"Easy, easy," Rebecca says as Desmond wakes up without a sound. "You've been inside for a while. Take it slow, sitting up."
"Mmhm," Desmond answers and blinks slowly. "What date is it?"
Rebecca tries not to laugh hysterically like the insane woman she sometimes feels like. He sounds like a damn time traveler. Their lives are completely mad. "It's the sixteenth," she says instead quietly and watches Desmond stand up. No reaction to the words, not even a frown, nothing. He just nods and gets to his feet.
Rebecca looks after him with sense of mingled guilt and nausea as he wanders off to stretch his legs.
You can never really tell what's going on in Desmond's head these days, if you ever could. For all that they are reading the guy's memories and his DNA works like a teleprompter for history, Desmond himself is a closed book. The front cover is easygoing and constantly calm, but you can never tell what's going on beyond that surface.
Rebecca read once somewhere – probably in one of Shaun's books – that you will never know a man until you see him at his lowest. Desmond should be at his lowest – all the time they've known him, he's been at what anyone would call a man's lowest point. Kidnapped, used, abused and losing his mind to memories not his own – how much lower can you go, really? There's a good chance all this will end up with Desmond dead – with Juno singling him out and messing with him constantly…
But Desmond is calm. There's been one burst of anger, one moment of inappropriate humour, and that's… kind of it. Even those moments were like rocks being thrown at a pond's surface – there was a splash and a ripple and then the pond's surface smoothed out again and then there was no sign of either. There and gone, just like that.
It makes Rebecca worry. It makes Shaun itchy and nervous. Bill… Well he's never easy to read, so who knows what he thinks. He seems a bit disturbed though. Desmond is not handling the whole thing like you'd expect him to.
He hasn't tried to run, not once. Gotta give kudos to the guy for that. Still, Rebecca doesn't get him. She's scared all the time, and it's not her head on that chopping block. Why isn't he?
She doesn't ask. Desmond seems to have enough on his plate, and ever since Lucy he's been more distant – though part of our might be also the fact that he spends longer and longer times in the Animus. Where once Desmond could only do hours at time, now he can spend days at it, with no care for physical needs or requirements. Half of the time Rebecca has to wonder if Desmond even needs to eat anymore. He doesn't seem to be losing weight or wasting away though, so…
Rebecca tries not to think about the implications of that – but boy, Templar or not, she misses Lucy. Lucy got Desmond. They had a thing and when Lucy was still there, Rebecca was certain in the knowledge that Lucy took care of Desmond, that she knew what she was doing. It was just easier all around. Now… does any of them know what they're doing?
She misses the team lunches. Every Sunday one of them would cook and they'd sit down together and eat and talk about stuff that had nothing to do with Templars or Assassins or the end of the world. Afterwards, Lucy and Desmond would head off to train or walk or whatever they did, and Rebecca and Shaun could just hang out and argue about movies or books or who did what when and – god. When was the last time she even watched a movie?
Rebecca stares at the keyboard in front of her, feeling a bit like the ground under her is losing cohesion and she's about to fall through it. Then she looks to where Desmond had gone. He's sitting on a slab of volcanic glass, running hands over his neck. Past him, there's a flicker of golden light, and as Rebecca watches, Desmond hangs his head and then turns to face the digital ghost. He looks tired. A moment later he rises to follow her wherever she's leading him this time, to listen to whatever she has to tell him this time.
Rebecca doesn't envy Desmond. Not one bit. Juno haunts him all across the Grand Temple, she stalks his email and probably followed them out of the sanctuary too, in those few excursions they'd made. She'd probably haunt his dreams too if she could. Rebecca hasn't asked if she can. Desmond doesn't really sleep anymore anyway.
Being hounded by Juno all the damn time…
Rebecca shudders and then turns back to work. Since Desmond is out, she starts running a full systems check, dumping some old data from points of Connor's life Desmond isn't likely to live through again and then putting the whole system through a reboot. Might as well, just in case.
Desmond is gone for about half an hour before coming back. If Shaun and Bill even noticed, she's not sure. They've all gotten used to oppressive silences and Desmond not being present, so…
"Hey," Desmond says.
"Hey, Desmond," Rebecca says and turns to face him. "What did Juno want this time?"
"Ranted about how ignorant and stupid humanity is and what a mistake making us was, the usual," Desmond says and sits down on the Animus with a sigh.
"I'm running a reboot, you're going to have to wait a bit before going in," Rebecca says. Maybe that will keep him more… human a bit longer. "Why don't you get a bite to eat in the meanwhile?"
