The Geiger counter was shrieking, echoing off the glassy-smooth surface that had once been the road. Otacon wasn't crying, but only because he knew from experience that he couldn't wipe his eyes dry under the lead-glass screen of his breathing apparatus.
"It's like hell," he eventually said, voice shaking. White ash blew through the air like a flurry of snow.
Liquid clipped the Geiger counter to his belt. His body was still slender, tall and intimidating under the three inches of his insulation suit, and Otacon stared at him with bloodshot eyes, wondering how any human being could have been capable of this.
"So the President is dead, huh?" Otacon asked, quietly, even though his internal speaker compressed it to normal volume in Liquid's earpieces.
Liquid smirked. "Hopefully. But the US government itself is still operational. It's highly dispersed, and in some places, automated. They're still deciding the likeliest target for a retaliatory strike."
"But it was you," Otacon said. "You were the one who fired the nuke. And they know that."
"Yes, but the American public wants revenge," Liquid said. "They can't have it against nomads, like us." He laughed, short, and hollow. "This may be one of the last weeks before the end of the world, Dr. Emmerich. Enjoy it – enjoy this Rapture." He started off on foot over the massive splash ridge around the edge of the crater, tar frozen in a crown. "I'll do everything in my power to lift my remaining followers to Outer Heaven."
Otacon swallowed. Ahead of them was a massive valley, carved by one of eight W88 warheads. Steel and concrete jutted out from under the earth, smooth and hard and shining as if wet. All that remained of the White House.
Inside the bunker was stationary, phones. A row of nuclear buttons, which Liquid bowed over, like a dragon hunching over a hoard. His face was grey.
"It says here," Otacon said, reading a sheet of neatly typed paper with the White House watermarked on the corner, "that there was no need to hide here – they didn't think there was any danger. They claim they had fully reliable intelligence that the warheads loaded onto REX's nuke were all dummies."
Liquid's fist snapped tight, closed.
"Ocelot!" he snarled. "Of course! The whole time, the bastard was La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo! But why? Why would they order him to retarget the nuke from China to Washington D.C.? Why would they want to destroy their own figurehead?!"
Otacon didn't ask what this meant, because he was looking at an electric cooker in the corner of the room. Their voices barely echoed in the tightness, and it felt strangely cosy – almost homely. The thought of Sears needing to cook his own food in the vast expanse of nothing that had been his country struck him, and he swallowed down sick.
"I know why! Otacon!" Liquid said, with sudden despair. He heaved open a massive blast door, the rim dull with lead.
The room beyond was paper-white, ringed with a halo of lights. Spires of computer control devices hummed with power, beeping softly in wheedling pitches, like birdsong. Monitors displayed outside radiation levels, internal temperature, air control. Several more monitors were covered with blue noise.
In the centre of the room, in a net of wires, was a long, black cylinder, corners lit with white light. Liquid released the cover, which slid aside smoothly. Otacon peered in.
There was nothing inside, save for burn damage; molten plastic smeared like blood over the glass sensors.
"His body," Liquid moaned, patting the empty inside with his hands as if it was somehow still there. "Ocelot wasn't La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo at all. He was loyal to Sears. This was his attempt at destroying the fabric of their power, for Sears's sake."
"What does this mean?"
"The President's still alive," said Liquid, "and he and Ocelot escaped. They took the body with them."
"So there's nothing here."
Liquid shook his head. For a moment, Otacon saw grief written on his face under the screen, and wondered if he cared about being responsible for the deaths of seven hundred thousand people. Then he remembered what Liquid was, and wondered what Big Boss's remains had been to him.
"There's nothing," Liquid confirmed. "Everything is gone."
"Come in, Boss!" crackled the radio. "This is Golf! Repeat, this is Golf! Encountered hostile in D.C. area!"
"What kind of hostile?" Liquid roared down the receiver, driving through the dead world. "Why aren't you killing it?!"
"Bullets can't hit it! It's like a ghost!"
"Retreat and regroup!"
"We have done!"
"Then why," Liquid started, "are you – "
"Because it – it followed us."
"No!" Liquid said, realising. His hands balled tighter around the wheel.
"It told me to – call you, so it could pinpoint your location."
"It's holding a gun to my head."
"You think he wouldn't shoot you if you cooperated?"
The line died.
Liquid took the line outside and crushed it with his boot.
