Echoes of the Heart
Author's Note: This story is a crossover between Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Ubisoft video game Assassin's Creed. Hopefully all will be explained as we go along, but if you're not a gamer (or don't live with a gamer, the way I do) then all you need to know about Assassin's Creed is that the storyline has to do with a machine called 'Animus' that allows people to re-live 'genetic memory,' which is the memories of a direct ancestor. The game focuses on a modern-day man, Desmond, and his ancestor Altaïr (the assassin of the title, who lived in the Holy Land during the 3rd Crusade). Desmond is forced by a group of ruthless businessmen to re-live Altaïr's memories so they can find the location of a magical treasure. For more information, see the Wikipedia site dedicated to Assassin's Creed, or do a YouTube search to watch some game footage. And now, fasten your seatbelts, strap on your crash helmets and unfurl the sails! We're about to get started…
Disclaimer: I don't own Beauty and the Beast, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Assassin's Creed.
Robin Grey, St. Croix (Virgin Islands), 2017
Robin strolled into the bar like the regular she was. It was still fairly early, so the island tourists wouldn't have arrived for a night of drinking after a strenuous day of lying out on the beach.
"Hey, Robbie," the bartender greeted her. "The usual?"
"I'll take a martini, Miles," she replied as she seated herself.
His eyebrows rose. "Tough day?"
"Dunno. It's just…a feeling. I've been tense all day and I don't know why."
"Work's good?" Miles asked as he poured her drink.
"Work's great. I love working with the dolphins. We're even starting to make some progress with Sammy, teaching her to touch the keypad." Robin sighed and ran a hand through her short brown hair, something she did often and left the blond-highlighted locks looking windswept by day's end. "I just…I think I'm being followed."
"Is it your folks?"
Robin glared at him. "Not so loud! If they have hired someone to find me again, that kind of thing will tip them off!" She rarely regretted telling her friend so much of her past, but this was one of those times.
"Sorry, Rob." He glanced around, but the barroom and adjacent restaurant were empty. "D'you think they are following you after all this time?"
Robin sipped her martini. "Hard to say. I'dve thought they'd have given up by now. It's been four years. I thought when I evaded the last PI they hired they'd realize I want to make a life of my own."
Miles shook his head. "I don't understand you sometimes. If I'd have been given half of what you had as a kid, I'd be—"
"That's just it. Given. Not earned. If you'd seen what those rich brats at Yale do because they know their parents' lawyers can get them out of it, you'd have dropped out, too."
Miles chuckled. "I think I'd have put up with it. A degree from Yale's not something to sneer at. We don't all have your ideals."
Something about the regret in his voice niggled at her. "Nobody's been asking questions about me, have they?"
Someone entered the bar behind her. She spun to face a tall man, dressed oddly for the tropical weather in a sport coat, white t-shirt and long jeans. He had dark hair only slightly faded with gray, though he was her father's age if he was a day. He was followed by several more tough-looking men who made a solid wall between her and escape. She turned back to Miles, hurt and betrayal on her pixie features. "Miles, how could you…"
He looked at her sadly. "Sorry, Robbie. They were pretty persuasive." He tilted his head slightly to show that his neck was marked with fingerprint bruises.
Robin grabbed the counter to steady her wobbly knees. Suddenly she was tired, so tired. Glancing at her martini, she understood why. She'd been drugged. "Who…who are you?" she gasped out. "Even my parents wouldn't…"
She sagged to the floor before she even finished her sentence. Someone caught her. As the darkness took her, she heard the tall man say, "You're right. They didn't."
Robin opened her eyes. For a moment she thought she saw, as if from a ship, land disappearing into a mist. But that quickly faded, and what she did see was a plain white ceiling scattered with fluorescent lights. Her head throbbed when she tried to look at them. She squeezed her eyes shut and moaned.
"She's awake," said an unfamiliar male voice from nearby.
"Good," said another voice. This one she recognized but couldn't place.
Robin blinked her eyes open again. The light didn't hurt quite so much. She felt as though she were recovering from a migraine or a hangover. Her whole skull was tender. She glanced around, and jumped. Seated in a chair next to the bed on which she lay was a young man about her own age. He was startlingly thin, with proportionately sharp features. His long black hair was pulled back to the nape of his neck. As if to emphasize his milky pale skin, he wore all black and had a black bar pierced through one eyebrow. Around his neck was an odd silver charm on a black leather thong.
He offered her a grim smile. "There's water next to the bed. When you've finished it, come on out. We'll talk." His voice was not the high nasaly sound she'd expected from his appearance, but a rather pleasant baritone. He got up and left.
