SIX TROOPERS STOOD in the corridor outside the laboratory. The squad leader looked through the bulletproof window to make sure the doctor had not pulled a fast one. He didn’t trust the brainy nerds who worked at the Shadow Moses facility. They always had tricks up their sleeves and answers for everything. When the FOXHOUND renegades took over the complex, the squad leader felt personal satisfaction that the tables had been turned on the scientists who made the big money.
“Hey, Sergeant, why are there so many of us guarding this guy?” one of the men asked.
The squad leader replied, “The Boss wants us to take special care of the good doctor. Nothing’s supposed to happen to him. The Boss needs him. High-priority asset. Why, I don’t know. In my book, the only good otaku is a dead otaku.”
The men laughed. One of them opened a coffee thermos and started to pour cups for everyone in the hallway. “So did the Boss say why the power went out? What was that explosion?”
The sergeant indicated the communicator. “He told us not to worry but that we might have company. It’s probably not a good idea to have a coffee cup in your hand right now.”
As soon as the squad leader had said these words, the man dropped the cup and its contents all over the floor.
“You clumsy fool!” the sergeant snapped.
“I –I didn’t drop it. Someone… something knocked it out of my hand!”
“Don’t be an idiot. I saw you drop-”
There was a glimpse of a shadow moving across the corridor. No, not a shadow. More like a blur, like when one’s glasses are smudged, only this smudge had moved.
“What was that?”
Then men turned and followed the sergeant’s pointing finger. “I don’t see nothin’, Sarge.”
The squad leader’s eyes darted over the room. There it was again! “Look, you fools! There!”
“Boss, I think you’re seeing th-” But before the man could finish his sentence, the top of his skull slipped off his head on a diagonal split. The bone and brain had been severed by something invisible. The man’s legs buckled, and he fell to the floor next to the bloody body part that contained half of his mind.
“Oh, my God!”
“Shoot anything that moves!”
The men began to fire their FAMAS rifles wildly about the room, spraying the hall with a salvo of bullets but hitting nothing.
Whoosh-swish-flit. An unseen sword sliced the air and flesh-and-blood appendages. Those sounds were followed by screams.
OUTSIDE THE HALLWAY, Snake heard the carnage occurring on the other side of the Level 3 security door. The gunfire, the screams of agony, the noise of bodies falling to the ground…
What’s going on in there?
He quickly swiped the card, and the door opened.
It was as if he had stepped into a slaughterhouse for human beings. At first it was difficult for snake to count just how many men had been in there, for body parts and blood were spattered all over the hallway. Snake had seen some terrible things in his lifetime, but this gruesome scene nearly made his bile rise.
One man with both arms severed was still alive. A stab wound in the chest was causing him to spit blood as he struggled to breathe. Snake knelt beside him. “Who did this?” he asked.
The man coughed and whispered, “…ghost…it’s…a ghost…”
And he was dead.
Snake stood, stepped over the puddles of red goo, and made for the laboratory door. He peered through the window and saw a young man wearing a white lab coat sitting on the floor, his back against the wall. He wore glasses, had long hair, was thin, and was trembling so badly that Snake thought he was about to wet his pants.
Dr. Hal Emmerich was scared to death, looking up at something that wasn’t there.
Snake swiped the card in the door, but it wouldn’t open. It was a Level 4 security lock. Snake cursed to himself and moved to the closest slaughtered body. It was a repugnant task to search the guard’s bloody clothes, but he found what he needed: the man’s PAN card.
Snake used it on the door, which slid open. Dr. Emmerich was whimpering as tears ran down his face. He was focused on the space in front of him, but Snake couldn’t see anyone else on the room.
Sure enough, the cyborg ninja was standing in front of the scientist. The stealth suit glimmered in and out of visible mode as the warrior brandished the sword.
“No, please! Don’t hurt me!” the engineer cried… and wet himself.
“Where is my friend?” the ninja asked. “Tell me where he is now or suffer the same fate as those fools out there.”
“I’m…I’m sorry! I …I don’t know what you’re talking about! Please don’t kill me!”
“DON’T MOVE!” Snake stood with the SOCOM in both hands. The ninja turned slowly and focused the eye sensor on him. Drop the sword and back away from the nerd. Do it nice and easy.
Even though the helmet covered the warrior’s head, Snake could sense that the man was smiling. “Ah, excellent. I’ve been waiting for you.” The thing said in his metallic, electronic voice.
“Just who the hell are you?”
The ninja didn’t drop the sword. Instead, he held it in front of him as if he were preparing to do battle. “Neither enemy nor friend. I have returned from a world where such words are meaningless.”
Snake squinted at the cyborg. There was definitely something familiar about him; the way he carried himself, the speech inflection. Who was he?
“I’ve removed all obstacles,” the warrior said. “The path is clear to me now. you and I must fight to the death.”
Snake was taking no chances. He squeezed the SOCOM’s trigger-and the ninja batted the bullet away with a lightning-fast flick of the sword.
“Pathetic! There is no honor in that weapon!”
“What do you want?”
“I’ve waited a long time for this day. Now I want to savor the moment.”
Dr. Emmerich continued to shake and whimper as he watched the two gladiators in front of him. “What- what’s with these guys? It’s like … a scene out of one of m – my anime movies!”
The cyborg continued to talk in riddles. “I’ve come from another world to do battle with you.”
“What is this about?” Snake asked. “Revenge?”
“It’s nothing as trivial as revenge. A fight to the death with you…Only in that can my soul find respite. I will kill you or you will kill me. Either way, it makes no difference.”
