Privideniya – Chapter 1

A/N: This story was begun back in 2005, and I've just picked it up again recently. It splinters off from canon after MGS3, and I'm afraid there just ain't no reconciling it.

Dawn broke over the mountains. The air was thin and cold, so clear it seemed to put up no resistance, no friction at all. Ocelot held his breath to keep white clouds of condensation from fogging the lenses of his scope. He had found this small shelf of stone the day before. It jutted out over the downward slope of the mountainside, leaving him with an unobstructed view of the plateau about a hundred meters below.

Up against the cliffside, the fortress of Groznyj Grad rose out of the breaking sunlight like a ghostly warship. Ocelot didn't believe in much - certainly not portents or omens - but he couldn't ignore the shiver that gripped him at the sight of those old stone walls and new steel doors. Decades had passed since he had remembered how to be worried, how to be afraid even in the face of insurmountable odds. But on this particular morning he was acutely aware that he had spent so long trying to flee this place, only to find his way back here to die.

Fifty years ago, a nuclear explosion had stripped the fortress to its steel dragon-bone skeleton, but even that hadn't been enough to level it. Groznyj Grad had been designed so that 500 soldiers could hold off an army of 50,000. Only one man had ever gotten past its defenses, and that man was dead. In this part of the world, someone with a secret wouldn't find a better place than this to keep it than here.

Though he didn't consider himself to have any particular affection for this country, Ocelot felt a little satisfaction at the knowledge that Groznyj Grad was being rebuilt in Russia proper: the Ural mountains, far south of Chelyabinsk. Though the fortress' original site had been ringed by almost perfect natural defenses, building there hadn't been an option this time around. Russian contractors in a part of Afghanistan long since reclaimed by nomads would have attracted too much attention.

In its unfinished state, Groznyj Grad seemed naked and vulnerable. Everything above the first floor of the west wing was still just a steel frame. The northeast courtyard was stacked with crates – computer equipment, no doubt – to be unloaded. Most of the personnel would not be awake yet. The security would be lax. One well-placed explosion could set construction back months. Ocelot could orchestrate something like that, set it all up over a slow lunch hour. But that wasn't what he was here to accomplish.

He looked beyond the complex then, over the black tarmac and past the outer ring of electric fences. He couldn't say exactly what he was searching for, but he was confident he'd know it when he saw it. There would be a large maintenance bay; it was likely it would be underground, where the surveillance satellites couldn't spot it. The earth would be displaced somehow, as though over a fresh grave.

Ocelot became aware of a dull ache building in his left hand, a constriction most noticeable where the delicate bones of his fingers jointed. His jaw tightened, and he shifted his grip on the scope, methodically straightening each of his fingers in turn, flexing them. It was always worst in the morning, and he knew that if he could do this now, he would last the rest of the day.

It had been three months since the drugs had worked as well as they should have.

He had a little time left, enough time. The specialists had told him it would be a year, two on the outside, before he would lose the use of his hands, before they would begin to throb and stiffen and stumble over delicate work. Like reloading, like shooting…

Ocelot hadn't listened much after that.

There were strong painkillers he could have taken, but they would have only fogged his judgment and slowed his reflexes. There was an operation to replace the joints – fine microsurgery that could have made them like they'd been when he was young – but Ocelot had no intention of ever going under the knife again.

He had a year, and that was more certainty than he was used to.

He waited while his hands throbbed, tightened, then relaxed again. The worst of the pain subsided. Ocelot's eyes narrowed a little; he was smiling.

A gale of cold wind tore down the mountainside, tugging at his clothes and making a sound akin to a ricocheting bullet. Ocelot had tucked his long hair into his collar out of the way, but at the first gust it slipped free to batter the sides of his face and stick in the corners of his mouth.

And he, who had spent ten years in the taiga and never shivered, felt the cold now, felt it into his very bones.

Ocelot swept his scope once more over the ground below, ut even his trained eye found only Groznyj Grad's familiar lines: efficient Soviet architecture, smooth new blacktop, and the clutter of construction. Not for the first time, he feared that what he had been looking for wasn't really there at all.

He let the scope fall to his side. Ocelot wasn't used to going away with nothing to show for his troubles, and even as he turned to leave he would not admit a retreat. He only needed a new way of looking at the situation. His knees ached as he started down the steep incline, but he ignored the gnawing ache.

The sun threw his shadow across the rocks. Long and lean and dark, gilded by the dawn; and yet there was something within it, a core of something darker. Something that watched him with cold blue eyes. Ocelot turned to look, and already it was gone.

He laughed, shook his head slowly. "It's no use," he said quietly, though he was not speaking to himself. The wind picked up again, whipping red dust around him, turning the sunrise to blood. "There's no hope for me this time."