Robin sat up and looked around. She was still fully clothed, lying on a narrow bed in a small room that had to be about six feet square. There was barely enough space for the bed and chair and still have room to swing open the door. The floor was hard tile, the walls concrete. She could be anywhere, but was willing to bet her parents had nothing to do with this. If they had, she'd be in her own suite of rooms right now with one of the maids bringing hot tea for her headache.
A glass of water sat on the floor near the head of the bed. Wincing, Robin swung her legs around to sit on the bed. She didn't want to drink, thinking of how she'd swallowed the martini without caution, but her mouth was cotton-dry. Hoping it was only water, she picked up the glass and put it to her lips.
By the time she finished the water, she felt almost like herself again. If there was anything in it, it sure tasted like water.
She got up and went into the next room, rubbing her neck and running hands through her wild hair. It was a large room that looked like a converted warehouse, with wires and tubes snaking all over the floor.
At the nearer end of the warehouse was a platform bed that looked as though it were made of steel, with lights and monitors blinking all around it. Most of the wires in the room were connected to it in some way. The bed itself, however, looked too polished, too modern, to really belong in this place of exposed wires and girders. It was smoothly contoured to conform to the human backbone.
Movement caught Robin's eye. At the other end of the room was set a conference table with six office chairs around it. Two of the chairs were occupied, by men she had seen before. One was the boy who'd been watching her sleep. The other was the tall man from the bar, still dressed in a sport coat and jeans. They stood when they saw her looking at them.
"Join us, Miss Grey," the older man called.
Cautiously, she approached the table. Close up, she could see enough resemblance between the two that they could be father and son. Especially in the uneven dark eyebrows and the arrogant tilt of the chin. The older man was at the head of the table at the far end, the boy on his right.
Robin stood behind the chair at the other end of the table, gripping its back in suddenly damp palms. "What is going on here?" she demanded. "If you've kidnapped me to extort money from my parents, rest assured you won't get it. My father cares more about his business assets than he ever did about me."
The older man looked at the younger. "Well, it seems I owe you, son. You said she'd skip right over the pretending to be nobody important to refusing to be a hostage, and so she has." The boy smirked, but said nothing. The man sat down and leaned back in his chair, taking in every inch of Robin's five-foot frame. "Please, my dear, don't trouble me with your bluffs. I happen to know your father cares very much for his only daughter and would pay handsomely to have you returned to him unharmed were he to find you in duress. Fortunately for both of you, it's not money I'm after."
"Then what do you want?"
"Sit down and we'll talk about it."
"You kidnapped me just to talk?" Robin demanded, staying where she was.
The man shrugged at this. "Let me at least introduce myself. I am Russell Carey. You've met my son, Kyle." The boy nodded to her.
Robin goggled. "You're Kyle Carey? That kid who graduated from MIT with honors at sixteen a few years ago?"
"That's me." Kyle tossed his black locks, trying to look nonchalant, but Robin wasn't fooled. This kid was too smart for his own good, and he knew it. Probably even enjoyed it.
"There isn't a machine in existence he can't figure out," Russell said fondly. "That's why he's here. Kyle's been helping me with a little project. One that you're a crucial part of, Miss Grey."
Russell steepled his fingers. "I'm sure you heard that the Abstergo company went out of business a few years ago?"
"Sure. Federal charges." She'd still been at home then. Her father had talked of nothing else for weeks. "Something about particularly unsavory business practices. Kidnapping, attempted murder, that kind of thing." She said this in a tone of voice meant to sting. Kyle sent her a smirk that could have been encouragement or disdain; it was impossible to tell.
Unlike his son, Russell didn't even seem to notice her attempted barb. He was nodding sagely. "You're quite right. Anyhow, before they dissolved they sold off a great deal of their inventions and copyrights to their debtors. I acquired only one item, and it took years to get it into working condition again. Its secrets didn't come as part of the deal."
Robin couldn't resist a glance over her shoulder at the metal bed.
Russell chuckled. "Smart girl. Yes, the Animus."
"Ani-whatsis?" Robin repeated.
"Animus," said Kyle, sounding slightly condescending. "It's a machine that allows a subject to experience an ancestor's encoded genetic memories as if they were their own."
"Say that again, in English please," Robin replied, mimicking his haughty tone.
Kyle looked down his nose, but he complied. "The memories of your direct ancestors are stored, along with your own memories, in your brain as part of your genetic sequencing."
"You're losing me again." Robin crossed her arms.
