Chapter 1: Prolog
prolog (m) prologue
I didn't care if I "died" saving Desmond. The real Clay had "died" already. I was just a copy (though I felt real enough, at times) and saving Desmond was the entire reason this copy had been made.
I fully expected the last thing I was ever conscious of (if an artificial mind can be truly called "conscious") to be the total breakdown of that Animus Island simulation.
But it wasn't.
There was nothingness, for a time. I'm not sure how long. Time is all relative, anyway. Especially when one is cut off from all real-world stimuli. And without my connection to the Animus CPU, I couldn't watch the clock in my usual fashion.
It was a strange feeling. If indeed it was a feeling. Was it tangible? Or was it just... mental? Ethereal. That's what it was.
Point is: I wasn't dead.
Not any deader than I'd been before.
The nothingness gave way, to... a different sort of nothingness. Still a void, lacking any landmarks, but a different mood of void.
Everything was white, soft white. (In retrospect, this may have been simply a projection from the expectations laid by my religious upbringing.)
Nothing was there. Except myself; I was there. Waiting (as if it were nothing more than another Animus loading screen). But I didn't wait for long. Or perhaps I did: again, time was difficult to judge.
-Hello,- someone said.
(It was some sort of greeting; I'm not completely sure they said "Hello". Not completely sure they were speaking English, even. Or "speaking" at all.)
-You have done well, child.-
I tried to turn and find what entity was addressing me. It was difficult to move. Like I was being held in stasis.
-Have done well, yet all is not done. You must still help Desmond Miles.-
To this, I expressed confusion. Help Desmond? Wasn't that what I'd just finished doing?
-Your world is still in peril. And your soul is bound to his, forevermore.-
Whoever or whatever this entity was, it didn't seem like Juno. I didn't much care for finding out their identity at the time, though. He reached the Nexus! He's out! I yelled (though I had no voice). What else can I do?
-Many things more. You must discover on your own.-
What in the hell is going on?
-Go now,- the entity bade me.
Then they expressed a benediction, a blessing; but this I couldn't put into words. It was only a feeling, like a rush of data, of power, like I was a conduit to the stars themselves.
(Well, not all the stars. Do you have any idea how many friggin' stars there are? Let's say I was just a conduit to... Alpha Centauri A and B. That seems fair enough.)
Chapter 2: Duch
duch (m) ghost, spirit
As the mystery power surged at me, I shut my eyes tight. (Yeah, seems all those human reflexes were still ingrained in me.)
When I opened them next, the room was dark. But it wasn't a room, I quickly ascertained. We were in a vehicle. A van.
Desmond was there. And Bill. Oh, what a rush of conflicted feelings I had about Bill. He'd entrusted me to Lucy's protection, and look how that turned out, huh? Then again, if I'd returned alive from Abstergo, there'd have been no-one to guide Desmond to the Synch Nexus. And truly, since Bill hadn't seen her in years, how could he have known she'd turned traitor on us? (But these were thoughts I'd been through hundreds of times during my stay in the Animus. I'd long since made my peace with the situation... for the most part.)
Shaun was there too, and Rebecca as well. She was talking animatedly, but I couldn't hear her; my head was ringing with noisy echoes.
How? How was it possible that I was back among these, my corporeal compatriots? Did I come with Desmond somehow? Am I back in... my own body? I raised my hands and stared at them as the noise around me resolved into voices.
"...vitals are stabilizing! Something's happening! He's moving!"
"Desmond? Can you hear me? Son?"
My hands, with nails heavily-chewed but no longer raw and bloody. My arms, with deep gashes that were healing before my eyes. My body, draped in a white shapeless tunic, not the outfit I'd fashioned for Animus Island.
I looked around at the others. "What in the fucking world?" (And yep, that was odd, the feeling of using vocal cords to speak again, after becoming so used to communicating with ones and zeroes.)
None of them paid me any attention. They were still completely focused on Desmond as he slowly crawled back to consciousness.
"Hello, guys! Not that I'm unhappy about it, but I seem to have returned from the dead here?" They still fucking ignored me, so I tried slamming a hand on the little plastic table next to Becca.
Key word there: "Tried."
Because when I moved my hand downward, it simply swam through.
"What?!" I yelped, and tried again, with the same result.
Well, not precisely the same, though. Because this second time, my fingertips brushed through the Apple that was lying there.
It shimmered, throwing golden rays through the air.
Bill, Desmond, Shaun, and Becca all turned towards the sudden light.
I waved at them. "Hello, I think that may have been me. Didn't know I had the genes to activate that, but-"
Desmond frowned and spoke over me (still acting for all the world like I wasn't even there). "I know what we need to do."
"Fuck's sake," I muttered to myself. "I'm back as a fucking ghost, apparently."
Then something fluttered behind me and I turned (Assassin senses hypervigilant to any possible threat, even in the safety of death).
The fluttering moved as I did, like a stalker trying to escape my notice. But it wasn't a stalker.
"What the..." By contorting my arm a little, I managed to grab hold of a handful of feathers. "Feathers," I said, trying to wrap my mind around the sheer oddity of that. "These are big, white, fluffy... feathers. Attached to... me. Oh... my god."
(In retrospect, I suppose the reason I didn't immediately realize I had wings, was because I didn't quite recall immediately what my old human body felt like, and thus didn't catch on to the difference.)
The other Assassins were deep in conversation at that point, I suppose, probably discussing the logistics of getting to Turin.
But I didn't hear a word they said because I was too busy processing that I'd been turned into a goddamn angel.
Chapter 3: Wiara
wiara (f) belief, faith, creed
"Well... my guardian angel."
"There's no such thing."
It played in my mind, over and over as the van rolled along, the loop of those two lines. His, offered with a smile; casual, playful, dare I say flirty?
"Well... my guardian angel."
Mine thrown back churlishly, like a cold shower drenching any spark, trying to keep him serious and focused.
"There's no such thing."
