Otacon nodded, his face almost white. Snake paused, listening for anyone coming down through the vents. "I don't think there's anyone else in here, but if you hear someone, call me via CODEC and get out." Otacon nodded again.
Snake waited for the light to go by again, then quickly left the vent and ran out of range of the light. He hit some of the guards with darts, then turned and hit one on a tower. Next, he ran as far from the vent as he could. If they found out where he was shooting from, it had to be as far from Otacon as possible. He got the lights in four quick shots and could just barely make out Otacon leaving the ventilation system and moving in a fast walk toward the edge of the wooded area. He covered the other man as guards started pouring out of the facility, running towards Otacon as he did.
Once he reached Hal, Snake grabbed his hand and pulled him to the motorbike he'd left here, started it up, and put Hal on the back. "Hang on!" Snake barked out at Otacon. Otacon's arms went around his waist and Snake took off.
For Hal, the next two days were a misery of confusing hallucinations alternating with brief headache ridden lucidity. When he was properly awake, Dave would sit beside him and try to have him eat and drink while talking about the questions Hal had been asked. While he was out, Hal couldn't have said what Dave was doing.
He remembered waking one night to stars above him while Dave sat cursing his lighter. But then, whether that was real or not, Hal couldn't have guessed. Another time, he dreamed that he and Dave were in a room somewhere with mirrors for walls, and Meryl had walked in. She'd broken all the mirrors in the room before shattering Dave into a thousand pieces and leaving. Yet another time, Hal had seen the cramped quarters of the baggage part of a plane, filled with parcels. He and Dave were lying in a box, or rather, he was lying there while Dave sat with his eyes wide open. Dave had given him some animal cookies.
In some ways, that last one had been more frightening than when he awoke to see Emma and Meryl having an intimate kiss while Vamp shoved a blade through their hearts.
When Hal finally woke properly, the two of them were in a car on a deserted stretch of highway in the middle of what appeared to be a sandy expanse of desert. The sun was shining, making the sand glow white around the car, and the air conditioning in the car, though on at full blast, was barely keeping the car tolerable.
"Dave? What's going on?"
"Awake again? Here," Dave's arm went into the back of the car and pulled a bottle of water to the front, pressing it into Hal's hands. "Drink this. As for explanations, you'll just have to wait until I know you're not going back out."
Hal shook his head, testing the headache. He didn't feel the throbbing that had been present before. Hal took a sip of the water, then realized just how thirsty he was and drank the rest of it without a pause.
Hal looked out the window again and sighed. No lights, no signs telling about exits coming up... "I bet there's no cyber cafe around here," he said. "But tell me I've got a laptop and a cell phone?"
Dave gave a half grin as he glanced at Hal. "I brought along a coffee maker and a car adaptor. If you can hook them together, you'll even be able to have some coffee."
Hal laughed. "Hey, great! I feel like I haven't had coffee in a week!"
"It has been a week, Hal," said Dave, suddenly serious. "Do you think you can tell me what happened?"
Hal leaned his head back and closed his eyes against the bright sun. "I'm not sure. The last thing I was researching... I mean, it didn't seem to have anything to do with anything except the location."
Hal paused. He hadn't been able to get much information at all. It had all been very securely protected, apparently by someone who was an ex-hacker.
"So where is it?"
"South Africa. Somewhere called Galzburg." Dave hissed, and Hal turned to look at him. "What?"
Snake shook his head. "Nothing. What were you researching?"
"I got a tip."
"Not... not exactly." Hal felt the blood rushing to his face. "Someone emailed me about my father, and pointed me to a number of highly classified intelligence databases. I hacked one of them, and he was on a list of names."
"Connected to Galzburg?"
"Yeah. But I couldn't find the place on a map, even the historical ones on the net. And when I tried looking for it on the same database I got the list of names from, someone had plugged up everything... I can only guess that someone must have been hacking into my system at the same time, because it was the next day that..." Hal stopped. "Um. I'm- I'm sorry about all this, Dave. I just can't resist these things..."
"Anonymous tips." Dave shook his head. "It was probably just made up. Someone probably hacked in there before you did and put everything in place for you to find it. Then military intelligence caught it and protected their systems more carefully."
Hal raised an eyebrow. "You think I don't know the difference between real data and fake? Look, Snake, these things leave trails when someone modifies things, even if they're doing a great job at hiding it. I mean, it's like... If you saw some documents that had been erased and someone had rewritten on top of it, you'd still see the fact that it had been erased, right?"
Dave frowned and grumbled something. "We're not getting anywhere by arguing about it. So what kind of questions did they ask you?"
"They asked a lot about you. What you looked like, where you were, where you liked to buy cigarettes. All sorts of really strange questions. But... they also asked about Galzburg. What I knew about it, mostly. Who tipped me about the Metal Gear there..." Hal shrugged with a touch of false modestly. "I was trying to get some information at first, so I tried to fake them out, tell them things that might be true to get them to reveal things from their questions. I saw it in an anime once." He smiled.
