Memory 0. 41 6e 69 6d 75 73 _ 49 73 6c 61 6e 64 , --.--.--
At first, there’s just darkness and silence and weightlessness, endless floating in the void. The first seagull screech breaks through the silence and brings with it the quiet rustle of waves hitting the shore.
And, as if the dam has been broken, all other senses flood back, and there’s a sense of up and down, something bumpy under my back, something gritty and cold between fingers, coppery tang on my lips, smells of salt and seaweed, but there’s no light, and I panic for a moment.
Oh, right. The eyes. I still need to open them.
I try to, the feeling of eyelids moving suddenly uncomfortably unfamiliar, but I barely register that - the mix of light and colors hits my eyes like a whip, making everything blurry for a moment - are those tears? I wipe them off with the back of my hand - well, I try at least, and miss three goddamn times, as if my arms have gone to sleep or turned into overcooked spaghetti. And not only arms - every muscle in my body feels out of sync as if my brain had gone haywire, and, when I try to get up, I only manage to roll over, almost face-first in the gritty stuff I was lying on - sand, it’s just sand.
It clicks in my hazy head a moment later, and the process is so slow I can practically see my consciousness connecting the dots together - I am on the beach, or at least at some sort of shore. It’s a grounded thought and in that - calming. There’s sunlight, but something is wrong with it - it’s dispersed as if there’s no sun, and cold, like in the middle of winter, but the overall temperature is comfortable.
Okay, but this can wait. First I need to figure out where the hell am I, why I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck multiple times, and why my head is swimming and feels so empty and wrong.
Location first, though.
I make another attempt to lift myself from the ground, even though my legs and arms are still trembling like I’ve been on the obstacle course a whole day long, and my knees threaten to buckle, even when I finally manage to stand upright. Evolution, bitches!
Sure enough, it’s a shoreline - a narrow strip of sand littered with rocks, and a cliffside with some grass on top of it. And…
Okay, fuck the sunlight weirdness - there are metal freaking columns and pieces, lying, standing and flying around, attached to the pieces of rocks. That can’t be normal.
Is it even real?
I take a couple of steps along the shoreline. The weird thing is that it feels vaguely familiar, or rather recognizable, but I don't get to finish that thought - there’s a bright bluish flash and someone says:
“Oh well, just walk right past me - again,” and I almost jump the owner of the voice, before taking in golden-blond hair, blue-green eyes, square jaw, a smirk borderlining on nasty, no, Darim, I can't take you with me you are too young, not yet and fucking ow! My head hurts like a bitch, but it's still good to see his face. Isn't he supposed to be dark-haired? No, wrong, he is fine, he was always this blond and utterly obnoxious.
“You were invisible, Clay,” I say tartly, trying to massage the pain away from my forehead. I'm not in the mood for games with my thought process disorganized as it is. “Did no one tell you it's rude to sneak up on people?”
Clay freezes for a second and then he fucking teleports right in my face making me stagger backward a step. It's nauseating and rather unsettling, almost as unsettling as his intent eyes searching my face.
“You are not Desmond,” he says finally, starting to circle me, and I can't help rolling eyes at him.
“Keen observation,” I drawl mockingly, and add before I can even fully comprehend what I’m saying, words rolling down my tongue by themselves. “Desmond is safe.”
Clay stops abruptly and in a flash teleports back in front of me.
“Why would you say that?” he asks slowly, blue-green eyes cold now, calculating, but I barely notice that as my thought process comes to a screeching halt.
How the hell do I even know Clay’s name? Why Desmond being safe is such an issue? And who the bloody hell is Desmond?
Laughter, chestnut hair, white hoodie and black ink, golden glow lighting dark-brown eyes, scarred lips, hidden blade, gray robes, age lines, everything is burning, non sono riuscito, the ship is leaving, Mentore, ho bisogno di proteggere il Mentore, no, wrong, wrong, white robes, red sash, wide eyes, red blood, fear, no, no, that can’t be happening, Sef, Sef, al'akhu al'asghar I’m so sorry, why did he do that, this khayin-
Images flood my mind, overlapping and my head is burning, reality around becomes a blurred red mess, I can’t see, I can’t breathe, I…
I must have blacked out. The next time I come to, I’m on my knees, doubled over, hugging my middle and dry-heaving, distantly aware of my body jerking and trembling.
