This wasn't the loading screen.
As Amanda walked around, she gazed at everything in awe and wonder. This place was... beautiful. It was an island, blue water lapped at the banks of a golden beach and slipped back in white foam. Trees and plants were abundant beyond the beach, and strange blocks of a solid material Amanda didn't recognise jutted out of the ground in huge slanted columns. Amanda turned in a full circle.
Oh, she could definitely get used to this.
She picked up a small pebble and weighed it in the palm of her hand, before she threw it out over the water. It landed some way off, making a faint splashing sound when it slapped into the virtual sea and sunk.
Amanda sat down on the soft sand, running the grains through her fingers, and looked over the false horizon.
How could this not be real?
“Who are you?”
Amanda's head snapped up and she rose. Her jaw dropped.
He stood there and narrowed his eyes, “Is this some kind of joke?” he asked and then screamed up at the azure sky, “Because it's not funny!”
Amanda stared at him and willed herself to move forward.
Messy blonde hair...
Stubble covering his heavy jawline...
“Daniel?” she said, her mouth barely able to form the word. She felt tears well-up in her eyes. The videos Rebecca had showed crossed her mind, as did Daniel's final words - even replaying the static from the bad audio. How could this be?
He looked at her from the distance, “It can't be you,” he said, shaking his head, “It can't be...” he stepped forward and furrowed his brows, “Is that... my coat? My ring?” his eyes lighted and then dimmed, “I don't believe it...”
In a sudden burst of emotion, Amanda ran into him and hugged him. He fell back on the impact, the sand flying upwards, and said, “Oh my God, Oh my God, you're real!” and held her close.
Amanda kissed his cheeks and touched his face, feeling every sharp stump of hair on his jowls, “How are you here? How is this possible? You're dead! I saw you die!”
Daniel kissed her mouth, and held on. Amanda responded to him, never having felt so alive as she did. This was Daniel's mouth. This was where her mouth belonged, where it fit perfectly, where it would never regret being. She felt Daniel's hands in her hair. Amanda's face grew wet from the involuntary tears that ran freely from her eyes.
“Daniel...” Amanda whispered, bunching his virtual clothes in her fists, “I never thought I'd see you again. How are you here?”
“It's... complicated. I'm not entirely sure how to explain this to you,” he murmured, when she let go. He kept a hand on her cheek, “This place... This is the guts of the Animus, the program in its simplest form. No memories here, just basic physics and weather simulations. They stuck me in here for treatment regularly. I was in here for nearly three days at a time because it got so bad. And you learn a few... tricks, when you're in here so much. My consciousness managed to imprint itself onto the system. Or something like that, like an AI,” he stroked her cheek, “but... how are you here? What happened?”
Amanda stared at him, dumbfounded. She wanted to tell him... She wanted to tell him everything. But... She frowned and straightened.
“Amanda?” Daniel said, furrowing his brows.
“Daniel, I love you, but...” Amanda looked at him, “how do I know you're real? How do I know you're not just a trick to... to make me talk?”
Daniel raised his brows.
“You died. I was shown. I was told. And now you're here...?”
“I'm not a trick,” Daniel said. He felt hurt, but he understood, “They can't even hear or see us in the Black Room. They just monitor your brain waves and heart rates...” as he was saying it, he realised the points were redundant.
Wouldn't an intended illusion say exactly the same thing?
He paused, and then said, “All right, ask me something only I would know.”
Amanda looked at him, and thought, “Um... Okay, on the 11th November what was I wearing?”
“11th November? I don't know. I'm Daniel, not a diary.”
“The day... The day you wanted to break up with me.”
“A big red shirt, because there was a soc- I mean, football game you wanted to watch,” Daniel said immediately, “but more importantly-” he smiled, stroking her thigh with the back his hand, “You were wearing nothing else.”
Amanda couldn't help but smile. It was such a Daniel thing to say. They kissed again. Amanda pushed Daniel onto his back and lay on top of him, her head resting against his chest, “I've missed you so much,” she whispered.
Daniel touched her forearm and Amanda pulled it away from him. She felt him sigh beneath her.
“I told you not to go,” she said in a small voice, holding her arms close to her and pulling her sleeves over her hands.
Daniel closed his eyes and put a hand on the small of her back, “I'm sorry,” he murmured.
Amanda sat up, wiped her eyes, placing her hands on his chest. She wanted to change the subject, to make him and herself laugh, “I went through your wardrobe in Philly,” she said and waited.
Daniel blinked. It took him a moment to remember what that even meant, but he eventually said, “What!” and reddened.
There it was: Blushing denial.
Amanda fell in fits of choked laughter and rolled over on the sand next to him, “Do you really need that many porn magazines?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head, covering his face with both hands, “Before I met you, yeah!” he snapped, his cheeks becoming redder and then he said in a gentler tone, “Is... is that where you are now? Philly? Did they find you then?”
“No...” Amanda stiffened, “The, uh, Assassins found me before the Templars and I sort of panicked and ran to the Assassins. Then I thought it through and... Well, I joined the Templars.”
“What happened to being a 'bit of a coward'?”
Amanda shrugged, “I stopped.”
Daniel sat up and looked down at her, “I never wanted to drag you into this madness, Amanda.”
Amanda smiled sadly at him, “I know,” she whispered, lacing her hand with his, “When... when did you take that picture of me, by the way?”
“After the first night we dated, I think,” Daniel said, “You look like you've lost a lot of weight.”
“And you look exactly the same.”
“Your hair looks horrible.”
