I forgot to mention, last time, but Dr. Ngcobo is based on concept-art Mercy, for those familiar with that.
This chapter is worksafe.
"Oh, I know this," Lena said from inside the sensory isolation chamber, as the song played. "You used it last time, too."
"You know it?" Angela asked by microphone, watching peripheral nervous system reactions in real time. Dr. Ngcobo, also watching by remote, noted that the ring didn't shift, but Lena talked through it, so of course it didn't. He queued the sample for replay again, later.
"Yeh. Always have."
"That's interesting," Dr. Ziegler replied, pausing the stimulus set. "It's a fairly obscure traditional tune, a lullaby - how do you know it?"
Lena shrugged, mostly relaxed and floating in the dark. "Just do, that's all. Makes me think of my mum."
"You... I did not think you remembered your mother."
"Don't, love. Pop, either, not really. But, y'know..." she waved her hands around a little in the small space. "Y'have impressions, doncha? Ideas? I do."
She's never mentioned this before, Angela thought, but when has there ever been cause? I should check her psychological profiles. Aloud, she replied, "I suppose one may well. I'm going to repeat it, later - when you hear it again, I'd like you not to talk. Let your body react to it, but nothing else. Is that all right?"
"'Course it is. I like it - particularly the tune, yah?" A little 'heh' came over the speakers. "Shame the singer sounds like, well, you know. Her."
"...Moira? Does she? I didn't notice."
"T'me she does. Particularly in the low notes."
Well, Angela thought, that's interesting. She added two more, similar snippets she had identified in advance to the queue, randomly interspersed. Let's see if that repeats, as well.
Oilliphéist and Widowmaker watched from behind glass, sitting in a viewing room, able to see the chamber and both doctors at work, and hear them as well. Lena had insisted on that in the strongest of terms, and Angela did not push back, but certainly noted it for discussion later.
Danielle considered what she'd heard. "Did... that sound like Dr. O'Deorain to you?"
Emily snorted. "Aunt Moira can't carry a tune in a bucket. But if she could - maybe, a little?" She smiled, calm but deeply aware and ready, her arm around her lover's shoulder. "I really don't know what Ziegler's chasing, here."
"Perhaps some sort of keyword, some sort of..." She tapped the armrest of the chair. "Some sort of activation phrase?"
"What, like in those old movies?" Emily laughed, a little. "Doesn't work that way. Even I know that."
"Doesn't it?" the Widowmaker asked, one eyebrow raised. "I received a 'go' code."
"You were already all there, sweet. I know, I was on the team."
"My first kill," the senior assassin sighed. "And I felt nothing at all."
"I'm sorry for that. The doctor and I both wanted it to be different for you, but..." She shook her head. "That... reminds me... of something. What... was it... oh!" She sat up straighter, silver eyes bright. "In your office at the chateau, you have a framed picture from Amélie and Gérard's wedding. It's the two of them cutting the cake."
Danielle blinked, surprised, something not easily done to the spider, and she looked directly at her counterpart. "...I do? Really?"
Emily nodded. "Yes! It's on the bookshelves, to the left of the desk. I was so confused. Why?"
"I..." She shook her head. "I suppose it was already there, and I never thought to throw it away," she replied, not as entirely convinced of that as she wanted to be. "I imagine you smashed it?"
Emily chuckled. "'Course not, sweet. It's yours! Why would I do that?"
"Because you hated him! Fiercely. I may not have felt anything yet, and I know not to entirely trust my own memories, there have been too many changes, but... I still remember how you hugged me when I returned. How happy you were that he was dead." She gave the other woman a soft smile. "That... I did feel. Just a little."
"Aw. Love you too, pet. And I remember that. But it's all water under the bridge, these days." She grinned, freely. "He's gone, you're here, we're together, I'm..." she hugged herself, and shivered a little with pleasure, "...oh, it's hard to describe, but I feel so... complete, at last."
She looked back through the window, keeping an ear out for any additional conversation from the doctors on the other side of the glass. "I really think she's starting to settle in, too. I was thinking about it a couple of nights ago, I thought it'd be such a struggle, but... no. She's become a brilliant weapon."
"She already was," Widowmaker noted, a little quirk up at the side of her mouth. "That's what got my attention at the start."
"And so easy to like! I told her back at Auntie's place that I'd never kill her, because you love her, but..." she smiled broadly, "I don't even want to!"
"I like our new sleeping arrangements," the spider said, quietly, gaze focused on the chamber.
"So do I," replied her beloved.
"We should talk more seriously about the future, you realise. Not here, of course, but..."
Oilliphéist nodded, agreeing. "Yes. I love Aunt Moira, but..." A bit of a grimace. "She's a tricky one. We'll have to stay a couple of steps ahead of her if we can, for all of our sakes."
Danielle reached over and took Emily's hand back into her own. "I'm... relieved to hear you still agree."
