Amanda screamed. A blur of white and red crossed her vision and refused to clear up.
“She's unstable, Shaun,” Amanda heard Rebecca say - the voice echoing and magnifying an already stabbing headache.
“I can see that!” Shaun said, a panic in his voice, “Amanda, we need you to calm down. Listen to my voice, try to focus on it.”
Amanda's vision - if that's what this was - writhed around as if in its own form of agony, but she felt like swearing at Shaun. She couldn't be sure, but Amanda felt that she probably did swear at him.
Calm down? What was that? What did that mean?
The shadows of people, buildings, animals crossed her vision and disappeared in an instant. She couldn't make sense of any of it.
“We need to pull her out,” Rebecca insisted.
Amanda could see glowing images, and a man who moved to her thoughts - kicking, swearing, crying out - but in a jerking fashion. He cracked an elbow into a blurry figure and kicked what could have been a stone fountain.
“She's doing fine, Bex. You know the first time's never easy.”
“Shaun, there's too much psychological trauma, Amanda's rejecting the treatment.”
“Amanda, try to relax. Recognise that what you're seeing isn't real. Just a virtual image, nothing more. It can't hurt you.”
The images began to become erratic once more, smashing into each other - tinting red across Amanda's vision.
“We're losing her...”
A sigh, “Alright, Amanda,” Shaun's voice said, “We're going to try and get you out now.”
The images melted away and Amanda found herself standing on a plain of white. Or maybe it was 'floating'? Except she was not levitating in mid-air, she was standing up-right, anchored to a floor she could not tell apart from everything else. She looked around, squinting to make out the faint 3-D shapes that floated about around her. Amanda looked at her hands, turning them over and bending her fingers. She felt the clothes on her body: Denim jeans, jersey hoodie...
This felt so real.
And yet, it couldn't be.
“Doing alright in there, Amanda?” an echoing voice asked.
Amanda looked up, “Shaun?” she called, “Where am I?”
“You're inside the Animus. A safe room, of sorts,” he replied.
“Actually,” Rebecca chipped in, “It's just the loading screen.”
“Thanks, Bex, very helpful.”
“I don't understand,” Amanda said, holding her head, feeling her dark hair, “I thought you said this would be easy for me.”
“The after-effects might - might - be easy on you,” Shaun stressed, “but you show similar signs to others who have used the Animus for the first time. You can't jump straight into any selected memory. You have to be eased in from a different point.”
“So... That's what you're going to do?”
“Yes. Rebecca is going to try and sort that out for you. In the meantime,” shapes began to form in front of Amanda, “Try to acquaint yourself with basic physics. You were flailing about like a bat on fire just now.”
Amanda glared at the blank white sky, “I felt like a bat on fire!”
“Like you could possibly know that.”
Amanda sighed and looked ahead. She took a tentative step, to make sure the ground - whatever it was - was secure and then another. As her confidence grew, she walked with less care. What seemed to be a staircase formed ahead of her and she climbed up to the top, to a flat plain and looked across at the nothingness ahead. There was a strange beauty to it, one that made Amanda shiver.
A horrific beauty.
“So, how does this work?” she said, “This machine, I mean.”
“What is a memory, Amanda?” Shaun asked her.
Amanda looked up, raised a brow.
“It's a... recollection of a past event. I think,” she answered, finding a gap between the plains.
She took a few steps back, ran and jumped. She grasped the opposing edge, her hands slipping. She looked down and let go. Amanda landed painfully on her bottom.
“Ow...” she said, rubbing her sore behind, “So things still hurt,” she muttered, “Wonderful.”
Amanda stood up and walked away in a different direction.
“Yes,” Shaun said, “But such a recollection is specific to the individual remembering the event, yes?”
“Sure,” Amanda said, grasping a thin shape and vaulting over it.
“Well, we have reason to believe that such things are filed in our DNA,” Shaun explained, “A Templar scientist called Dr Warren Vidic (now deceased) discovered that our DNA functions as an archive. It contains not only instructions passed down from previous generations, but memories as well. The memories of our ancestors. Think about it,” Shaun paused, “Migration, hibernation, reproduction - how do animals know when and where to go? What to do? Some might say that it's instinct, but the fact remains: these creatures hold knowledge which they did not experience first-hand.”
“And,” Amanda said, “the Animus helps you to, what, decode and project these memories?”
“Exactly,” Shaun said, “Getting the hang of it in there?”
“Sort of,” Amanda laughed. She didn't realise just how much she was enjoying this, “Have you ever been in here? It's so weird. So... scarily awesome.”
“Ah, hardly ever got the chance,” Shaun replied wistfully, “Still, the better option is probably staying well away from it.”
“And yet you so readily agreed to stick me in here?”
“Well, I asked first, didn't I? It's not like you got kidnapped and thrust into it.”
Amanda sat down and cupped her face in her hands, “This place is amazing. I could live here.”
“Now, don't get too attached,” Shaun laughed, “We don't intend to keep you in there for more than a few hours at a time. The consequences could prove dangerous otherwise.”
“Hey, Shaun,” Rebecca said, “take a look at this...”
Amanda straightened. Rebecca sounded astonished.
What had they found?
“Fascinating...” was all Shaun said, “We've found something, Amanda. You ready?”
Amanda stood up and nodded, “I'm ready.”
The world began to change and form around her.
Amanda walked forward, the white nothingness beneath her turning to gravel and stone, walls of brick building up and around. Hair grew on her face - grey and old - while the hair on the top of her head began to fall away. Her clothes changed, into a tattered cloak that would have once been white, marked with a red pectoral cross - a thin brown belt holding it all in place - and dark trousers. The leather of old battered shoes rubbed against her tired feet. Her body reformed, her femininity receding into a male figure, her height increased. She began to feel grubby, as though she hadn't bathed in days, and her legs became weak with what was more than fatigue - weak with age. Her hands went behind her and stayed. She felt the tight edge of a rope around he wrists. The voices of people came to her - sharp and jagged - before their figures and angered faces became visible. They were shouting and screaming abuse at her, a great crowd of them.
Memories that did not belong to Amanda, filled her mind...