murmured the woman the beside her, who gave her arm a gentle squeeze, “you make this look like an execution.”
“If you are ordering me to smile, Captain Amari, I will step on your foot,” said Amélie. This was no idle threat, her heels gave her three inches of height and were quite sharp. The older woman grinned.
“No, nothing like that,” she said. Amélie, at that moment, envied her for her dress uniform, if not the medals that winked on her lapel as she turned: shining proof of the number of omnics and humans she had killed over the course of her career. Ana Amari did not seem too bothered by them at the moment. The captain glanced out down the aisles, and whatever she saw as she did gave her considerable delight. She laughed as she added, “But, ah, if you could see what I see just now…”
Amélie looked. There, descending the steps at the far end of the hall, Gérard in some suit made of metallic blue and gold. It reflected the lights of the chandelier. It looked like it could also reflect bullets. He’d had a little electric flower made of white LED’s placed in the lapel. Amélie wanted to roll her eyes, but she found all at once seeing him there strolling along as though this were all in good fun had left her eyes suddenly sore and stinging, and her throat was all at once very thick. Perhaps she had a cold.
Ana Amari’s arm was no longer just there to tease her. When had she lost her balance?
“Ah,” said the older woman, “there is something to be said for all this, isn’t there?”
“The metallics really were a bit much,” said Amélie, as Géard took her hands. His hands were hot like a laptop and more than welcome against the glare of the lights above.
“I chose them to reflect your beauty,” said Gérard, in all sincerity.
“Ugh,” said Amélie. “Cancel the reception. I’ve changed my mind.”
But she didn’t let go of his hands. When the music faded, and the Captain asked for the their attention, they both turned her way. The lurching Eradicator in the hall ahead of her gave a metallic gasp and slouched in a gurgle of oil. Tracer lowered her pistols. Widowmaker shouldered her rifle and stuck the drive into the slot. She waited for the hum.
“Thanks for softening ‘em up for me,” said Tracer, but her smile froze as she saw her companion’s face. “Oh, blast, are you--’
“Target eliminated,” said Widowmaker, pulling the drive clear. “I’m fine .”
The eleventh gate opened with a grinding whine. Amélie removed the drive and stepped through. She didn’t bother to wipe her face. It would be dry again soon enough.
“My dear,” said Gérard, and she felt the memory of his hand along her jaw like a brand. could still hear the sound of his fans rattling violently in his chassis. “You know I love excess, but perhaps--”
“I am overdoing it?” she asked, eyebrows arching. She remembered reaching between them to run her fingertips along the sensors of his palm, before she curled them into a fist in the sheets next to his head. Her hair fell around them like an inky black curtain. An end to all things. If only they’d both known then... “This is too much for you? Of all things?”
“Never,” said Gerard, as his hand slid down her neck, “but I think your friend is worried.”
The hall began to angle downwards, until the gates became divided by old lifts, each of questionable functionality. Amélie smashed the butt of her rifle into the sputtering sentries face and kicked them down the deactivated shoot. She grappled after it, landing and driving her heel into its faceplate to determine it was truly deactivated. She became suddenly very aware of how she looked, her hair ragged from exertion, breathing deeply as she removed her reinforced boot from the dead omnic’s faceplate.
“Um,” said Tracer. “Do you want to take a break?”
“Don’t lecture me,” said Amélie.
Oh, Amélie , said the memory, Let her fuss a little.
“I doubt the Captain would feel the same about me now,” muttered Amélie. But, to Tracer, she said, “...Yes, let’s rest.”
So they made camp at the bottom of the lift.
It wasn’t as hard as they might’ve expected, as someone ahead of them had clearly had the same idea. When they’d settled, it became clear why this particular section of the hall was broken. There’d been a fight here, some time ago. The body of an old B54 unit lay crumpled in tank configuration close to the next gate. The walls were potted with cannon fire. Some strong enough to punch holes in the reinforcements. It’d obviously never been fully repaired. Over time water had pooled into one of the craters in the floor, but their predecessors had done more than tear up the room. They’d left numerous empty packs and equipment littering the floor, along with a makeshift barricade to give them cover against any roving sentries.
They’d also left most of their old equipment, along with something like a shrine.
