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"True" Reality

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Statement of Desmond Miles regarding his… existence. Original statement given circa 2016. Audio recording by Jonathan Sims, the Archivist.

Statement begins.

 

 

You know, I think it was a cult, the way we were brought up. Not – not a very good cult. I read up on cults afterwards, in the years between me running away and being kidnapped by Abstergo, and I gotta say, a lot of the markers match. Isolation, cultish beliefs, rigorous rules and rituals, training, the whole it's us against the world, we're your only family out there, you can only count on us thing. Not that it was really a family, not the way I think it was supposed to be. My dad just didn't have that… that spark that would've made it work, you know? That charisma cult leaders need to make the whole thing come together.

Cults, the good ones, they do more than isolation and training. Like, the members get something out of it. Love and support and sense of belonging, stuff like that, even if it's all messed up – that kind of stuff is needed to bring the thing together. Make the little people feel like they're a part of something bigger, like they're better together, like they matter in the grand scheme of things, all that. You're the Chosen One or Chosen People, and together we will make things right. Something like that, maybe – like I said, it wasn't a very good cult, so I don't really know how it should've gone, but ours, it lacked something.

It lacked belonging. At least for me. I grew up in it – I was born into it, it was in my blood, and I can't remember ever not feeling lonely. 

It was in this, this valley, in South Dakota. Black Hills, in the middle of nowhere. Forestry area, kind of mountainous, hard to get to. We had a – well, it was a compound, right? They called it the Farm. Houses, barns, warehouses, all surrounded by a fence, basic compound, every cult needs one. We didn't grow our own food, though, didn't keep farm animals, none of that getting back to the earth stuff most cults seem to do. Nah, someone did grocery runs, bought basic foodstuffs in bulk, and we ate the same porridge all year round. But it was still closed up, and most everything we did, it was inside that fence.

It's – hard to explain what's it like, growing up behind a fence, to someone who grew up with more than a square mile of space to explore. Everyone's all but you could see through it, right, you could just hop the fence, and yeah, sure, but… that's, that's not it.

It's…

Well, there's no way to get around it, I guess. I never felt like there was a world outside that fence. It felt – not, not fake exactly, but like… like it wasn't exactly real. But also like it was a tease – everyone told me there was a world outside, and then they told me that no, I couldn't see it, that I would never see it… what's a kid to believe?

Our thing, the cult – the Brotherhood, it's… it was a weird thing. See, they were Assassins, that's what they called themselves. Assassin Brotherhood. But not like you see in the movies, we weren't supposed to be paid killers or deal with politics or anything like that – no, we were the good guys. It was our sworn duty to safeguard the mankind's free will, that was what we were about. Killing the bad guys to keep the good ones safe – work in the shadows to serve the light. There's a whole slew of grandiose sayings like that. There's a Creed to it. So you know. Cultish.

Problem is that – actually, the two competing problems are that, first, they were kind of right about things. Safeguarding mankind's free will, that's a solid thing. But also they got so, so many things wrong about all of it. There's the Creed, and they repeated it like it was a mantra, over and over, but they didn't understand it. None of them did.

The Assassin's Creed goes: Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted.

Didn't go too well with the whole thing of hurry up and wait in this compound here, while we tell you all the rules and train you in all the things you need to know to save the world, and woe be you if you dare to disobey.

Not that any of it actually means anything, really.

But I should, ah. I should just tell you my story, right? Right. Okay.

My dad was the leader of the Brotherhood – the Mentor. He was the one training me and teaching me most of the time – the one who kept us locked up inside the fence while he told us grand things about the world outside. Training under him was like being a punching bag with legs, told not to move and then berated for not ducking a blow. It was a lot of physical training, running, weight lifting, stretching, just a load of exercise, and then sparring, martial arts. Sneaking too, getting around quietly, stuff like that – Assassins, you know. The idea was that we'd be able to sneak up on people and kill them one day, after all.