"In a bit, maybe," Desmond says and looks around – over the expense of the cavern and to where Bill and Shaun attend by the glowing barrier of Precursor tech, taking amongst themselves. "Hey, Rebecca? What do you think it is? The thing behind that wall?"
"I have no idea. I just hope it's worth all of this," Rebecca says honestly
"What if it isn't?"
Rebecca doesn't answer to that. There's nothing to say. If it isn't worth it, then they'll all die and none of it would have meant anything.
"Do you think Abstergo knows about this – about any of it?" Desmond asks quietly. "Do they know what's coming, do they have any idea?"
"I don't think they do," Rebecca answers and folds her arms. "Cross only went after the power sources to try and get you, because your were going after them. I don't think either he or Vidic knew what they were for. They wouldn't have used one as a bait of if they did."
Desmond nods slowly. "Yeah, I think so too," he admits quietly.
Rebecca casts him a curious look as he continues to stare at the wall. "Why'd you ask?"
"Just wondering if Abstergo would've tried to… do something of they did know," Desmond mutters. "We're just four people. They're a billion dollar company with thousands of employees. You'd think they have resources to do… something."
Rebecca swivels back and forth in her chair, looking at him. Even now, talking about this, he sounds so nonchalant. Like it's just everyday small talk and not about the potential end of the world.
"Lucy knew," Desmond says. "She found out with us. She would've tried to save the world, right?"
"I… hope so," Rebecca says quietly and looks away. It still hurts. Trying to wonder what Lucy would've done or what she might've felt hurts.
"She died before she could tell Abstergo, though, before she could tell anyone. Juno made sure of it," Desmond muses.
Rebecca hears the words but they take a moment to decompress. Juno killed Lucy before she could tell anyone. Not because she was a Templar, a traitor – but because she would've told Templars that the end of the world was coming.
"They… would've stopped us," Rebecca says quietly, but it sounds uncertain even to her ears. Would they have? It sounds right, that's what Abstergo does, it gets in the way and tries to stop Assassins from doing what they have to do, but…
"It's their planet too, it's where they gotta live too – why would they try to stop us from saving it? That's like trying to stop someone to trying to throw water on your burning house just because you don't like them," Desmond says and lowers his eyes. "That's suicidally petty, even for Abstergo."
Rebecca hums in agreement and then frowns. What if Abstergo had known? Could they have done something? Would they have done something? Well, why wouldn't they? Desmond is right. Abstergo and Templars have to live in this world too.
"Well, it's too late now," Rebecca says quietly. "Five days left. Even Abstergo can't do much with just five days."
Desmond blinks and looks up to her, and his eyes seem to clear from the storm clouds that had taken them over. He lifts his head. "Yeah," he agrees. Probably not. But…" he trails of and then shakes his head, standing up. "Yeah. Guess I should go eat something."
"But what?" Rebecca asks, watching him closely.
Desmond shrugs his shoulders. "But imagine how all of this might've had gone down if we could've worked together," he says. "It's just food for thought."
"They kidnapped you," she reminds him. "They killed people – they're trying to take over the world."
"You're right," Desmond says and turns away. "Dumb thought, huh?"
The discussion lingers in Rebecca's head. Whether it eats away at Desmond it's impossible to tell – she's not sure if he can think independently from the ancestor whose memories he's living anymore. Desmond seems to be less and less personally present in the memories he lives through – it's just Connor there. Whenever she looks at her screens, all she sees is Connor.
But she thinks about it, wonders at it, questions where Desmond even got the idea from, if it was something Juno said. And really – what would have happened if Abstergo had found out? She can't see them working together, but… it's their planet too. It's all their planet.
What the heck is the point of all the fighting they're doing and have done when the sun is going to wipe them all and ghosts from tens of thousands of years in the past are messing about with their future and past and – why?
What is Juno's gain is all of this? Just saving the world? No, Desmond already told them – what's behind the barrier benefits Juno somehow, and they have to be careful. Minerva and Jupiter wanted to save the world for the world, she – Juno gets something out of it, some personal gain. If… if that's even what they're doing. All they have to go on is her word. She's the one who pointed them this way…
But it took Minerva to make the key. Juno did something to the Apple, yeah, used it to take Desmond over, but it was when Minerva meet Ezio that the Apple was changed into the key of the Grand Temple.
And what was it that Juno says in one of her emails to Desmond…
Rebecca frowns and then turns to her computer, getting into Desmond’s emails and quickly looking through them. There. Among many other weird and creepy things Juno had told Desmond – YOU were not meant to exist. We conjured you – she told him there had been memory discs in the Grand Temple which she had thrown away. Discs meant for Desmond. Left behind by someone other than Juno, seeing she felt the need to get rid of them.