Eventually, after a few minutes or maybe months, I cannot tell, it stops. Tears stream down my face, but I don’t have the strength to wipe them away. Even my hair hurts, and everything feels hazy, dull and diluted.
“Interesting,” Clay says from somewhere above but I ignore him. I need to think. Thinking helps to deal with the pain.
Clay, I think forcefully, who Clay is?
My mind draws a blank. I take another shot - Desmond, who is Desmond? The thought echoes in my brain with a vaguely familiar accent, but otherwise - another blank.
Panic rises in my guts, as I desperately take another shot - family, do I have a family?
There’s a faint mix of feelings - love, affection, exasperation, respect, estrangement and disappointment, but nothing concrete. Nothing real.
My stomach drops.
“You okay there, honey?” Clay asks mockingly and then there’s a hand in front of my face. I take it, absently, mind racing to the one last question.
Who am I?
“Okay, here’s the problem,” Clay says, snapping me out of my reverie and his strange eyes are fixed on me. “You seem to know an awful lot, and I have no clue who the hell are you, so let’s start with a name.”
There’s nothing in my head. No answer. Nothing.
“I’d start with that too, but I don’t remember,” I shrug, trying to not succumb to the pit of darkness that seems to have opened under my feet.
Clay makes a face of pure disbelief.
“Seriously,” he drawls.
“Cross my heart,” I sigh and sit on the ground, picking a pebble. It feels somehow wrong, like the whole of this island, but I can’t place my finger why - it certainly is smooth, heavy and cold as a normal one-
“Are we on an island?” I ask Clay, and he makes a little humming noise before answering.
“You can call it that. Why?”
“Dunno, I’ve just had this thought,” I shrug, turning the pebble over and over in my hand. “It's like I know stuff, but I can't remember. It sucks.”
“What are you, five?“ Clay snickers and I look down on my arms.
“Doesn't look like it,” I say finally. “I'm at least in my late teens.”
“You look about twenty-ish,” Clay nods and adds with a smirk. “Also tiny as hell.”
“Well, fuck you sideways, darling,” I answer immediately and he laughs.
“I think I like you, tiny,” he says and then goes serious. “Also I think I have an idea. Answer me a couple of questions, would you? Don’t think, just say whatever comes first.“
“‘s not like I’ve anything better to do, so why not,” I nod and look down on my hands trying to relax. I guess I kinda know where this is heading.
“Let's start easy - how many days are in one year?“
“365 and a quarter,” I answer immediately.
“First president of the US?“
“George Washington,” it’s like a quiz, almost, and I smile a little.
“Square root of 81?“
“What makes glass?”
The author of the Divine Comedy?”
“Where are you now?”
Clay gives me no time to mull it over.
“How many rings were given to the Elves?“
“Nothing is true.”
“Everything is permitted,” I respond automatically and the phrase breaks in my head in at least dozen voices echoing “Nothing is true, everything is permitted. Nothing is true, everything is permitted. Nothing…”
It makes me dizzy, but Clay doesn't stop:
“Twelve times four?“
“Forty-eight,” I force myself to answer, ignoring the voices. I’m not crazy, am I?
“Current president of Russia?“
“The capital of Italy?“
“May the Force…”
“Be with you?”
“What’s your name?“
I open my mouth to answer and stop. It's like there's a cotton ball in my throat. I can't say anything and I know there’s nothing for me to say.
Clay looks at me intently and changes the question:
“When's your birthday?“
I try to speak and pause again. August? Wait, no, maybe April?
Clay nods as if he was expecting this.
“What was the Hogwarts motto?”
“What kind of question is that? I dunno, something about not tickling a sleeping dragon?”
“Close enough. Colors of the rainbow?”
“Red, orange, yellow, green, light blue, blue, purple.”
“The one absent on the pride flag?”