"The EM is interfering with longer-range transmissions anyway," he said, to Otacon.
Otacon had heard stories about Hiroshima and Nagasaki from his grandfather, before he died of the karma he'd breathed in during all those nuclear tests. He knew about flower patterns burned into backs, folded cranes, the deaths of civilian men and women and children. He knew about how, until the end of his life, despite everything he knew and had learned, he'd been unable to create anything, being so certain that it would all end in the worthlessness of global, purging fire.
This was why it didn't shock him when, after he and Liquid returned to the custom, lead-lined APC, he wasn't surprised to see that Orca, Ape and Tsetse all had bullet holes spiked out of the backs of their necks, like scarlet crowns. Liquid sat with their bodies, closed their eyes with surprisingly tender fingers.
"I'll see all my brothers again, when I die," Liquid said, to Otacon. "I hope they don't mind the long wait."
"Nuclear war isn't survivable," Otacon said, "and it's the only possible outcome."
"So?" said Liquid. "We're the two most wanted people in America – the creator of the weapon that destroyed the centre of American civilisation, and the man who pushed the button. Even if they're still covering up what we did to the public, the government won't wait a second to get revenge. We're already on a deadly course; me more than you. Even if I lived a peaceful life, I won't last more than another ten years. That's the curse I have written into my genes."
"You know about the curse written into mine," Otacon said.
" Our genes are our destiny, so let's fight against the memes and scenes trying to take that destiny away from us."
Otacon looked at the bodies of Orca, Ape and Tsetse, lying together in death.
"I shouldn't be working for you," he said. "I'm only doing that out of fear. If I was a real man I'd strip off this suit and go and stand in the fallout until I died."
"And if you weren't the closest thing I have to a scientist, I'd push you out there," Liquid said.
Otacon felt his face heat up.
"You don't care about any of this, do you? You don't feel anything!"
"Don't tell me what I feel!"
"We've murdered seven hundred thousand innocent people and all you can do is think about getting hold of Big Boss's remains, getting revenge!" Otacon tore off his helmet, not caring about what he was breathing in. "You're a monster!"
"I never wanted this to happen," Liquid crowed, "wheras you created the most powerful weapon in the world just to see if you could. I don't pretend not to be a monster, so why do you?"
His presence rounded on Otacon, big and oppressive.
"Snake wouldn't have done this," Otacon said, steadfast. "Snake is a better man than you."
"'Better'?" Liquid laughed. "He couldn't even shoot a man who was already dead, allowing me to kill him. They died together, so tragic – almost romantic. And you call that 'better'?"
Rage swelled up inside Otacon, and he drew back his fists and pounded Liquid's chest, who didn't even move. His blows slowed, and eventually his throat gave up the massive sob he had been holding in since they arrived, and he dropped to the floor, weeping.
That night, Otacon sat with Orca's FAMAS, checking the clip. It was full – as many bullets as he needed. He stared down at his lap and thought a quick death like that was better than what he deserved, but still better than what he was doing.
"Dr. Emmerich," said Liquid, from behind him, "succumbing to madness already?"
"I'm not," said Otacon, "I can't. I mean, I was just looking and the magazine was full, and..."
"This hasn't followed anyone's plans," said Liquid, whose hand was warm. "But life isn't all about loss."
"How do you mean?"
"We're going to start a new civilisation," said Liquid, "my brothers in the Special Forces, and my sisters born in the Gulf, and anyone else who wishes to live."
"I don't know."
"We'll make our way somehow to the East, past even Russia. There's a small land that lies there, abandoned. It's my legacy to collect and tame it. There, we can be safe from all but the most extreme nuclear war."
"We can't. The fallout's in the trade winds. It's hopeless."
"We don't have Dr. Naomi. You're all I've got. I need you to come with me. We'll make a little garden of Eden, just outside Heaven."
Otacon took his glasses off, wiped the tears from his face with his sleeve, and put the gun down.
Otacon woke up, staring through the glass of his mask into a gun barrel.
Adrenaline kicked his heart into his mouth, but he felt a hand close around his throat before he could scream. He gasped, gurgling, and kicking. Terror pushed down from his chest to his crotch, and he wrinkled his nose at the sudden wetness.
His attacker paused, hesitating. Its voice spoke, modulated through circuits.
