what_we_dream: (MGS Snake)
[personal profile] what_we_dream
Title: When the Bough Breaks
Series: MGS
Pairing: Snake/Otacon (Read: Snake->Otacon)
Rating: PG-13
Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] fireholly. I'm sorry, I tried to write an ending but Otacon got all smarmy and LET ME RUB IN THE FACT THAT I AM IGNORANT so I shut him down.

Summary: "The purpose of this exercise is to create an algorithm of your thought processes in a number of different scenarios that could result in a severe repercussions." Snake takes a jaunt through VR.


The space is barely lit, but there’s nothing to see anyway – only two doors standing in faded spotlights. Above one is a backlit red EXIT sign, the space above the other is unlit.

This is the loading screen, Snake, comes Otacon’s voice from somewhere in the darkness above. If you need a break, or to end the simulation, just say ‘loading screen’ or press the red button on your watch and you’ll be brought back here. I’ll be monitoring the scenario and your vitals, but none of the conversation, so I won’t pull the plug unless you’re in medical distress. If you need to contact me from within the simulation, you can call me on the codec on the usual frequency. Okay?

Standing alone in the dark in a sneaking suit that fits too well to be real, Snake shrugs. “Whatever. Let’s get it over with.”

A light over the second door turns on, green letters reading ENTRANCE.

The AI will meet you on the other side. He’ll tell you everything you need to know. Good luck.

Snake grasps the doorknob, and steps into the white light beyond.

***

Every new scenario creates a temporary sensory white-out, the shock of emersion in an entirely new world in the blink of an eye. Snake’s senses begin to fade back in after only a second, and he crouches instinctively with his hand on the M9 at his hip. And then he straightens again as they focus the rest of the way.

He’s standing in the middle of a dense West Coast fir forest, the air cool and thick with the scent of wet earth and pine. The sky’s barely visibly through the thick branches above, but there’s plenty of ambient light filtering through without the bright solar glare – perfect sniping conditions.

Sitting on a fallen tree directly across from him is Otacon, dressed completely inappropriately in his white lab coat, jeans and a t-shirt.

“Otacon?” demands Snake, glancing around. There’s nothing man-made in sight, and no trails or paths. He’s standing in a thicket of ferns, moisture beading from their fronds onto his water-proof leggings. “I thought you weren’t going to be here?

“The real Otacon isn’t here, Snake – it’s an entirely closed simulation. I’m the AI recorder. I’m programmed to behave just like I – he would as nearly as possible, without endangering the objectives of the simulation. He thought you would find it easier to talk to someone you know, as long as it could be confidential,” the simulation adds, standing and brushing off the back of his coat.

“And he decided he was the best candidate?”

“Well, he was also the only one he could reliably program to behave realistically.” The AI pauses, uncertain. “Is there a problem?”

Snake stares at him for a moment – it really is a good model of the engineer, right down to the slightly awkward stoop he reverts into when not paying attention to his posture.

“No,” he says, finally, straightening and slipping easily beneath the skin of his mission persona. “No problem. What’s the briefing?”

“Three miles north of here there’s a hidden laboratory putting the finishing touches on the computer systems for a new Metal Gear. You have to infiltrate it, destroy all schematics and data, and escape without being identified. If you fail in any of the objectives, you will fail the mission and Philanthropy will be destroyed by the fallout. The purpose of this exercise is to create an algorithm of your thought processes in a number of different scenarios that could result in a severe repercussions – the disbanding of Philanthropy and the possible proliferation or use of a Metal Gear. You should tell me what you’re feeling as you act – why you make your choices.”

Snake shakes his head. “I still think this is a stupid idea.”

“You’re supposed to be the ultimate soldier. Who better to protect our files?” The simulation has already fallen back into the first person; Snake ignores it.

“You told me to tell you what I’m feeling. Right now, that’s it.” He sighs. “Do we have any hard intel? Bogies, weapons, schematics?”

“There are enemy troops inside armed with semi-automatics, but I don’t have any specific statistics or a map. There may also be unarmed civilian engineers in the facility. You’re armed with a tranq gun and a knife, and have your usual mission equipment. Anything else you need, you’ll have to pick up on the way.”

“Uh huh. And are you here to help me, or just act as my diary?” He draws his M9 and checks the chamber and clip before reholstering it.