But, uh. There was a lot of contradiction there. I don't know how to – there's this weird thing about being told two things that kept contradicting each other so badly. Being trained for a grand purpose in service of a wider world out there, but not seeing it. It just – it messes up with your mind, being told over and over again that there's so much more out there, that there are great things out there, big, important things, but – but not experiencing it, ever. It just –

We trained and trained, and we were told ourc Creed, which made no sense, and we were told about the world, which just as well might've not existed at all, and…

World just condenses down, when you're trapped, but imagining these big great things, which you don't have a frame of reference for. To me it was just like – like our little compound was an island, floating inside a hologram of a forest and there was nothing behind it. Just empty space, forever.

I don't know when I caught my dad on his first lie, hell, I don't even remember any of the lies, and there were probably a lot of them. I just remember that, at some point, I realised he was a liar. That they were all liars. I bet it was little things, little white lies, something like I'll take you up that hill, we'll take a look at Rapid city and then we didn't, or something. Doesn't matter. At some point I just looked around and thought, "None of these people are True. None of them is telling the Truth. I'm completely alone here."

And we can't forget our Creed, can we? Nothing is True.

I ran away when I was sixteen, on March 13, 2003. Escaped, really, because that's what it was, an escape – and they chased me down the mountain and through the forest, but I guess I internalised enough of that training for it to count, because they didn't catch me. I hid in the dirt of the forest, burrowed into the moss and undergrowth and they didn't find me. I still remember what it felt like, my cheek against the wet sprigs and moss of the forest floor, listening to the people shouting for me, looking for me, as I hid in some bushes, how my heart pounded in my ears hard enough that I thought for sure they'd be able to hear it, and…

They didn't.

The sounds of the search moved away, and my heart calmed down and I felt completely, utterly alone.

That first morning outside the compound, when I breathed in the forest air and couldn't hear the generators, it was – it was so peaceful. It felt like I'd stepped into another world – into a story book, maybe. The sounds of the forest, the birds and animals, leaves rustling in the wind, it was… pretty magical.

I was so alone there, in that first clearing, the air crisp and clean and smelling of dew, and it was… it was special.

Now I wonder how much of that was my own projection. Was the forest even…?

I traveled most of the first couple of years, moving eastward across the United States, always under a false name and in some semblance of disguise. That first year – no, first month, first weeks maybe? It felt like I was the main character in an adventure book, setting out to see the world, off to a quest of self-discovery. Everything I saw was so new so me, every thing, every one – all of it was so novel and new and fresh that first month that I was – kind of drunk with it? Like, that first infatuation in a relationship, the first drink at a bar, the first time you try drugs, it's such a rush…

I don't know why it soured for me, I don't know what made it go so stale so fast. It just. Did. The infatuation wore off, the haze faded, and I might've not gotten a hangover, but coming down from that high was – it was disappointing.

A lot of places look the same, you know. A lot of people act the same. A lot of people share the same names, the same occupations, the same hobbies. A lot of things just repeat over and over again, and – I don't know. Maybe because I was looking for it, because I still had that nagging suspicion that none of it was as True as it seemed, that I kept seeing it. Like, when you learn something new, a bit of symbology or design, an art style, you suddenly see it everywhere? Like Aha, I know this, this design is based on that school of art, how cool is that. Reality was kind of like my Golden Ratio, and all the time I questioned who decided to put it there.

That probably didn't make sense, huh? I, ah… anyway.

Nine years after I ran away from the Farm, I'd put most of it behind me, my upbringing, tried to forget it. Definitely forgot my training, seeing as there's no real call for assassinations in the real world. Didn't need it. The other thing, the reality thing was still… there, but I'd learned to be zen about it. Didn't have friends, and my relationships were all kind of… hollow, but I'd learned to live with it.

Anyway, I was working as a bartender in New York, this classy little place called Bad Weather. It was kinda high end, like, bartenders wore tailored vests and ties, and some drinks cost some people's monthly salary and more? No idea how I landed that job with no background or anything, I was still going under a fake name… but damn, it was a good one. Some nights the tips alone could see me through the month, which for a guy with no solid ID is pretty dang good deal. Got groped by a lot of drunk business people, but yeah, it paid the bills. 

The money made me cocky I guess. I managed to save some, for the first time in my life I had more than I needed, and I… splurged. Got a motorcycle. Had to get a licence for it. That's what got me caught.