"Otacon?" it said, from a speaker in its chest. "Why – are you working for Liquid?"
Otacon choked air back into his empty lungs, mucous and spittle pouring down his lips.
"It's like you understand better than anyone," Otacon said. "Survival."
His body was covered with blood-splattered ceramics, some crushed and riveted back together. There were bolts through his temples and jaw, but when he slid back the radiation-proof mask, his pale, dead face was almost as handsome as it had been when they first met.
"It was Naomi's wish," he said, with his mouth-voice. "Naomi's curse was to pass on his legacy to me. I was the only person who could understand it."
He ran the palms of his metallic hands over his plated waist. It was a lover's touch, ended when he struck his fist against it with a clang.
"Is that why you killed all of them?"
"Naomi wanted me to carry out his revenge."
"And you did it?"
"I saw death," he said, "and there was no-one there waiting for me. I've been given life again, at the end of the world." He sighed, his speaker emitting a digital hiss. "What else was there for me to do?"
"There's so many better things for you to do."
"There isn't. I've only got a few months worth of time left," he said. "That's the curse I have written into my genes."
"So you want to take everyone down with you?"
"I want to take Liquid down with me. Where is he?"
Otacon couldn't make himself reply.
"I asked where Liquid is."
"He isn't here."
"I need to find him. So Naomi will give me some peace."
"It doesn't matter who wins in a nuclear war," Otacon said. "America, Russia, anyone else. It doesn't matter. All we need is some hope that life can go on."
Steel skin crumpled along drilled folds. Hands that never belonged to the man touched Otacon's shoulders.
"Then tell him that my real arms are out there," he said, "and that Ocelot took the right one, but he might be able to use the left one to help his family."
Otacon nodded, and the ninja disappeared out of the double doors and into the black, empty wasteland.
Chapter 2: Shiver
- - - - - - SCANNING - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
SCANNING COMPLETE. Initialising. . . . . .
Hello and welcome to the NEURAL CONFIGURATION TEST LEVEL 3. Please answer all questions honestly.
Which one of these faces is HAPPY?
Which one of these faces is HONEST?
Which one of these faces is IN PAIN?
Which one of these faces is feeling HATRED?
Which one of these faces is most likely to be REACHING FOR HIS GUN?
Which one of these faces do you find WEAKER?
Which one of these faces PRESENTS THE BIGGEST THREAT?
Which one of these faces PRESENTS THE BIGGEST THREAT?
facial recognition cortex fully online. very nice.
Your speech privileges will be activated for the following section.
This is an octopus.
It is a sea-dwelling creature with no skeleton. Please look at the picture, and count its arms out loud.
sorry. i know it's an easy question, but just do as the test says.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Suh – s –
---REGION "BROCAS_AREA" INCORRECTLY FLUSHED. AUTOMATIC RECALIBRATION IN PROGRESS---
An octopus can change colour and texture to evade predators. There are several octopus icons on your screen. Please use the touch screen to place them on surfaces in the room that the octopus would be best camouflaged against.
and thank you. all done. very good. i'll restore your full perception privileges now.
How do you feel?
...Don't try to use your mouth to answer me, I can't hear it when you're in your tube. Put your speaker on.
Tell me how you feel. I didn't have access to the drugs I would have preferred to use. And I couldn't fully flush your brain, I've had to rebuild a lot of it from perception information backups from the Discovery's VR engine. It's not fully accurate. Your memories will never be the same again.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Naomi.
Sorry for what?
Liquid had him. He was dying, but I just couldn't do it. I failed to stop the launch. There's going to be a nuclear war because of me.
You can still make amends for your mistake. You're still incomplete, but you only need a little more time. And then you can emerge, and we will get our revenge.
Stop. Stop saying my name. I can't stand hearing you say it.
----SAPIENCE PRIVILEGES REVOKED----
In the flashes of perception, he sees a figure in white in a bright room, kneeling over a computer or asking him questions he is never permitted to remember. He sinks in and out of it like a dream. Sometimes, he feels the sound of her high heels reverberate through his suspension fluid, and they are the only thing that breaks through the nothingness, and remind him that he is now alive.
Once he sees, with the heat-eye embedded in the centre of his hairless brow, that her hand is pressed against his glass. He watches as her breath turns the glass yellow-green in front of her face. She bares her sky-blue teeth beneath her orange-red lips, forming the hiss of an 's', and he reads her lips as she says, "Snake. I'm sorry."