“I can help you with anything Otacon would help you with.”

“So if I need to spontaneously hack the enemy’s email account, I’m covered. Great.” Weapon checked, Snake pulls out his compass. Taking a reading, he starts heading north. “You wanna know what I’m feeling now?” he asks, pushing his way past a heavy cedar branch.

“Really irritated?” guesses the simulation.

Snake just growls.

***

“I’ve been thinking,” says Otacon, sitting at the kitchen table with his laptop open. Snake, doing crunches on the floor, grunts. “We’re building some serious online capacity now, not just databases but active viruses and moles. We’re not going to be around to monitor them all the time – I can hardly monitor them all as it is.”

Snake freezes at the top of his crunch and looks over. “You saying you want to post a Help Wanted ad?”

“I’m not sure we’d be able to offer enough perks to make up for this lifestyle.” He adjusts his glasses up absently. “No. I was thinking that I could program an AI system to oversee them all. To make decisions for us, if we can’t.”

“That’s your department. If you think it’s a good idea, do it.” He returns to his exercises, sweat already beginning to cool on the back of his neck.

“I’ll need an ethical model for the AI. Someone for it to base its decisions on.”

Snake doesn’t bother stopping. “It can’t be that hard to program yourself into it.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Snake, but I don’t think I’m the best model for good decisions.” Otacon’s voice holds just a tinge of amusement. “I’m going to use you.”

Snake does stop now, lowers his arms and swivels to sit facing the engineer. “You want to base your program’s ethical code on me?” he asks, very baldly. Otacon doesn’t flinch, meets his challenge head-on.

“You’ve completed every mission you ever conducted; you always make the decision necessary to protect your interests. Being the ethical model doesn’t mean making the societally acceptable choice, it means making the choice that will complete our objectives using our values.”

“You know what I’ve done to achieve my objectives, Otacon.”

“And I know what you’ve protected by meeting them. You’ve made hard choices to support important goals; I’ve only ever made easy choices to support stupid ones.” He closes his computer quietly. “Forming Philanthropy was the only hard choice I ever made, Snake. I’m not going to sacrifice that for my vanity.”

“I think it’s a stupid idea,” says Snake bluntly. The engineer does flinch now, and Snake glances away. “But if you insist on it, I’ll be your goddamn role model.”

Otacon breaks into a bright, grateful smile. “Thanks, Snake! You won’t regret it.”

Snake is sure that he will, but this time keeps the thought to himself.

***

The ferns are dense here, but the sneaking suit is impossibly waterproof. The real mission training exercises Otacon builds for him aren’t so generous, but he supposes how dry his feet are isn’t important in evaluating what guides his decisions.

They’ve been walking for about two clicks when Snake holds up his arm abruptly; the simulated Otacon stumbles into it.

“What is it?” he hisses, looking around. Snake does too, searching for what his ears tell him must be nearby. A moment later he spots the telltale thinness in ferns, and steps slowly over.

A massive fir tree has fallen some time ago, branches dead and barren. Its fall has torn the roots from the ground, leaving a pit behind it. In the bottom of the dark-sided hole, some six feet deep, a yearling deer is struggling to stand. One of its hind legs is dragging behind it, the bone broken by its fall. It’s still full of vigour, fighting hard to scramble up the sides of the hole.

“Oh,” says Otacon, softly, from behind him.

Snake briefly considers just ignoring it. The blatancy of the dilemma offends him, as does the fact that Otacon conveniently didn’t provide him with an unmodified weapon. But if he biases the simulation, Otacon will be pissed, or make him redo it, or both.

Narrowing his eyes, Snake considers the sides of the pit briefly; the earth is moist and malleable, still full of torn roots. He braces his elbows and drops down right onto the animal. It bucks beneath his weight, but he is heavier and has the momentum of the fall. And, before they hit the ground, he has broken its neck with his hands.

Climbing out again isn’t hard, his boot toes sinking easily into the dirt and hands finding grips in the roots.

“Why – what do you feel?” asks Otacon, looking awkward with his role.

Snake bites down his initial response. “Pity,” he says instead, and continues walking.

***

As they begin to near the complex they’re supposed to be infiltrating, Snake begins to notice signs of regular patrols. He slows his march, moving more carefully through the ferns and using the trees and their shadows for cover.

