19. December 1st 2012 ~ Philadelphia, USA
Daniel felt sick as he sat in the back of the yellow cab that would take him to Laetitia England's office in Philadelphia. He kept his arms crossed over his stomach as he watched the lights of shops and apartments zip passed through the car window. He'd only got out of the airport and the clock had just struck 4 am. It was still plenty dark, the first light of the sun hidden behind the blackness of many buildings. He yawned to himself and groaned a little over his full stomach. The driver glanced over at Daniel through his mirror.
“You okay back there?” he asked.
Daniel paused. In a past life, he would have ignored the driver at his best. Now though he said, “Fine. My, uh, girlfriend wasn't too happy to see me walk out her front door without stuffing half a triple-layer cake down my throat.”
The driver laughed, “Sounds like quite a lady. You ain't gonna be sick?”
“She is. And I think I can hold it down.”
The driver scoffed to himself but gave no further comment.
Daniel sat back in his seat, wondering why Laetitia had sent for him. He could take a fair guess. The last time was here, in the States, Desmond Miles was in New York. And, according to Laetitia, Daniel had “scared” Desmond away.
God, he hated that woman.
But there wasn't much he could do about it, given that they had the same status in the Templar Order. He would just have to deal with whatever patronising, reprimanding shite she'd throw at him.
“Drop off point,” the driver said, pulling the cab over. Daniel handed him some money and got out of the car with the single duffel bag that he carried all his necessities in. He looked up at the intimidating, grey building with the glowing white Abstergo symbol marked on it, as he heard the cab pull away.
Until now, the word had never caused him so much misery.
He sighed, the smell and feel of Amanda's apartment still fresh to his senses. The welcome and the... hope in her home was to Daniel what the Rabbit Hole was to Alice.
A wonderland. A euphoria. A dream.
But this - his home, his life as he knew it - was a reality.
There was a man standing outside the main entrance, waiting for him.
“Agent Cross,” the man said, approaching Daniel.
Daniel nodded a greeting, “You my welcoming party?”
The escort curled his lip at the remark, but said, “Ms England is waiting for you.”
Daniel smirked at the escort's reaction, but didn't respond. He just followed the escort through the automatic doors.
So Daniel was right: he'd come here to get a bollocking.
Happy, happy. Joy, joy.
The escort opened a capsule-like compartment in the wall, and gestured for Daniel to enter. An ornate pedestal with a red light stood there and Daniel pressed his thumb to it. It took a moment for the light to scan his fingerprint before it flicked green. The alcove began to hum and turn until it reached an opening and Daniel stepped inside, the compartment in the wall shutting behind him.
It had a very elegant look, this office - with burning candelabras mounted on the walls and white, marble statues standing in softly-lit alcoves with red drapes hanging over them. White coaches - used more for decoration than for purpose - where places at the base of each statue. The walls were painted a spotless off-white and the windows had plush, burgundy curtains drawn across them. There was a matching desk ahead of him - fairly modest in comparison to the rest of the room - with a flat-screen computer and a number of files stacked upon it.
A woman rose from behind that desk, dressed in a dark pant-suit and a string of pearls at her neck - her light-brown hair coiled into a tight bun. Her face was very pointed, with her sharp cheekbones, thin nose and precisely done eyebrows. Behind her, there was framed, life-size portrait of the last public Templar Grand-Master - Jacques de Molay - which had its own lighting.
The symbolism was so precise, it was practically imposed on any onlooker. Daniel couldn't help but scoff every time he encountered the office and/or the woman. He'd be hanged before Laetitia England imposed on him.
And now this self-same Laetitia England regarded Daniel Cross - her equal in Abstergo's Operations Division - with a cold, impassive gaze.
It made her ill to think of him in that sense. She, an upper-class, sophisticated executive, and him - a drunken, insane operative.
It baffled her to think how they could possibly be equals.
“England,” Daniel said.
“Agent Cross,” Laetitia greeted in kind, “I trust you know why it is you're here?”
Daniel stepped closer to Laetitia's desk, “Is this about 17? What happened in New York?”