"No such thing, no such thing, no such thing," I mumble-chanted to myself, even as the damned wings twitched and curled forward, enfolding me in their obvious presence. This- this was scientifically impossible! Angels, demons, gods, the entire framework of religion! Nothing but artifice and myth, constructed by mortals to inspire fear, to promote 'peace' and 'order'!
"My guardian angel."
"There's no such thing."
The wings (I could not acknowledge them as my wings, not then) were unhindered by the various objects and people in the van, and I wondered perhaps if they were an illusion.
"Fuck," I said aloud, and buried my face in my hands. That'd be just peachy, right? To go through the whole damn losing-my-mind spiral again...
But, upon further introspection, it became clear to me that this wasn't anything like the Bleeding Effect. I was not dissociated from my surroundings (though it was true I couldn't physically interact with them). And my sense of identity was wholeheartedly Clay Kaczmarek (though by all rights Clay Kaczmarek should be dead twice over).
So... maybe this was actually happening.
"My guardian angel."
"There's no such thing."
I groaned a tight breath through my teeth. "Is this some Isu fucker's idea of a joke? To make me eat my words?"
Desmond spoke up just then, timing so uncanny that for a moment I thought he was responding to me. "I wish Clay was here."
I snorted and said, "Well I sort of am."
"Clay?" Rebecca asked from up in the passenger seat. "You've heard of Clay?"
"More than 'heard of'. He, uh." Desmond's arm passed through a wing as he waved at the powered-down Animus. "He was in those... glyph files we decoded."
"He was in the files?" Shaun sounded quite puzzled.
"He, like, copied his mind into the Animus. So he could help me," Desmond said, voice going soft at the end.
"Wait, his mind's in Baby?"
Desmond leaned back against the van wall. "Not anymore. He's gone now." He closed his eyes and sighed.
"So... Sixteen was Clay," Shaun said musingly.
"Which means Lucy betrayed us," Bill said through a hard frown.
I didn't want to hear this, didn't want to even hear that traitor's name. I clenched my fists, and the wings (apparently on some corresponding muscular impulse) tightened up a bit from their former relaxed state.
This was a welcome change in my train of thought. "Right, so if I fucking have wings now... may as well see if I can fly." I let my hands, then arms, then shoulders go limp, trying to hone in on the exact mechanism that led the wings to droop loose again.
Yes. There it was. Something new in my back muscles.
Half of me thought it was stupid to try and generate lift, because wouldn't the tangible air just refuse to collide with the intangible feathers? But screw it, my existence was already breaking at least one law of physics here.
I stood up and tested some more, wiggling, jerking, flapping, and generally looking quite ridiculous (except that nobody could see me, so it was fine).
After some minutes, I'd worked out the general motions of in, out, up, and down, and now decided it was the moment of truth.
Just then, though, Shaun veered the van left and began to slow. "This should be the place." He glanced at Desmond via the rearview mirror. "Assuming your Nexus whatever gave you the right info."
The Grand Temple? We're there already? Either we'd started out much closer to Turin than I'd thought, or I'd been practicing wing movements for a lot more than "some minutes".
Sunlight streamed in as William opened the back doors. Desmond jumped to his feet, walked through me, and got out, looking around the forest clearing. "Yeah," he said, blinking. "I feel like this is the place."
"You feel like. Oh goodie." Shaun pushed his glasses up his nose before picking up a supply box. "I'm just filled with confidence here."
Desmond made a face at him behind his back, and I just had to laugh.
"Probably down that cave, huh?" Rebecca pointed.
Bill clapped his hands together. "Okay then, we've got lots of stuff to move. Got to get it all down there and out of sight soon as we can."
I laughed again and stepped out of the van. "Sorry, Bill. Love to help, but I'm a little bit non-corporeal at the moment."
A bird on a nearby tree branch chirped a cheerful melody and then took flight. I watched it go, and then (taking a deep breath) prepared to attempt the same.
I gradually extended my wings, till they were out as far as I could comfortably get them, a striking span even wider than I was tall.
I took another breath. (Though, come to think of it, did I even need to breathe anymore?)
I bent my knees in a slight crouch.
And then I just jumped.
(I suppose you could call it... a leap of faith.)
Chapter 4: Otwarcie
otwarcie (n) opening, kick-off
According to the inimitable Douglas Adams, the secret of flying is to throw yourself at the ground and miss.
He wasn't altogether wrong. But there was a bit more to it than just that clever witticism. I had to really work at it, really consciously think about wing movements, plan them precisely in order to generate lift.
"Birds make it look so easy!" I spat under my breath, trying for the nth time to go up and not immediately plummet. (Not that plummeting was any danger to me- I just phased into the dirt. Still wasn't exactly a fun experience, though, being up-close-and-personal with earthworms and rocks and such.)
I made it about fifteen meters up on my next attempt, which pleased me greatly- but then I must've mistimed a flap or misjudged an angle because I careened back down in a spiral, unintentionally swooshing right through Rebecca before I managed to come to a hovering stop.
She and Bill were grabbing the last of their stuff from the van. Desmond was sitting on a rock, contemplating the Apple in his hand. "I'll need this, to open... something." He gestured at the cave. "Down in there."
"Best get to it, then," Shaun said, offering a hand to help Desmond to his feet. He was still a bit muscle-weakened from the coma, it seemed. Though this was in no way my fault, I felt bad.
I followed his faltering into the cave, their little group heading down a gentle incline that ended at a straight-up wall of rock. An actual wall, though, put there purposefully; I would say "manmade" but the Precursor designs evinced otherwise. Of course humans had left their mark as well, with spraypaint and stencils.
Desmond's Apple ("Ezio's Apple" to some, but really it didn't still belong to him right now any more than it still belonged to the fucking Ones Who Made The Damn Things) glowed in his hand as he set it into a recess in the wall, a circular space someone had cleverly used as the first "O" in "NO HOPE".
He stepped back and the wall rose up smoothly- but only for a meter before shuddering to a halt.
Shaun made a little irritated noise.
Desmond pulled the Apple out and pressed it in again, to no avail. "Looks like that's as high as it goes."