Rebecca suspects those discs probably would have had answers in them. Is it too late to try and find them…?
Four days to do. For days left for Desmond to find where Connor had hidden the final key. Four days to save the world. Most of those days she would be doing nothing. They'd all would be doing nothing. All three of them can do now is wait on Desmond and hope he finds the key in time.
Rebecca thrums her fingers on her keyboard and then calls, "Hey, Shaun? Any chance you could requisition a drone for me?"
"They are highly expensive surveillance equipment, Rebecca, not toys," Shaun says. "You'll need a damn good reason for one."
Probably better not to say the real reason out loud where Juno might hear. "How about investigation of ancient super high tech civilisation for the advancement of science and understanding?" Rebecca asks. "I want to send one down the holes all over this place to take a look at the guts of their machinery. Imagine all the things we could learn!"
"That is a good point," Bill says and folds his arms. "Chances are, we aren't going to get another chance like this. We never do."
Shaun leans back, looking grumpy and interested. "Yeah. Reckon you're right about that," he admits finally, looking put off – probably about not having thought it himself. "Alright. I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks Shaun! You're the best."
The drone arrives that very day, delivered by a courier on a motorcycle who is there and gone before Rebecca even notices it. She's knee deep in wading through their previous recordings about Juno, Minerva, Tinia and everything they have so far gathered on the Grand Temple and the plans Those That Came Before seem to have for them. So far, none of it looks good.
"Hey, Becs," Shaun says and not very delicately taps something on the top of her head, something big and heavy. A cardboard box. "Gift for you. Feel free to express your undying gratitude and overwhelming awe at my resourcefulness now."
Rebecca elbows him on the side. "That's my drone?"
"That's our drone," Shaun says and holds the drone out of her reach before she can snatch the box up. "Now, why do you really want it?"
"For science," Rebecca says, launching from her chair and catching the box from Shaun's rather weak attempt of holding it from her. "Thanks Shaun. Wanna help me set it up?"
Shaun gives her a narrow look. "Science, really."
"And also stuff and maybe even things," Rebecca says, and on the word stuff she glances towards Desmond and on things she glances even more pointedly towards the glowing barrier. Shaun's eyes narrow even further and she thinks he gets it – he's been having a email cat-fight Juno ever since she told him off for advising Desmond against engaging with her. He probably spotted the email about the discs too, though if he figures out that is what this is about… who knows.
He helps her unwrap the drone anyway, clearing out the box and the styrofoam packing while Rebecca goes about initialising the drone and connecting it to her computer.
"Please remember that our mission comes first," Bill says, coming in to watch. "And our priority will be aiding Desmond. This can't take time away from that."
"It won't, Bill, promise," Rebecca says while hooking the drone's charging pad to the computer. Shaun had gotten them a fully charged drone, nice. "I'm going to just look around whenever there's downtime, see what's in places we can't get to. That alright?"
"I won't deny I'm curious too," Bill says, looking towards Desmond. "Go right ahead – but Desmond still comes first."
Desmond is currently only a day deep into his latest session and isn't likely to come up for air until tomorrow, or that evening the earliest. Still, Rebecca checks his progress and vitals and makes sure everything is going as it should before turning her attention to the drone.
Push of a button, and it's off, its controller vibrating slightly in her hands as it takes off and picks up speed. Assassin drones are generally quieter than the more civilian varieties, but in a closed, echoing space like the cave even that small bit of noise comes out pretty loud. It's far from Rebecca's first time piloting one, so she's not exactly surprised, but usually drones are used in wide open places, not in caves. She can do this, she knows she can do this, but… "Here's hoping the signal is strong enough to get through volcanic rock," she mutters and turns the drone's lights on.
"You lose that drone, the cost is coming off your pay," Shaun says even as he leans in to watch the screen between the controller sticks
"That would be more threatening if we got pay," Rebecca says and then aims both sticks sharply forward – sending the drone into a nosedive down unfathomably deep hole. While she and Shaun stare at the screen on the controller, Bill leans to watch the screens on Rebecca's stone desk, where the same footage is being replayed in slightly delayed recording.
"It looks like the mechanisms go much deeper than it appears," Bill murmurs.
"They probably go down hundreds of feet, it's just that there's tons of rock and also a deadly fall in the way," Shaun says and narrows his eyes as on the screen faintly glowing circuitry whirls by. "You think that's all for whatever's in there?" he asks, glancing at the glowing barrier.
