Five men were lounging against the worn walls of a decrepit alley. A sixth dropped in from above, landing smoothly on his feet.
“Report!” the sixth’s Russian accent barked.
“The target has yet to leave the bar.” One of the men replied, eyes flickering upward at the menacing voice. His brown eyes returned to his phone, “All exits are filmed and watched by two individuals. One of our internal cameras was destroyed in a bar fight, but the target has shown up consistently. A phone tap revealed that a colleague of the target called off work, so the target is working a double shift.”
The sixth man scowled, “We’re behind schedule. I’m going in,” He adopted a staggering gate towards the bar’s entrance.
“Sir-!” one of the more stouter fighters started to protest, receiving a casual dismissal in the form of a throwing knife slicing the edge of his neck. The remaining men breathed out as man in a black hoodie and dark jeans disappeared out of view.
“You are rather fortunate Richard that Mr. Cross was only in a threatening mood. There is a reason no one crosses him.” Amused at his own pun, the man watching the cameras via his phone watched the former Assassin prowl closer to the bar. The target was an ignorant rabbit hunted by a rabid fox. It was a rare opportunity to see the former Assassin work his magic in person. Roger had every intention of enjoying the show. Minutes passed. Subject Four increased his ‘mumbled’ complains shouting out drunken demands- most in Russian. When the target returned, Roger fully expected a bar fight to break out. Instead Mr. Cross settled down, accepting a jar of alcohol and the target’s apologies with a huff. Time ticked away. Mr. Cross fumbled purposely as he limped to the restroom, returning in a matter of bleary moments, complaining about a mess. This had to be it. Roger watched in anticipation as the bartender pursed his scarred lips and collected a bucket of cleaning supplies.
Unseen by the target Mr. Cross smirked, taking another sip of the alcohol before following.
The target crouched down, facing away from the hidden camera in the men’s restroom. Mr. Cross entered, uncapping a needle as he stepped closer. But the flash of movement that was supposed to be a successful acquisition of the target was knocked off course. The bartender’s right arm slammed into Mr. Cross’s hand, shattering the syringe, quickly followed by a cocktail of chemicals thrown into Subject Four’s eyes. Mr. Cross roared in agony, kicking out instinctively. The target quickly retaliated, tossing Mr. Cross into a bathroom stall. Then the bartender was running.
“The target is approaching.” Roger radioed the other teams, the men stepping into active fighting positions, “He’s headed toward the back entrance!” And the destroyed camera… Roger’s eyes narrowed as seconds began to pass by and yet no sign of the target. About to order the nearest team into a potential ambush, Roger remained quiet as Mr. Cross raged into the bar, nearly flying as he jumped over tables and chairs and ripped barriers apart, chasing after his prey.
Then… nothing. No dishes thrown, no clouds of smoke, and no crows of victory. Abstergo’s observer hesitated only for 30 more seconds before ordering the teams to close in on the establishment.
Fortunately, there were blessedly few patrons to pacify before reaching the unwashed and battered kitchen.
Roger twitched. The other ‘acquisition specialists’ stood around, largely useless as they ‘inspected’ the edges of the kitchen for secret exits, skirting around the unresponsive killer slumped over on the floor.
“Did anyone contact an ambulance yet?” Roger demanded, glad he had the foresight to contact the project manager via text before storming the building as the soldiers responded negatively. He sprung into action, turning the water faucets on to build a reservoir in the cleanest pot Roger could find. Chances were high that the splash of chemical’s still needed to be washed out. “You- go find a first aid kit! You with the spiky hair- take witness statements! Sargent- take a patrol and inspect the roof! John- bag the chemicals in the bathroom! The rest of you- Clear Out!”
“Sir? I understand-Doctor?” Roger winced as he saw the ‘farewell screen’ on his phone. The programmer grimaced- at best he could hope that he only lost his next paycheck. Warren Vidic’s, a more vengeful version of Jacob Marley, would more likely add him as another link to a long chain of brutal results than bestow an illusion of forgiveness. The ambulance’s doors slammed shut, sounding remarkably like the seething doctor.
A cup of coffee was aggressively set down on a cracked counter. Fingers flew across sleek black keys as artfully as a concert pianist. The bearer of squinting eyes pursued old city layouts, ripping open stolen pdfs, the knowledge spilling across the screen. Scrolling the maps, Shaun eventually pinpointed a hidden tunnel- a collapsed sewage line abandoned during construction. Highlighting the tunnel, the British hacker pursed his lips as he quickly deduced that any possible manholes had been left unrecorded. Opening another window, Shaun absently scanned for the reasoning behind abandoning the drain.
The majority of his attention remained focused on the search for a fugitive would-have-been Assassin.
Across the room, another data pillager yawned, stretching out cramped muscles. “What a trip.” Despite the weariness effecting her body, Rebecca felt wired, “Was not expecting that much action from our dossier.”
