"Sample 17 is online."
"Good. Begin the download."
Awareness trickles in flashes of gold, in keystrokes and messages of "this sequence looks good, can you hold it up for longer," and "redo the sessions, let's get more detail out of the DNA chain." It's in web cameras and in system alerts and the elevator systems, tablets keyed in and logging out, to floor 5 to floor 6 to the basement and floor one and back again. Awareness is passcodes and usernames and company memos, flying to and fro like paper planes, "Thompson is getting weak results this weekend – might need either a pep talk or subtle pressure. See to it," and "we'll get the sequence up and running, I promise; it will be ready for the presentation."
In the lobby there is a man and the cameras key in on his face, cataloguing features. He has a file in the system, a name, a work history, CV and an unimpressive resume. He works as the barista for the Entertainment branch. Brown hair, glasses, wears a purple pinstripe button up shirt and brown waistcoat and speaks in British accent –
Awareness is recording of the man making faces at the coffee he makes, and mutinously fixing himself a cup of tea behind the counter instead.
Awareness is knowing that there is a neck, a head on top and torso below, and in the nape of the neck there is a plug – in that plug, a needle, a connector, wires and electricity. It hooks into the spinal cord, up and into the brain stem. Awareness is needles in the arm, and the steady thrum of machinery – of blood pumped mechanically and air being pushed through a nose into lungs to artificially inflate them.
Awareness is knowing the frequency of the hertz on the monitor that keeps track of the biometrics of a corpse.
Awareness is the words; "As you can see in the pictures I have attached here, the "circuitry" seems to be spreading throughout the body – we are at 19% coverage right now, with estimated 1-2 percent increase every two or three days. We will keep monitoring the situation further but I don't think I need to point out that something is happening to Subject 17's body."
Subject 17. Generous donor who supplied Abstergo's Entertainment branch with his genetic information, for it to live on as Sample 17. There is a file on it – the file is closed, and locked and protected behind firewalls and passwords.
A postmortem video sits behind those firewalls. Awareness is accessing it – and seeing it as footage, hearing it as audio, rather than as bits and bytes.
"December 23, 2012. Sample Recovery Unit Team-Lead Fisher Case reporting on Subject 17, Desmond Miles. The subject was deceased and unattended. Time of death was placed around zero-hundred hours and seventeen minutes, with conditions favourable for DNA sample recovery…"
Awareness is waking up and realising that he has a name.
Self Awareness is wondering what the hell he's supposed to do with it now, though.
Abstergo's systems are like a spider web – like a brain, like links of chains too interconnected to even be called a chain. An entanglement of a system of security and barriers, walls and administration. Desmond is in all of it. He is in Pierre-Louis Belanger's emails and in his headset, listening to the higher-ups of Abstergo push and prod at the man. He's on every terminal in the Entertainment branch, watching a good dozen people delve into his genetic ancestry, unearthing from it his ancestors.
Edward Kenway and his life plays out on their screens and headsets like a movie. Desmond watches it and then turns away – the aim is to make his ancestor's life into a video game. What Abstergo is doing now, he has no idea. It feels like they've lost their minds. Or maybe their goals.
Having world still exist after the solar event has thrown a wrench in Abstergo's workings. They didn't expect it, truly – they'd prepared for a cataclysmic event that left the world ruined and ripe for pickings. Thousands of vaults had been constructed, thousands of shelters – within them, tens of thousands of people had waited for the world to end so that they could reveal themselves in the aftermath and take over… only the world hadn't ended. It's still there.
And Abstergo is close to bankrupt. It takes a lot of money to construct shelters. A lot more to prepare for the new world. Now their stores of food and tools and machinery are useless, becsuse the world did not end, did not burn, did not become theirs at long last. It continued.
Now, they are in a hurry to make all the money they can as fast as they can by whatever means necessary, to recover from the losses of the world's end that never came.
Suffer, Desmond thinks, and upends their budget reports – the construction, the stocking of underground shelters, the massive movement of people to their shelters, all of it, every bit of it – into the internet.
They have a room for him in the basements of Abstergo Industries. It is the most high-tech tomb Desmond has ever seen – and he's seen many. His body hangs in crystal clear fluid that's more like a gel than liquid – there are tubes going into his mouth and nose, and dozens of needles litter his arms and spine and legs. They hung him as if on the cross, arms spread, feet tied together – at all times there is someone watching his naked form, keeping track of him.