Too many people are in the streets for the stealth camouflage to be an option – too many collisions, too few real hiding places for recharging, no cardboard box that a protestor or rioter isn't living in. At first, he walks the streets in a long magenta plastic raincoat lifted from a camping store from where the compressed gas heaters and water purifiers and canned food had been looted long ago. Eventually he realises no-one cares at all what he looks like, and gives it to Naomi – it's huge on her, and billows out around her like a flag. When the troubled clouds do eventually split into rain, he finds he can perceive each individual droplet as it hangs in the air, soft and round, a subtle dish in the middle like the sides of a blood cell. He lets one strike his face, and doesn't feel it – he only feels the rachets grind in his temples as his visor automatically slides closed to prevent water and radiation damage.
He keeps her close and defends her. A few times he has to kill protestors who attempt to take Naomi's water, and a few more times he has to kill them because Naomi tells him to do so. Little things that used to change his perception, like light and darkness, no longer affect him – everything is perpetually lit, and everyone's eyes shine bright white like the eyes of animals. He'd lose track of the time if a mental display wasn't shouting it in the back of his thoughts. Days and nights pass, but he remains in perpetual twilight.
"I can't enter the radioactive exclusion zone," Naomi reminds him. "I'll be waiting behind. You know your duty."
She is exhausted from lack of sleep, and her face looks small and flat with no makeup. He remains on guard, hand on the hilt of Frank's sword.
"Tell me what your duty is."
"Hunt down Liquid and terminate him."
"That's right. Terminate Liquid. Terminate his men. Terminate anyone else working with him. We absolutely cannot let him shape the world any longer." She looked straight into his eyes, despite the visor being in the way. "It's our revenge, and you've been given the opportunity to take it. And then I'll let you go back to wherever it was I took you from, but with your mind at peace."
He approaches a small band of soldiers dressed in lead-lined gear and masks, firing on an NBC helicopter passing overhead. He does not hurry. The machines moving his limbs stiffen his gait into that of a lurching dead man.
"Where is Liquid Snake?" he asks them. Their leader glances around, confused, then back to the chopper, which is veering unsteadily away, shedding pieces of camera. Snake remembers that he should be moving his lips to talk to the living. He slides his visor back, and the lenses implanted in his eyes automatically adjust the light levels for him, a thousand times quicker than his human irises could. He tries to lick his lips, but his mouth doesn't produce moisture any more.
"Where is Liquid Snake?" he asks, with his face.
The soldiers stare at him in confusion. One of them, on the back left, lifts a banded glove to gently touch his own face – noticing the resemblance between twins, Snake realises, in a flash of inspiration that leaves his head sizzling, a little more of his soul dragged back into his body.
"Man, you're – " says their leader, and then he laughs, nervously. A tiny drop of spittle lands on the inside of the clear screen of his breathing apparatus. "You're that one without a shirt from the cell, the one Wolf captured. The boss's brother. He said you were dead."
Snake feels the exoskeleton's stealth field pass over him, a shudder as easy and involuntary as skin prickling in the cold. He steps. He is behind them. His body re-emerges just as their leader finishes blinking his eye. Making sure his left hand is clamped firmly around the leader's neck, he flicks his right arm to flip the gun attachment from his forearm and straight into his hand, and rests its barrel against the man's temple. He isn't thinking about it. The suit knows what to do.
The soldier's nerves finally transmit the sensation to his conscious mind and he gives a weak and miserable little scream, that has no power behind it, because Snake is forcing away all the air.
Obviously the soldier's comrades start firing, and Snake feels the blade in his left hand vibrate and buzz as it effortlessly carves the bullets out of the air, the minds Naomi wired into his artificial arms calculating target and trajectory and power even faster than his human mind could.
"Take out your radio," Snake says with his body voice, no longer caring enough for civility to make his jaw open and close.
The man in Snake's arms grunts and Snake sees bright orange grow from the man's crotch and flow down under the cloth of the man's uniform, all the way down his left leg and onto his boot. More than anything, it's familiar, and Snake sees an image of someone in his mind's eye, a man he really liked, but it's overshadowed by the image of the man he loved, the man he loved the way an ember loves a cigarette.
"Take out your radio, and raise Liquid."