“Oh,” said Tracer, dashing to it. “Oh, is that…”
“I doubt it could be anything else.”
This was a point of no return. The ones who’d come before them had recognized it. They’d known the slim likelihood they’d emerge alive, let alone come this way again. And, to that end, they’d left what could have easily been the last evidence of their existence: their dogtags, nailed into the wall on a bolt from a nailgun, along with some messages carved into the wall with a laser point. They were written in multiple languages: Arabic, Chinese, German, Swedish, two in English. Amélie’s translation programs told her what they all said.
‘To my daughter, my heart -- this future I give to you’
‘Where we go we go together, we’ll all be one again in time.’
‘I shall march with my friends in the next life.’
‘if you’re reading this it was worth it.’
And, simply: ‘Hell of a drop up ahead.’
Reading this last one, Amélie ran her hand over it and sighed.
“Really, Gabriel, you could be so… much,” she muttered, but she relayed the information to Tracer. “The Captain’s idea, I imagine. She could be quite sentimental.”
“Dunno,” said Tracer, kneeling by the tags. She picked out one in particular, thumbing it. Despite the rust and the dirt, she could still make out what it said. “Commander Morrison sure believed in people.”
“I wonder if he might have said the same thing,” said Amélie, “if he knew that they would be fighting for thirty more years.”
“I think so.” Tracer rehung the tag with some reverence.
“There are many things to make a man bitter.”
Tracer stood and turned on a whirl of her leg, hands on her hips. “There’s still a world to fight for, isn’t there?”
“Optimism again.” Amélie turned to salvage what looked like an old crockpot.
“Well, why not?” said Tracer, following her.
“Because you still don’t know why I want to go to the omnium,” Amélie pointed out. “You have come all this way on the word of a mad omnic of questionable intent.”
“Master Zenyatta’s a good person,” said Tracer, “and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be.”
The battery on the machine was long dead, but the guts were flammable enough. They managed to kindle and cover a low flame, which provided some warmth and rations that didn’t just consist of energy bars and dried fruit. Instant noodles were surprisingly nourishing, for all they tasted like the chemicals which preserved them.
Tracer finished her own bowl with two or three messy gulps and only the barest use of her chopsticks. When she was done, she set the bowl back in the pack and watched Amélie eat as though it was the most interesting thing in the world. Amélie sighed and rested her bowl on her knees.
“You could ask,” said Amélie.
“Would you tell me even if I did?”
“I could,” said Amélie. “I could also lie.”
“There you go,” said Tracer, flopping back along one of the old weapon’s cases that had likely belonged to Torbjorn Lindholm’s cache of portable artillery. “I know, I know, next you’ll tell me you could be going down there to mess around with it, or take control of it.”
“Did you travel through time to learn that?”
Tracer snorted as she downed another gulp of water. “No, it’s just what you’ve been doing the whole way here. Besides, like you said before, anyone who wants to go to war with the omnium needs to bring an army. If you’re going it alone, doubt it’s for that. If you were planning to bomb the thing like the Aussies did, you’d need waaaay more equipment. I know a thing or two about explosives.”
She said that with a bit of a grin, offering the water bottle over. Amélie surprised herself by taking it.
“I believe that,” said Amélie. “My, but you have thought this through.”
“I know you’re trying to insult me, but thanks.”
“You are leaving out one possibility, though,” said Amélie. “Perhaps I am here because I expect to die.”
Amélie had thought these words might have some effect on Tracer, but Tracer only scoffed, folding her hands behind her head and stretching out a little more over the weapon’s case.
“That would be super French,” said Tracer, “but you don’t seem the type to work this hard on something like that.”
“So why do you think I am here?”
“Dunno,” said Tracer. “Think it’s got something to do with something Master Zenyatta told you. Think it’s also got something to do with making things right.”
Amélie narrowed her eyes. “I will never join Overwatch.”
“Fine by me.”
“I will never be your friend.”
“Boy, wouldn’t that be something?”
“And yet you have convinced yourself of some ‘good intent’ on my part. Why?”
“Because I want to believe in people,” said Tracer, “even you. It’s worth it to take a chance on people. Commander Morrison thought so, and I do, too.”