The engineer could take no more. He saw an opening, got to his feet, and bolted from the room. Screaming like a madman, he ran into a sterile procedure room adjacent to the lab. He slammed the door behind him, locked it, and peered at the two fighters through a plate glass window.
“Ah, fine,” the ninja said. “Let him watch from his perch.”
Snake snarled, “I need that man unharmed. You’d better give up now or this won’t be pretty.”
“Yes,” the ninja hissed. “That’s the spirit!” Make me feel it! Make me feel alive again!
With that, the man in the exoskeleton moved forward… and disappeared. Snake fired several rounds at the space in front of him but heart only the swish-clang of the ninja’s sword knocking away the bullets.
The ninja materialized several feet away from where Snake thought he was. “That weapon is useless against me! Haven’t you learned anything?”
“Apparently not.” Snake utilized spray fire and emptied the magazine. Watching the ninja was like viewing a sped-up video in which every character moved at ten times the normal alacrity. Not a single round touched his body.
Then the ninja dropped the sword. “This is futile! Let us fight as warriors. Hand to hand. The basis of all combat. Only a fool trusts his life to a weapon such as that.”
Snake took a deep breath and holstered his gun. “Whatever.” He assumed a fighting stance and forced himself to forget everything else. It was what Master Miller had always taught him. Concentrate on the task at hand. See the victory before you even begin.
And the fight commenced.
The ninja attacked with a double-jumping roundhouse kick that knocked Snake to the floor. Slightly stunned, Snake managed to roll out of the way as the cyborg attempted to repeat his maneuver. The warrior missed, allowing Snake to get to his feet and avoid yet another roundhouse kick.
Unarmed combat is a matter of dodging.
It was another of Master Miller’s admonishments. Offensive moves were essential in order to win hand-to-hand combat, but the trick to surviving was defense. Snake let his opponent attack again so that he could watch the man’s technique. Every-fighter relied on tried-and-true moves; if you could anticipate what the enemy was going to do, you could avoid the onslaught and develop a strategy to counteract it.
The ninja performed the double jump again and walloped Snake. The operative crashed backward into an electronic bank of controls, causing an eruption of sparks that lit up the room. He noticed, though, that the cyborg had paused slightly between the two jumps. Snake bounced back from the assault and beckoned the ninja to try again. This time, Snake leaped into the cyborg’s personal space during the spilt-second pause and delivered a punch-punch-kick combination that connected hard and violently. The ninja recoiled, surprised and slightly dazed. Snake refused to let his opponent recover. He took advantage of the opening and performed his signature one- two- three punch-punch-kick maneuver. The cyborg sailed across a workstation and smashed a computer monitor onto the floor.
“Yes! The pain!” the ninja cried. “I’ve been waiting for this pain!”
The guy’s crazy as a loon!
The cyborg rolled off the desk, landed on his feet in a crouching position, and then leaped forward like a grasshopper. He collided into Snake with tremendous force, and the two of them catapulted off the floor, fists flying and knees lunging. Snake pounded the ninja’s helmeted face as hard as he could, ignoring the agony he felt in his knuckles.
“Yes. Hurt me more!” the ninja cried. “More! More!” The cyvorg managed to swing himself on top of Snake, who took the opportunity to grab the warrior’s arms and employ the ancient judo principle of turning an opponent’s weight into an asset. Snake placed the sole of his foot against the exoskeleton’s chest for leverage and flipped the man over his head. The ninja hit the wall with a crash that shook the room.
Snake got to his feet and delivered double roundhouse kicks to the cyborg’s head before the man could get up, the warrior was definitely stunned. But when Snake tried it a second time, the ninja grabbed his ankle, twisted it, and forced Snake to spin in midair. He landed on the floor with a thud.
“I know that move, Snake. I felt it.” The ninja stood. “Do you remember? The feel of battle?”
Snake shook the stars away and looked up at the exoskeleton.
“Do you, Snake? Do you remember me now?”
And then something snapped inside the dark recesses of Snake’s memory banks. The ninja’s stance, his speech pattern, his use of Snake’s name…
No! It can’t be!
“You!” Snake spat. “You were killed! In Zanzibarland!”
The words seemed to confuse the ninja. “Killed? Zanzibarland? I … don’t…”
Suddenly the cyborg began to shake uncontrollably. His suit sparked and made noises akin to an electrical discharge. The ninja screamed in pain, held his head, and fell to his knees.
It’s like what happened to him before!
“What’s happening?” Snake yelled.
The ninja screamed, “The medicine!”
“Not again,” Snake muttered.
The cyborg’s suit emitted an energy field that grew into a ball of bright light. Snake retreated and held his arm in front of his eyes. It was as if the ninja himself were short-circuiting and frying on the inside of the stealth suit.
“I’m … losing…myself!” he cried.
And then Snake knew the identity of the cyborg. There was no doubt.
“Oh, my God. Gray Fox,” he whispered.
After a few moments, the energy field dissipated and left a broken man on the floor, barely keeping upright on his hands and knees. His breathing was coarse and measured.
“Are you all right?” Snake asked. He started to approach the man, but the ninja let loose with a heart-wrenching cry of anguish and pain. The cyborg shook his fists at the heavens, stood, and ran for the laboratory door. The suit’s stealth function kicked in, and he disappeared in front of Snake’s eyes. The door opened for a second and then slammed shut.
The tortured soul was gone again.
Dr. Emmerich called from the procedure room. “Is it over?”
“I don’t believe it,” Snake said, trying to catch his breath. “Gray Fox… it can’t be…”