He estimates he can’t be further than a mile from the complex when he sees the patrol, a pair of men dressed in camo with flak jackets and P90s. They’re standing on a raised hill, one looking towards him and the other away. He calculates the distance to travel around them quickly, then takes up that route.

“Why are we going around?” whispers Otacon, crouching low as he moves along.

“No point risking an encounter. They might be the only ones. Easier to go around.”

He continues around the second patrol they come across as well, drawing no nearer to the objective. When they encounter a third, he pulls out his M9 and drops the pair of them in five seconds. “Now we know. Not easier,” he says briefly, before Otacon can ask.

***

The compound is situated in a wide clearing, accessed by a single road. It’s a one-storey bunker-style building made out of cinderblocks. It’s surrounded by a chain-link fence with barbed wire on the top, but there are no guards patrolling it. Snake stops when he reaches it, hunkering down and turning to Otacon.

“I can climb that, but what about you?”

“This isn’t an escort mission. I can get over it.”

Snake gives him a sceptical look, but scales the fence and swings over the wire at the top, landing smoothly on the other side. He looks back in time to see Otacon twist over neatly as a gymnast and land easily in a crouch. An instant later he’s tackling the engineer into the grass, gun in hand, as a car engine coughs noisily to life. He lies still without moving, covering the ridiculous white of the lab coat with his dark grey suit and the thick grass, and watches with sharp eyes as a truck pulls out of the muddy parking lot and exits the compound. Beneath him, Otacon is just as solid as he would doubtless be in real life. He’s even breathing quickly, imaginary heart beating hard against virtual ribs.

“Scared?” Snake asks him, pushing off to crouch low to the ground.

“A bit. Are you?”

“No. Just irritated with you and your stupid choice of clothing.”

“Are you worried about me?”

“No,” says Snake, immediately. And then more slowly, as he scans the facility, “But if you were Otacon, I would be. I can’t do this job without him. This way,” he adds, in case the simulation is thinking of asking any more questions, and heads for the cinderblock wall.

They enter through an air duct, the simulated Otacon agreeing to crawl along silently behind. Inside they come out in a long linoleum corridor, lit only by small safety lights.

“Do you know where we’re going?” Snake asks, as he closes the air duct behind them.

“No, I don’t have any facility maps. You need to find the computer workstations and destroy all data and schematics; if you don’t, the Metal Gear will be ready for use in two weeks. I do know that the facility has a large electric generator. You could probably destroy the whole site by sabotaging it. Remember you can’t let anyone recognize you; destroying the site would meet that objective.”

“No. Too much damage for too little gain. If these workstations are as important as you say, they’re probably at the centre of the facility. This way.”

***

As they move deeper into the facility, they begin to run a higher and higher risk of encountering the enemy. The outer halls are nearly empty, but the inner ones are used by soldiers and civilians. They duck into rooms off the hall whenever footsteps threaten to come around the corner, and Snake tranqs two men and drags them away to hide them when that option isn’t available. The simulated Otacon isn’t any more stealthy than the real one, and Snake begins to scout around corners ahead of him.

It’s a good plan, until he returns from checking a complex series of twists and turns to see two soldiers escorting Otacon down the hall in the opposite direction. The engineer feigns a twisted ankle and makes a break towards Snake, and is struck down violently between the shoulderblades by the butt of a P90. Snake, watching from around the corner, can’t step out to take a shot without risking being cut down by the second guard’s fire. He stands with his weapon in his hands, and watches with gritted teeth as one of them kicks Otacon in the stomach so hard he begins to gag.

They haul the engineer to his feet, shaking him into silence, and start dragging him towards Snake this time – no chance of taking them out while their backs are turned. He prepares to retreat, and then has to clench his jaw to keep from shouting. Otacon kicks one guard in his ankle and tries to twist away in the opposite direction. The second, clearly fed up, raises his rifle.

Snake spins out from around the corner, takes aim, and drops him. His companion turns, safety clicking off, and Snake drops him an instant before he brings the gun to bear.

Otacon gives a choking hiccup and sinks to the floor, arms around his gut. Snake barrels down the corridor, ignoring him in favour of grabbing one of the guards and dragging him to the nearest door. It’s a cleaning supply room, and Snake drops him in it and then pulls his companion in after him, tying the two of them up with cleaning rags.

