Introduction video of the chapter

First memory group – CHRISTMAS TRUCE

Winter now grips this great war and we can only tuck ourselves into our coats and our trenches, tuck our minds away in the midst of much suffering. It will be a long, cruel season and, for those of us who survive it, we will see more before this conflict ends.

It's Christmas Eve and we're dying down here in the trenches. I do my best to tend to these men, but here I am no healer. At best, I am a stopgap until they are pulled from the battlefield or buried beneath it.

Another shell bursts nearby, showering us with frosty dirt. I don't flinch. I keep my hands steady as I stitch the torn cheek of a soldier's face. Nobody calls out for me; I hope it missed.

Gibbons squats against the wall. He pulls off his boot and shows me what's left of his foot. It's gone rotten. If he's lucky, he'll just lose his toes. I don't put much faith in luck out here. I tell him to keep his boot on. Keep it dry.

A man appears at the top of the trench. Buckley. He's got Crawson on his back. I try to help them down, but incoming fire shreds Buckley! Both men tumble down onto me. Buckley's stuck in a stare, mouth agape. Dead.

Crawson's breathing shallow and he's got a dent in his helmet. I carefully remove it but when I do, blood spills out onto his face. His limbs dance in violent spasms.

I climb the ladder and peek over at the battlefield. It is littered with the bodies of my squad-mates. I scan them, eager to help. These men are beyond my help.

Enemy artillery halts. Soon, our own does as well. In the distance, we hear singing. Have we lost?

The frolicking song from the enemy lines grows louder, but it is not a taunt. Maybe they want us to let down our guard? No — they are singing to us, projecting their voices. Has the war ended?

Our commander transmits a coded message to base requesting instructions. The code comes back… PWO. Proceed with orders.

Our boys reload their weapons and prepared for the next assault, but then some of them begin to sing. Christmas carols! Of course!

Our scouts take to the field. We expect gunfire, but are answered by none.

The Germans have decorated their razor-wire with scraps of colored cloth. They've lit candles and decorated the trees around their camps with makeshift ornaments.

Some of the enemy soldiers have begun to walk out into no man's land, arms raised, singing with boisterous vigor! They have no weapons.

My hands still stained with Crawson's blood, I follow my squad-mates to the field to see with my own eyes. It is true! The Germans seem to be calling a truce. Smitts suggests that we should take advantage while they're distracted. Some of the boys answer him with outrage.

Memory 3 – ALL IS CALM
The Germans come bearing gifts. Mostly things they can replace like badges and buttons. Their English is as poor as our German, but they are nervous. They realize the risk they take and they're not sure how we will respond.

We scramble back into the camps to find our own offerings for the German soldiers. From my pack, I pluck a novel and some candies I have brought from London.

I catch Smitts cutting buttons from the corpses of our dead. I scold him and he scurries away like some frightened vermin.

I return to the field, where the lines have now disappeared. English and German troops mingle as one, all of us victims of the same horrible war.

The Germans try to teach two of our soldiers one of their carols. When our boys repeat the tune, it sounds like an awful parody. The Germans are not offended, they can sense the good intentions.

I give my novel, which is a study of the Italian Renaissance, to an enemy medic. He admires my uniform and we compare some of our tools. He notes the blood on my hands and frowns.

I pass out the sweets to the German troops. They pretend to toast me before eating them and I cannot help but laugh. I wish they were better candies. Both sides begin to kick a ball back and forth in friendly competition.

Memory 4 – SWAP
A German general walks onto the field. I know this man! He is Erich Albert. High ranking. Rumored to be a genius. He appears awkward at first, but soon relaxes and joins his men in the celebration.

Albert approaches me. He notes my uniform and gestures me to follow him. He signals his own medic as well.

The three of us continue deeper into the enemy camp. I can hear the cries of pain long before and I know what will be asked of me.

In the enemy trench, a German soldier writhes with several bullet wounds in his torso. He is a mess. The German medic manages a little English. "Please," he pleads, and nods to the injured man. I nod as well. He needs me to assist him.

The fallen soldier is now unconscious, though our crude surgery was successful. We managed to get all of the metal out of his body and close up his wounds, but I am not sure he will live. Albert pats me on the back.

The other medic returns to the festivities, as strange as they are. Albert reaches out to shake my hand and realizes that I am admiring his ring. It is a white circle with an red cross pattée in its center.