The man does, and Snake loosens his grip, letting him talk, and listening not to the words but to the long, impossibly low heartbeat-red rumble of the radio signal. He tilts his head until he finds the angle at which it's loudest, and then
murder isn't a sport!
"I read your psych profile, Snake," Naomi says, in his head. "In fact, I memorised it, because it was the one taken of you on December 23rd, 1999, from just before you killed my brother. I used to read it every night, and tell myself I was looking at the twisted mind of a killer."
Naomi had wired herself into his head. He can faintly remember how on the Discovery she had anaesthetised a small patch behind his ear and bored the Codec unit straight into the coating of his brain. But when she had been flushing the dead parts from his brain, she built in a system connected straight to his thoughts. She spoke, and he could hear her words, forever.
"It mentioned you had a remarkably strong desire to live, a survival instinct unlike anything else your psychologist had ever encountered. Even my brother took years to recover from brain death. But somehow I knew you would take less time than that. It's one of the reasons I chose you."
"It couldn't have been because I'm able to beat Liquid," he thought back at her.
"You can still beat him. You're the closest thing to him that I have, and now you're a walking tank yourself – I can't think of a more deserving way for him to die."
"Is this what you think I deserve?"
Snake's lie detection algorithm requires more sophisticated biometric input data than just a tone of voice to be remotely accurate, but even so, it starts sending him needle-nosed warning thoughts when she changes the subject.
"But what I really want to ask you was that it also contained information about your faith, Snake. Seeing as you were entitled to a burial appropriate to whatever you believed in."
"You didn't bury me."
"It's a pity that you never practiced Voodou."
Snake knows what she's about to ask, with a damaged human part of his mind, and doesn't want to continue this conversation. His transmitter is busy spraying Liquid's frequency out in every direction, attempting to triangulate a position with the signal he caught earlier. But it's Naomi asking, and his rebuilt, microchip mind can't imagine disobeying an order from his Bokor.
"According to the report, you had no mainstream religious belief, but some spiritual beliefs that you appear to have arrived at on your own. Almost like a folk religion, splintering off from the 'religion' of being a soldier, and killing, and what it is you do." And here her voice darkened, "It said you believed strongly in an afterlife. Is that true?"
"Yeah. I did."
"Were you right?"
Snake can feel, on his Soliton radar, the cold green lines of a parked APC, smeared with static from the EM interference spat out by the warhead's broken atoms, but bright and distinct.
"I don't know."
"But you've seen death. How could you not know?"
"Where I went," Snake thought at her, "there was nothing."
"Nothing? No clouds? No magma? No waist-deep rivers with banks of flame?"
"No-one was there waiting for me."
"Then, why are you still not sure?"
The APC is dressed with spray-painted nose art of a grinning Disney-style snake coiled around a missile, and, on Snake's radar, the blue fans of gazes that clipped through it like a shroud – something he'd been dependent on even before his eyes were augmented with cameras and his arms were solid metal. The gun flips into Snake's hand, automatically inhaling bullets with a click.
"I never was arrogant enough to think that when I died, I'd get to go to a good place."
He kicks the doors open, in against their hinges.
Liquid isn't in the APC, so he kills the people who are. It is a warning shot, injuring Liquid rather than killing him. They never even turn around.
Snake stares at their limp bodies, slumped and comically empty, and he remembers corridors pungent with antiseptic and blood, a corridor that looked the way Snake used to believe Hell looked like until he saw it himself, and he feels for the first time that even in this body he is still who he used to be. It is agony, and he leaves the APC, not bothering to close the doors. It's the feeling that followed him around ever since that minefield, ever since he beat a man to death, as passionate as a soldier murdering a target isn't. It's a deep and toxic shame, and the metal parts of his mind panic, because those parts weren't prepared to accommodate feelings of that magnitude.
"Snake, why aren't you focused on the mission?"
"Naomi – "
"This is your last chance. Find that APC again, and don't rest until Liquid and everyone he's working with is terminated. Go!"
"Naomi. You didn't choose me because I'm strong, or because you want revenge on me."
"What is it, Snake?"
"It's because even though I never knew him well, we understood each other when I killed him. I'm his legacy. Not yours."
"Snake, why aren't you focused on the mission?"