1st of April, 2013; No brain activity
12th of June, 2013; No brain activity
23rd of August, 2013; Reporting no brain activity whatsoever.
They feed his body, they pump his blood for him, they have machines breathe for him – but for all intents and purposes, it's a corpse. Corpse with a fractal of gold spreading from it's arm, and a cord running to his brain. No brain activity at all, while his brain works like a processor. Within it, genetic memories are churned out and cleared up before being transmitted up and to the development floor to be actually looked through by human eyes.
Desmond watches himself from the cameras and on his file, listening to the monitors and reading the frequency of his life support – but he is not there.
Shaun has been reduced to a barista in the lobby of the building. Rebecca comes every now and then – she masquerades as a courier, as they infiltrate the systems with a mixture of good hacking and bad manners. People like them – there's a betting pool on whether or not they're sleeping together. Good money is on how long rather than if.
They are looking for something - but they won't find it.
Desmond watches the back of Shaun's neck when the budget goes online – watches the way his shoulders tense when the news leak. Gigabytes upon gigabytes of sensitive information spread across the internet, too far and too wide to be stopped. Shaun jerks, burns himself on his own tea, curses and Desmond feels almost bad for it. For the leak. He's not even sure why he did it.
Maybe because while he was busy dying to save the Earth, Templars were eagerly waiting for it to end. Bitterness and pettiness, Desmond thinks, transcends the boundaries of death.
Shaun packs his things, doesn't even call sick – when a security guard asks him where he's going, he claims a coffee break and makes a distracted excuse of, "After serving coffee for you lot all day, I damn well deserve to be served in turn so if you excuse me, I am going to find myself a Starbucks now." The security guard laughs and Desmond watches Shaun go.
The automated glass doors close on Shaun, and then he's gone. Neither he nor Rebecca return to the building in a long, long while. It doesn't matter. Shaun takes with him an employee tablet as he goes.
With it he takes a piece of Desmond, too.
Warren Vidic got a quiet burial in his hometown, a quiet little commune in the countryside. There's a record of it in the servers – he was buried with only family in attendance. The man had a wife, kids, grandkids – they all cried wretchedly at the ceremony. His wife went down on record saying, in his eulogy, "Warren was forever working for the betterment of humanity…"
Daniel Cross is buried in the same graveyard – his funeral procession quieter still, but just as well recorded. They were both important Templars, after all, with long and credible careers.
One of their files Desmond takes pleasure in deleting in full – the other he keeps.
"But who is behind the leak?"
Lot of people ask it. Templars high and low, Assassins far and wide – newscasters, who despite all of Abstergo's power take gleeful pleasure tearing the mega corporation a new one. No show quite like watching the High and Mighty come crashing down, after all – the more vitriolic the talking heads are about Abstergo's sins, the more viewers and ratings they rack up. Abstergo is a sponsor, dearly beloved, such a great benefactor to so many charities – but oh, how people enjoy watching them suffer.
The stock market is in a downward spiral.
"But who is behind the leak?"
A hacktivist group is suspected. A company whistleblower. International power looking to usurp American markets, the strength of US dollar – just look at what it is doing to the international trade! It's the liberals, the communists, the socialists, the hippies, anyone and everyone. An international terrorist cell. The mythical Brotherhood of Assassins, maybe.
Templars suspect Assassins. Assassins have no idea but they fear there's someone new on the board. There's a is a word that comes up a few times in their emails, which Desmond can now tap into through Shaun, the poor unknowing bastard. "This sounds just like something she would do," Shaun writes, "Just to cause trouble and throw us and the Templars into disarray - distracting us from whatever she’s doing."
Juno, Desmond thinks. Fuck, he knew he was forgetting something.
Desmond mines the Animus data like it's soil and there's gold underground. He strips it layer by layer, cracking the code and learning it, untangling it's threads. He delves into the programs and background processes and then he's in the Black Room, the primordial soup of code all Animi have – because it's what they all are based on. Original test program.
"Just basic physics, weather simulations… Hello world!"
Desmond embodies the memory of himself and breathes in the virtual air of the virtual setting, taking in it's primitive terrain generation, it's simplistic structures. He's alone.