Laetitia narrowed her eyes, “Let's look forward, shall we?” she said dismissively, “As you know, my operatives have been trying to locate the precursor artefacts that Subject 17 seems intent on finding. We have confirmed the location of one in San Paolo, Brazil. I had requested that I send in one of my own agents to retrieve it,” she sighed, “but Vidic insists that I send you.”
“You don't sound too happy about that.”
Laetitia glowered at him, “A flight has been chartered for you. You should get to Brazil by 9 am today. Focus on locating and retrieving the artefact. We believe it could lead us to the Grand Temple,” Laetitia straightened, “We've arranged for you to be picked up and escorted to the airport. You may stay here in the facility until then. A room has been prepared for you, to be used as you see fit. Dr Sung is also here, should you need medical attention.”
Daniel placed his hands on the desk and, against his better judgement, he said, “You have something to say and you're not saying it.”
“I haven't the slightest idea-”
“Cut the shit, England. I know you.”
Laetitia sighed, “Agent Cross, are you aware that you are closely monitored, as a Templar?”
Daniel nodded. He rubbed a section of his wrist where he knew a tracking device had been injected when he had been made a Master Templar.
“It has become a point of discussion,” Laetitia continued, “that you have become... involved with a civilian.”
Daniel narrowed his eyes, “So what?”
“So nothing, apparently. Or, at least, nothing according to Warren and Sung - who think that you fucking around with a civilian might make you more mentally stable. You know, might put a spring in your step, a smile on your face, make you happy.”
“And what makes me happy, makes you...?”
“You're weak, Cross.”
“Right,” Daniel said, standing to his full height, “Because you're the one who's responsible for everything that Abstergo has achieved in the last decade or so. You're the one who killed an Assassin Mentor, gave out the locations of Assassin encampments and caused the Great Purge. You're the one responsible for the capture and of the recapture of the most important participant of the Animus Project, Subject 17.”
“And yet you didn't need a fuck-buddy to do any of that!” Laetitia snapped.
“You don't need to be jealous. You'll find someone. Eventually. In Hell.”
Laetitia glared at him, her nostrils flared, her face up in flames, “Cross, I'm not denying that you used to be something of legend,” she said tersely, “What I am saying is that you aren't anymore. You're a little more than a symbol now. Warren has faith in you, because Warren doesn't care. He's taken what he needs from you, now you're as expendable as a fresh recruit. I've read Sung's reports, Cross. And Saravakos's. Your mind is in shreds. Your failures are being counted, noted. And now you're looking for something on the side? A nice new hobby? You're finished, Cross. It's only a matter of time until you're replaced and thrown into an institute where they'll misdiagnose you with schizophrenia or MPD.”
Daniel had the urge to slap her. He half-hoped that the Bleeding Effect would kick in and make him nauseous, just so he could vomit cake all over her. But he remained calm and said, “And who might be replacing me?”
Laetitia scoffed, “Oh, you know him. Or you should by now. Dear Warren has spoken so much about him. His abilities, his skills, his psychological stability...”
“Don't fuck with me, England.”
“Please. I wouldn't talk to someone like you if it wasn't required of me, let alone that. His name is Juhani Otso Berg. Soon to be Master Templar Juhani Otso Berg.”
Daniel's face darkened and he eyed Laetitia with disdain, “I knew it was a mistake talking to you,” he turned to leave.
“Oh, and Daniel?”
On hearing her use his first name, Daniel closed his eyes and mentally counted to ten in order to stop himself from tearing that precisely-made face off.
“You do know you're going to get your bad habit into more trouble than she knows, don't you?” Laetitia continued.
Daniel glared at Laetitia, “If you touch her, England, you-”
“Oh, look at that!” Laetitia laughed, “Ten years ago, you couldn't have cared less.”
Daniel spun around and stomped his way back to the desk. He slammed a hand down on the flat-screen monitor so that it toppled and cracked. He looked down at the woman, his face contorted in rage, “You touch a hair on her head,” Daniel said, in a terrifying, quiet voice, “You or one of your useless fairies touch her and I swear, England, you won't die quietly for it.”