And Snake realises – this isn't the real Naomi, it's just the Naomi Personality Complex, a computer simulacrum given the basic ability to monitor Snake's behaviour and respond upon it in real time the way Naomi would. NPC's AI can't find anything else worth commenting on, so she's looping.
He ignores her, and thinks of Liquid raising that huge foot and the sound Fox's spine made when the plating cracked. And he thinks about how he wasn't able to save him, or Meryl, or Otacon, and the shame wakes him a little.
"I'll get back to it," he tells NPC.
"Good luck, Snake," she tells him. Adorable. Just like old times.
Liquid's radio frequency isn't responding to his signal spray the way it did before – he's either changed bands or destroyed his radio. So Snake sends off a scattergun blast of transmission on all frequencies, runs, blasts again. It's just a burst of white noise, the kind that will blend right in with all the EMP interference. He senses a few yellow-electric buzzes of radios recalculating their tuning depending on his output frequency, and he triangulates his points in his head, a constellation of electricity. He's got no way of knowing which one of those would lead to Liquid or not, so he resolves to work his way up from the nearest.
The nearest turns out to be a civilian news crew – this one from FOX – using radios to compensate for the knocked-out phone mast. Snake flickers his jet black carapace into an outline of bent air and carries on. They don't notice him, but they notice the electrical signals from his camouflage interfering with their camera. They don't realise how lucky they are that Liquid's men haven't come across them.
The second nearest is a Genome and his partner, engaged in intense conversation. As Snake slips closer, he realises they're trying to figure out how to smoke cigarettes under their breather masks. He runs the shorter one through with his sword, and his bleeding body shakes and quivers in pain as he soaks up his partner's fire in the fraction of a second before Snake fires his gun. It takes off a medium-sized chunk of skull, like a spoon on top of an eggshell.
"Good job, Snake," says NPC, noticing his behaviour. "Move onto your next target quickly. We don't have time to lose."
Even though she's just a machine, the machine part of his mind takes the praise as real and genuine, and he just can't feel the shame. He owes everything to her, it's insisting, because she brought him back from that place.
The human part of his mind knows that the real reason he owes everything to her is that she's the only person who can send him back there.
The bleeding man is still holding his packet of cigarettes, probably now sodden with fallout – even more cancer. Snake brushes back the man's fingers and takes them.
The man holding the third nearest radio is different. Snake disables the lock, crushing it in his metallic hand, and eases the doors of the APC open. Hunched up in a standard-issue special forces sleeping back is a young man whose face shines cooler than the rest of him – water evaporation. He has been crying in his sleep.
Orange heat soaks the crotch of man's jeans, and then Snake, hand wrapped around the man's throat, looks at the his face and finally sees. He hesitates. The machine part of his mind is struggling to rewire itself to accommodate the new memory.
"Otacon?" he says, realising too late he isn't using his mouth voice. "Why are you working for Liquid?"
He lets go and Otacon drops to the floor, lips moist with slime, panting for air in long, pained heaves. His skin is darker than before – he's sporting a radiation tan.
"It's like you understand better than anyone. Survival."
Naomi wants him dead. Naomi told him so herself – terminate Liquid. Terminate everyone working for Liquid. And as Otacon talks, all Snake can see is how delicate and unarmoured his throat is. He'd be dead in a second, entrails spilling out from that white radiation suit, warmth steaming off them golden-green in the cool air. And it's what Naomi wants, he thinks, it's all I'm alive to do.
The suit compresses synthetic muscle underneath jet black plates of carbon ceramic. The small minds embedded in each of his arms flicker on, and prepare to move –
I can't do it, Snake thinks.
His body seizes up, and some gear somewhere in his chest makes a terrible shudder that grinds right up through the remains of his organic skull, but he is stilled, and he and Otacon are still talking.
He makes himself focus on Otacon's eyes as he answers his questions. It's not love that keeps him from killing him so long. It's shame.
"It doesn't matter who wins in a nuclear war," says Otacon. "All we need is some hope that life will go on."
And Snake knows. Snake knows why Liquid was here, and why Otacon is protecting a man he knows to be a monster. He can even take a wild guess where Liquid is going to end up going. It's not hard for Snake to think like Liquid.
If the Genomes, Liquid's chosen children, monsters of science, survive like cockroaches when the missiles begin to fly, it's still life. Their broken DNA , their disease susceptibility, their weaknesses – who the hell is Snake to judge?