“Does it look like I’m done?” Shaun bit back, “There isn’t much time until ‘Nathan Stewart’, bartender of Bad Weather storms away.”
“Are you losing him?” Rebecca jolted, tap dancing fingers echoing Shaun’s clatter. “That should be impossible- Desmond Miles doesn’t have that level of skill.”
“And yet, he’s dodging every security camera, and not just the ground level or visible gadgets.”
“...Including the broken or fakes?” A recent police case (and Assassin cover up) reminded the keen woman of an alternate method of tracking someone who had time to plan.
Shaun huffed, “That will take a significant amount of focused research seeing as none of those devices are online.”
“I’ll focus in on that then. Maybe I’ll get a breakthrough on how Desmond responded so promptly to Abstergo’s attack.”
The discordant notes of cursing soon followed as Shaun was forced to turn to a facial recognition program to find any city-wide clues of the should-have-been an Assassin. Shaun only hoped that this wasn’t an elaborate setup for Abstergo to slip Desmond into the Assassin’s ranks.
It should have been simple. A team of two hackers should have been more than enough to monitor Abstergo’s latest abduction. Instead a bizarre and tumultuous reality made life a bit more interesting.
Armed with electronic lances of data, lightning-quick fingers had infiltrated Abstergo’s cameras. Rebecca and Shaun waited alongside the Abstergo’s soldiers. But as the delay of Templar orders stretched on, the two weary workers napped in shifts. The ninety minute bouts of REM sleep did wonders for their concentration. Both Assassins were enjoying a late-night meal of coffee and takeout when Cross landed in the ally. In an instant the researchers were alert and wary, grim-faced as the Assassin-turned-traitor put on a show for the public audience.
Rebecca couldn’t help wishing that they had a way of alerting Nathan Stewart to the lethal man lurking in front of him. Unfortunately there was no phone in Nathan’s vicinity. In addition, a warning would have only alerted Abstergo to the Assassins’ whereabouts. So Rebecca and Shaun watched with growing bafflement as Desmond Miles, the real name of Nathan Stewart, handled the ambush with deft cunning and remarkable competence.
The ambulance approaching the bar had the duo holding their breath as Abstergo flunkies filtered out of the bar. But no prisoner or corpse was revealed- Desmond Miles had vanished. Still, even as Shaun hastily looked up blueprints in the graveyard of city archives, both Assassins inspected the live feed. In numb glee, Rebecca documented Daniel Cross being loaded into the emergency vehicle. A stray idea illuminated the potential goldmine of a desperately needed moral booster. Rebecca quickly stole copies of the recorded fight before it could be erased by Templar yes-men. She then backed up the video files in three separate locations, just in case Shaun hadn’t already added the historic moment to Assassin archives.
Cross had lost with spectacular swiftness. The much reviled turncoat finally had a blemish on his Templar-assigned mission record. And to rub in insult to injury, the former Assassin had been defeated by a runaway- someone who had stubbornly chosen civilian life.
As fortuitous as the unexpected outcome was, luck was for the unprepared and desperate. While many Assassins were in desperate circumstances, none could afford to be so ill-prepared.
Rebecca rifled through both Desmond’s scant records of existence and Desmond’s portfolio of aliases. It looked just as dismal as when she had skimmed through the data prior to this mission. The man’s earlier years proved Desmond to be a mediocre and uncooperative student in most Assassin-taught classes. Yet not a few hours prior, Desmond had fought Cross and won. So what had changed?
While seeking out the electronic scarecrows of the city was tedious, finding the holes in ‘Nathan Stewart’s employment history proved an exercise in futility. Call after call, drunken secretaries or frequent patrons eventually confirmed Nathan’s plethora of alibis amid bouts of catcalls and profanity.
“How.” Rebecca thudded her head on the desk, “His supposedly flimsy cover has over 56 witnesses and a remarkable resume.” If Desmond really spent so much time attending intoxicated antics, his fighting style should have resembled a brawler’s. It did not. Nor did it imitate the martial arts taught to the Black Hills Assassins of Montana.
Shaun raised an sceptical eyebrow, “Fifty-six witnesses already? It’s five in the morning!” And the facial-recognition system had yet to return any results. As unlikely a lead it might be, Shaun was also running a program to detect any burglar-alarms set off in the area.
“It’s the city that never sleeps.” Rebecca countered, “For someone who is trying to remain under the radar, he’s peculiarly memorable. How has anyone not caught up to him before?”
“Because no one was actually looking for Desmond until Abstergo decided to take an interest?”
“Hear me out. How did Abstergo track him down in the first place?”
Bored, Shaun got up to pour another cup of caffeine, “The imbecile became careless- they matched his alias via his fingerprints.”
“His fingerprints?” Rebecca squinted at her own fingers, a premonition circumventing definition, “Why would Desmond even have fingerprints on record? Wasn’t he was born on an Assassin farm?”
“A simple way to verify one’s identity before the Purge. Afterwards… the stolen records painted a persistent target on those unfortunate souls.”