"Mn," Shaun grunted, adjusting the heavy box in his arms. "I suppose even Isu machinery gets rusty after hundreds of thousands of years."
"Hope their world-saving mechanism aged better than their door," I said dryly.
They pushed their various boxes through the gap and then limboed under one-at-a-time, some more awkwardly than others. I waited till they had all gone before heading through the barrier.
Yes, I coulda just gone ahead at anytime, but drifting through their bodies seemed terribly impolite.
And just then I realized I'd already been impolite by flinging my wings all over everyone in the cramped van. I laughed, raucous and loud in the dusty old stone palace.
Desmond lifted his head quickly and my laugh choked short. Had he heard me somehow?
I stepped over toward him, staring into those wide-open hazel-brown eyes he was flashing at me. "Desmond?" -Your soul is bound to his- "Can you actually hear me?"
Desmond sighed, shoulders drooping- not a good look for him, a broken look- and muttered so quietly only I heard: "Here we go again." Then those shining eyes went blank and he started to fall.
On reflex, I moved to catch him, but his body slipped right through mine. Oh, right. Luckily Bill had had the same quick reflexes, and so Desmond was saved from smacking his face open on the unforgiving rock floor.
Chapter 5: Antagonista
antagonista (m) antagonist
They put him back in the Animus. "The fuck are you doing?" I yelled in vain. "He just barely got out of there!" But of course I was unable to stop them. Rebecca plugged in the last cord, flicked the power on, and booted it up; a quiet droning hum started.
I let loose a heavy sigh. Did they forget the thing was invented by Templars? Did they forget it fucked Desmond's brain and tried to delete his consciousness? Why did they put so much damn trust in it?
"A crude machine, built by crude hands-"
I spun about one-eighty degrees. "You!"
"-though built toward noble ends," Juno finished calmly. "Yes, 'tis I. You have changed."
"I, I- you can see me?" I patted my chest stupidly, as if to check I was really there.
Juno laughed, haughty and smug. "We, your creators, your betters, are possessed of vast perception. We are not animals stumbling half-blind and dumb." She flicked a hand to the Assassin team behind me.
I was about to snarl a response when she hovered quickly closer to me, and I skittered out of the way of her arm as she reached for my face. (If she could see me, perhaps she could also touch, hurt, who-knows-what-else.)
"You have changed," she said again, "since our last interfacing."
"Yeah." The wings- my wings- quivered briefly, a rustling noise that seemed far too loud. "I noticed."
"Who was it, that freed you and granted you such power?" she asked with a quiet intensity.
"Don't fucking know," I spat. "Now go the fuck away."
She shook her head solemnly. "I cannot. I am bound to this place." Then she smiled that cruel smile again. "But you were bound to the machine, and have made your way out. If you lend me your power, I may leave the Temple."
"I'm not lending you shit." I balled my fists and jumped into the air, flapping steadily to stay a half-dozen feet off the ground, to be able to sneer down at her. "Bitch."
Robes billowing, she floated up to keep level with me. "Do not forget who you parley with."
"If that's meant as intimidation, it's failing spectacularly. You're a virtual ghost, lady. So we're equals here."
"The magnitude of a god exceeds that of an angel."
"You're no god, and I'm no angel." I was less than sure on that latter clause, but I repeated the former, more vigorously this time. "You are no god!"
"A difference of pedantry," she scoffed. "We were and always will be as gods to your petty race."
I laughed aloud. "Who's 'we' now? You're the only one left, and you can't even leave this Temple!"
"Take heed of history. The humans of the past brought ruin upon their world before by disregarding their place as-"
But I wasn't in the mood to listen to her full rant. "Shut it, I'm bored of you." I eased off my flapping and leaned sideways, swooping down to rejoin my team. Strange, that I thought of them as my team. I didn't have an official team: the assignment Bill had sent me on was of course a solo one, save for Lucy, my so-called inside help.
But this team was all I had. Well. Unless I were to fly off and find some other Assassins, and what point would there be in that?
"Guard him well," Juno called from somewhere up above me. "The body you call Desmond is paramount to your salvation." Her voice echoed hollowly in the huge chamber.
I frowned, pointedly not looking at her. "The body you call Desmond". How dehumanizing can you get?
Rebecca, Bill, and Shaun, however, did look up. "Shit, holy shit," Rebecca said.
"A Precursor, here, now?!" Shaun sputtered, blinking like he couldn't believe his eyes.
Bill shrugged it off, though. "Probably just a recording. Try to ignore it."
Juno gave a vague smile and vanished, letting them believe that.
Chapter 6: Wzlot
wzlot (m) flight, ascent, peak, enthusiasm
The Animus hummed ceaselessly.
I was damn bored.
From time to time Rebecca pattered on the keyboard, switching between the various windows on her screen.
"You could at least put on some music!" I griped in her ear. "Thought you loved music while you worked!"
Watching Desmond control his ancestor could only keep me occupied for so long. I itched to do something useful, to help them along in finding the key. (Yes, because apparently bringing an Apple to the Grand Temple wasn't enough! For some reason we still needed to find yet another artifact to unlock another door! Fucking Christ.)
Point is, I was bored. With a sigh (about the fiftieth one that hour) I lifted myself from beside the Animus and looked around.
For something called the Grand Temple, it wasn't all that grand; basically just a big old cave sculpted out of the stone. There wasn't much light, aside from the huge preternatural glow behind the force field. Some scattered other spots in the walls glowed too, but overall the place was gloomy and dim. A rough pillar rose like a jagged black redwood tree in the middle of it all, and on three sides of the open expanse were giant uneven walls with various windows.
The fourth side, of course, was the force field blocking the way to our goal. Shaun was puttering around in front of it, inspecting the symbols glowing within the translucent blue.
Bill was pacing back and forth across the main walkway, looking about as restless as I felt.
Rebecca was steadily monitoring Desmond's status; just sitting there, nodding to herself now and then.
I wished to hell I could start up a conversation to pass the time.
(Maybe wishing to heaven would have been more fruitful, considering my circumstances.)