“I know. I don't know why I cut it.”
They stared at each other for a long moment.
Too many things to say and so little of it needed to be said.
Daniel laughed, shaking the awkwardness off, “So, um, how are you finding Camp Templar?”
“Well, I met Laetitia and Berg... Though I sort of already knew Berg, he was my neighbour across the hall in Pasadena.”
“That overrated prick,” Daniel muttered.
Amanda scoffed and got up to lean on Daniel's shoulder, “Would it make you feel better if I told you that I smashed a vase into his face?”
Daniel snorted, “Did you?”
“That's my girl,” he turned to embrace her.
Amanda traced her fingers over Daniel's chest, “He's going to be training me, though, as an initiate or whatever.”
Daniel's face slackened, “Training sessions are optional.”
Amanda scoffed, and brushed some sand out of his eyebrows with her thumbs, “Are you telling me not to go?”
“Ah, to-ma-to; to-mate-o. Telling; forcibly suggesting.”
Amanda laughed, “I don't want to go, Daniel. The man tried to drug me,” she giggled when Daniel glared, “But... I'm useless at fighting. And I've never even held a gun in my hands. Ever.”
Daniel looked aghast, “How is that even possible? How have you lived your life all these goddamn years?”
“My country doesn't encourage gun-violence.”
“Your country doesn't know it's neutered.”
“Arsehole, as always.”
Daniel smirked, like it was a compliment. Amanda guessed, for him, it was.
She brushed his hair back, feeling each uneven patch, “And joke's on you, my country is metaphorically a woman,” Amanda stuck out her tongue, “and at one point, the sun never set on Britannia's empire - which included your ugly lout of a country.”
“Violence or non-violence, Amanda? You can't have it both ways,” Daniel laughed.
“My God, being in a machine has made you smarter than me!” Amanda said, “I'm not sure we can make this work anymore, Daniel.”
Daniel kissed her, “I'll be your cocky dumbass, I don't care,” he touched her face as she blushed, “I'll be anything you want. Smarter, dumber; fatter, thinner; taller, shorter. Anything. So long as you'll stay with me.”
Amanda hid her face in Daniel's clothes, “Those terms I can agree to,” she mumbled, happily.
Daniel scoffed, “Now about gun-violence...”
“Oh, who cares?” Amanda snapped.
“I do. I don't want that... fraud anywhere near you. He's already got himself up too many asses, and I'd prefer if he didn't get up your-”
“Daniel, do not finished that horrible sentence.”
“What I'm saying is: forget him. I'll train you to shoot. I'll make you the ideal initiate, and everyone will see you some sort of miracle.”
Amanda looked at him, “Wait... They don't know you're in here?”
“I don't think so.”
“But how would you teach me? You're a doer, not a teacher.”
“I resent that,” Daniel said, pointing at her, “I'm both. I've trained plenty of Templars, it was one of my earliest commissions.”
“What?” Amanda stared at him, “You're serious?”
“So, you were Abstergo's best operative, a test-subject, your living here even after you've died - and you train people to be Templars?” Amanda pulled away from him, “Fuck, Daniel! Even after you die tragically, you don't fail to surprise me!”
“I told you, didn't I? I'm that fucking good.”
“Can we fucking stop with the unnecessary fucking swearing?”
Amanda laughed, “Where are we going to find a gun in this place?”
Daniel reached behind him and took out a pistol from his back-pocket. He cocked it and handed it to Amanda.
She stared at it, “Did you always carry that thing around?”
“Yep, except when I was with you,” he pressed the weapon into her hands and stepped back a few feet, “Get up, and shoot me.”
“I can't do that!” Amanda protested, still staring at the gun.
“Sure you can. You absolutely hate it when I rip on England,” Daniel said, “and I can do that all day.”
“Funny, but no. What if it - I don't know - hurts you or... deletes you?”
“You can't hurt me here. You can't kill me.”
“How would you know?”
Daniel was silent for a moment, “I'm going to avoid that question,” he spread out his arms, “Just shoot.”
“I don't want to. You're... I... We just met. Again. Nothing you say about England or me or anything is going to stop you from being cute right now.”
“Hey, I have had more bullets to my head, than you've had birthdays, Amanda,” Daniel snapped, “Just hold the gun up and pull the trigger. Easy.”
“Urgh...” Amanda raised the weapon and barked when she fired, flying back a few steps because of the recoil. She took a few breaths and looked at her shaking hands, “Did I do it?”
“You shot the rock over there,” Daniel pointed to the large column a few feet away from him, “Maybe, try keeping your eyes open next time?”
“Can I please have a different target?”
Daniel walked up to her and guided her arms. She felt his breath on her neck, the proximity of his body making her feel warm and fuzzy inside, “Okay, fine,” Daniel said, “Try shooting at the rock for real this time. Take a deep breath and keep steady,” he let go, but stayed right behind her. Amanda pulled the trigger, shouted again - the recoil making her hands fly back, almost butting herself in the face with the gun.
“I don't want to do this any more,” she said, shaking her head.
“But you got close this time,” Daniel pointed at the rock, “Just stop panicking.”
“Easy for you to say, you've had more bullets to your head than I've had birthdays!” Amanda protested.
Daniel took her hands and grasped them tightly. She stopped shaking, “Trust me, okay? You're going to be fine. There's nothing in here that can hurt you.”
“I don't want to shoot you - real or not.”
“Okay, okay, we won't do that again.”
Amanda's breathing slowed, “Why would you even suggest it?”
“Because if you can shoot me, you can shoot anything.”