"Probably. It would have to be massive, whatever it is, to be capable of protecting the entire Earth from the Solar Flare," Rebecca says and narrows her eyes. There's a depth meter on the drone, and it's already done fifty meters. The signal range on their drones is about a kilometre in clear conditions – but again, clear conditions don't regularly include volcanic glass and seventy thousand year old tech.
Please don't lose signal, Rebecca thinks and pushes the drone further down.
It takes a long time before the drone reaches bottom. Rebecca pulls it up just in time to avoid crashing it down to the bottom and then spins it around, searching the floor. Nothing there but rock and more rock and also bits of blackened glass, like the stuff that's all over the cave. No discs. Yet.
Time to start searching.
Juno starts getting suspicious of what they're doing about an hour in, her golden ghost appearing in flickers to hover by Rebecca's station. Rebecca has long since adopted the policy of see no evil hear no evil with her, and so she just puts on headphones extra loud and ignores whatever the spectre is trying to say, whatever she's demanding to know. Juno's not on their side, she's certain of that now, but at least she can't do anything but nag at them.
God, Rebecca hopes she can't do anything but nag at them.
There's a lot to explore in the caves around the Grand Temple –and there are a lot of caves. Some of them are man made – or… precursor made? – and some of them are naturally formed – most are mixture of both. Rebecca finds actual rooms, corridors, entire sections blocked off by collapsed walls and ancient flows of magma. The Grand Temple used to be… pretty damn grand, once. Or it might be what she finds isn't actually part of the Grand Temple itself, but the city it had once been part of. Still, the part they're in, it's literally just the tip of a mountain – what's beneath is so much bigger than any of them expected.
There's writing there, statues, symbols on the walls, mechanisms – but so far, no discs.
By the time Desmond comes to from his latest session, Rebecca has searched through dozens of rooms and corridors, and has found zero discs.
"Hey, man, come here – slowly, don't knock yourself out," Rebecca calls and pushes her headphones off. "While you were off, we got a drone to check out the place further – you know, go in places we can't reach? Come have a look."
She has a feeling that if the discs are gonna be found, she's not the one who can actually find them.
Desmond blinks at her blearily and then slowly gets up from the Animus, setting his feet down on the floor slowly and then leaning forward. He comes to life like statue, limb by stony limb. Rebecca tries not to notice. "A drone. Like, a flying drone?"
"Yep," Rebecca says, hopping up from her chair and holding the controller out to him. "Gotta bring it back up soon to charge its batteries, but it should be good for another half an hour. Here, take her for a spin."
Desmond blinks slowly and takes the controller in hand, squinting at the screen. Bit awkwardly he fits his hands on the sticks, and Rebecca gives him a quick tutorial on how to manoeuvre with the thing. Shaun lifts his head from where he'd wandered off to study the screen captures he'd taken from some of the more elaborate murals they'd found. "You crash it, you pay for it."
"With what, my blood? Little short on cash right now, Shaun," Desmond says – and of course, he gets the handle of the controller inside couple of seconds, his eyes going intense as he concentrates on the screen. Leaning onto her desk made of black rock, Rebecca wonders if Desmond gets tunnel vision. Soon he's speeding down routes and going in places Rebecca wouldn't have bothered to check – like in the Animus, even here Desmond just has to check every minute detail and shadowy corner, just in case.
They'd done a damn good job teaching Desmond to mind the details, hadn't they? It had been Lucy's idea originally – back in Abstergo, she'd introduced the collectible flags into Altaïr's memories to give Desmond something concrete to concentrate on. It helped him with synchronisation, gave him a sense of progress and accomplishment, or something. Rebecca, thinking flags were pretty boring, made them into treasures and feathers and stuff. Desmond, it turned out, was bit of a magpie for it.
It seems to be paying off now. In a few seconds, Desmond turns the drone into a bloodhound – it misses nothing.
Shaun watches them for a moment and then gets up to his feet to watch. "Anything?"
"Hmm," Desmond answers, tilting his head as he tilts the controller – the image tilts too. He must be visualising himself down there – like he was in Animus. How cool is that, Rebecca thinks and then leans in.
Up, down, left, right, Desmond weaves through the tunnels like he knows his way – and there, finally, he finds what he must've been looking for. A gleaming circle of metal, propped against a bit of stone.
"Oh," Shaun murmurs, his eyes widening. They'd never seen them, aside from in drawing, but he knows what it is. Rebecca does too. Desmond probably knows it better than either of them, if what he told them about Animus Island and reliving last bits of Ezio's and Altaïr's lives was true.