See, the Assassin Brotherhood, like all good cults, it had a Sworn Enemy, the Bad Guy, the, you know. The devil of our faithful to fight. Ours was the Templars – yeah, I know. It was even that one. Order of the Knights Templar, begun in the time of Crusades, developed over the years into this conglomerate of powerful people trying to control other people, and nations and the world in general for its own good through force and mind control, all the good conspiracy theory things. By the time of my birth Templars had upgraded to your usual shtick of powerful corporations working together for the domination of the world. And at the head of them all is Abstergo Pharmaceutical Company.

Yeah, I know. It's such a cliché, isn't it? The thing is, clichés start somewhere, and I'm pretty sure people perpetuate the conspiracy theories intentionally. No one believes the crackpots going on about the Illuminati, after all.

But yeah, Abstergo kidnapped me on the 1st of September, 2012, snatched me right out of the Washington Square Park. They knew I was an Assassin, they had my DNA somehow, probably exhumed an ancestor or something, I don't know. I come from a long line of Assassins, and I mean a long one, thousands of years long. Long enough that it shows in my DNA, and thanks to the driver's licence, Abstergo now had my blood, so.

They were looking for something my ancestor had, something he knew – and being a direct descendant, I had genetic memory of it, whether I knew it or not. What they were after doesn't really matter anymore, but...

Have you heard about the Animus? It's a thing Abstergo developed, a machine that reads genetic memory from a subject's DNA, screens it through the subject's brain like it's a perfector, transforming the DNA into readable data, into electrical impulses and all that, stuff you can read with sensors. Being in it, it's like… you live through your ancestor's memories, like they are your own, like you were there. I know it sounds like pseudoscience, I know. Another thing I think people do – make the really important stuff sound like pseudoscience, so no one will ever look into it seriously. Just… change the public consciousness, until fiction becomes fact and vice versa.

With the Animus, Abstergo made me relive my ancestor's memories – and hey, this time I know exactly how to describe it. Being in the Animus, being thrust into the head of a long dead guy – or having the head of a long dead guy thrust into you – it's a lot like… being in a video game. Hah. 

Have you ever played a video game? Like a first person shooter or something – you control a character on the screen in a varyingly interactive world populated by non-player characters, who, depending on how well they're programmed, might talk to you and seem like characters, but usually don't, repeating just the same lines over and over. The Animus was a lot like that. Except I'm both the player and the character I'm playing as at the same time.

Simulated person in a simulated place, surrounded by simulated things, none of it real. Nothing is True.

I didn't get it then, but – the veil I had peeking behind before, it, it started parting for me then, bit by inexorable bit. And I didn't even know, I didn't…

Abstergo got what they wanted from me, after I lived the memories of Altaïr Ibn La-ahad for a while – an ancient artefact with great power left behind by Those that Came Before, yadda yadda, the Apple of Eden and the map to the treasure it revealed. They wanted to use it to control the human race, for their own good. Yeah.

It even sounds like a bad sci-fi thriller, right? It gets better.

In the following months, and through repeated use of the Animus, I learned a lot about Those That Came Before and their Pieces of Eden. Those That Came Before, or Isu, were a precursor race of humans, who had a great civilisation with even greater technology. They created humans in their own image, as their servants, their slaves – hence the Eden connection. Eden was their city, and Adam and Eve their slaves that rebelled. The Pieces of Eden, their technology was in part magic and in part slavery – how they controlled their human servants, up until the human rebellion, 70 thousands or so years ago. And we, the Assassins, were descendants of those rebellious human slaves – some of us even had powers, passed down from our earliest ancestors and those Isu they had relations with. 

We call it the Eagle Vision. It's like seeing people's auras and having like… I don't know, 100/100 vision? I don't know if that's a thing, probably not – I can see really really far without binoculars, is what I'm saying. Not that it matters – though I still got it going for me, still got the Eagle Vision, so. That's something.

Anyway. Ancient precursor race of ancient Roman Gods, Assassins and Templars fighting over the freedom of humanity in their wake and, to crown it all, the end of the world. That's how they died – the Isu, I mean. A super solar flare about 70 thousands years ago – the Toba catastrophe, I think? And, because it's just how these things go, it was happening again, in my lifetime, on the 21st of December, 2012. And the Isu saw it coming, because they can see though time, because yeah, that's a thing. And I have to stop it, because… yeah.