“Your Commander was betrayed by the organization he gave his life for.”
“You mentioned,” said Tracer, “but all I take from that is that we’ll just have to make sure to build something better this time.”
“So stubborn!” Amélie went back to her rations. Tracer seemed content to let her finish, taking the time to doze on her makeshift pillow, one hand rested on her holster. Amélie crossed the room, filling one of the canteens in the water which pooled at the bottom. The water itself was filled with rust and silt, but the filters would do for it soon enough. She made a point of dipping her bowl as well.
When Amélie finished, she slipped both the canteen and the bowl in the pack, Tracer slipped off the case and woke herself up. She scrambled into a seated position, fumbling for a pistol. She aimed it with great certainty at a dent in the opposite wall. Then she saw Amélie bent over her, swore, and reholstered the gun.
She would have been dead a few times over, if there’d been an attack.
“Remarkable,” said Amélie, straightening. “You can sleep knowing I’m here.”
“Eh, wossat?” said Tracer, blearily. A few blinks brought her back though. “Oh. That . Well. Like I said before, not the type to waste time on something like that. You’d have had plenty of tidier ways to bump me off.”
She rubbed her head and fixed her goggles. It was so blithe that Amélie felt almost moved to say something about it.
Instead she replaced her visor and said, “It is just as well. He wasn’t actually asleep when I killed him.”
Tracer said nothing. She lingered over the wall and the dogtags, she held her hand up to them visibly weighing whether to take them with her, but she thought better of it and let her hand drop, consigning them to the older era from which they’d come.
“He knew I was a double agent when he married me, you know,” said Amélie, when Tracer had finished having her private moment with her long departed mentor.
Tracer asked, carefully, “Did he?”
“Yes,” said Amélie, taking one of the packs. “He told me before he died.”
Tracer made a face like she’d swallowed a bug, but she mastered herself, chasing after Amélie as she set out along the next stretch of hall -- first in a skip, then blinking to jog ahead of her, running backwards to see her face. “Did command know?”
“He never told them.”
“Even though he married you?”
“But… that… why?”
“A good question. I asked him just that. I thought perhaps he must have been as mad as you were thinking,” said Amélie, “but he said he loved the way I moved.”
“That’s…” Tracer tried to form the words with a colorful hand gesture and failed. “...All right, but did you love him?”
Of all the questions to actually...
“Yes,” said Amélie, without a moment of hesitation at all. She was deep beneath the earth, in an omnium construction tunnel with a sworn enemy, and she had no reason to lie about this. “Yes, yes, a thousand times over, and I don’t know which of us was the greater fool.”
At the thirteenth gate, they were on a date and he asked her to show him how to dance. She’d had an extra glass of wine, and he had refused to sleep with her with a decency she found both infuriating and attractive in one.
“Oh, you,” she said, truly put out. “Can’t you just download a sequence?”
“I could,” he said, “and I have, but I should very much like to learn it from you.”
“Fine,” said Amélie, shoving herself belligerently out of her chair. She showed him where to put his hands. She showed him how to move his feet. It didn’t take long before he moved with her through a few basic steps. A little while after that, he dipped her with perfect grace.
“You liar,” said Amélie, laughing, “You did download it.”
“Oh, no, not at all,” he said, excitedly, nose to faceplate with her. “I think I may be a natural!”
He pulled her up into a perfect spin. Widowmaker twirled and pulled Tracer clear of a blast from another OR unit. It took another shot to down it.
At the fourteenth gate, they were at an expensive party, and he took her out onto the balcony to get some air. She noticed a silly sign across the ways. When she could read it to him, he’d remarked on her eyesight.
“I should hope it’s good,” she said, “I rather need it in my other job.”
“Prima ballerina,” asked Gerard.
“I’m strictly chorus and you know it,” said Amélie, “I mean the one where I am a trained assassin. You are my mark. Did you know that?”
He laughed. He always laughed when she said that. Of course, a waiter came to ask them if they wanted more drinks. Of course, Gérard grabbed this waiter’s hand to remove both the tray of glasses and the pulse bomb he had been about to detonate.
The wine ended up all over her dress and his suit, but the day was saved.