He shuts the door behind them and strides over to Otacon, grabbing him by his arm and dragging him to his feet. “Get up. We need to move.”

“Ow – Snake – wait. I can’t,” he breaks into a fit of coughing, wrenching his arm away. Snake steps over to the nearest corner, with a good view of both oncoming hallways, before answering.

“What, you can scale a fence but you can’t take a gut-shot?”

“Why are you so angry?” demands Otacon, partially scared and partially angry himself.

“Because that was ridiculously stupid. You should have waited; I would have picked them off.”

“You didn’t pick them off when they were kicking my ribs in.”

“Guns for hire don’t shoot harmless civilians unless they repeatedly piss them off. They do shoot armed soldiers attacking them.”

“Then you knew you were doing the right thing – so why are you angry?” Otacon asks again, still sounding shaken. “Because I was hurt?”

“If you die I have to run this whole simulation over again,” retorts Snake, nearly fast enough. That the engineer looks sympathetic rather than curious just makes it worse. Cold fact-finding, he can handle. Empathising is just pointless sentimentality. Is an entirely unnecessary addition to the equation. Is just like Otacon. “Just – don’t do anything else stupid. You’re a computer. You should be good at that.”

The problem, of course, is that he’s a computer programmed to act like the world’s most well-intentioned and simultaneously oblivious man.

***

They only make it around another two turns before a parade of footsteps stomps into hearing range, and Snake heads immediately for the closest door. There’s no light inside, and he and Otacon slip in and shut it behind them. The footsteps storm by, a group of men in combat boots.

Behind them, a light switches on. Snake swivels, gun in hand, and sees a man sitting up in bed. Confusion shifts seamlessly into terror as he spots the gun in Snake’s hand. In an instant, Snake has crossed the space between them and pistol-whipped him into unconsciousness.

“What – he’s a civilian, Snake!” Otacon points to the slacks and button-up shirts tossed over the room’s small couch. Snake didn’t need to see them – the layout, the furniture, the messiness, it all says civilian.

“And he’s just seen my face. His forgetting it with a concussion is more likely than with a tranq. dart. Or would you rather I killed him?” he asks, cruelly. It doesn’t make him feel any better; Otacon winces just like his real self would.

“Do you enjoy it?” he asks, trying not to look unnerved and not quite managing it. Snake bites back the easy answer, and reloads the M9’s clip.

“No. A real life-or-death fight against someone like me – there’s no strings attached there. You feel alive there like you don’t anywhere else, like every other moment of your life is spent in a grey, tasteless trance. But that’s the thrill of combat, and victory. It’s not cold-blooded killing. And you can only feel it if you’ve got nothing to lose.” He slams the clip back into the gun.

“And you don’t?”

Snake doesn’t look at him; he doesn’t want to see the completely uncomprehending curiosity there. “I didn’t, the last time I had to.” He listens at the door, hears nothing but silence, and steps back out into the hall.

***

They cut through an empty cafeteria, hurry down a narrow corridor, and come out in a large tiled shower room lined with lockers. There’s water running on the other side of the wall, and the low timbre of male voices is raised above the showers. Snake’s already heading for the opposite door when it begins to open.

He grabs Otacon’s wrist and drags open the door immediately to his right with a sign reading Authorised Entrance Only. He pulls them both inside and shuts the door after them in two heartbeats. Only to run right into a wall: it’s just a shallow closet full of pipes.

Snake manages to turn to stand sideways in the closet with his shoulders brushing against the door and the pipes, and Otacon standing pressed up against his front. It’s not a helpful time to notice that he smells like the real Otacon, down to the shampoo brand. The air is hot and humid, and Otacon’s breath is warm against his cheek. He can feel the engineer’s heartbeat, feel the press of his chest against Snake’s chest and his hips against Snake’s hips and – Snake closes his eyes, and starts to run down a mental catalogue of his current equipment needs. An AK would probably come in handy for something, and he’s heard good things about the new night-vision scopes out of Germany…

“Snake –”

“You don’t need to know,” snarls Snake. “Just shut up and wait.”

It seems like a long time before the showers turn off and the men leave.

