Hal refused to see it though. He was insisting on looking at this further. Dave wasn't going to let his friend and blood-brother be destroyed by it though. For that reason alone, Dave was going to give Hal whatever support he needed.

Against his better judgment, as he would have been quick to add.

There had to be a way to convince Hal that the information was bogus, but damned if Dave could figure out what to say to him. He'd never been that good with the whole concept of worrying about one's family to one's own detriment.

Unfortunately, the whole thing was already having effects on Hal. He'd already had to slip sleeping pills into a cup of decaffeinated coffee just to get his partner to take a few hours of sleep.

Dave glanced over at Hal, who was excitedly printing something out. Probably more satellite telemetry for him to look at. Dave leaned back in his chair.

"The same guy who sent me the tip! I thought I was dead in the water, and then I got this...!"

"I see." Dave frowned. They were being strung along, and there was nothing he could say to Hal about it. As Dave watched, the monitor began its screen saver. It was different than the ones Hal usually had, which were generally revolving pictures of satellite data and checklists from missions. "Hal," said Dave after a moment of watching the computer screen turn all sorts of strange colors, "Is your monitor supposed to be doing that?"

"What?" Hal looked at the monitor for all of a half second before jumping back into his seat. "Shit! How long has this-" He started typing furiously, but whatever was happening had a head start on him, and before a minute was over, he was pushing himself away from a blackened monitor.

"Damn it."

"What just happened?" Dave got up to stare at the monitor from behind Hal.

"A virus. Real nasty one, too. I've heard of it before, but it exploits a hole the US government had the anti-virus makers put into their software and it works fast. It's a Green Lantern based virus called Yellow."

"Green Lantern? Sounds like one of your comic books."

Hal paused for a moment with a slightly peeved expression, then nodded. "Yeah, it's from a comic. It's also a virus created by the FBI in the late 90s. It was supposed to be used to spy on the computers of known criminals and suspected terrorist groups. The government had the anti-virus software companies forced to make their software so that this particular virus would remain on infected computers. That wouldn't be a problem for me, since I don't use a commercial anti-viral, but unfortunately, this left a big hole that someone managed to exploit for research on creating their own version of the perfect virus. And all they have to do now is have it mutate each time so that the rest of us can't write anything to stop it."

"So what exactly does all this mean?"

"It means," said Hal, disconnecting the computer, "that we can send this with the next garbage truck that comes around. Good thing I back up regularly..."

"So did this come with the email?"

"No, I don't think so. This kind of virus is usually in some downloaded files. I might have gotten it when I hacked in to one of the military databases. In fact," said Hal quietly, his hands stilling, "Green Lantern is trojan spyware. There have been rumors that Yellow is spyware with someone on the other end who has a trigger."

"Which means anyone could know our location and everything you've been researching?"

Hal frowned. "Location... no, I don't think so. Not with Yellow. But everything I've written on the computer..."

Dave frowned. If someone was destroying Hal's computer because he'd received some information, there was a good chance that the information wasn't entirely false. Unless of course it was to make sure they didn't stop researching a dead-end... This only muddied the waters further.

"What were you printing out before?"

"Uh... a bunch of pictures. I only glanced at them... My dad must have been in every one. One was just of him, near our home... It looked like it was only a little while before he died..." His shoulders slumped, and Dave gave him an awkward little pat on the back before grabbing the printed pages.

"Looks like only two of them came out," he said.

The first showed someone who looked like Hal, whom Snake quickly decided was Hal's father, and someone who looked like Big Boss. They were sitting in a lab. No windows, no papers visible... the two of them could have been anywhere.

Of course, "anywhere" happened to be Outer Heaven. Snake had spent enough time there to know what it looked like. He handed the picture to Hal and looked at the next.

The next one had another unmistakable location, or at least, unmistakable to someone who read the Cyrillic alphabet.


Hal looked over at Dave. "Pripyat?" he asked, confused.

Dave frowned slightly at his partner's lack of historical knowledge. "Chernobyl. More specifically, the ghost town three miles from Chernobyl."

Hal's father and Big Boss were looking at the nuclear plant, just visible in the distance. And there were people all around, which could only mean that this photo was taken before the accident.

Hal had dropped the other image and was now standing next to Dave. "You're sure?" He gave Hal a withering look. "Fine, you're sure. Is that-"

"Big Boss."

Hal blinked. "Why would they be-"

"I don't know."

"Oh." Hal looked around uncomfortably, then took a breath. "So I guess we should go-"

"Not we, me." Hal looked ready to protest. "There's still radiation there, even if some people have relocated to the original evacuation zones."

"Fine, then I'll coordi-"

"I don't need you to do that. I'll handle this on my own."

"I don't understand. What's going on?"

Dave folded the sheet of paper. "Nothing, Hal. Why don't you just get your computers fixed."

Hal frowned uncertainly for a moment, then shrugged. "I guess. Do you want me to book you a plane ticket?"

Dave nodded and walked out of the room, closing the door firmly behind him.