“Ah, my dear,” he said, staring at the red stain as the rest of the authorities led the downed terrorist away for questioning, “You got me!”
She’d cocked her finger like a gun. She sent a rifle blast through the lense of a turret mounted on the wall.
“We’re clear,” she said to Tracer. They activated the gate and moved on.
At the fifteenth gate, she was in a hotel room in Marseilles.
She’d been there for some time. In fact, it was beginning to feel as though she’d never left. He’d asked for a last dance, and she’d acquiesced. She’d have given him anything then, even her own life in his stead, but he hadn’t been interested in trivial things such as that. Now she lay beside him sideways on the hotel bed, holding his hand until it had gone completely cold.
“It has been 2:03 for seven minutes,’ said the omnic beside her. “You allowed yourself no hesitation then, but here you linger. What binds you to this place?”
Amélie lifted her head from the oil-stained sheets.
“...How rude,” she said. “I thought your file deleted itself.”
The Shambali master’s nine sensors pulsed in answer.
“But the memory lingers,” said Tekhartha Zenyatta. He remained on the bed, arms extended like a broken toy, wearing a stained suit that he never owned. Of course it wasn’t his suit. Of course he had never been dead. He had never been here. This Zenyatta was only a tourist, enjoying one last laugh at her expense. “Our minds do not end with our bodies.”
“You said this already,” said Amélie.
“But while the human body has endless capacity,” said Zenyatta, “ours have their limits. If we could house the whole of who we are in simply one form, we would be endlessly hungry, and endlessly weak. So your being is stored in chemicals and electromagnetic pulses, ours is stored in code and in chips. While each of you remain a universe in one body, there is no local server that could support the whole of what each of us truly is. Not without placing strain on our cores, and leaving us so limited we would never have been allowed to live.”
“Why here?” asked Amélie. “Why now?”
“And so our existence is transient,” said Zenyatta, “for how else could we each of us fit without it?”
“Why would you help me? After everything I’ve done? I’ve never promised you redemption. I never promised you anything.”
But, occupying the memory of an omnic who could no longer move, Zenyatta simply repeated with his merciless understanding: “Our minds do not end with our bodies. Though who we were in this moment, and this lifetime will vanish the moment you destroy us, there is nothing that is wholly erased, and nothing that goes unmade. Discord and harmony are a part of the same cycle. All are one in the Iris. Do you know why?”
“The omnic cloud,” said Amélie, softly. “The server that supported all your remote data. You die, but you never truly die. You are reborn through the omniums, which never truly deactivated. None of them. The world would panic if they knew, and you just told me, your enemy, as though I of all people could be trusted with this information! As though I have ever been anything but a pretty puppet, dancing for my latest master--”
“True self is without form,” said Zenyatta. The cold hotel room fell away. Amélie lay on her side, staring at her smouldering rifle, blood down half her face and alone.
Except not entirely.
She heard the sharp crack of pistol fire. She heard a loud thud. Tracer turned her over, checking her pulse before remembering that wasn’t the best monitor to go by. She fumbled, grabbing her chin and practically jamming the health pack between Amélie’s lips. The warmth came back to her.
“Ah,” said Amélie, gasping slightly. Tracer put a hand on her back, offering faint support as Amélie levered herself up into a seated position. “Sloppy of me.”
“That all you’ve got to say?!”
Tracer pulled her hand away.
“We’re clear,” she said, “in case you were wondering. This is the last one, right?”
“The last one before the core,” confirmed Amélie. She stood and reached for the drive, but she swayed. Tracer materialized between her and the floor, propping her up.
“Sorry,” said Tracer. “Want another pack?”
“Save them,” said Amélie, stumbling forward. “I’m just a little lightheaded.”
But Tracer kept her arm around her waist while she inserted the drive. The light above the gate turned blue. The doors open, not with the groaning reluctance, but a smooth hum. They were better kept, this close to the core.
The hallway filled with light. Blue, liquid light, emitted from a thousand hovering screens. Cool air hissed past them. Of course it was cool, with all that machinery going, it took thousands of fans to keep it cool enough to function. Those fans beat like a heart, stirring up a wind that managed to stir Amélie’s ponytail, sending it tailing behind her like a flag.