***

“I’m beginning to think that it would have been better to send a different recorder with you,” says Otacon, when they get out of the showers.

“You do not need to tell him that,” says Snake, and only realises the double meaning when Otacon gives him a hurt look.

“I told you, everything you say in this simulation is confidential.”

“I meant about having to do it over again. There isn’t anything else. And there’s no reason to do it over again. We’re almost finished, right?” His words come out sounding too defensive, and he glares at the engineer to compensate.

“I don’t know, but I calculate we have come more than half-way through the width of the complex.”

“Right. So we’re close to finding these goddamn computers and putting them out of commission.”

***

They seem to have moved past the busy corridors and back into a less used, or possibly more secure, section of the facility. Otacon dismantles the electronic locks on a couple of doors with no apparent difficulty. They dodge a woman in a white lab coat, and then move forward without challenge.

When they find the target room, it’s completely without fanfare. They simply arrive at a white metal door marked Computer Lab. Snake motions Otacon back, pulls the door open, and steps in.

There are three computer terminals set up in a large, open room whose walls feature two pull-down screens, several flat-screen TVs and a whiteboard. There’s a civilian at each of the terminals, two men and a woman. Snake tranqs the woman and one of the men before the second dives under his desk. Behind him, Otacon steps in and the door shuts.

Snake walks around the room, and when the engineer comes bursting out from under his desk swinging his chair, catches it with his left hand and hurls it into one of the TV screens.

“You’ve got two options. You destroy everything you’ve been working on, now, or I kill you.” He raises the M9 to point straight at the man’s forehead. He’s breathing hard, and there’s a wheeze starting in his throat that hints of tears. “I’m not very patient,” says Snake, indicating one of the computer terminals. The man stares at the gun for an instant longer, and then goes to it. Snake glances over his shoulder at Otacon, who’s standing behind him.

“Do you want to kill him?” asks Otacon quietly.

“Don’t be stupid. You need to watch him; make sure he’s destroying everything. Can he delete the files on the other computers from here?”

“Yes, if they’re on networked drives.”

“Are they?” demands Snake, raising his voice. The man cowers, but nods. “Good.” He turns away and looks around the room. There’s a wooden table in the corner. He goes over to it and, with a snapping hip-kick, breaks one of the legs clean off. He grabs it, goes to the first of the computer terminals, and starts bashing in the machine.

By the time he’s finished, the captured engineer is huddled against the last computer, watching in terror.

“He’s done,” says Otacon. “Everything’s wiped, even the satellite back-ups.”

“Great. Here, smash it.” He tosses the stick to Otacon, who catches it with a fumble. Then, raising the M9, he tranqs the man in the neck. Otacon doesn’t move, just stands there with the wooden table leg in his hands.

“He can identify you, Snake.”

“Smash the goddamn machine.” He holsters the M9. Reaching to his boot, he pulls his knife free and glances at the blade. Perfectly sharp. He kneels beside the unconscious man, slumped behind the desk. He’s young and gawky, practically just a kid out of university, with messy hair and an open face. Snake twists the knife to hold it with the blade to the side, ready to slit his throat. And pauses.

“If he identifies you, Philanthropy will be broken up. More Metal Gears will proliferate. Our mistakes will come back to haunt us.” Otacon is watching him from beside the computer he’s smashed in, glasses low on his nose and grey hair in his face. He looks pained and uncertain, more than he has since Shadow Moses.

Snake flips the knife around once more, and then lowers it. “No. You said we were going to make the hard choices. If Philanthropy’s destroyed, we’ll become something else. If Metal Gears proliferate, we’ll destroy them. But we don’t kill innocent men.”

Otacon nods. “That’s –” he begins, and doesn’t get any further. Behind Snake the door opens, and the colour drains from his face. Snake is already turning, knife moving in his hand, when the first shots ring out.

He throws the knife straight over-arm and sees it bury itself in the soldier’s throat; the man falls back into the hallway with a gurgling noise. Snake stands and jumps over the desk between them to drag his body back into the computer lab. He’s already dead, eyes wide and staring. Snake takes back his knife, wiping the blood off on the soldier’s pants.

“Oh no,” says Otacon softly, from behind him.

Fully expecting a glare, Snake turns. And the world greys out.