For lack of any other available activity- and also because the gloomy dimness was severely bothering me- I decided I might as well practice flying some more. I flipped the team a careless wave as I pushed off. "Be back later," I said, out of a weird habitual politeness.
How long would it be, I wondered, before I fully integrated the fact that they couldn't hear me, and stopped saying any pleasantries at all?
I flapped up to near the ceiling and looked over the group. For so long I had been almost alone, with visions of the past my only company besides those who held me hostage. And then a different, more intense type of alone, sequestered deep in the Animus core. And now I was alone in yet another type of way. Great.
Not like I could do anything about it. "This is my life now," I said out loud. "Or afterlife, rather." Then a thought occurred to me. Were there others? Of whatever sort of being I was?
Should I go and meet them?
I looked upward, and saw naught but the blank rocky ceiling. But hey, that wasn't going to stop me.
I flapped my wings, phasing up and up and through the stone- it felt odd, though I couldn't truly "feel" it, a sort of stiffness all around, making me shiver- movement wasn't as free as it was in open air- and through layers of packed earth- I shut my eyes and powered onward, the sense of burial gnawing at my spine- a vision of my empty casket flashed and I may have croaked a sob, one single time-
The stiffness lessened and finally I emerged from wet soil and dewy grass into morning sun. What a relief.
Wind turbines spun gently around me. I rose higher, still learning bit-by-bit the finer points of control over this mode of movement. (It was about 65% calculating angles and trajectories, and 35% making the wings comply precisely.) Cars on the highway slowly shrank to dots. Distant cities became obscured by clouds.
"Shit, if only they could see me now."
This. This was the freest I'd felt in some damn time. I flapped madly, giddily through the sky, up and up, around in wild loops when I felt bold enough to try, whooping and hollering through the stratosphere.
I lost track of how long I flew for. I kept going up until the air grew thin and I could no longer get purchase on the currents. Here I could go no higher, apparently.
In the end, I didn't find Heaven. Hadn't completely expected to find it, really. "If I'm really an angel," I yelled at a plane passing beneath me, "shouldn't I have woken up there instead of with Desmond?!"
The airplane proceeded along its path.
Perhaps it's true, that suicides don't get into Heaven.
I stared up at the stars. If (if) it was out there somewhere, it was beyond my reach and invisible.
Or perhaps it's all bunk.
I amused myself for a bit by locating the Pleiades cluster, Aldebaran, and whatever other celestial landmarks were on display. "Funny I still remember all this shit, after everything my brain's been through." My voice sounded off-key in the thin air.
The bright ball Jupiter caught my attention, and I wondered what the Isu by that name had said to Desmond inside the Nexus. Ahh, but those words weren't mine to hear. Me, I was only meant to guide Desmond along his path and protect him from deletion until he got there.
The words of the unknown entity rang in my head again. -All is not done. You must still help Desmond Miles.-
I sighed, my chest aching (somehow). It felt like I physically needed to go back to that adorable dork.
"All right, all right," I said to the heavens, "I'll stop lounging up here and go see him. Fuck." I laughed and launched myself into a nosedive.
Flying was damn fun.
Chapter 7: Technika
technika (f) technology, technique
Not wanting to spend very much time murking through the ickiness of the ground this time, I let myself fall like a lubricated dagger down from the heavens, building up speed, rocketing down like the first drop on a rollercoaster, and finally shot through at terminal velocity to the interior, so fast I fell actually right into Rebecca's desk before managing to stop.
Echoey synth-pop was in my head suddenly. I flailed about, trying to get out of the desk, and it stopped.
Shaun perked up from studying a map on his screen. "Did you hear something?"
Just that moment I spotted Becca's MP3 player under my hand, and realized I'd been touching it (inasmuch as I could touch anything) five seconds ago. Mouth twitching in disbelief, I put my hand back into the device and listened keenly.
The music started up again, tinny, from the earbuds hanging over the desk edge, just long enough to discern a place and time I dre -zzt!
"It's out of battery," I said, an understanding that had flowed into me up from the circuit board.
Rebecca came over as I spoke. "Battery's dead, or I thought it was." She picked up the player and shook it diagnostically. "Maybe the whole thing's on the fritz and this was its swan song."
"You always have it loud enough that the headphones project sound across the room?" Shaun asked.
Ignoring that as the placeholder snark it was, Rebecca pried the casing off the MP3 player and peered at the components. "Been meaning to build a new one, actually. Maybe get one of those Raspberry Pi things...."
I didn't hear their continued conversation; too busy with thoughts thrilling across my mind- especially the sudden remembrance of making the Apple glow. I glanced over at Desmond, puzzling out a plan to make contact with him.
(Why him specifically? Must say, the question didn't occur to me.)
Alright, so I could interact with electronics- to some limited extent. I floated over to one of the computers and eyed the keyboard. What to say.... "Hello, I'm still here; you can't see, feel, or hear me, but I thought you should know"? Well hell, it's pithy and straightforward.
I poked at the mouse, but that was a no-go. I snorted. "Okay, back to direct interfacing. Lucky I have all the experience in the world with that." So I stuck my hand in the hard drive and went to work.
Manipulating code through angel-phase-contact proved to be much, much more tricky than manipulating code from within the machine.
I'd barely found my way to the text input before that meddling ghost Juno butted in. God knows why she didn't want me communicating with anyone, if she even knew that was what I was attempting. Perhaps she was just bored out of her oversized skull, and was annoying me for the sheer hell of it.
Imagine you've used QWERTY all your life and now you're trying to pass a speed-typing test your first run on a Maltron. While half-blindfolded. And also imagine someone's poking their own keystrokes in at the same time, and jeering in your ear. It was a fucking chore trying to fight her off long enough to get anything coherent out, let alone having time to delete the garbled mess that resulted from our tussle in the textfield.
h e l l o
"Fucking- good enough," I spat, saving the message and pushing it off through the mailer-daemon before Juno could dick me around any further. I left my hand in the computer a brief moment more to watch it land in Desmond's inbox and send a ping to his Animus HUD. Yes. Good. Now I could only hope she wouldn't be petty enough to delete it before it got read. She'd retreated to herself, apparently, for I no longer sensed her irritating presence.