Albert shrugs and slides the ring from his finger. He offers it to me. I shrug and raise my hand to show him I have no ring to trade. A look of shock on his face when he sees the circular scar burned around my ring finger. A look of panic when my hidden blade snaps out from my sleeve…

Second (hidden) memory group – RENEGOTIATED

Six days ago, the Mars Express Orbiter hurled the Beagle 2 towards the red planet. 66 million pounds spent on equipment, 3 years of intense research and construction, and now… we wait to learn if the bloody thing even survived its landing.

The crowd gathering outside the LOCC is making me nervous. The more eyes on this, the harder my work. Fortunately, most are more distracted by the holiday than the landing, including some of the engineers who have worked so hard on this mission.

My colleagues begin to show their stress. They fuss over charts and data as if they still have any control over the success of this mission. They whine about the "tourists" amassing outside.

The noise around the control center swells as each conversation escalates the volume of the next.

Matthew and June must be unwrapping their presents right now, probably still in their pajamas. I must stop missing important moments in their lives, but for today, I need to be here.

I am working on a slightly different timeline than my peers. One step ahead of them. I prepare my systems for the signal.

They're discussing the Galactic Ghoul again. Mars Curse. Gobbled up another probe. In a way, I'm feeding it to him.

Mars Express confirms the signal, but my peers never see it! I nicked it, routed the confirmation to one machine—mine. The com-link, the new control codes… they're coming with me. Sorry, loves.

Memory 6 – CATWALK
Done and done. Computer's in its bag, systems normal, and best of all… nobody suspects a thing. Pup's got a new owner and she needs to take him walkies.

"Alright boys, you keep watch for me. 'Santa' needs to get home to the kids. Could be Beagle's still dreaming. I'm sure he'll wake up soon enough."

The crew is disappointed to see me go, but they're always ribbing me for the shrine of kid photos I've built on my desk. They understand… at least they think they do.

I open the control room door and the revelers spin around, eager to read my face. Hide it. Hide it. There, a lovely smile. They think I have good news. I tell them everything looks solid so far, but we're still waiting. They continue their noisy conversations.

Walking through security gets my heart pumping. There's no reason for it. I walk through with my laptop every day. Wally salutes me with his "Ho Ho Ho" mug and wishes me a merry one. I wish him the same.

Just a final little stroll through the parking lot and I am out of here for good. No, Wally! Why are you following me?

"Wait, Vanessa! You forgot to punch out. I can punch it for you, I just need you to sign this." I sign the clipboard and wink at him. He blushes. I'm going to miss that.

I'm in a quaint cafe waiting for my contact. His name is Robert Getas, an American entrepreneur who contacted me nearly five years ago and dumped a lot of money on the table. I've never met him, but I've done my research. Fancies himself a world-changer.

He's not old, but he's not young either. He's not attractive, but he's not ugly. Middle height. Average weight. No marks or moles. He's tricky to spot in a crowd, but I try.

My eyes land on him and bounce off, moving to the next person. I realize my mistake and look back, causing him to grin. He walks towards me in his unremarkable grey suit and plain glasses, his hand extended.

"Robert," I say, and shake his hand.
"Please, call me Rob. I think we've worked together long enough, haven't we?"

I ask him about the payment. He assures me that it has already been deposited in the agreed account. It will be frozen for a little while, but he asks me not to panic. Banks don't easily process such large amounts without questions. He'll handle the answers.

"It's really up there, huh?" He asks. "What's it doing now? Digging?"

I tell him that yes, it should be taking soil samples and tossing out a small probe soon. I state that he has never once told me what he wants with Beagle 2. He nods. I hand him the laptop. Done deal.

Rob walks with me outside and before we part, I laugh and tell him that this whole thing is pretty ironic. Me trading out the Beagle when my Mum always tells me we've got Darwin in the family tree. Rob stares at me.

He suggests a new deal. Come work for him at his office. He's quite insistent!

I take a step back, a bit alarmed. I tell him the whole point of the past five years has been to avoid having to ever work again. Why should I, now that I've joined the upper crust?

I don't like where this is going, but I am in an awkward position. I don't want to tick him off because he still has strings attached to my money, but something about his expression has got me rattled!

He tells me that money is too easily spent, but we can make history, the two of us. He offers to fly me back with him, to give me a tour of the facilities. I ask him why the sudden interest.

He nods, but I don't know why. Again, I step back. I thump into someone! A large bloke, solid!

The large man slips a cloth over my face! No! I can't fo...

