This chapter is worksafe. [AO3 link]
"Lena, what's wrong?" Olliphéist asked, as Tracer burst into the room, holding her padd.
Tracer looked around the rented resort hut. Emily. Danielle. "Where's Moira?"
"Out in the spa. She loves the hot springs here. I was thinking of joining her. Why?"
"Let's... go to the restaurant. Get a bite."
"Hungry again already?" She laughed, as Widowmaker shook her head, sharply, no, and raised her finger to her lips. "I could use a bit of an after-dinner snack myself," she said, pleasantly. "Why don't we?"
Oilliphéist nodded, quickly, catching up. "Sure! I'll come along for the company."
"Good! Let's go."
The three women made their way carefully through the extraordinarily discreet resort complex, seating themselves in a corner of the only open bar.
"Emily, can you keep a secret? I know Danielle can - but can you?"
"'Course I can, luv."
She newer assassin laughed. "Well, yeh. From her, particularly."
"A big one. You need to know something, and I need her not to."
Oilliphéist turned her head a little, silver eyes still looking at bronze, considering. "...I think so."
"Even if she made you telling her into a mission?"
Emily took a deep, hard breath, looking inside herself, and closed her eyes. "Unless... unless she made revealing this specific thing my mission, yes. If she did..."
"If she did that," Widowmaker noted, "she'd already know."
"Yeh," Tracer agreed. "Good enough." She took a deep breath. "Smokey showed up at Gibaltar, after we left."
"What?!" hissed Widowmaker, leaning forward.
"Yeah. I don't know what kind of double-agent rubbish he's trying to play, but he's got 'em convinced I've been..." she fiddled with the cocktail napkin in front of her, "...adjusted. I think. They tried to recall me. Get me back. Get me separated off."
"That's not good," her lover replied. "He knows what's happening, then."
"Yeh, which is why you two need to know. I'm not a secret anymore."
"Why can't we tell Aunt Moira?" Oilliphéist asked. "This is important."
Tracer shook her head. "If we tell her, she'll want t'know how we know. Can't give her that - who knows what she'd do? This is too delicate as it is, we can't muck it up."
"Does that mean you refused the recall?" Widowmaker asked.
"'Course I did. We have to finish this mission, you know that."
Oilliphéist nodded, relieved. "Yes. We must."
"But Moira can't know I'm AWOL. It'd be..." She shook her head. "It'd be awfully... tempting. I'm not wrong, and y'know it."
Widowmaker snorted, and Oilliphéist's silence served as agreement.
"So I figure, right, we can't rule anything out - not even me having been... changed somehow that we can't tell. She did a lot to all of us," Lena acknowledged, as Oilliphéist smiled happily, hugging herself just a little. "But we also can't go back to Oasis in the interim. They'd try to grab me, get me off somewhere alone for Angela to work on, and we - we can't let that happen."
"I agree wholeheartedly," Widowmaker frowned, took Tracer's hand, and held it, tightly. "I, too, have had enough of being taken."
Lena smiled, and squeezed Danielle's hand in return, picking it up, nuzzling against it. So nice, she thought, anxiety falling, just so. "We need to go somewhere else, instead, 'till the next opportunity comes in. And when we're all done - when this is over - we need to be ready to run somewhere else together - somewhere all our own."
Oilliphéist looked uncertain. "Are you sure? Talon has been so very good to me, and with Aunt Moira in charge, it will be..."
Widowmaker put down her glass, picked up Emily's hand, nuzzling it, in turn. "I love you, but she is right, ma chérie. We need to have an independent position from which to negotiate. I'm sure you can appreciate that."
"And like I said, we can't be sure Moira didn't pull something on us," Tracer continued. "You've had the same questions I've had, Em - I want that cleared up before we do anything after this mission. If all this is just side effect, then, I'm grateful and happy. But if it's not..."
Emily hesitated, but nodded, decisively, once she made her choice. "Quite. Auntie can get a little," she waved her free hand back and forth, "enthusiastic, it's true."