Yeah.

It's fun stuff, if you're into that sort of narratives. It's not the worst story, right? Its got that blockbuster quality to it, switch your brain off and enjoy the ridiculous spectacle, talk later about how dumb it all was, how unrealistic.

This is the point where I would say dramatically that is all real, you've been lied to your whole life and you need to open your eyes, people, all that, but… of course it's not real.

I played my part to the end, though. Step by step as the events progressed and things occurred. I made an ally who betrayed me, made a friend who died before I even met him, lived through parts of four different ancestors' lives, learned to know them better than myself, learned their abilities. Got to kill the man who had me kidnapped, that was nice. There was a Prophecy and a Prophet and Doomsday coming right up, and me, the Chosen One at the end of my narrative, ready for my noble sacrifice for the good of humanity. At the Grand Temple, where my DNA would switch on a machine almost a hundred thousand years in the making and compete a circuit which would save the world. There was even a frantic final scene, with Goddesses Minerva and Juno fighting over my decision.

I reached my hand to the pedestal – the Eye as they called it, and I thought...

None of this is real, is it?

This is a story. I'm in a book or something, or maybe a movie, and this is the final scene before the end credits.

And I could see it for what it was. It wasn't a book or a movie, it turned out – it was a video game. Series of video games, actually – hell, you've probably heard of them. It's pretty popular, actually. It definitely explained the fighting and people killing too. Video game logic and all that. Gotta have actual gameplay.

I…

I got out of the game, the last of the five games I played the main character of. I don't know how, maybe it was the Eye, or maybe it was something else, who knows. I got out anyway, and since then I've been… me. I don't know what that is, exactly, whether I'm flesh and blood or coloured pixels over empty polygons, or something else, a piece of fiction held together by its own self delusion? I think, therefore I am? I don't know.

I'm still not convinced anything is real, though. I might be words on a page now, a bit of creepy pasta shared on some niche forums with black backgrounds. I'm not sure you're real. Maybe we're all just... text.

There are people inside me. My ancestors – the characters I played as, they still feel so real, even though they were never anything but code. In my game I had this side effect to my powers, the Bleeding Effect – a narrative mechanism to justify how I learned the abilities of my ancestors with nearly zero actual training, and all that. It gave me awareness issues, made me lose my sense of self, and think I was my ancestors for brief moments of time – just enough to drive home the poorly contrived plot element of the tragic hero aspect of my character arc. It still happens, on this side, the Bleeding Effect. I still lose myself in their memories.

I miss them. Isn't that funny? They were never real, someone literally made them up, they're nothing more than pieces of fiction, they were never actual people, but then again… neither was I. And yet here I am, real enough that I can miss them.

You can't imagine how lonely it feels – to be so full of people who… never existed.

I… yeah, I guess that's it. That's my bit said, I… yeah.

Bye. And, uh.

Thanks.

 

 

Statement ends.

This statement was sent to the Magnus Institute as an MP3 file sometime in the 2016. The file lasted only for as long as it took to transcribe it black and white, after which point the original audio recording became too corrupted to be played and had to be purged from the systems to prevent a cascade of errors, according to the post-it note attached to the file. As to how credible the statement is…

Well.

The game in question, Assassin's Creed 3, was published on 30th of October, 2012 – when the entity known as Desmond Miles escaped from it is hard to tell, but it would be sometime after, obviously. Whether he still exists, and whether he is still aware is impossible to say – judging by the lack of anything that can be followed, he might either be already gone, dispersed into the ether he came from, or else he is one of those rare individuals touched by the supernatural who… keep their peace about it. 

It is strange, though. While I can see the influence of both the Lonely and the Ceaseless Watcher in this statement, there seems to be no actual... fear present. Unless, of course, Desmond Miles experienced some perfectly understandable existential dread and horror he did not include in his statement, it doesn't seem as though there's anything to… feed upon here. No victims of horror or circumstance, nothing so much as an uneasy participant, I can't even tell if this event had witnesses at all. In all likelihood it didn't.

And yet, I feel somewhat… sated.

Hm.

End recording