Third memory group – RESTORATION

They defied the monarch and forced war upon us. They even banned Christmas celebrations. Worst of all, they beheaded my father, the king. After years in exile, I am home. I stand ready to reclaim what is mine.

Memory 9 – KING'S WAR
The men are exhausted after such a long march, but none complain. I look at them with no small amount of pride. We are ready to face the Roundheads. I will soon take my rightful place!

Most of my soldiers are battle-hardened Highlanders, but the Welsh Royalists and Gloucestershire Presbyterians will make good additions to our ranks. They fought bravely under my father's banner. I am glad to have them on my side.

The battle begins. We are vastly outnumbered, but my men fight for every hedgerow around the city! Alas, Cromwell's troops are too numerous. They force us back!

I send two sorties to break the Parliamentarians' advance to the east. I lead my men and storm Red Hill, thinking about my father. Their cries bolster my spirit.

It is difficult to fight in this heat, but the Roundheads retreat and we hold them back. Unbelievable! Cromwell sends more troops! How much reinforcement can the rogue muster? Our retreat becomes a rout. We flee inside the city.

Curse this heat! I begin to remove my armor and a Highlander rushes to help. The wounds he bears tell me he fought hard. I smile at him and his crooked smirk reveals he has not yet lost hope. I find a fresh mount, but I am unable to rally my men. We will not win this day.

"Save the king!" I recognize the voice, and then notice the speaker, the Earl of Cleveland. He salutes me and storms down High Street, leading a desperate cavalry charge. This is the only chance we are going to get. We escape through St. Martin's Gate.

Memory 10 – KING'S ESCAPE
We are away from Worcester, but our journey is only beginning. The lords who have helped me escape remain loyal, willing to die to save their king. It is best I travel with only a handful of retainers. I leave most of my men behind. May God watch over them!

The Roundheads have unleashed their dogs. They will be looking for us. We head toward Stourbridge, but it is garrisoned with Parliamentary troops. We find safer places to travel. I am fortunate to find trusted allies along the way.

I have my hair cut short, but do not dare look in a mirror. How foolish I must appear in the guise of a Roundhead. The clothes they give me are crude but comfortable. I now look like a commoner.

By great fortune it rains all day, which hinders the Roundheads' search. But fortune has its price. I need dry clothes! I am grateful for the warmth and the meal after a day spent in the wood.

We hide in the greatest oak near Boscobel House. I am afraid of no man, but the height is dizzying. Through the tick foliage I see Cromwell's men below. I am tempted to throw acorns at them.

My horse lost a shoe. Dressed as a servant, I take it to a blacksmith. He gladly tells me the Scots have been beaten, but the rogue Charles Stuart is not yet captured. Laughing, I tell him Charles should be hanged more than all the rest of the Royalist swine!

The captain of a coal boat named the "Surprise" agrees to bring me to France. He demands an additional fee when he realizes who I am. I do not blame him. Bravery, like fortune, has its price. I leave the English shore, defeated but hopeful.

Memory 11 – KING'S EXILE
Curse Cromwell and his lackeys! I am in exile. Again. I receive letters bearing a strange seal. I do not know the name of he who writes them, for he does not reveal his identity. Yet it would seem I retain influential allies in London.

My liege,
Although the situation seems desperate, there is hope still. I have received word and can assure you that your faithful servants will soon have the means to take control of Parliament.

My liege,
Terrible tidings! The usurper has been named Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. Our cause, however, is not lost, for there are many who would gladly give up their lives to see you return.

My liege,
It took exactly 7 years, but the usurper is dead. It is only a matter of time before Parliament recognizes you as our legitimate ruler. Be patient, my lord.

My liege,
The usurper's son and successor is weak and powerless, but we must tread carefully. He will abdicate within the month. I give you my word.

My liege,
It is with great pride and greater joy that I write this letter. General Monck has effectively seized control of London. He will soon write to you. I, your loyal servant, advise you to heed his counsel.

The good general has given me sound advice. I will grant amnesty to my father's enemies, so long as they accept me as their lawful king. Splendid news! Parliament has proclaimed me king! I must offer my gratitude to my mysterious benefactor.

Memory 12 – KING'S RETURN
I am invited to England to receive my crown. I must prepare for my return. There are many things I must do once I am there. Many wrongs I must right!

The wind is strong and the sun bright. Inhaling deeply, I take a last glance at Breda. It has been my home for many years. As I board the ship, the captain tells me our journey bodes well. I smile, knowing he speaks the truth.