"Our ancestors' memories are stored in our DNA and hardwired into our brains," explained Kyle. "It's how birds know to return to a specific place when they migrate, even though they've never seen the place before themselves. The Animus was developed by a doctor at Abstergo Labs to allow these memories to be experienced by a person as if they were living in the past. If, for example, I were to be plugged into the Animus, I would be able to experience, from my grandfather's perspective, the day he met my grandmother. In theory, anyway."
"I think I get it. What's the catch?"
"Very often you can't just pick a day out of the life of someone you're descended from and live through it. It takes time for your body's own memories to 'sync up,' or accept the ancestor's memory as if it were your own. Sometimes you have to run through days, even weeks of memory before you find the one you were actually looking for."
Robin considered this. It sounded crazy, but what couldn't be done with technology these days? "And where do I come in to all this? Don't tell me, let me guess: you want me to be a guinea pig."
"Not exactly. We've already tried it successfully with several subjects," Russell said. "To put it plainly, we're looking for something. We've done our homework, and you're descended from someone, a woman from the eighteenth century, who may have seen this thing. Or at least know of it."
"This thing is so important you had to kidnap me to secure my consent? You couldn't have just asked?" demanded Robin.
"You're an elusive young lady." Russell's mouth twitched. "You covered your trail pretty well, to hide from your parents' resources. I knew if you got wind someone was looking for you, odds were you'd vanish again. This seemed the most effective way to secure an audience with you."
"You hurt Miles," she accused.
"Now you know what lengths we'll go to get what we want."
"What do you want?"
"Your cooperation until we find the thing we're looking for."
"What if I won't cooperate?"
"I wouldn't advise it."
"You'll be free to go." Kyle ducked his head slightly as his father spoke, and Robin knew it wouldn't be as easy as that. But what choice did she have except to go along? He'd as good as told her they were willing to force her into this, and she was really in no position to refuse. If she was lucky, maybe she'd be able to get away later.
She sighed. "All right, I agree. How long will this take, anyway?"
Kyle stood and made his way to her end of the table. "I won't know that until we've hooked you up and I've been able to see where we have to start from. I may be able to fast forward through some memories. But memories run in realtime, so if you experience a full hour of your ancestress's memories, it's taken an hour here, too."
"So it could take days." Robin followed him towards the Animus, her stomach sinking.
"Or weeks. Also, to keep your brain syncing with the Animus for more than twelve hours at a time is dangerous. It not only exhausts you mentally, degrading the quality of the sync, but if the machine overheats you could lapse into a coma. Worst-case scenario, you might become permanently brain-dead."
Robin halted about three feet from the metal table. "I could have sworn I just heard the words 'coma' and 'brain-dead.' Please tell me I didn't."
Kyle looked as though he would have liked to roll his eyes. "Being connected to the Animus takes two kinds of power: electric, and your brainpower. If your brain can't concentrate anymore because it's tired, then the connection with the Animus gets lost. Worse, if the machinery runs for too long without a break, then you could end up as a vegetable."
"Yikes." Robin stared at him. Brain-dead?
"Yeah. Fortunately, you've got the best on your side in yours truly." He favored her with that know-it-all smirk that made her itch to hit him. "I'll be monitoring your vital signs. If there's a serious problem, I'll pull you out of it."
"How reassuring," she grumbled.
"Jewelry off, please," he said, holding out a hand. "The Animus tends to react oddly to excess metal."
She removed the two cheap silver rings she often wore, as well as the small cubic zirconium stud in her left nostril. If it bothered him to have her put that into his palm, as she'd secretly hoped it would, he didn't show it.
Gallantly, he helped her lie down on the bed. It was more comfortable than she'd been anticipating. She expected him to hook her up to the machine with wires, but instead he walked a few paces away.
She raised her head. "Where are you going? Aren't you going to plug me in?"
"Nowhere. And just by lying there, you're automatically connected to the Animus through sensors underneath you. Now, try to relax. If you fight the synchronization, this process will take a lot longer."
She heard him tapping on keys. "Wait a minute. Can you at least give me some background on…on what I'll be seeing?"
"Of course. You're going into the year 1767. Two hundred and fifty years ago. Your ancestress, the woman you'll become, her name is Vanessa Swift. She's twenty-one, a poor English servant, sailing to the Caribbean in search of employment with a wealthy plantation family there. The rest you'll learn as you go along. Here we go."
More computer keys tapping. A glass cylinder slid over her head. At first, she could see through it, but slowly blue fog was projected onto it. She squinted. She was melting into that fog, or being drawn into it, and she saw…she saw…a shore drawing away across a stretch of water…and…