“One of the shades of blue?”
“What's your name?“
I open my mouth to speak, but no sound comes out. My lips try to form shapes, but I don’t even know what letter is the first. A, B, E, something else?
I grit my teeth so hard my jaw hurts.
“Are you crying?” Clay asks quietly, watching me with an unreadable expression.
“No,” I respond a bit too sharply than intended and quickly blink the tears away. “It's your imagination.”
Clay looks like he is about to say something but just shakes his head.
“Let’s recap, shall we?” and goes to sit on a huge rock. “So, you are most likely an Assassin, not a Templar, and your memories aren't gone, they are blocked. Considering you've slipped on languages-”
I did? I haven't even noticed!
“... And defragmented a bit - your problem is the same as mine and Desmond’s was. Also, you are most likely real, not an AI construct - for a construct you have too much unnecessary, random knowledge (like pop culture references) besides personality traits. That was the good part. The bad part is - I have no idea who you are, and neither have you for now. It can cause complications when you'll try to separate yourself from your ancestors. It would be best if you figured out at least your own name, to act as an anchor. But that's not an option, you have to start your journey back quickly - you already are defragmenting, wait a little bit longer - and you’ll break into thousand tiny pieces, no fun in that.”
“My… Journey?“ I ask hesitantly. There are a few other things I don't consciously know, but they don't feel out of place, so I guess I can figure them out along the way.
“See that thing?” Clay asks, pointing somewhere on his left. I look that way and see in the distance a huge arch, akin to one of the Stonehenge portals, made of the same metal-and-stone columns as the ones that are everywhere on the island. Even from that far it looks ominous and I shiver.
Behind the arch is… Something. It shimmers bleak blue, grey and black and moves. I squint but I can't make out anything beyond the fact that it's not normal.
“Is that some sort of rip in the space-time continuum?“ I ask half-joking and but Clay doesn't smirk even a little bit.
“Sort of,” he says and hops off the rock. “Walk with me, I'll explain.”
He gives me a hand again and I take it, noticing now how surprisingly solid, warm and calloused it is, how real, unlike pretty much everything so far and that makes me think.
“Are you real?” I ask as Clay lets go and we start walking up the shoreline. He gives me a look like I suddenly grew a second head or something.
“Now that’s new,” he says slowly. “You know my name, but you don’t know if I’m real?”
“I don’t know your name,” I remind him and frown. “My brain knows, I guess.”
“You do realize how stupid that sounds?” Clay arches a brow, but I'm not listening to him.
“Besides, this place doesn't look nearly normal enough to be real, so yeah, it's a valid question. So, are you?“
Clay looks at me for a few long moments, like he is contemplating an answer, and I get a feeling I won't like it.
“I was. Once,” he says finally. “Now I'm just a bunch of zeros and ones, stuck in this beautifully dull place, waiting for something to happen.”
“Bunch of zeros and ones?” I repeat quietly and hairs on the back of my head stand up. Clay’s face becomes almost sympathetic.
“But you knew that all along, you even gave me the right answer when I asked. My guess is that Desmond told you, about this place and about me, not sure why. Either way, we are on the Animus Island, and the Animus Island is…”
“A computer simulation,” I finish for him and my fingers go cold. It makes perfect sense, it does, explains precisely why the sunlight feels cold and dispersed, and why this pebble feels normal but wrong the same way the sand felt wrong somehow, why is everything normal but ever so slightly off. And the flying metal columns too.
It’s all just not real.
“Yes. We are in the guts of the Animus, the machine, designed to decode and read genetic memory and get us a sneak peek as to what our naughty ancestors were up to before conceiving us,” Clay explains, smirking a bit. “Animus isn’t programmed to simulate a whole consciousness, so it gathered you up and dropped onto the Island - the test environment, with no memories. Now, that thing-”
He points at the arch that is now close enough so I can make out the grid-like patterns that run from the arch and into the distance that shouldn't be possible. It looks creepy as hell, and I’m not sure I want to get any closer.
And of fucking course, I have to.