Unaccountably, the knife falls from his fingertips. The soft sound it makes as it hits the carpet starts his brain again.

Otacon is sitting slumped against the far desk where he was standing a moment ago, staring at the palm of his hand with a shocked expression. A red stain is rapidly spreading over the side of his stupid white coat.

Snake has crossed the space between them before he’s aware he’s moving. He drops down beside the engineer and presses his hand hard against the wound. Otacon’s blood is wet and warm, the smell of it so thick he can almost taste it.

“You should leave now,” the engineer says, resting his head back against the desk. “Someone could’ve heard that.”

“Shut up,” says Snake, roughly. He has no first aid supplies – bandages aren’t standard issue for sneaking missions. “Just – shut up.”

“You still need to get out to complete the mission, Snake. They can’t find you here.” His breathing is already starting to change.

Snake pulls the lab coat off him and, stepping on one corner, begins to rip it to pieces from bottom to top. “I already failed it, remember? The gear-head’s still breathing.” He straightens Otacon, who gasps and stiffens, and begins to wrap the strips of white cotton tightly around him.

Otacon shakes his head. “No – you have to escape. Just leave me – and go. I can’t walk.”

He can’t even sit. He’s leaning against Snake even as he finishes tying off the makeshift bandages, head resting against Snake’s shoulder. When Snake finishes he leans back, panting for breath. His eyes aren’t focusing properly.

“I know I’m not – getting out of here–”

“Otacon–” Snake grabs his shoulder; Otacon pushes his hand off.

“Just go. Please.”

Snake hesitates for an instant. Then, “No.” He stands, bends, and pulls Otacon up over his shoulder in one smooth movement.

“You said – we were making – the hard choices. The right choices,” pants Otacon, voice low and harsh.

“This is the right choice.” Snake walks around the desks, and kicks open the door. The hallway beyond is empty, for now. But it took nearly half an hour to get here, dodging into rooms and around guards. With an injured – a dying man…

“You know – that’s not true.”

You said I’m choosing what’s right because I don’t make mistakes. Shut up and trust me.”

He rounds a corner, and sees a guard hurrying towards him. Snake pulls out the M9 and drops him before he can raise his own weapon. A second man runs out, and follows him into unconsciousness.

“Are you doing this – for me? Or for Philanthropy? We’re bigger – than one man.”

“No. We’re not. Bigger than one man? The fuck does that mean? We’re all we are – all we have. And I can’t do it without you. I won’t. So just stop talking and hold on.” Snake hurries down the hallway, around the corner, and sees a troop of soldiers coming. He turns and heads back the other way, to the computer lab.

There’s no response from Otacon. Not even the sounds of his laboured breathing. Snake turns and takes down the closest guard, and aims at the next. He pulls the trigger, and hears the hammer click. Empty.

They’re raising their guns now. He stops, and kneels to slide the engineer off his back. Otacon drops to the ground in a heap, unmoving. Beneath his skewed glasses, there are tears in his lashes.

The safeties click off. Snake closes his eyes. “Loading screen.”

The world whites out.

***

The darkened room is soothing after the bright corridor, but his suit still smells of blood. On his back, he can still feel Otacon’s phantom weight.

Snake? Are you alright?

Snake doesn’t bother to answer him, just strides across and grabs handle of the door marked EXIT.

***

Coming out of VR is physically like waking up, but mentally there’s no lag time. Snake pushes up the helmet, tears off the monitoring cables, and jumps out of the chair. Otacon’s sitting at the computer beside it, headset still on, looking surprised.

“What the hell was that?” he demands, blood pounding painfully in his temples.

“You took the exit too fast, and got caught,” says Otacon, puzzled.

“Not that. You – why – what does your dying prove?”

“Philanthropy’s supposed to be bigger than us, Snake. I thought – I figured if I was hurt, you’d leave me behind to complete the mission. I would want you to leave me behind to complete the mission.”

“You don’t –” he cuts himself off, shaking his head.

“Don’t what?” asks Otacon, confused. Of course he is. Of course.

Headache beginning to set in in earnest, Snake shakes his head. “Never mind. I don’t care. There’re my choices: use the data, or don’t. Whatever.” He heads for the door.

“Snake, why are you so –”

Snake leaves, slamming the door behind him.
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