Deep down, he knew he shouldn't have been so hard towards Hal. Hal was trying to find answers. But now that those answers were leading towards his own origins, Dave wasn't so sure he wanted to hear the questions.

Chernobyl had been an accident according to everything he'd heard. A terrible, tragic accident. But to see the man who was, for all intents and purposes his father, standing there in the town... To see Hal's father there with him...

Of course, it was quite possible, and quite likely, that the image was completely constructed. They didn't have any original film to test, and now that Hal's computer had been destroyed, they didn't have the original digital images either.

The problem arose with the "if it wasn't" case. Had the two of them worked together? It didn't look as though Hal's father had been forced into this situation. The image brought up a lot of nasty little thoughts.

What if Chernobyl hadn't been an accident? Or what if, while it had been an accident, the two of them had something to do with it?

He pulled the picture out of his pocket and glared at it, determined to find a fault. There was Big Boss, an almost perfect likeness to Snake himself. He had the eyepatch, and was wearing the kind of clothing he had always worn... a long trenchcoat, a cane... And there was Hal's father. He had glasses. The same brown hair as Hal's, with the same stubborn part that didn't seem to go in a straight line.

In fact... that might be the flaw. The picture looked almost exactly like Hal. Oh, a little age line here, a little more thickness to the glasses there, but it was Hal.

Dave smirked. Whoever had sent this probably hadn't expected anyone to look at it very carefully. This was a doctored image.

Still, whoever had sent this wanted them to go to Outer Heaven and now, it appeared, Pripyat. And they'd somehow managed to get surveillance photos of Hal. That alone was worrying. That was enough reason to go on this mission. Whoever it was setting the snare, Dave and Hal had to flush them out.

Dave opened the door again. "Hal?"

"What?" asked Hal, with an annoyed 360 degree spin of his chair.

"I was wrong. I want the backup. I don't want you coming in to the town with me, but... Well. I think it's a trap, and I want someone at my back."

Hal kept spinning in his chair, apparently finding it a good past-time while not typing. "Gee, that makes me feel great. I can't come if you think you'll actually get some answers, but if it's a trap, it's oh, Hal, I need you?"

Dave sighed. "Fine then, don't come. I'll get someone else to back me up."

"I didn't say I'm not coming!"

Dave shook his head impatiently. "Make up your mind, Hal."

"You weren't going to get rid of me by telling me to stay here anyways. I just have to figure out how to order the tickets without using a computer."

Dave smiled, then laughed. While Hal had almost ten computers in this one room alone, Dave was just as glad that he wouldn't be ordering tickets through them. If one computer might be "spied" upon, he'd rather not risk their lives by ordering tickets on the rest.

"We can get something last minute to Russia or the Ukraine, if we can't find anything private," Hal said when Dave was finished laughing.

"Good. We should see if we can get some lead-lined boots while we're at it."

Hal nodded cautiously. "That sneaking suit should protect you to a certain extent, but if you have to go into the old reactor..."

"If I have to go in there, the mission has been failed. I can't just crack open concrete barriers set up for the safety of everyone in the area to satisfy your curiosity."

"Do you have any idea of where to start?"

Dave put the picture down on the table. "Just like the picture says: Pripyat Hostel."

Getting to Pripyat was simple enough.

Hal got the two of them passage via a Philanthropy jet that was supposed to be going to Australia for some reason or other, so they had the pilot stop in Kiev to refuel while Snake and Otacon got off the plane.

From there, the pair made their way to Slavutych. They took a room in a hotel, and Otacon used his cell phone to gain access to satellites, piggybacking on the signals to get to the internet. He'd bought a new laptop computer en-route to the airport, figuring that there was a need for a little bit more paranoia than before.

Snake was happy that he was finally getting his partner to be a little more cautious. Otacon was just happy that he was able to get onto the net without any problems.

Getting to Pripyat was a little more difficult. Entry into the 25k radius exclusion zone needed official documents. While Otacon could have easily faked that, going that route would have meant an armed escort "guiding" him through so-called safe areas.

So instead, Snake took his modified Smart-Ion reader (modified by Hal to give a short vibration instead of a loud beeping noise when radiation was estimated as being too high), found a likely spot in the first fence, and cut his way through.

A 20k hike was next. If Snake didn't keep himself in such good shape, he might have been tired from it, but even so, he was stopping frequently to check the readings of beta and gamma radiation.

The place was unnerving. Snake walked close enough to the main roadway that he would have been able to see anyone passing by him, but there were no cars. It was as if everything had been abandoned here.

The hike out to Pripyat took almost 6 hours. If he didn't have the excuse of checking radiation levels, Snake would have been quite upset at this time. In Alaska as a musher, he'd have done 18 miles in just under 4.

[Otacon, are you there?]

[I read you, Snake. What's up?]

[It's pretty deserted around here. Is this normal?]

[Yeah, I did my research on the way here. A few years ago, people were trying to get them to open up the area as an eco-tourism spot, but when that fell through... well, no one really goes there except reporters and scientists, really, so unless there's a tour scheduled...]

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