"Life isn't a cartoon," Dave said, throwing a hard glance at Hal. Hal sighed and rolled his eyes. "Still, intel is intel. As long as we can confirm it, we can send it over to the chapter in South Africa."
"And tell them what? I don't know where Galzburg is. I'm not just handing this over to them."
"We have enough Metal Gear to take care of right here in North America. We don't need to go there."
Something about that sounded wrong. Dave wasn't talking about finding the place, he was talking about going there. "You know where this place is..."
Dave grimaced. "Yeah, I do. And I know you're not going to get any information on your father there. Even if it were the truth, Outer Heaven is long gone."
"Outer Heaven...? Isn't that the one you told me about where-"
"Yeah. Fires destroyed the place. Send the information to the African contacts, and make sure you tell them how you got this intel. They'll need to be prepared in case this is some sort of a trap."
Hal leaned back in the seat. Could his father really have participated in the Outer Heaven mercenary operation? And if he had, how and why had he lived his life in England? And what about his father's marriage? Had she been a part of Outer Heaven as well?
Or had his father left the service of the Outer Heaven mercenaries and met her afterwards? The Outer Heaven mission Snake had spoken of had been in 1995: the same year his father had died. But even if his father had worked for them, it wouldn't necessarily have been related. His father had killed himself in the backyard, not been attacked by Solid Snake in some foreign country.
"Dave, what kind of person would hack into databases to put in information about my father working there...?"
"One who wants you to question yourself," said Snake instantly. "You know how your father died, and it had nothing to do with Outer Heaven. You know how your father lived, and it had nothing to do with Outer Heaven."
"But what if it did? What if there's even more to my family's past than I think? What if my family is responsible for even more bloodshed and violence?"
Dave was quiet for a moment, watching the road and thinking. "Does it matter? What you're doing now is paying the world back for what your family did. Could you try harder if you knew your father was part of the Metal Gear development at Outer Heaven?"
"I... Maybe it doesn't really matter. I mean, no, it wouldn't change anything. But I can't just let it lie, Dave. It's my family."
He was quiet again. After a few minutes of waiting for him to talk, Hal turned around in his seat and got another bottle of water. He held it in front of the vents for a moment, hoping to cool it a bit, then opened it and poured it down his throat.
"Do you know how unlikely it is? They had Dr. Petrovich. They kept him there by force to create the Metal Gears they had." Dave shook his head. "It's a trap, not information about your father."
Hal looked out the window to the blazing sand. The whole landscape was on fire, the sun creating a fusion bomb's blast in the sky. The crystal blue sky was only an illusion: there was no peace, no water in this place. The sky was burning! "Even if it's a trap..."
This landscape was the world, barren and lifeless and burning from the monstrosity of a bomb that altered matter itself... this world of nuclear and fusion that he and his grandfather had both helped to bring into existence. And his father, the one Hal had thought immune except for birthright... "I have to know, Dave. I have to know why his name was on that list. I have to know it for sure."
An uncomfortable silence descended upon them, and Hal embraced it. This silence, uncomfortable though it might be, left him alone. No past, no family to be ashamed of, just Hal and his thoughts existed here. He closed his eyes to block out the bomb in the sky, but the sun was too strong to shut his eyes against.
"The past is like the sun, Dave. Even if I close my eyes, I know it's there. It comes in through the cracks until I have no choice but to open my eyes. Don't make me do it on my own."
Dave sighed. "I thought I was the philosophical one."
"We're both like that. We're pretty much alike, you know."
Dave smiled a softer smile than he usually gave. "I know, Hal."
"I'll regret it."
"Say yes anyway."
Dave glanced briefly at Hal, a worried look on his face. "I haven't abandoned you this far. I won't abandon you now. Better with me than by yourself."
Dave smiled again, a real smile even though it was tinged with worry. "Well, with that out of the way, you've got some work to do first. We need new identities, since they've made the old ones. Then we'll need to get in contact with people in Philanthropy."
"I'll contact the Africans. I'll ask them to see if they can do some reconnaissance, if you'll give me the exact coordinates of the place."
'If I can remember them. We'll see."
"Where are we going, anyway?"
Dave gave Hal a smirk. "We're in California now. We're going up to Canada."
"Canada? But it's freezing up there!"
"Naw. It's summertime." Hal turned off the air conditioner. "What do you think you're doing, Hal?"
"Getting all the heat I can. You think a snowy day is warm."
"It is warm."
Hal leaned back as Dave turned the air conditioning back on. This was going to be hopeless.
Dave looked at the recon photos again. According to the info from the satellites, there was nothing around Galzburg for over 500 miles but tiny little villages. The infrared satellite scans were no better: either the place had been dug deeper than anything he could think of, or there were no tunnels where Outer Heaven had been that hadn't collapsed.
The Africans hadn't found a damned thing on the mission Hal had asked them to take. It was just as he'd thought in the first place: a trap meant to take out the most skilled of Philanthropy's teams. Too much had gone into making this personal for Hal for it to be anything else.