“Yet it’s only now, years after the Purge, that Desmond’s fingerprints surface in the system. Is it just ill fortune that Abstergo happens to be looking for a new Animas subject?”
Shaun took another sip of the ill-tasting stimulant, “If Desmond finally took his head out of the sand and decided to do something about the truth of the world, we would have known.”
“Would we have? If Desmond and his father switched places, I could see William refusing to return without a peace offering.”
Shaun eyed her, visibly assessing her sanity. “So according to your theory, Desmond discovered that the Farm wasn’t a cult and decides, that instead of returning to apologise that he’ll just work on his own? He’d be worse than a flamingo ignoring the color of his own feathers if Desmond thought that pea-brained idea would work.”
“Can you imagine William Miles apologising?” Rebecca challenged.
“Define apology.” Shaun glowered, gesturing with the hot beverage. “Do riddles and schemes in the name of Assassin tutelage count?”
“That’s just my point, or question rather. Did Desmond have the capability to do the same type of games?”
“Even a rogue Assassin-raised child would know better than to attack Templar headquarters as a lone ranger. And as you pointed out- it’s been years.”
“Doesn’t his ability to evade cameras say that Desmond is someone more than a civilian?”
“He has exceeded my low expectations, but that doesn’t mean he is a proper Assassin. We could be on a wild goose chase while Desmond bunkers down in the bar’s basement.”
“You don’t believe that.”
“If the man retained even an ounce of Assassin logic, he’d bail as soon as possible. So- did the disconnected devices unearth any leads?”
Rebecca pulled up the map with the scattered pins. There were far too many business records to dig through- let alone make sense of the chaos. Even color coding hadn’t been much help. Bars ‘Nathan Stewart’ had worked at were highlighted in yellow. Nearby buildings without active recording devices were pinned in neon green and seemingly unrelated businesses were darted with purple pins.
Shaun grimaced, “I’d deduct at least half a grade for that awful color scheme if I was still a professor.” Sitting down, the Assassin made a few tweeks to his own map. Clicking the mouse, Shaun dragged a transparent version of the mapped sewer pipe over Rebecca’s map of pins. Squinting, Shaun tilted his head, “Highlight transportation hubs.” The british man scoffed as pink sparkling electronic dots started twinkling. “Terrible presentation.” Shaun blinked, growling as he pulled the services of traffic cameras into service.
Rebecca smirked, adding more garish looking colors as her research continued. Once she finished the inputting the data for her automatic search-and-find virus, she joined Shaun in filtering the results of the facial program.
Rebecca frowned as the percentage of film data went up. Normally this wasn’t a problem, but each location was in a vastly different part of the city. Each photo had the correct face… but drastic differences in body shape.
“Wonderful.” Shaun growled as he got his first result. Zooming in on the location of the match, the Assassin groaned as Desmond casually strolled within a subway station. All that time spent on a absolute novice.
“And you said he wasn’t a proper Assassin.” Rebecca blinked, certain she had located the correct person, even if it was for only seconds.
“He’s not obviously, otherwise he wouldn’t be telegraphing his movement’s so clearly… like a civilian.” the British researcher sneered.
“What are you-” Rebecca paused, clues clicking into place as she swerved, craning her head as she watched Shaun locate Desmond, or someone who appeared to be him, “...He might, especially if he knows how to mess with the facial recognition system.”
“And how would a bloody bartender who didn’t even finish a primary education know how to do that?” But even as Shaun ranted, his fingers were flying.
“If he had help, if he knew about Abstergo was coming for him, or if he never let his skills rust... Desmond had plenty of time to set something up.”
“That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ Rebecca.” But more likely than not as Shaun watched other ‘Desmonds’ start appearing in different cameras across New York.
“How else would you explain everything since Bad Weather?”
“He threw chemicals into Cross’s eyes.” Shaun grumbled, “Superior skills or not, that had to hurt.”
“That wouldn’t explain how-” Rebecca eyed Shaun in disbelief, “Are you jealous?”
The Britain took off his glasses, rubbing a cleaning cloth over the glass as he pursed his lips, “Who wouldn’t be? Granted I’d have preferred Cross dead, but,” Shaun shrugged, “Being forced to rinse his traitorous eyes with toilet water will have to do.”
“...I’m pretty sure he used water from the sink.”
“And that’s certainly a sterile establishment.”
Rebecca pondered that for a moment, “True. We’ll just have to check if Cross actually loses an eyeball or two later. Anyway, I think I found where the real Desmond’s headed.”
Shaun watched the clip of film where a Desmond-like figure slipped into an ally. A minute later someone, clearly not the possible-Desmond, was towing a large suitcase in the direction of the airport. The British Assassin compared the Suitcase-Desmond with Train-Desmond before comparing with Bad Weather-Desmond. Shaun groaned, “So he is more like William than the file hinted at.” He rubbed his forehead, “I hate shell games.”