A Precursor memory disc – the OG Animus technology.
"The drone has articulated arms with pincers," Rebecca says to Desmond. "Set it to auto hover and press the green button."
"Got it," Desmond says, and if he hears the strangled wail Juno lets out somewhere behind him, he doesn't react to it at all. He just ushers the drone forward and grabs the disk in the drone's three fingered grip, lifting it delicately from the floor. He tilts his head again, switches back to manual hover controls, and then the drone is off, speeding back and up, right and left and up, up, up, towards them.
"There is only lies in them!" Juno howls at them, making Shaun jump in alarm and Bill lift his head from where he was working on a computer, his eyes wide. "There are old stories, inconsequential, meaningless! They will only distract you, push you away from the route you are meant to travel! Leave them lie where they are, leave them!"
Desmond glances up at her. "No," he says, and presses the drone forward.
"Your purpose is clear now, your path ready for you – do not let yourself be diverted you from your purpose!" Juno snaps at him and flies right into his face. Shaun stumbles back with a sputter while Rebecca ducks behind Desmond because Jesus Christ – "All is left now is to find the Key, Desmond, that is all there is, that is all you must do now! Leave the whispers of the dead –"
The drone launches up from the hole, swinging in air and Juno shouts, turning as if to swat at the thing as it flies towards them. But in the end, she's just a hologram. She can't actually do anything to it. The drone stops to hover in front of Desmond, who hands the controller back to Rebecca without a word.
"Bloody hell," Shaun mutters.
With a strangled snarl, Juno turns and disappears. Desmond stands up and reaches for the disc. It looks almost exactly like a CD, except it's thicker, made of metal and shot throughout with golden circuitry. Lot of humanity's digital storage is based on the things, though, so of course it's similar. Digital memory – and the Animus itself.
"Son," Bill says, standing up and coming to them quickly while Rebecca waits with the drone controller. "You know what you're doing with that?"
"Yeah, I got a pretty good idea," Desmond says, and takes the disk in his hand. Immediately, the gold in it starts gleaming brighter, starts shining with inner light. Desmond stares at it, his eyes low lidded, and says nothing.
Rebecca quickly ushers the drone to it's charging station before turning back to look. "Desmond – Desmond?" she asks, reaching out to pat his shoulder, but he's not moving – he's not listening. His eyes are nailed on the disk – and they're glowing. She'd figured it would turn out something like this, but… "Well that's creepy."
"You don't say, Rebecca. Bloody Juno, almost gave me a heart attack," Shaun mutters, adjusting the front of his blazer. He gives frozen Desmond a uneasy look. "Rebecca, honestly now – were you looking for those things?"
"I honestly was, yeah," Rebecca says. "Seemed like Juno really didn't want Desmond to get his hands on them, so… I thought he really should get his hands on them."
"This might complicate things," Bill says, stepping closer to Desmond and putting hand on his wrist, testing his pulse and then checking his breathing. Then he looks at the disc, uneasy.
"I think things were a little too simple, don't you?" Rebecca says and folds her arms. "This close to the end… we should get all the information we can before we commit to anything. And we should especially check out the stuff Juno doesn't want us to know."
"Hmm," Bill answers. "Well, I can't deny it has been frustrating being led by the nose like we have been."
"No kidding," Shaun says and waves a hand over Desmond's sightless eyes. "Should way maybe try and sit him down or something? If he falls over here, he's going to crack his skull and then we'll be really screwed."
"Yeah, good idea," Rebecca says and quickly reaches for her swivel chair, pushing it behind Desmond and holding it still while Bill and Shaun carefully push unresponsive Desmond to sit down on it. He doesn't even blink. Rebecca winces. "His eyes are going to be so dry once he's done."
"How long do you reckon this will take?" Shaun asks, making a face.
"No idea," Rebecca says. "The latest info we have about this was with Altaïr's memory discs, the Masyaf Keys, and we don't know how long it took for Ezio to go though them either. Hours, probably. Um. Do we have eye drops or…?"
Bill reaches forward, taking Desmond's frozen face between his palms. With his thumbs, Bill gently closes Desmond's eyes. It makes Desmond look like he's very intensely listening to something only he can hear, it would be funny – if it wasn't for the glowing bit of tech in Desmond's still hands.
"There," Bill says and awkwardly pulls his hands back. He clears his throat and tries to pretend like he wasn't just stroking Desmond's cheeks. "I guess we're playing the waiting game again."
"Again," Shaun agrees. "Here's hoping he'll be done before the Sun burns the Earth, yeah?"