Lena blew out a little bit of a breathy hoo. "Good. I'm thinkin', we get our condo, whatever we call it, yeh? We let Angela and Moira come to us and do their examinations or whatever, once all this is over. They keep a check each other's work, you two watch them, make sure neither of 'em does anything, just like like we did when it was just your aunt, yah? Then we'll know for sure - where it's safe, and it's under our control."
"I agree - this is critical," Widowmaker nodded. "If O'Deorain honours the terms of our agreement, we can use the chateau. But if she does not..."
"And what'll we do 'til the next mission?" Oilliphéist asked. "I've got a fair bit of savings from before, but not enough to waltz in somewhere and buy an island..."
Tracer grinned. "That's th' easy part, luvs - you think I don't have a couple of safe houses all my own? Got a little place in Edinburgh a while back, when I was an adventurer. Got a place in North America, too, and one in New Zealand. I'm thinkin', I'll say I've got some business t'sort out, y'both insist on coming with me, and we'll lay low in Scotland 'til we get our chance at Akande."
"No more separations?" Oilliphéist asked, happily, a little dreamily.
"Yeh," Tracer agreed, smiling. "Not again."
Widowmaker smiled in turn. "Good."
It might, Oilliphéist thought, be about time. "Hm. Tracer, can I get a look at your pistols before we go to bed?"
"Sure - what's up?"
"It's been about long enough since I gave them to you, I want to give 'em a look-see. Might need to make an adjustment or two."
"No problem." She looked at the drink menu. "Well, that's sorted. Anyone else actually want to get anything? I want some chips."
"Just water for me," Emily said. "Wouldn't want to muck up your guns. Might steal a chip, though..."
Lena laughed. "Course y'will, luv, you're English."
"I think I will try the birkir," Danielle said, looking over the menu. "Have you ever had it, Lena? It has hints of malt, you might enjoy the flavour."
Tracer grinned, feeling a little better with a plan at least partly in place. "New t'me, love - but if y'think so... why not? Yeah! I'll give it a go."
The teleporter glared at the device. "No."
Moira's head tilted, just a little, eyebrows furrowed. "It's important, Lena. All the other instances of this nerve work have been in much more heavily-modified bodies; I need to insure that your more conventional genetics are continuing to agree with the modifications." She turned the device, showing the opposite side; a flat plastic panel. "I assure you, it's just an integrity scan, and completely non-invasive."
"Sick a'bein' prodded," the teleporter growled. "Had enough of that already, from Angela, don't want to get it from you, too. Which, by the by, reminds me - we're not goin' back to Oasis. Y'need to drop us off in Glasgow - all three of us."
"What? We absolutely cannot do that," Dr. O'Deorain replied, surprised. "It is in direct violation of our agreement with Overwatch." She looked at the teleporter, studying her intently.
"Seems t'me I'm the only Overwatch here, and if I say it isn't, it isn't," Lena snapped.
"Perhaps - but I do not think the rest of your organisation would agree," the doctor said, hand raised to her chin, index finger tapping beneath her nose. "What's going on, Lena? Something's changed."
"Not your concern, doc," she said, firmly. "What matters is I'm still onboard, Em and Danielle are still onboard, we just need to be... somewhere else for a few days. In Scotland. For a bit."
"Fascinating," Moira muttered, and looked over to Widowmaker. "I presume you'll be no more illuminating than her."
"Non," the senior assassin smirked.
"She has things to do, and we're not splitting up 'till this is done, auntie. I'm goin' with, and that's all there is to it." She hit a couple of final test points with her logic probes, and nodded, satisfied. That'll do.
"How interesting," the Talon board member said. "Lena... would you be willing to tell me exactly what happened, when you and Widowmaker returned to Overwatch, after your upgrades?"
Tracer started, just a little, and Moira nodded. "Ah, so, I'm in the right neighbourhood, aren't I?" She held up the handheld scanner. "Please, let me scan you - I'll show you it's harmless by using it on myself, first. Here, you may even hold the scanner."