Sighing, I flopped onto the floor next to the Animus. Defending against her had left me drained, physically... spiritually. Did angels sleep? I closed my eyes and gave it a go.
"...My one about Connor's crystal sphere?"
"No, this one, from, uh... 'dollar sign, parenthesis, hashtag, star, percent-"
"The hell are you on about?" Shaun strode over toward Desmond.
Desmond gestured at the screen.
"Fuck," Shaun said, pulling back with a grimace like the email had coughed in his face.
"You think maybe it's Clay?"
"I think probably it's a virus! Why would you even open it, the subject line alone is totally suss!"
Desmond moved quickly to block Shaun reaching for the delete key. "Maybe it's another coded puzzle." He sounded pleasantly excited. "Where's a printer? Can we print this?"
"Bloody copy it by hand if you insist," Shaun said, "meanwhile I'm going to bulk up our virus protection." He stamped over to his own computer station. "Absolute last thing we need is some bloody sodding Trojan exposing us to Abstergo's sniffers."
Desmond grabbed a scrap of paper and started jotting down the string of characters carefully. "Doesn't a virus usually come in an .exe?"
"Most commonly, yes. But-"
"It's Clay, I'm telling you." Desmond pointed emphatically at Shaun with the pen.
Shaun wrinkled his nose. "You're weirdly sure about that."
Rebecca walked up behind Shaun, curiosity piqued by their back-and-forth. "Something going on?"
"Oh, the system glitched and sent Desmond a malformed email, which he says is another code from Sixteen."
"His name is Clay!" Desmond snapped, slamming his hand down on the desk so hard it shook. "Don't fucking call him a number!"
"Sorry, force of habit," Shaun said with a sigh.
"But... this is a different system," Rebecca said gently, putting a hand on Desmond's shoulder. "It's not the Abstergo memory core. He wouldn't have been able to-"
Desmond cut her off, resolute. "He's here. I can feel it."
And it was no use trying to dissuade him of that.
Chapter 8: Infiltracja
infiltracja (f) infiltration, penetration
Though I did feel somewhat rested, I hadn't actually been able to nod off. Was I too mentally unsettled still by recent events? Or was sleep a necessity for pre-death beings only? Maybe time just flowed differently for those who were dead.
At any rate, some time had passed without me being aware of it. I only knew that time had passed because when I came back to consciousness I was sprawled out on the floor, and my hand had landed in Rebecca's CPU, giving me access to the server time.
It was the next day. Desmond was out of the Animus, seated in a folding chair with a sheaf of paper in his hand. "Damn, Clay," he said, and scribbled one last thing before tossing the paper to the floor. "Your puzzles just keep getting harder."
I sat up and saw the paper had written on it the exact text of the email message I'd had such trouble composing to him. He'd written all sorts of other stuff on top of it: a dozen different sequences of letters, some lines connecting parts of the nonsense punctuation. I threw my head back and laughed. "Oh, Desmond. Of course. Of fucking course you think it's a puzzle." I rose to my feet. "That's actually kind of sweet, that you think I couldn't possibly send gibberish on accident. You have such high regard for me, like I'm some paragon of guidance." I smiled at him, watching the motes of temple-light cast blue tones through his shaggy hair. "Really, I'm just muddling my way through things the same as the rest of you."
Desmond sighed. "I miss him so much."
"We all miss him," Rebecca said from her desk.
"Sure," Desmond acknowledged, "but it's... it's kind of a different connection, 'cuz me and Clay went through the same shit with Abstergo."
"Yes and that's precisely why he isn't here with us, Desmond!" Shaun piped up.
"Oh but I am." I poked my hand into the computer again. "Let's try for a more coherent email this time."
As I wrestled with the input, Desmond got up and crumpled his paper into a ball. "Well either I'm too dense to figure out the code, or maybe you were right, Shaun."
"Either way, just to be more safe, I've implemented a new scanner on incoming messages," Shaun said from behind his computer. "Anything resembling that hot mess is going to be blocked."
Desmond sighed again, and I swore, quitting my attempt to make another email. "Great! What the fuck am I supposed to do if I can't email you?" I flung my hands uselessly in front of me. "What use is it for me to hang on the mortal coil if I can't make my presence known?" I swung a fist at Desmond, and it "hit", going straight through his head.
Desmond flinched, a hand going up to his temple like he had a sudden headache, and he turned around to glare at me (at the place where I was hovering, at least).
"Oi," Shaun said. "You all right?"
Desmond ground his jaw and brushed fingers through his hair. "M'fine. Think a fly landed on me or something."
"That wasn't a fly!" I shouted, but Shaun spoke over me.
"Let's get out of the cave and catch fresh air for a bit, yeah?" He came over to Desmond and showed a map displaying on his tablet. "Here, there's a Precursor power supply artifact I've just located."
The map showed a section of Brazil. "Do we have time enough to go all the way down there?" Desmond asked.
"We have to make time. Those artifacts are necessary to power the mechanism back there," Shaun said, gesturing through me at the force field. "So, you feeling up for it? Get out and stretch those Assassin muscles?"
"Hell yes!" Desmond said without hesitation. "Haven't seen sunlight in weeks!"
It's good they've got work for him, I thought, actual physical work, work besides being chained into the machine for all hours of the day and night. I had missed the sunlight too, back when I was Subject Sixteen. Sure, there were windows in Abstergo's lab, but I didn't get much time to look out of them; the majority of my time was spent deep in ancestral memories or locked in my room. Even if the Bleeding Effect hadn't been a factor, there was no way a person could live like that and not lose grips on their sanity.
They packed lightly and headed back up to the cave mouth. I considered staying behind, but A) Juno was in the cave, and I didn't want her popping up to antagonize me again, and B) I felt this odd sharp tug on my being, for all intents and purposes dragging me to chase after the group.