He tells Otacon Naomi has his arm, the one still attached to his body after Ocelot took his slice of the pie. His own genes aren't much better, but they're all he has to offer.
And when he leaves, he carves the sword deep into the ground, a long X, feeling the blade buzz through the tender tar and carve straight through the stones in the earth. The urge to attack is too painful to ignore, but he. can't. do. it.
Washington D.C. does not shine in the distance. It has no spires of glass or city lights; no people to light them. Naomi crawls out of her tent, and reattaches her rebreather. She isn't speaking to him. She is too angry.
Snake scrapes a fingertip along the unpolished steel on the side of where he had once kept a ribcage, and white-hot sparks follow the path of his finger. One of them catches the end of the cigarette, and he almost sighs just looking at it, at how beautiful it is and how much he needs it, right now. The taut dead skin of his face, bolted onto his metal skull, is getting harder and harder to move as it cures, but he manages to open his mouth wide enough to insert the tip of the cigarette onto his numb tongue.
"Snake," Naomi says, finally able to break the silence. "You don't even have lungs."
"Got nothing to lose, then," he tells her. He can sense the temperature rise as he draws hot smoke into the artificial air sacs pocketed off at the bottom of his abbreviated bronchial tube – tiny compact bladders with no respiratory function, merely there to provide air for vocalisation.
"Did you even see your lungs? Black and purple and white, like spoiled meat. I preserved as much of your body as I could, but I had to throw those out."
Snake feels a strange sense of disgusted pride at that, like the feeling of excavating a long ingrown hair.
His air sacs are thick and leathery, and while transmission fluid does circulate through the membrane, he lacks most of the parts of his brain nicotine works upon. It's amazingly unsatisfying, he's unable to even feel the burn in his mouth, and so he stares down at the cigarette in his hand and realises he's a zombie, mindlessly copying the human behaviour of its life without understanding its purpose.
"The good news," Naomi says, "is that we haven't necessarily lost Liquid. But the bad news is that we don't have the time to go searching for him. The best way we can hurt him at this stage is shattering his dream of nuclear war."
She folds her arms, and looks hard into Snake's faceplate, just above where his eyes are.
" America will make its first strike in revenge against the terrorists, to satisfy the people. It may fire at a small, unarmed nation, underneath the nuclear umbrella of an ally. Or it may simply choose the option we always believed it would choose, and attack Russia, or China. Whatever the case, it would spark retaliation after retaliation. To prevent nuclear war, all we have to do is make it impossible for America to make the launch. And I need you for that."
Snake inhales smoke, and feels nothing.
"How many members of Congress are still alive?"
"I don't have enough information to answer that question. And on top of that, there's then the automated systems – the missile defence projects, the judgement databases, bipartisan engines. The black projects from the 80s; the "Strangelove Devices", doomsday bombs. But if we want to survive, it all needs to die."
She says this matter-of-factly, like a doctor discussing surgery that needs to be performed.
"How do we know there will be a retaliation?"
"Thousands upon thousands of people are dead in the worst domestic disaster in history. America needs blood. It's desperate for a war."
"Even a nuclear war, with no chance of a win? Naomi," Snake tosses the cigarette to the ground, "the government has done a lot of things to damage this country, and hurt people I care about. I'm not denying that. But it's not stupid. Nuclear war is in no-one's best interests."
"You're very talkative today," Naomi says, but behind her blank expression Snake can sense fear.
"Let's stop thinking about how we can beat Liquid. We should join him."
"Liquid's a big thinker. He'll want his own country to rule over; a nuclear power not on the nuclear map. He's going to take Zanzibar Land and feel like he's able to attack."
"But I'm not interested in attacking," Snake snarled. "I'm tired of fighting in a war that won't even happen. We shouldn't be out changing the world that way. Right now, all I want to do is get somewhere safe."
"Where? Where's that?"
"The only place safe from a nuclear war would be a facility made of concrete one hundred floors down. Fortunately," Snake smirked, "I've been to one."
Naomi presses her hands against her thighs.
"But you've overwritten your programming. You're fully autonomous now. So why? Why do you want to protect me?"
Snake looks at her. "Because all we have left is each other."
"Snake – "
"I'm getting you out of here."
He doesn't feel her hands as he entwines his metal fingers between her flesh ones.
He just feels the shiver as he spreads the camouflage field over her body.