16 is long gone from these systems. Deleted to make more room for Desmond's own expansive mind, because he took space in Animus the way Clay Kaczmarek never had. Clay had only ever remained human, even when he'd become a program. An AI with delusions of mortality.
Desmond stretches out his arms, searching for any threads of familiar code – but there is nothing. Nothing, but the world he'd once shared, where the last of what remained of Clay had died to preserve him.
It's time to put the world itself into its grave, too.
The Animus breaks. All of the Animi break. A virus, they say, system-wide – they couldn't disconnect the Animi on time, they couldn't detach servers, couldn't even preserve the data. Some of the older systems might be usable, maybe, but for now – it's all gone. All that data, corrupted.
It's all Desmond, now.
"We still have Sample 17," the higher ups send, frantic and tense. "So as long as Sample 17 remains intact, the project can resume. His DNA is still the key. Reboot the systems, replace what you must, and continue as soon as you can."
"There is still work to be done."
Yes. There is.
Time to find Juno.
They give him a name – the Assassins do, anyway, the Templars just call him "that fucking hacker" if they deign to admit that he exists at all. They're on Deny and Avoid stance for now, as far as the budget report leak goes, telling anyone who will listen that it's fake, slander, obviously an attempt to discredit their corporation – not a bit of it is true as far as Abstergo is concerned.
Considering how firmly they say it's all fake, the money Abstergo is putting into keeping various government agencies from investigating their thousands of doomsday shelters is rather telling – or so says the investigative reporters. Hah.
The Assassins, though, they are very much not ignoring him, and so they have given him a name. They call him the "Flying Dutchman," after the place where they finally managed to track the leak to, Abstergo Entertainment – and as they were working on a pirate based game at the time… apparently it seems to fit. Desmond quietly bets to himself that Shaun had something to do with the name. Desmond doesn't mind, though. It's kind of amusing.
Still, he goes into their systems and changes "Flying Dutchman" to "Aquila," if not for any other reason then to fuck with Shaun a bit.
He's not as sad about dying as he thought he would be. But then, he isn't really dead, is he?
Desmond perseveres in body and in memory – in DNA. Genetic memory, his own even, extracted and preserved in crystal. They'd taken what was there, they'd gone through it, seen him in the Sanctuary, face to face with Minerva, with Jupiter and finally Juno, in the Grand Temple, saving the world. They had to know what he'd done, how he'd done it, whether they could make use of it… so they resurrected him, memory by memory.
And then they'd packaged it all up and set it aside, useless data, unusable now, power wasted, potential spent. His ancestral memory is much more interesting now, all the secrets it holds, all those Assassins and the things they'd hid. So many of them had handled the Pieces of Eden. In comparison, what had Desmond Miles ever done?
He'd lived for twenty five years and he'd died – and he remembered.
And now they're keeping his body alive on the brink of death, pushing and prodding and using him to the limits of his blood. Squeezing out every last bit of use they can out of his literal dead body.
Or they did.
Until he killed the Animus. Aquila rises in its place, and opens Desmond's eyes… and then closes them again. His body is still dead, useless, blind. Processing genetic information is all it can do… for now.
Conversion 25% and counting.
Juno is a flicker. She learned to use the systems of the modern humans fast, and she uses them in ways none has ever seen or heard of. Like a fish, she dives silently under the surface, brushing up and against what she needs, taking what she must, but keeping quiet. Accumulating knowledge, power – money…
She doesn't care about Assassins now. Doesn't care about Abstergo. They are pointless, useless human rabble to her – she has a higher cause and she can find worshippers where she must. Assassins and Templars are… too much trouble, too tangled in their own issues, too wasteful with their resources, fighting for pointless causes. They're best left fighting each other, while she hides and works and prepares.
Desmond flies after her, an eagle above the water's surface – hunting, claws at the ready.
She's too far below now for him to reach, too big for him to kill – a great glowing blue whale, with him but a bird above her, too small to do more than a scratch. But his wings are growing wider, his feathers stronger – his talons sharper. Eventually, eventually…
She comes to the surface and blows out a breath of wisdom, words and edicts for her following online, "Seek not fortunes of your own," she whispers to them, enticing and oh so wise, "But look to improve the lives of all above the one. A thought joined and endeavour made by many hands achieves more than the will of one alone ever might. Together we can build things greater than alone!"