I surprised myself with how goddamn fast I could fly. (Should an angel maybe not use that type of language? Eh. Perhaps the fact that such blasphemies came easily to my mind meant I wasn't an angel. Or perhaps I was a failed, fallen angel.)
Desmond and crew were aboard a small plane bound for Brazil. And yes, my top speed was fast, but that was my top speed; it took considerable effort to keep from falling too far behind. If my bewinged body had been physical I'm sure I would have died of over-exertion.
If we'd had time I'd have liked to go check out the ocean, try flying underwater and see the sea life, but like I said, I was hard-pressed to just keep up.
After a long while, their plane touched down in a stretch of open field, and I floated down beside it as they disembarked. They were met by a man I'd done a couple missions with before, back in my previous life as an active Assassin rather than a convenient tool for the Templars to access historical data. His name was Emmanuel Barraza.
"Good to see you, Manny." William gave him a quick combo of a handshake and shoulder pat. Their body language was as that of two war veterans who'd served in the same unit years back, who'd seen some rough shit together.
"And yourself, Miles," Manny said back. "Ah, except there are two Mileses here." He turned to Desmond, looking him over casually. "You really resemble your mother," he said with a smile. "Do you get told that a lot?"
"I used to," Desmond said, "way back when."
His mother must be absolutely stunning.
"Oh, fuck of a time to get a crush on someone, Clay." I slapped my head. "The only way I'll even maybe have a chance is if he dies too, and we don't want that, for Planet Earth's sake."
The group got into a dingy Jeep and drove a little ways into town, then stopped to switch into a bit nicer vehicle, a black Ford sedan. I coasted along overhead, splitting my attention between listening to their intermittent conversation and watching the people along the sidewalk. If I was meant to be a protector, meant to keep helping Desmond, then the least I could do was make sure no Templars leapt out from the crowd to attack. (Though fuck if I would be able to do anything to stop that, what with being incorporeal.)
Luckily, Eagle Vision showed the local populace was a mass of harmless gray; no enemies among them.
"Wait. When did I get Eagle Vision?!"
This realization was startling enough that I did the midflight equivalent of stumbling, and lost some altitude as a result. I found myself a few feet off the ground, alongside the team's car, and glancing through the window I saw them all outlined in blazing blue.
"Wow." This was fantastic, in the literal sense of the word. "Desmond you lucky dog. You got this power without even dying first." I grinned at him. He was taking a nap right now, messy head rested on Rebecca's shoulder
On a whim, I reached out to him through the window. As my insubstantial fingers failed to brush back his unruly bangs, he started awake with a gasp.
"You okay there, bud?" Rebecca said, steadying his upper arm.
"I- what just happened?"
"Nothing; we're just driving."
"We're nearly there," Shaun said, "so it's good you woke up."
"You guys didn't feel that just now?" Desmond asked, leaning to look at his dad. "Like a... a presence?"
"Presence?" William repeated uneasily.
"Yeah it's me, I'm present here!" I yelled through cupped hands, for all the good it did.
Desmond rubbed the side of his head and glanced out the window briefly. "Felt almost kinda like when Juno-"
"She better not still be bothering you," Shaun snapped. "Last thing we need is you falling over unconscious while trying to secure this power source."
I had been reaching out to touch Desmond again, to channel more of my presence, my self, but at Shaun's words I pulled back and rose above the car again. Yes, it was thrilling to know I had some power to communicate with them, to know I wasn't completely cut off from the world. But better not to futz around learning how to do that while they were on a field mission.
They let Desmond off outside a great big sports arena, equipped with one micro headset and two carbon fiber Hidden Blades. Lastly, Manny handed him a green-and-black ticket. "Hope you're not a pro fighting fan, because you're not gonna have time to watch the match."
Desmond gave a small laugh in answer before heading out. He easily melted into the multicultural crowd and was practically invisible to normal eyes. I flew ahead of him and scanned the building with my newfound vision. A tiny tiny square of gold on one of the upper levels-- that might well be our goal. A few red figures were scattered around it. They couldn't know we were here, could they? Perhaps these were just standard security guards.
Below me, Desmond moved along with the crowd pouring into the stadium. Once inside, he glanced around purposefully. Probably using Eagle Vision himself, I thought, smiling a bit at how we now shared this power.
Then, another thought struck, like a little lightning bolt, a sudden possibility! Could his Eagle Vision see me? Juno was able to, and it was their sight, wasn't it? One of their Isu traits, handed to humans via crossbreeding or genetic manipulation. And now watered down through millennia to the point where most people had no access to it. But Desmond had access.
But as soon as that thought hit me I flapped and circled around behind him to stay hidden. If he spotted me now, well, no telling how exactly he'd react, but it almost certainly would startle him out of mission mindset.
He made his way down the corridors, less crowded now that people were taking seats to watch the match. Cage fighting, geesh, I'd thought that was an exclusively "American White Trash" interest, but here were thousands of people of all colors and classes to prove me wrong. Their buzzing chatter filled the place from wall to wall.
A short fanfare played over the PA system and security opened up the doors to the stands. Desmond hung back against a pillar to avoid the rush of rowdy fans vying for the primo seats.
He and I spotted, at the same time, some special guards standing in front of a stairway. A small Abstergo logo was visible on the badges of these two men.
"That'll be where I needa go," Desmond muttered.
"Cut the chatter, you're trying to be stealthy," I muttered back at him.
I watched him sidle up around the corner from the stairwell, pick up a bottle cap from the dirty crungy floor, and toss it to make a (really pro-level) misdirection noise. One of the guards fell for it and left his post to investigate. Desmond choked him out silently and pulled him over to a bench to make him look like he was passed out drunk. The other guard turned around and, seeing this, called out, "Ei! Garoto!"
But Desmond moved like a fucking cobra strike, and that second guard was down no sooner than he'd gotten his two words out.
Damn that man had acquired some skills.