“-is called the Memory Gate. It’s a way to access the Animus mainframe and a way out for you. See, if you are here, and getting here isn’t an easy feat, it means that you have suffered a serious Animus-related shock in the real world and someone plugged you in here, so, if they have at least half a brain, by now your genome is decoded and lined up for the Animus to use.”
“What kind of sho-” I start when a surge of pain shoots through my temples, and there are voices again and I am running, no, I’m falling, no, wrong, wrong, voices again, I can’t breathe, I’m underwater, no, wrong, I’m on top of the highest tower in the city and I can see an eagle flying around me, no, also wrong, I’m behind a statue of an eagle above a busy modern street and the sun, a rare guest in this city, shines brightly on my face, drying my tears-
I haven’t blacked out this time, but I kinda wish I have. Clay doesn’t let me completely keel over, grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking firmly.
“This kind of shock,” he says in an even tone, as if bored, but his blue-green eyes are trained on my face. “The prolonged use of the Animus causes Bleeding Effect, making you see bits of your ancestor’s life outside of this torture device, and in extreme cases, through trauma, your ancestors collapse inward into your psyche, trying to all fit in the spot already taken by, well, you. It isn’t pretty.”
His words come to me through the haze, slow and dulled. Bleeding Effect? Sounds fitting, seeing how I seem to be floating in the sea of red mist…
Clay shakes me again, harder.
“Focus, tiny, you are running out of time,” he snaps. “You are defragmenting again. Focus.”
“On what?” I ask weakly and Clay gives me a nasty smile.
“On how tiny you are for example,” he drawls, smirking viciously. “Four feet and a couple inches, tops, I wonder if the furniture in your house is downsized too.”
“Kindly go fuck yourself,” I growl, but it’s working - the red haze in front of my eyes thins. “I am not tiny!”
“Yes you are, and your angry face is hilarious, by the way,” Clay laughs and honest to god I want to murder this man. “It’s like being threatened by a hamster!”
I break out of his hold and flip him over the shoulder before I can even contemplate my actions and realize that he isn’t really fighting back.
“Better?” Clay asks from the ground, and I feel a wave of remorse rising within. Now that’s some fucking temper.
“Yeah,” I offer him a hand to get up. “Thanks. How’d you know it would work?”
“I didn’t. It was a lucky guess. Short person - short fuse,” Clay snickers and then goes serious. “Listen, to be honest - I have no idea what waits for you in that gate because your situation is different from what happened to me and Desmond. But that’s your only way out - to go in there, find the memories of the ancestors that collapsed into your psyche and work through them. Hopefully, you’ll remember yourself along the way and then the Animus would separate you from them and send you back to your body.”
“That simple?” I ask him and look at the Memory Gate. It’s still ominous, and I don’t like the idea of going in at all.
“Yep. A piece of a goddamn cake,” he says and waves a hand. “Now get on with it, shoo, the Animus can’t keep your consciousness intact forever.”
I take a step to the Memory Gate before turning back to Clay.
“You said you were real,” I start, trying not to look him in the eyes. “What happened?”
“To me? Nothing,” Clay answers, hopping onto a piece of a column. “To the guy, who made me out of his own memories, skills, and traits? He went nuts and killed himself after sending me into the Animus.”
And, before I can say anything, he disappears in a flash of blue light, leaving me alone in front of the Gate.
“I’m so sorry,” I say quietly to the empty space after a few moments of silence and turn to the arch.
Beyond, the mainframe grid shimmers and ripples in front of me.
Before I can get afraid, I step forward and don’t stop until I hit the grid. It feels like a jolt of electricity goes into my bones and then I’m floating, floating through the grey-black grid and static. The pebble I forgot about starts disintegrating in my hand, turning piece by piece into dozens of bleak-blue sparks and I watch them go away, absorbed by the grid. It’s raw data, everything here is raw data, I need to keep that thought.
The grid around me starts to change, morphs, becoming ground, and skies, and buildings, and air, and smells, and people, and sounds, and this place looks familiar.
And then I start falling.
LOADING - MEMORY 1. LEVANT, JERUSALEM, 1194