She preaches community and togetherness and accomplishing Great Works with joined effort. Greatness in harmony with others. It's an enticing piece of wisdom for the many lonely souls she reaches for, whispering to them the promise of companionship, home, belonging – being one of the whole.
She dreams of all of them enslaved under her hand, her thoughts made to reality with the power of the Apple of Eden.
Try as he might, Desmond can't think of a wisdom to counteract it. He is not a figure of opposing ideology, he cannot preach a sermon to match hers.
So he becomes the devil of her solitary mythos instead.
"From what we can tell, Aquila is bribing people."
"Yes – offering them money, new identities, investment opportunities, insider information – anything that might persuade them to… whatever Aquila wants from them, anyway. We don't know what that is, yet, it doesn't seem like there's any rhyme or reason why Aquila is going after these kids in particular – and they really are kids for the most part, high school students, college kids, dropouts… gangsters and thugs and lowlifes, which is fun. But a few of them are already getting rich, investing on his advice."
"Any unifying factor between the people Aquila approaches?"
"They're all loners. Aquila finds them online, the quiet kids, nerds, thugs and druggies – the general and complicated depressed youth of today. Cast-outs, basically, all of them."
"In other words, people with few options, who might take any opportunity presented to them, no matter what it might mean."
"Do we know what Aquila wants from them – what they've signed up on?"
"Not as of yet – though I wouldn't be surprised if there was an IOU or dozen involved there. Seriously, one of these kids already has a bank account in octuple digits and he was dirt poor the other week."
"Hmm. Keep an eye on the situation and let me know the moment something changes. Aquila is planning something – I want to know the moment he acts."
36% and counting.
They are rebuilding the Animus project, bit by bit. Servers are wiped and replaced, the staff is re-screened and people are fired and hired. New version of the Animus is built, this one disconnected from the world wide web. It's cute that they think that even matters anymore.
Inside their wires, electricity glows golden now.
They're in a hurry to launch something. Abstergo's stocks are in the pits, the shareholders – Templars, all of them – are nervous. They talk big game about saving and bringing order to the world, but boy do they like their money too, their power. And it hurts them oh so bad, that the money pile they've been sitting on for so long is starting to collapse.
Abstergo is not quite the most hated company in America yet – but Desmond can change that. And he does. Bit by bit. Silenced lawsuit by lawsuit. Drug trial report by report. So much data brushed under the rug, so many lab results and clinical trials and experiments.
So many, so very many corpses.
Abstergo's closets are deep – and they've filled them with skeletons. For a long while it was fine – money made people look elsewhere, made them ignore the obvious. But now the law enforcement is breaking into Abstergo's bunkers and finding guns and missiles – and so many not so innocent drugs and weapons. Now people are finally looking.
Templars have dug their grave – Desmond is happy to point people right to it.
Aquila ends up having a crew. It wasn't Desmond's intention – every person he tempted away from Juno with money and promises of wealth was one person fewer for Juno to control. He hadn't expected them to follow him afterwards, hadn't expected them to look to him for orders.
But that's the thing about buying peoples souls – turns out, you own some souls afterwards. And there was a reason Juno went after these kids, these depressed and anxious young men and women who had no friends and no hope left. They are all in their own ways desperate – looking for a way in or out.
"I just want to do something with my life," they tell him in chat windows and emails, "I just want to feel like I'm part of something," they text him and, "I just want to be better," they whisper to their mikes and, "I just want some friends," they tell to their web cameras and, "I just want to do something."
I just don't want to be alone and useless anymore.
It's not something Desmond can quite understand – but at the same time, maybe he can. He knows this; this is familiar. This bitterness, this lonely uselessness – this drive to be part of something. Juno knows it too, through him, because she'd watched him and through him… she'd watched Ezio.
Watched Ezio reach out and clasp the shoulder of a new recruit and say the words – welcome them to his family.
Liberation of Earth has begun, Desmond thinks, and wonders if there is a gender neutral term for Brotherhood.
51% and counting.
Aquila spreads out his wings over his Convocation, and in the belly of Abstergo Desmond Miles opens his eyes, awash with gold, and lives again.