She tilted towards it on instinct, but her foot stopped short of the door. It was a good thing she did. Her toe kicked a piece of omnic armor past the threshold.
It vanished instantly over the edge. They didn’t hear it hit any kind of ground. It was, as it turned, ‘one hell of a drop.’
“Woah,” said Tracer. “Commander Reyes wasn’t kidding.”
“I never knew him to joke.”
“What? No, he was...” but Tracer found she couldn’t complete the thought. She was too stuck on what lay ahead, beyond the gate.
The omnium didn’t look like anything built by man, not anymore. Maybe, once upon a time, the walls and the support structures were more noticeable, the light technology that carried the parts to their designated stations more limited, more emblazoned with logos, but, in thirty years, the omnium had clearly made a few of its own design choices. Now, everything was made of sleek white fiberglass, the light streams flowed like water in a circular fashion, carrying the pieces to various junctions up and down the walls of what amounted to a massive cavity, which extended far above their platform and far below. Below, they spiralled like a great eye, moving up and down towards the bright blue pupil that made up the core itself. Above was where the real work happened: pieces floated upwards to a series of hovering platforms, where three Titans were at present having their limbs attached to their core. Each was curled like a child in midair, swarms of blue and white drones attending to their construction.
Tracer rubbed her head bashfully.
“You know,” she admitted, the light reflecting in her eyes, “all the things I’ve heard about these places, never thought they’d be beautiful.”
From this distance, even the army of half constructed Rooks looked like little winking stars.
“Life is always the most sublime at its beginning and end,” said Amélie.
“Did you really just say that?” Tracer asked, incredulously. “Nevermind. So, which platform are we going for? You’ve got your hook, right? How do you want to do this?”
She really meant it. Amélie sighed, letting her weight fall against her a bit more, as though her leg couldn’t really hold her.
“Hey,” said Tracer. “Hey, you sure you don’t want another pack?”
“You are so sweet,” murmured Amélie. “You really would do this for me, even after everything I’ve done. I really believe you would follow me to the very end. What is it you are so fond of saying? The world needs heroes?”
“All right, we’re getting some more medicine into you.” Tracer started fumbling for her packs.
Amélie grabbed her hand midway. The other, she rested on the agent’s shoulder, letting herself lean against her, marveling for the first time in a long time how warm humans could be, even if they had nothing on omnics.
“Liberty Leading the People,” she whispered.
“Farewell.” Amélie set off the venom mine next to Tracer’s ear.
Tracer staggered, coughing. It took a second. Amélie stepped back the opposite direction. Amélie watched her, watched this hero who wanted so badly to believe good in all things, committed the image to memory and then, on the next second, threw herself backwards over the edge, into the omnium. Tracer looked up, recovered. She surged after her, eyes wide in horror and alarm, reaching desperately, but Amélie was not yet ready to simply swan dive into the void. She took aim with her sparking rifle as she fell, firing off one last guttering shot--
Not at Tracer, who zipped backwards to avoid the blast.
But at the gate’s security lock, which was hung directly above her head.
The energy pulse buried into it, triggering its shut down mode. It was, naturally, a perfect shot.
Tracer landed, sliding backwards. She realized, much too late. she’d fallen for the same old trick, and shoved herself forward again, trying one more time for the edge...
The gates closed half a second sooner, leaving her alone in the hall.
A few things happened at once after that:
1) Tracer screamed and kicked the door.
“ARGH! Why, why would you do that! Why do you always do that?!”
The omnium groaned. The rubble around her danced along the ground. Tracer glanced up, swallowed a sob, and dashed away.
2) Amélie shut her eyes as she felt the cool omnium air rush through her hair.
She deployed her grapple and hooked it to a floating arm. She pulled herself into the light.
3) Tracer rushed back through the gates. She could hear the gnashing of the omnics beneath her, but she just put on speed and turned the clock forward.
4) Amélie leapt onto a moving platform. She took it at a run. The omnium was distracted, assessing this foreign presence, lost in its calculations, but who knew for how long. Around her, idle drones stirred. Their blue sensors winked on. Some zipped towards the wall from whence she’d come, but some began to follow her movement, swimming through the light like curious sharks on the prowl.