Chapter 9: Spotkanie
spotkanie (n) meeting, (sports) match
this chapter is dedicated to all Clay lovers but especially if you are my friend and your name has 4 letters and starts with K
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Desmond moved up the stairs with determination and purpose, like a man on a mission, which is exactly what he was.
A guard doing rounds spotted him and grabbed a walkie-talkie from his belt. "Cross, vejo um intruso!" he barked, running toward Desmond. "Saindo da escada sudeste!"
With a fierce face, Desmond broke into a run toward the guy. They collided into a heap on the floor. The guy dropped his walkie-talkie and pulled his pistol, but Desmond elbowed his hand hard and the gun skittered away across the scuffed tile.
The guy tried to knee Desmond in the groin, but it didn't work, and he tried to yell for help, but that also didn't work because Desmond cut his throat open before he could form any words. A huge spurt of blood burst out from the cut. Desmond got up as fast as he could.
"You're already bloody, no use avoiding the spray now," I said to him.
Desmond took two seconds to breathe and then he looked down the hall. There were heavy footsteps coming from that direction. But that was also the direction where we had to go to get the power source. He picked the guy's gun up and turned around. I saw his eyes flicker; he was turning off Eagle Vision. He then headed the opposite direction, towards the amphitheater.
We made our way into a sort of VIP area. It looked like it should have been guarded, but I guess the guards had left to go search for the Assassin intruder. There were lots of well-dressed people with fancy drinks in hand, peering through floor-to-ceiling windows at the fight match starting below.
Desmond slipped through the people. Most of them weren't paying attention to him. Not until he pushed open one of the window panels and stepped out onto a steel beam.
"Hey, what're you doing?" a guy in a sleek suit yelled.
"Don't worry, I'm maintenance," Desmond called out. "There's uh, some issue with the lighting over there by the board." He gestured to the central display. "No worries, I got it under control."
"You're not fucking dressed like a maintenance man," I called to him.
The VIPs bought the lie, though, or at least they acted like they did; they went back to chatting about the match and stuff.
Through another row of windows, I saw a posse of Abstergo goons rushing towards the southeast, where the slain guard was. Hopefully Desmond taking this alternate path would buy us enough time.
Moving faster than you'd think was safe, Desmond slunk over the crisscrossing metal beams like a panther moving through jungle branches. The supports creaked and groaned slightly, but Desmond remained unflustered, focused like light through a goddamn prism.
Unpredictable waves of shouting spiked up from the crowd below. I didn't like all this noise. I much preferred quiet. It was nice to be around people after all that time alone, but this many people all at once was decidedly not nice. Thankfully they were all dozens of meters below us.
"Good thing I'm not afraid of heights," I said. "Well, not that it would matter, since I can fly and all. And apparently can't fucking die."
As if he had supernatural radar, Desmond shimmied behind a scoreboard just in time before a guard looked out one of the corridor windows. Desmond kept going, shuffling along the thin metal support, and popped out on the other side of the board after the guard had moved on to check another room.
"You've got some fucking good luck," I said. "Why am I even here? Who needs a guardian angel when you're Desmond Goddamn Miles?"
Desmond tiptoe-trotted the rest of the way across the ampitheatre and pulled open a window on another VIP booth.
There were less people in this one, but still a few. "Opa! Qual é o seu problema?!" one of them protested at the sudden intrusion. A lady dropped her glass of beer in surprise as Desmond jogged past.
I phased through the wall and we were out in the northeast hall. It was much quieter here. An old man was sweeping debris and listening to his iPod. Desmond turned sharply down another hallway, still focused and silent.
The sound of a fist hitting flesh, and a pained yell, came from somewhere nearby. Desmond sped up and shouldered his way through a locked door. I phased through the wall beside him.
Besides Desmond, there were only two people in the room: A young woman in a skintight club dress, face and arms streaked with blood, unconscious on the floor; and a man with a brown jacket and a dark expression, holding a glittering bauble with more blood on it.
Looking horrified at the woman, Desmond bent down to check if she was alive.
The man pulled a handgun from his waist.
"Watch out!" I yelled, leaping at the gunman. I collided with him (passed through him, actually) just as he squeezed the trigger. His arm raised up and the bullet pierced the ceiling tile.
Desmond somersaulted to the other side of the room, behind the man, then kicked out at his knees and the man crumpled.
"You fucking-" the man spat as he fell through my wings. On his back now, he swung his gun to bear on Desmond again.
I moved -I don't know why, I don't know what I was trying to do, get out of the way or block the shot or something like that because I was a dumb fuck who kept forgetting I wasn't physical anymore- but somehow my hand went in his head and he screamed and his aim went wild again.
"Holy shit!" I said as another bullet hit the ceiling.
Desmond lunged at him, grabbed the bauble- the artifact, the goddamn Precursor Power Source that was tens of thousands of years old and somehow wound up as goddamn costume jewelry- and wrenched it away, snapping the silver chain it was attached to.
The man- his name is Daniel born March 9 1974 under another name but he is Daniel they made him Daniel with surgery and Animus and medicine and missions and goals and dreams he is an orphan he is an addict he is a loner he dreams of Hannah he dreams of Anna he dreams of Paul he- writhed and groaned and kicked at Desmond. I put my other hand in his head and he screamed in another language, not English or Portuguese, and he squeezed the trigger again and again and again until the gun clicked empty.
Desmond pulled the gun from him and stuffed it in his pack with the artifact. He went to the woman again, checking her pulse, feeling in front of her mouth for breath.
"Desmond, please, we don't have time to be EMT here," I hissed.
Daniel sobbed and called for help in Russian.
Desmond yanked a strip of fabric off his long t-shirt and wrapped it around the oozing wound on the woman's upper arm.
"Desmond! Fuck I know you can't hear me but please!"
He tied it off and finally got up and out of the room. The loud bootfalls of a group of guards were getting closer. He looked back and forth a few moments, then went back in the room and clambered up a metallic art piece on the wall. He pushed up a ceiling tile and crawled in.
"Jesus, we're fucking going in the crawlspace," I muttered. "All right."
