The Armourer and the Living Weapon, Chapter 20: (breaking) radio silence
Shit is getting real.
This chapter is worksafe. [AO3 link]
Winston sat, quiet and unhappy, as the transport piloted itself back into the Watchpoint. That... could not have gone worse, he thought, as the vehicle rumbled quickly down the Gibraltar city streets. Lena had emerged from the washroom, given them the news, warned them about the Reaper, and had taken off just as quickly, Angela's attempts at an apology largely brushed off, an issue to be settled later.
At least she seemed to be in a better mood, he thought, as the gate closed behind them and the vehicle floated towards its garage, stopping just outside to let everyone disembark. I hope that's a good thing.
"Keep an eye out," he said, as the side doors folded back and the storage bay rattled open. "We have no idea where... uh... hello there."
Reyes stood, unhidden and unarmed, beside Morrison, who called, "Stand down, team. We have a truce."
"Nuh-uh," Hana said, pulling her pistol from the transport's small armoury, and aiming it at the hooded former Blackwatch commander. "Not 'til we're all ready to play."
Reaper shrugged. "The more time you waste with that, the more time you lose."
"I'll take that chance. You make one funny move, smoke boy, I'll blow your head off! Everybody, out of the transport, get inside and gear up."
"Whatever. I'll wait. Where's Oxton?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
"Oh, give me a break. I know she was with you."
"Jack, are you okay?" asked Mei-Ling.
The soldier nodded. "I'm fine, Mei. I've got this covered. Go on in with the rest of the team, gear up as much as you need to. We'll meet you in the conference room under the launch pad."
Reyes looked wistfully around the table. "Man, it's been a while."
"Since you came in shooting and tried to kill me?" asked Winston. "It hasn't been that long."
"I'm a heavily-trained special-ops super-soldier, and you're a research scientist. If I'd wanted you dead, you'd've been dead." He snorted. "But I have to admit, I made it look pretty good. Finally got you to issue the recall, too - that was a bonus I didn't expect."
"...what?" asked said research scientist. "You're joking, right?"
"None of you ever understood my plans," he replied, only so patiently. "I'm going to reach into my jacket, pull out a sheet of paper. Don't shoot me, that shit stings."
"I'll be watching you," said Angela, staff at the ready, Fareeha armoured and beside her.
Reyes nodded, and reached into his jacket, as promised, and pulled out a sheet of paper, which he unfolded, and slid over to Winston. "Ask Athena for Blackwatch arms inventory record 20680524b1640. It's encrypted. That series of words forms the decryption key."
"Athena, does that record exist?"
"It does, Winston," came Athena's voice. "It is indeed encrypted. Checking for payloads and other inappropriate material..." She paused, several seconds. "Apparently clean."
"Does this series of words form an encryption key?" He held the paper up to one of the cameras. "Can you read it?"
"Yes, Winston. Scanning keywords for payloads... clean. Decrypting record and analysing for payloads..." Athena, in her own way, made it very clear didn't trust Gabriel any more than anyone else did. "Clean. Result is... a text file, last edited 24 May 2068, author Reyes, G., Commander, Blackwatch. 75 pages."
"To save time," Reyes grumbled, "it details my... belated... discovery of the key members of Talon, and my intent to go underground inside their organisation, in order to take it apart. I left it in case things went badly. I did not think I'd be using it like this."
"The summary of the text is brief, but reasonably accurate."
"Last Blackwatch agent standing?" Hana mocked. "What kind of n00b do you take me for?"
Jack squinted, and tilted his head. "Agreed. Reyes, are you seriously trying to tell me you've been undercover this entire time? After all that's happened? After Geneva?"
"Bullshit," Winston said. "Pardon my language, but - bullshit! You had devices plugged into the mainframe for several minutes. Adding a minimally-restricted file like this wouldn't've taken a microsecond."
"True, and I'd be the one able to do it. But the transaction logs, not so much - and particularly, not the offline transaction logs from '68. Still got those?"
Morrison snorted dismissively. "No."
"I almost hate to say it, but... we might," Winston said. "I'd have to check long-term storage. There are several older archives left over from the investigations that we never destroyed."
"Really?" Morrison asked. "After that explosion?"
"Offsite backups are the best backups," Winston shrugged.
"This is stupid. What do you want, Gabe?" Song demanded. "You're here for a reason."
She's the one who keeps them on track, the former Blackwatch commander thought. Good to know. "Yeah. I am. What the hell are you doing assassinating Talon board members? I didn't think that was your sort of thing, or Oxton's - but that photo makes it pretty damn clear she's involved."
"Putting it all on the table, then?" Morrison asked, and Reyes nodded his confirmation. "Good."
"Fine," Song said. "We're not the one p0wning your bosses. But we know who is, and we're staying out of the way."