5) Tracer cleared the Strike Team’s basecamp, tucking in for a moment to chug some water and wait for a reset. It came two seconds before the old B54 unit came back alive with a shuddering groan. By then, Tracer was long gone. She had time on her side. She always had time on her side.
6) Some of the half finished Rooks deployed their wings, their weapons systems ringing in their initialization process. Amélie grappled to the next platform, keeping the body of the unborn Titan between them as her visor picked out the row of consoles hooked into the wall, fifty feet below. She dove.
7) Tracer rushed past the eighth gate as steam began to blow through the vents. She rushed past the seventh as lasers sparked through the outer wall. The rumbling came from in the hall now. She reached over her shoulder and shot the security lock herself. It slammed shut after her.
8) Amélie pulled herself up along the console, stabbing her heels into wall to keep herself steady. If she fell, she’d fall for miles. She ran a hand along the console, found the slot, slipped the external drive out of her visor, and stabbed it in.
The drones began to swarm.
“Client Amélie Lacroix,” she said, to the screen which snapped alive in front of her. Data scrolled in omnicode. She couldn’t read a word of it. She shut her eyes, and tried: “Record 24601. Please recall.”
“Verified. Enter Title and Unit Number.”
9) Third gate, fourth gate. An upgraded B56 unit launched a shell. Tracer shot the second gate before she reached it, blinking through crack and letting the Bastion slam into it with a sick crunch of metal.
10) “Title Certificate 2042-A Type S,” said Amélie. The drones were closing in. She didn’t need to check her visor for the records. She knew this one by heart. “Unit GR-346.”
Data scrolled. This, she almost understood. Operating specs. Internal specs. Memory capacity. Weapon capabilities. Combat specs. Speed. Ammo. Compatibility with tank units. Forward scout. Observation.
“My tin soldier,” marveled Amélie. One of the drones fired, she twisted. The pulse burned the wall next to her hip. She braced her knee to keep from swinging out of control. No more time for memories. “Unit shell is damaged. Activate recall procedure.”
“Insert production code.”
“LI334AT1ON,” said Amélie.
A drone struck her in the shoulder. Amélie fell a foot, but hung on.
“Really,” she grit out. “One of these.”
A drone cut her line, and Amélie snarled, reached viciously for empty air, and fell.
11) Tracer scrambled up the cable. The opera house was a flaming mess. The omnium had recognized the entrance, knew it had to be plugged up. With any luck, they hadn’t found her ship. She took off as the curtains fell in flames, holding a medpack in her teeth to avoid gagging on the smoke…
Somehow, in the firestorm the Freedom unit had survived intact, the omnics had focused fire on the NYDUS entrance. Tracer made it up the landing carriage, which answered her voice command as the lasers rained down. A piece of falling debris seared her ankle, but she called the ramp shut. Sucking another med pack, she threw herself into the pilot seat.
“Emergency takeoff,” she called. “Now.”
The engines roared. Tracer tore free.
13) Amélie caught one of the light streams twenty feet down. She swung herself onto a mess of omnic jumper cables.. She used the last gasps of her rifle to take down the drones that followed her, but the sound alerted more to her presence.
She tried to guess the upload rate. Tried to dispatch the drones with a wild swing from the rifle itself. It would be 25%... 35%... she rolled onto the nearest platform. 56%. The omnium walls shifted. 62%? The eye opened. Or was it 60%? Damn! She lost count as the buzzing got louder.
She jumped from the cables as the Rooks opened fire. She hit the next platform and leapt again. The rifle was too heavy. She threw it aside. Some of the drones followed it, respecting the mechanical over the organic, but for every four that peeled away, eight more closed in. A shot glanced across her head -- but, no, it buried itself in her visor instead. Amélie screamed as her vision blurred, and lenses shattered and fell in pieces behind her, but there was nothing for it -- not at this stage, not when she was so close.
The next platform pitched, and Amélie threw herself off. So she was to die before she saw it through. So what, so what, she would give none of them the satisfaction of taking her life. She’d go cursing into their stupid core, perhaps she’d give them some difficulty in that way. Perhaps her body would be tricky to clean up. Perhaps they’d choke on it.