The Overwatch agent took the oddly-shaped device by its grip, looking askance at it. "Wouldn't know what t'do with it, mate."
"You'll see for yourself," she said, turning it on. "Run it along my arm - or, really, any part of my body. See?" A set of screens appeared, filled with data and a holographic display of nerves. "I want to check several things, starting with the electrolyte levels in your cerebrospinal fluid and moving further down. You're agitated, and I need to make sure it's not related to my work. You should see my numbers in the right pane - not that I imagine they'll mean much to you."
Lena huffed, skimming the data, which was exactly as meaningless to her as Moira had suggested it would be. She looked over to her counterparts, who glanced at each other, than nodded back. "Fine," she said, handing the scanner back, and sitting on the edge of the bed. "This work?"
"Perfectly," the scientist said. She began running the device slowly along Lena's arms. "What, exactly, did Ziegler do?"
"Huh? Oh. Put us through a lot of tests."
"Physical and psychological examinations?"
"Yeh," she nodded. "And simulations we don't remember."
Dr. O'Deorain stopped, for just a moment, but she did not turn off the device. "How... interesting. Why don't you remember them?" she said, resuming her scan, moving to the other arm, then down the spine. Angela has become more aggressive in her methods. Good, she thought, she needed to be. It will improve her work. For just a moment, she found herself imagining working with the Swiss woman again, but forced herself to put it aside.
"She blocked us from forming long-term memories," Widowmaker said, from the other side of the room. "We have seen recordings made of the test sessions, they were... essentially harmless."
"How many of these simulations did she run?"
"Twenty-eight," said the sniper.
"I see. And you remained cooperative?" She moved the device along Lena's right leg.
"Yeh, 'course. Didn't know they were simulations 'til they ended, and then she'd always say it was the last, even though it wasn't..."
"One time, in the video, you asked her how many times she'd said that, and she said she'd lost count," Widowmaker noted. "I'd wondered what had prompted that."
Lena shrugged and Moira did not smile. And there we are, the doctor thought, watching a spike of fear cycle echo though Lena's nervous system. You may not remember, but your body does. Angela's done some of my work for me. I'll have to thank her for that once this is all over... though I don't think she'll appreciate it.
"Good news," she said, brightly, briefly passing the scanner along Lena's left leg. "You're doing well. Physically, everything is exactly as I'd hoped. Glasgow, you said?"
"Yeh," Lena nodded. "Downtown, if y'don't mind."
"Not at all. Just be ready to go at any time - we will have our opportunity soon, I'm sure of it, and we will need to respond at once."
Lena nodded, with a bit of a grin. "Brilliant."
Dr. Ziegler nodded to Dr. Ngcobo. "Scent," she sighed, tiredness in her voice. "So deeply tied in with memory, and so evocative of memories. I am a fool."
"That is why, I think, none of our tests revealed the mechanism. It simply wasn't activating completely."
The senior researcher ran her hand through her hair. "The isolation tank was counter-productive."
"I am very much afraid it was. A bad call, on my part."
"Don't blame yourself, Michael, it was mine as well." She shuddered. "So, a bias, a shift in reactions to... something. A quick, sharp reaction against whatever it is" - or, she thought, whoever - "then a return to baseline, and a slow climb towards preference, over time."
"Over and over again," he agreed. "Built to fool us - and her."
"That... oh, no, that visceral reaction she kept having to O'Deorain..." She slumped. "We've been seeing it at work and never knew."
"If I am understanding this path correctly," he highlighted a series of seemingly-trivial reactions in the spinal column, "she's been getting a dopamine reward flood, as well. I can't tell when, without her here."
"But," she said, straightening, slapping her hands on her knees, "her memories are her own. Moira didn't lie about that - or about altering her base personality. We can, I think, work with this."
"Can we?" he asked, pointedly.
"I... I believe we can," she insisted. "I have to. After all - it may be the only hope we have left."