"Oxton's not. She's involved. Where is she?"
"She's trying to stop your war!" Dr. Zhou interjected, immediately regretting it.
Song nodded. "Akande wants to start a second Omnic War. He's been planning it for years. We know."
"That's... true," Gabriel said, "at least, in part. Growth through conflict."
"So you admit it."
He shrugged. "Lesser of two evils. That's always been the game. I pit faction against faction, wasting money, whittling them down. It's why I got him put in jail, and it's why I broke him back out."
"But the world will not survive it," Mei-Ling said. "My paper on the climate anomalies will be in Nature in another few months, but the data are clear now. The world cannot survive another Omnic War on the scale of the last one. Not even half."
"I... what?" Reyes's surprise looked genuine to the scientist.
"Besides," the doctor continued, "What would be worse than another Omnic War?"
Reyes laughed, just a little. "O'Deorain. Who else?"
"The operation is simple," the armourer said to her living weapons as the chartered transport took off from Dublin with its payload. Officially, they carried sub-Omnic level processors for automated assembly devices, along with a crew of four.
She projected an image against the cargo hull wall. "This is Antonia Rizzuto, the current leader of the Rizzuto crime family, and, through a variety of shell corporations and private investors who exist only on paper, the largest stockholder in INCAS, an arms manufacturer of some note. She is also the last target before we take on Akande and Gabriel directly."
"More spy action?" Tracer asked, brightly. "Liked that. That was fun!"
Moira smiled the least-ungenuine smile Tracer had ever seen her manage. "I'm afraid not - I don't know how much Reyes knows, but we must assume the worst. This will have to be a direct assault." She flipped to another image, a three-dimensional display of a wood-and-stone mansion on open ground, surrounded by forest. "Fortunately, I know she is at the family compound outside Laval, Quebec. It is more heavily fortified than it looks, and security will be heavy."
"Good!" Oilliphéist said. "I need a real fight. Anyone special?"
"No, unless Reyes beats us there. Otherwise, only ordinaries - but a large number."
Widowmaker smirked, and Oilliphéist shivered a little, excitedly. "Oh, all the better. I haven't been able to give myself really free rein since the chateau."
"Any... non-combatants in the mix?" Tracer asked. "If it's a family compound..."
"Crime family, not family-family, dear. They've controlled Quebecois organised crime for nearly a century. We'll be doing the honest local police - insofar as there are any - a favour."
Tracer bit her lip, nodded, and flipped through the satellite photos on a disposable padd. "Snipers likely ... here, and here..."
"And here, and here," Widowmaker added, pointing. "Less obviously."
"How far into the building were you taken when you were last on mission in Quebec, Danielle?"
"Only to the first rooms on the ground floor. The left room off the main entrance is a library and office. There are central stairs up in the foyer, which is two storeys tall, and has hallways leading left, and right, in back with two doors visible. The right room on the ground floor is a salon, and is where we discussed the mission. There are double-doors from there to another room, further back, but they were closed. Also, there were exits back and out on the ground floor, on either side of the stairs."
"Good memory, love," Lena said, appreciatively.
"For some things, at least," the assassin replied.
"Neither Emily nor I have ever been there, so unless Lena has any surprises..."
"Sorry - never even heard of it before now."
"...then we will be operating on far less ground data than I would like. I apologise for that, but it is what it is."
"This is a terrible idea," Tracer said, frowning. "We need more about the interior layout, at least..."
"We lack options. Reyes knows what's going on - and he may well know of your involvement. At the moment, we are ahead of him; we must stay that way, for the final stage to have a solid chance of success." She flipped the padds to another document. "For what it's worth, building plans were on file with the provincial offices, and I have included them. We should assume they are incomplete and at least partially out of date, but they are more than nothing."
Lena frowned, but nodded. "I don't like it, but ... I guess so."
"Memorise all of this, then get some sleep. I'll awaken you before we land, we'll scout the situation, and plan on site. Any questions?"
"Yeh. Do these seats fold out?" She fiddled at the attachments. "Oh, they do. Brilliant!"
"Memorisation first, sleep later," Moira said, sternly.
Lena glared at the doctor. Bloody hell, you're irritating, she thought. "Thin dossier, doc. Already done," she said, finding a blanket, and rattling off the building's key points as she lay down. "Well, mostly. I'll get the rest of it before I'm asleep."
"You also have a good memory," the Widowmaker said, approving.
"For some things," Tracer replied, grinning wickedly, "at least."
By the time Widowmaker curled up against her back, she was already mostly asleep, but woke just a little, and smiled at her lover's cool touch. Ohhh, that's better, she thought, barely even forming the words in her mind. Much better.