She fell seven feet before rebounding off a light globe. It threw her back into the wall. The impact winded her. She should’ve fallen from there plunging the rest of the way into the eye, but something caught her around the waist and pulled her near.
“92.6%” The voice above her was cold and mechanical, but the arm around her was warm. “Oh, my. Do I know you?”
She pressed her head against the omnic’s hard chassis and sighed. If she was to have nothing left in this life, at least there would be this.
“There you are, you silly thing,” she said, laughing as the drones circled in, “I’d been wondering where you went.”
The world became light.
Lena Oxton met her client at the Louvre. She was as impatient with the museum’s lines as she was with the metro systems, but she liked the crowds and the museum had seen stranger guests than her. She’d insisted, actually. It seemed right for that moment, and Lena Oxton, if nothing else, lived for moments.
Lena took a brochure off of the visitor’s kiosk under the glass pyramid. She found the omnic in the upper galleries, admiring a 19th century painting that had its own wall. The omnic sat with with his legs crossed and his arms resting on his knees. In his tattered robes and his string of mala, there was no mistaking him for a local. Children peered around corners to have a look at him and parents nudged them along. Lena shoved her brochure into her jacket and flopped down on the bench next to him. She folded her hands and bent her head in a faint bow.
“Hullo,” she said. “Hope I’m not interrupting.”
“Your company is never an imposition,” said Tekhartha Zenyatta, his right three sensors blinking in acknowledgement of his presence. “Nor is the wait,” he added, guessing Lena’s next apology. Lena rubbed the back of her head and blushed.
“...Heck of a line,” she muttered, but the omnic tipped his head gently. She followed his other six sensors to the painting, and she forgot to feel so bashful, “You know, it’s funny. I’ve been here before. Saw all the famous paintings they’ve got. I’ve seen this one, too, but I don’t think I’ve really seen it seen it. Is that weird?”
“Not at all,” said Zenyatta, “One can repeat the same actions, but the experience will always be new. I should think in this you’d be more an expert than I.”
Lena laughed and kicked out her feet. “Guess so,” she said. Then, after a moment of watching the painting, admitted, sheepishly, “I always thought it was a little over the top, myself.”
“It is a very spirited painting,” agreed Zenyatta, “and Gérard Lacroix was a very spirited man.”
“Seems like it,” said Lena. She looked down at her hands. She opened and closed them. It didn’t change anything. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t...”
But Zenyatta held out a hand to stop her. “If there are apologies in order, they should be mine,” said the monk, gently. “I placed a great burden on you, and for my own purpose.”
“Don’t say that,” said Lena, sitting up. “She killed Mondatta. And I couldn’t stop her. If anyone had a say in anything to do with her, it’s you--”
“We are the masters of our own actions,” said Zenyatta, “and you acted on my behalf. I see it is a weight on you, and I fear you will carry it for some time.”
“I don’t regret trying,” said Lena.
“Nevertheless, if it is within my power to lighten the burden. I should like to.”
He offered one of his mala. Lena took it, feeling the warmth. It weighed less than she expected. It chimed like a bell. It offered no great revelations, just a nice hum. She worked it between her hands.
“The passcode worked,” she said, after a minute or so. A minute was a long time for her. Eternity, really. “Widowmaker kept her side of the bargain. We know so much about Talon now. We’ve already stopped three attacks, and we’ll probably manage a few more before they can change things up. She’s probably saved thousands of lives by giving us this intel. I don’t think she thought of it that way. I don’t think that makes up for everyone she’s killed. For Mondatta, or the Captain, or Lacroix, but…”
“Life is not quantifiable in that way.”
“No, it’s not,” agreed Lena. “I’m just... surprised, I guess. That she followed through with it. Don’t even know what she got out of it return. Did I get it wrong? Did I just take her there to die?”
“No,” said Zenyatta. “I do not believe Amélie Lacroix wished for death. If she had, I would not have offered her this journey, nor do I think she would have taken it.”
“Then what was it she wanted? If it wasn’t redemption, and if it wasn’t death, then… what?”
“I have some idea,” said Zenyatta. When Lena stared at him blankly, he leaned over and told her. When he was done, he took the mala from her hand. The glow faded, and Lena remembered to breathe.