Several ships join our fleet as we approach Dover. Men cheer my return and cannons are fired, but my mind is somewhere else. After so many years in exile, I can no longer wait to set foot on English soil.

Finally, I enter London, on my birthday, no less. Men, women, and children alike rejoice. Soldiers are suddenly hard pressed to maintain order, but they are well trained and this is a joyous occasion. History will remember this day!

Today, I return Christmas ritual to the people and I am met by cheers! These are the same people who fought back with riots when the holiday was taken from them. The same people who have suffered under Puritan rule in my absence. No more.

I feel foolish in these long, heavy robes, but not as much as I felt when my hair was short. Although I have been king for years, this is the crown that was stolen from me. This is the crown I sought. My father's crown!

I see a man talking to General Monck. He holds what looks like a sphere wrapped in a thick piece of cloth. I am curious, but I must now bow my head to receive my crown. Somehow, it is lighter than I expected. Like my heart.

Fourth (hidden) memory group - \sec_level_04\unsorted\

I've got a Christmas present for you. Enjoy! -Erudito

We surround Brutus' body, mourning the passing of one of Roma's greatest defenders, his life taken by his own hand. Marcus Antonius has sent us his finest mantle to wrap the body. A feeble gesture, after all, it was his refusal to stand against Octavian that caused our defeat.

We will pretend to accept Antonius' gesture for now, but we have brought a shroud of our own. We wrap it around the body and step back. We have never used it before and we are frightened.

Movement! We raise an edge of the shroud and Brutus' eyes open! His arms lift and bend with restored life! His fingers grip the air as if he pulls himself back into his body!

He does not breath or speak. He simply lays there, unmoving… unblinking. He is not warm. He does not react to touch.

Whatever power lies within this artifact, it has not returned our Brother to us. We close his eyes again. There is no sign that he had ever moved. Some of us weep. It is a second death.

We remove the shroud and return it to its plain wooden box, then wrap Brutus in Antonius' gift. Forgive us, Brother.

They have taken from us, from Roma, but now is not the time to respond. We must regroup. Plan. Prepare for what is sure to come.

A myth become miracle, the "holy winding sheet" has arrived, freshly plucked from Templar hands in France. I do not want to look at the thing, but I must confirm for myself. I meet my Brothers in the Villa.

My Brothers tell me that the Shroud's owner, Geoffroy de Charny, suspects nothing. We have paid many men and women a fortune to replace his Shroud with an intricate replica. To remove this burden from history.

I can feel… something… the moment it is lifted from its box. Evil. A sickness in my belly. I begin to take my notes.

A man's shape has been burned into the Shroud, arms to his sides and palms forward. According to the church's records, the visage has changed throughout history. Different men? Who are they? He appears to have been tortured.

The fabric itself is yellowed… old. It has blood stains on it, which are to be expected with wounds such as these.

Satisfied that we possess what we had sought, we fold the Shroud and put it back into its box. I hear words, faint in my mind. One might mistake them for spirits, but for me they simply reinforce the importance of my task.

What better place than our walled city to hide such abominations from mankind? We will bury it deep and set up measures to ensure it remains hidden. We will burn church records and send claims of fraud to religious leaders. Who would know its flaws better than the ones who forged it?

Memory 15 – MILAN, ITALY
This is crazy! What did I do to tick off my bosses? Goose chase in the middle of a war zone while our own boys are dropping the bombs on me. For what? Chance that it may be the real thing? Right… been at this nearly twenty years and I don't even believe it exists.

I keep my head low even though I'm dressed as a local. The bag full of money feels like a ball and chain, though. These people are suffering. They wouldn't think twice about snatching it off me if they knew what it was.

Looking for the restaurant. Hopefully it still stands. Meeting with one of the Baguttiani, who are apparently a bunch of artsy thinker types who sit around all day contemplating the importance of sitting around and contemplating.

Place looks empty, but the door's not locked. Inside, the man's waiting for me. He's nervous. He should be. I've drawn my pistol. I ain't no patsy.

He answers by pointing to a wooden box sitting on one of the benches. Sure doesn't look like much to me. I sit my bag down on the table next to it, keeping my gun level.

I lift the box's lid and peer into it. Something's folded up in there. Smells kind of musty. It's dirty as hell, too. It could be this guy's laundry for all I know.

I dangle the metal company logo at the end of my key chain and watch it jitter as I move it near the box. I glance at the man and he nods his head. I wait a minute… maybe it's just the rumblings of some nearby bomb. It doesn't stop. Well slap my ass and call me Sally...