"...and you let her out of confinement?! Didn't you learn anything
"Her brain was not altered. We did full-time intensive analysis and simulations for over two weeks, and found nothing. Her peripheral nervous system, her eyes, yes, and we have been studying those changes ever since she returned, but her memories have checked out, her psychological profile has checked out, and her mind shows none of the Widowmaker markers - and we had Widowmaker to compare against directly."
"Look. I don't care what your scans say, I don't care what your tests say, she's not Lena Oxton anymore. Not the same Lena you knew. Not if O'Deorain's had her." Reyes cradled his head in his hands. "You've given Moira the most dangerous weapon she's ever had, and on a silver platter."
"And why should we believe you?" Song snapped. "You've killed dozens of people that you say were generally Talon agents or founders - how can we know that? We can't! Even if Winston and Mei-Ling find that old data set, and even if that file turns out to be from '68 - you've been in Talon for years! You could've gone over to their side three months in. This could all be you just trying to distract us, throw us out of the game. Save Akande, get your war."
He nodded, slowly. "You're right. All that could be true."
"What's your real goal, Reaper? Whose side are you really on?"
Reyes leaned back in his chair, and for a moment, looked not only human, but old - genuinely old, and very, very tired. "Ogundimu wants to force humanity to improve," he said, slowly. "To put it to a test. To push growth, but not dictate its path. O'Deorain, on the other hand... she just wants to 'improve' humanity - to her ideas - directly. Reform it to her model. To perfect it, all at once."
He closed his eyes, head back. "Can you picture that world, with her ideas of perfection? One of her favourite sayings is 'stupidity is not a right.' People laugh it off - even within Talon - but she has very narrow ideas about what's smart, and damned few people make the grade. Imagine that world." He looked back up, eyes open. "Where is Oxton?!"
"Winston to conference room C - uh, guys? We found it."
A holographic projection of Winston's office appeared in the open area between the stairs down to the conference centre. Winston held up a storage pack, Mei-Ling beside him, looking very unhappy.
"What'd you find?" Song asked.
"Backup datapak with all the logs from 2068. It's had evidence tape across the access port since it was sealed in '70, and it was still in place. I'm afraid..." he took a deep breath. "I'm afraid it backs Gabe's story. The file existed, same checksum, same last-modified date."
Gott in himmel, not again, Angela thought, hands raising to her mouth. She looked at her wife. "I... I think Fareeha and I should get back to Oasis right away. Awaken everyone, bring in the whole staff. See if anyone can find what we have missed."
"I'm not a biologist," Reyes interjected, "but I know know a few things about her work over the last few years. Most of it's been focusing on the idea that you don't need to control someone's will - or even rebuild their mind - if you can just make them want the same things you want, on a very low level. Change them so they like the 'right' thing, and they'll just do the 'right' things - creatively, even - all on their own. I don't know if that's any help, but..."
"It might be. Thank you. Athena, is the Sparrowhawk prepped for return flight?"
"Affirmative, Dr. Ziegler."
"Hold on, Angela," Morrison said, "we don't know that any of this is real, yet."
"The best lies," she said, side-eyeing the once-Blackwatch commander, "are at least partially true. I'm not panicking - Reyes gave me an idea, and you cannot do everything by remote. I need to get back to my labs."
"Fair enough. You can send Jesse back via the Sparrowhawk, and Lúcio if he's available - we need a medic on site. Everyone else should stay, I think." He paused for a moment. "Hana, can you call in a replacement mech here? We need to be in operational condition as quickly as possible."
"No sweat," the once-pro-gamer replied.
"Athena?" Winston asked. "Contact Genji; update him, see if he can come in. And bring the Watchpoint out of standby and up to full operational status."
"Acknowledged, Winston. Beginning wakeup."
"We have to try to recall her," the scientist continued. "I insist."
"That'll tip her off," Gabriel said, "and that'll tip off Widowmaker, and that materials engineer she was sleeping with, what'd you call her, Oilliphéist? And Moira."
"Her niece, Emily," Winston said, and Gabriel blinked, momentarily confused.
"Yeah, it might," Song said. "Don't care. Do it. She's one of us," ...I hope... "and she needs to know what's going on. But she'll be in radio silence 'til..."
"Where is Lena?!" demanded Reyes.
Song bit her lower lip, and gave him a long, hard look before deciding. "...we dunno. Not specifically. She's with O'Deorain. On another mission."
"Shit. Well... we're already at maximum alert. I'll have to tell Akande that Oxton's involved, but otherwise - I guess we're as ready as we can be."
"Of course." She glared. "You need to make a call, and we need the room. Reyes?" she continued, "Out. Athena, watch him. Close. And listen in on his comms - no cheat codes for you."
"Decided to believe me?" he asked, standing.
"Don't get cocky," Morrison replied. "I know you. It's probationary, at best."
Reyes snorted, and even managed a hint of a grin, before jogging up the stairs. "Good."
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