“Your belief is the light under which even the most thorny of flowers has bloomed,’ said Zenyatta, “and your actions have always been for the good of all. Do not feel bound to me by your failures. Be freed by your good will, it’s for that I consider you a dear friend.”
“Thank you,” said Lena, blinking rapidly. “I just... Thank you.”
“Let us meet again,” said Zenyatta, “under kinder circumstances.”
He pressed her hand and took his leave, drifting silently from the hall.
Alone on the bench, Lena threw back her head and sighed. A woman in red crossed the hall and sat down beside her.
“Hey, Tiger,” she said.
“Hey, Em,” Lena sniffed and scrubbed at her face, “Sorry I kept you waiting. And about the concert. And..”
“It’s fine,” said Emily, sliding sideways on the bench. She nudged her leg. “Sometimes a girl’s gotta save the world.”
Lena fell against her and pressed her face into her shoulder.
“Hey, Em,” she said, her voice muffled against Emily’s red sweater. “You know I love you right?”
Emily put an arm around her and pulled her closer.
“‘Course I do,” said Emily. “Right back at you.”
Zenyatta’s bodyguard rejoined him outside the Louvre. He had waited in the museum walls, but now that the monk took his leave, so also did his shadow.
“Ah, my student,” said the omnic, as his student joined him on the escalators, “you have gained a retinue.”
He referred, of course, to the line of children hovering about twenty feet behind them. They had followed Zenyatta’s companion all the way to the edge of the glass pyramid, and seemed loathe to abandon such a strange tourist.
“It cannot be helped,” said Genji Shimada, with a sigh. “It seems to be a cyborg ninja is to be too cool for one’s own good.”
“I do agree,” said Zenyatta, and together they left the museum behind, pleasantly blind to the stares they earned as they turned out into more modern streets. “You are extremely cool, but, tell me, why not say hello to your old comrade? I am sure she would have been glad to see you well.”
“Perhaps another time,” said Genji. “She seems a bit preoccupied just now.”
“Hm, I suppose you are right,’ said Zenyatta. “I did place a lot on her shoulders. The journey was as much for her as it was Amélie Lacroix. I can only hope in returning it has granted her some peace.”
“I do not doubt you have, Master. You have done much for me, after all.”
“I only ask questions,” said Zenyatta, “it is you who provides the answer.”
“I beg to differ!” said Genji, with one of his hearty laughs, though he sobered quickly. “But I must admit, I am curious. What do you expect has become of Amélie Lacroix? And how would it bring Oxton some peace?”
“I cannot say with certainty,” said Zenyatta, “but I can imagine, a bit, how it might go."
….in a cafe, in Marseilles behind a line of potted azaleas, a woman waits. The azaleas are a scorching pink, matched only by the pink of her dress. The cafe is attached to a plain hotel, one that has jammed itself in a little street uphill, with a tree that grows up through the slate to cast shade on the surrounding tables. The woman has been there for the better part of the morning. She has grown tired of watching the boats on the harbor, and she taps her leg aggressively. It takes a time, but, after a bit, I believe a man appears at the base of the hill. He gains some stares, for he is an omnic, but he gains more stares for the fact he has chosen to wear a white and blue blazer with a striped scarf around his neck. As he spots the woman, he makes greater pace. Time has returned to him in that instant, and he realizes then that is very late, but his arms are full of an assortment of bags, and it takes him a precious extra minute to stumble up to the cafe gate.
‘Ah, my cabbage,’ he will say, ‘I am sorry, I wasn’t sure what you would like, so I decided to buy it all.’
‘You should be sorry,’ she will say, with a fierce annoyance, but a fiercer love, her black hair swinging behind her free like a banner as she consents to stand and put the bags on the table. ‘You always keep me waiting. I have held off on ordering a dessert just for you. They have a mango parfait bubble tea. It looks sweet enough to make someone sick. I thought you might enjoy watching me drink it.’
And here, she will grip his necktie and tug him through the gate, but, make no mistake, once the bustling is done, she will press his hand to her lips. To him, there is no sweeter kiss, and, though she has her little irritations, they are in of themselves a luxury. For whether or not the memory I have described matches the ones that have come before, there is no other place she would rather be.