"Don't worry, sweet." She grinned, nuzzling at Widowmaker's hand. "I've got you. We'll be fine." A glance back up, through the window. "All three of us."
"She's not... acting entirely like herself, is she?" Winston said, nervously, flipping through pages of data he was not reading. "I've worked my entire life to understand human body language, and it's not always easy, but I've got a pretty decent grip on it. Hers is different, now."
"It is," Morrison nodded. "Has been since the eyes, but it's getting worse."
"She was always very tactile, very physical," Dr. Zhou said. "But you see her with them, and they're always touching. Over and over again. It's a little off-putting."
"It's a little creepy, you mean," said Hana Song, back from Korea only a few hours before. "No, it's kind of a lot creepy. And that palm nuzzling thing is just bizarre."
"She is not changing any more, not physically," Angela said. "Some of the body language, I think, is more getting used to a very different nervous system than she once had. But I have also noticed the... nearly obsessive need for physical contact with Widowmaker and Oilliphéist. With everyone else, she's hardly touch-averse, but it is different."
"That part seems pretty normal to me," Winston noted. "She still sneaks up and gives me a noogie at least once a day."
"I could fly in after the show tomorrow," Lúcio said, over comms. "I haven't seen her in a while, I could tell you how much she's changed, or hasn't..."
"If you can manage it, certainly," Angela replied. "The more data I have, the better. But I am far more concerned with the reactions in her nervous system."
She brought up a set of charts that wouldn't mean anything to anyone not a research doctor, but they gave her something to point at while speaking, and that made her feel better, like she had more of a grasp on the situation than she really had. "There is a hint of a pattern to sensory input reactions. It is not a pattern I can yet identify, it is not anything easy to find - she does not react, for example, to video samples of Moira, with or without sound." The doctor switched to paired video of Dr. O'Deorain and Lena's data, placid and nonreactive.
"It would be very tempting to make assumptions and be led seriously astray... but... there are... agh," she spat the word. "I do not like speaking in such terms. It is very un-Swiss of me, but there are... rumours and innuendoes. There are inferences in these numbers, barely outside margin of error, but... I cannot even say they are statistically significant. I simply do not understand them yet."
"She clearly hasn't been programmed to like Dr. O'Deorain," Winston said.
"No, clearly. Similarly, not Talon. It is entirely possible that it is just biases in the way her nervous system works, and it could turn out all to be something as trivial as your love of peanut butter, which is, for the record, complex in similar ways." She glared at the shifting data. "But - I am convinced something is here."
"You heard her at the debriefing," Morrison said, flatly. "Would the Lena Oxton we know - we knew - smile at Widowmaker relishing a kill?"
"That's unfair, Jack. You know how she scored on psych exams back in '68. It's why..."
"Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But..."
"Look, n00bs," Hana Song interjected. "You're all missing the obvious. Spiderbitch is one thing, okay? She's a defector. She's a merciless assassin, but she's also a victim. So I can just about see Lena going for that, particularly given her looks. Everybody with me so far?"
"What are you getting at, Hana?" asked Lúcio.
"C'mon - Oilliphéist? Really? Oilliphéist?! She isn't a victim. We don't know much about her, but we do know she wanted this. And Lena is apparently... okay with that? And we're supposed to be okay with her being okay with that?" She crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. "I don't think so."
"She and I have talked about it," Winston said, "She's aware..."
"And she's still doing it. Watch 'em touch. I'm not sayin' they're in love, it's not even sexual, they're touching just all the time. Watch them. It's weird."
"Should we cancel this operation? Talon has already taken a real body blow. The governments are finally starting to set their operations in motion..." asked Winston.
"No," said Mei-Ling, firmly. "Absolutely not. The risks are too great."
"Even if it means we lose Lena to... whatever this might be?" If it's even anything, he prayed to himself.
Mei-Ling looked down at her padd, eyes haunted, and did not reply.
"Look," Winston continued, "why don't we just... get her away from them for a few hours. See how that goes. We could have an Overwatch Night Out tonight, like we used to. Hana, you come; Angela, you bring Fareeha. All of you, me, Mei, Lena... see if we can't just remind her who she's always been. She if she snaps back."
"That would be wonderful," Mei-Ling said, wistfully. "I miss those days very much. It seems so long ago already."
"The pub back in Gibraltar?" Angela asked, a bit of a smile. "It has been a while."
"Why not? It's a bit of a haul, but at least they're used to me," Winston noted, "And Athena could fly us back if we stayed up too late."
"It would be worth a try, at least," Angela said, thoughtfully tapping her chin. "We are in an alien and stressful environment, particularly for her. If she reverts to normal in a comfortable, normal situation, then perhaps... we are all just reading too much into everything."
"She is not the only one under stress," Dr. Zhou noted.
"I can't believe we're having an executive meeting to decide to go out for drinks," Morrison snarked, shaking his head.
"You have forgotten the old days, Jack." Dr. Ziegler snorted. "I absolutely can."