"I've got the power source," Desmond whispered into his comm, nudging the ceiling tile back into place with his foot. "Gotta take the long way out, though, so don't hold your breath waiting for me."
I put my Eagle Vision back on, and followed his blue glow from below. A dozen Abstergo security goons piled into the room with Daniel as I phased out into the hallway. The sweeping janitor was gone. I hoped he wouldn't get in trouble. He'd seemed nice.
I'll spare you the details of how Desmond got lost in dead ends a few times while navigating the crawlspace. Suffice to say, he eventually navigated to a disused men's restroom in a faraway wing of the complex, and dropped from the ceiling, one foot landing in the long metal urinal.
"Oh fuck, ew, gross," he muttered, shaking drops of liquid off his shoe. "A fucking piss trough. What is the deal with stadiums and piss troughs? They're disgusting. And who thought they were a good idea?"
"I guess they're cost-efficient or something," I mused.
"Oh shut up Shaun," Desmond spat at the Brit on the other end of the comm link. He switched his earpiece off, then pulled his shoe off and went to rinse it in the sink.
"Oh my god are you kidding me?" I said.
The first sink didn't work, so he tried the one next to it.
"You're a wanted fucking Assassin and you're wasting time doing... ugh. Okay, I revise my earlier statement. You do need a guardian angel." I phased out the bathroom door and made sure there was no security around. They seemed to be in the middle of a renovation here, with a lot of paint cans and plastic sheeting all over. This looked almost like a completely different building from where we'd been previously.
I popped back in to check on Mister Clean. He'd finished scrubbing his shoe and putting it back on, and was now splashing some water on his face and sighing in the mirror.
"Hopefully there's no guards around here, I can get out without a fuss," he said, pulling his hood back up and turning around. Then he yelped and jerked, bumping his ass against the sink.
I turned around quickly to see what scared him so bad. But I didn't see shit.
"Is that... C- Clay?" Desmond choked out.
Me? What? I turned back to him. His eyes were shimmering. Oh.
Desmond squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm losing my mind, I'm seeing things again," he said under his breath. He opened his eyes, without Eagle Vision, and exhaled in relief. "Okay.... Okay. I'm good." He straightened up and his eyes shimmered again... and then he looked startled again.
"You're not seeing things," I told him.
"What the fuck? Why am I hallucinating you?"
"You're not hallucinating. It's me."
His eyes flitted up and down me. I felt doltish and exposed in the flowing white tunic as he gawked. Maybe I shoulda tried making different clothes. I thought of my comfy old faux-leather jacket, and within a moment it was there, layered on top of the angelly gown. I laughed softly and looked to Desmond for his reaction.
"How- What are you?" he asked, gripping the sink behind him to stay afloat.
"I can't really explain how, but as for what..." I exhaled. "I seem to be an angel."
My wingtips twitched anxiously. Desmond's eyes were (quite understandably) drawn to the movement. "An angel?"
"That's the best way I can think to describe it. An existence after death, combined with these." I lifted one arm and extended the corresponding wing. "Plus... they told me to protect you." There was a time (it seemed long ago) I would have said this last part with snide disbelief, but I'd experienced enough by now to understand its truth.
Desmond blinked. "They told you. Who's 'they'?"
"I don't know who," I said, shaking my head. "Maybe they're First Civ, maybe they're something else. I didn't get a lot of exposition."
Desmond blinked again, and reached out towards me.
I lifted a hand to meet his.
Our fingers touched- ever so briefly- and then he yelped, eyes going wide.
"What?" I pulled my hand back.
"Clay? Where'd you go? Clay?" He was looking all around the room.
"Des, I'm here, I'm right here." I grabbed him, and he jolted from the unexpected touch. "Did you turn off Eagle Vision?"
"Y-yeah." He turned his head to the shoulder I'd grabbed him on. "I wanted to see you better."
"Well, you can't, not with normal vision. I'm surprised you can even hear me now, actually." I chuckled. "Been yelling at you guys for a while, trying to let you know I was there."
A shimmer passed over Desmond's eyes once more. He stared at my face now, rather than my wings, scrutinizing my features. "You've been here the whole time?"
"Well, not 'here', I had to follow you guys in the plane to get 'here'."
He glanced into my eyes. "You were in the plane?"
I smiled mildly. "Outside it actually. Gave me a fuck of a workout."
"Jesus," Desmond muttered, eyes widening as he looked at my wings again.
"I don't know, maybe."
Desmond didn't catch the attempt at a joke. Then a couple seconds later, he did catch it, and laughed shakily. "Wow."
"Also I'm pretty sure I helped you not get shot to death back there."
"How'd you do that?"
I gestured at my head. "Stuck my hand in by accident and messed with his brain. Distracted him real bad."
Desmond winced. "Ouch."
"Hey, don't get bogged down in ethics; he was trying to kill you."
"Okay, yeah. Damn." He laughed again, and made eye contact again. "Well. It's good to have a ghostly backup Assassin helping me out!"
"Speaking of Assassin, you oughta get back to your team RSN," I said, hooking a thumb at the door.
"Fuck, Des, Real Soon Now, have you never heard of slang before?" I went to the doorway, making sure the area was still clear.
"Oh right, fuck, I've been off comm for forever, shit." He pressed his earpiece back to life and began to haul ass down the hall. "Guys, I'm safe. Where are you? .... No, I uh." He glanced up at me briefly. "Bathroom break, all right, nosy? What, wanna listen in next time, ya pervy Brit?"
True, right in the middle of a dangerous mission was definitely not the best time to tell people Hey, I found out that human consciousness can survive after death and people with Eagle Vision can see guardian angels.
"Okay, is my GPS still transmitting to you?" Desmond asked them, pausing at the exit doors. "Uh-hm. Wait for me at, I think it's called Boa Vista street? Yeah, the north end of that." He went out and held the door open for me after.
"That's not necessary," I said, stepping through the open door and letting my wings pass through the wall around it.
I smiled at him. "But I do appreciate the thought."
haha yeah I said I would update Deon Adventures first but oh well.
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