Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - In Loving Memory of Rabid Heron
This is a true story.
In the mid-1980s, I was instrumental in the management of a private military contractor group known as Diamond Dogs. I was a direct advisor and strategist to the PMCs leader, Big Boss (occasionally referred to as Venom Snake), a former American Special Forces operative and war hero. Details of his journey to leading a privately-run group of mercenaries are...complicated at best, and as my time with Diamond Dogs continued on, I came to realise that our motivations weren’t entirely financial. Nine years prior, a covert strike force named XOF, led by a figure known as Skull Face, had carried out an attack on Big Boss’s previous PMC, Militaires Sans Frontières, which resulted in its total destruction. The injuries sustained by Big Boss sent him into a nine-year coma, and upon reawakening, I was employed to assist him in both sustaining the day-to-day operations of Diamond Dogs, and in locating Skull Face and XOF so as to deliver vengeance. You could argue our priorities were misaligned, but I’d be quick to shoot back that you couldn’t begin to know the lifetime of pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, that Big Boss had endured. After knowing the full scale of what lay before us, I was eager to do whatever I could to provide him with even the slightest hint of emotional closure.
In order to bring Big Boss face-to-face with his desired revenge, however, Diamond Dogs needed to be in business. Based in an offshore mining facility on the Seychelles waters, we primarily took out contracts in Afghanistan and Angola, during the Soviet-Afghan War and Angolan Civil War respectively. Contracts could range from things as simple as intelligence-gathering, to complete destruction of military hardware. Along the way, wherever possible, I ensured that expendable materials were retrieved for use at Mother Base, as we burned through a lot of resources taking care of business. As we began to gain a name for ourselves, the contracts began to outgrow the personnel, so I would direct search parties for viable recruits to Diamond Dogs. This proved a lucrative endeavour, and before long, we were operating with hundreds of soldiers in varied departments.
I’ll be completely honest: in the early days, I was looking for quantity over quality. With experienced personnel like Kazuhira Miller and Revolver Ocelot on staff, I was confident that those somewhat lacking in the skills could be adequately trained. You can debate whether this labour was fruitful, but in the early days, I didn’t have much to work with. As such, I would often recruit prisoners of war into the ranks. Many of them had existing militaristic skills - often the cause of their imprisonment to begin with. I left department assignment up to the crew that received them upon arrival at Mother Base. They would conduct an assessment on the proficiencies possessed by the recruits, and place them where their skills were strongest. Rarely did I have direct involvement in this process, but for one recruit: a prisoner of war named Rabid Heron.
I will remember that day for the remainder of mine. The nature of Big Boss’s personal mission had outgrown his ability to engage in the day-to-day contracts of Diamond Dogs, so I was already on the lookout for someone to pick up a large part of slack. I was deliberating his replacement when Rabid Heron came to see me. She’d been assigned to the Intelligence department based on her pre-existing skills upon arrival, but according to her, her heart belonged to the battlefield. I was dubious upon pulling up her file; her combat rating was below average. But she persisted, insistent that given a chance, she could prove her worth out there. I decided to oblige, especially considering the gender imbalance in our combat unit was utterly woeful, but only under my strict supervision. I did not want this test-without-a-safety-net to result in a dead employee.
Rabid Heron soared. The mission was to neutralise a network of tanks at a guard post in Shago Village. Most soldiers would have interpreted that as destruction, but Rabid Heron saw it as procurement. Not only did Mother Base earn three new tanks, we also received nine new recruits, and not a single enemy soldier saw her. Even Big Boss was impressed, and believe me, that is no mean feat. I was sold. Though I remained her supervisor throughout her operations, as I was for all operatives, she ran the show. A running joke began to spread throughout Mother Base that while Big Boss was taking care of all the “dumb melodramatic shit”, Rabid Heron was ensuring we stayed alive.
Eventually, myself and Mother Base were able to help Big Boss in locating Skull Face, and the results were confrontational, to say the least. Before engaging in an extended stare-down in the back of a car, Skull Face made clear that his and XOF’s intentions were to create world peace through nuclear deterrence. He saw existing attempts at global unification to be synonymous with global cultural Americanisation, and his counter-point was to maintain cultural individuality by eradicating all speakers of the English language with a parasite, and distributing nuclear weapons to all possible minority groups, whilst retaining secretive control over them with a walking bipedal nuke known as the ST-84 “Sahelanthropus.” Big Boss said it would have made sense if I’d been there, but I’m not so sure. More than anything, I was glad we finally had an explanation for the horrifying virus that had forced me to put a sizeable percentage of our staff in quarantine: a prototype of the parasite targeting those who spoke Kikongo, one of two Bantu languages spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During a demonstration of Skull-Face’s Sahelanthropus, controlled by a child with psychic powers as construction of the mech had yet to be finalised (don’t ask), a malfunction occurred, and Big Boss was forced to engage the Sahelanthropus in combat. Through circumstance, Skull Face was injured during the encounter, which afforded Big Boss and Kazuhira Miller the opportunity to get the revenge I fear they desired more than our operations.
It seemed as if we had neutralised the threat of the parasite, and in the process had not only gained the Sahelanthropus, which through modification, could have become an invaluable asset to Diamond Dogs, but a series of new recruits. They were Skull Face’s elite; his best of the best, and among them was a woman of utterly astonishing combat experience. I was a fool, caught up in the drunken euphoria of victory, and without hesitation, demoted Rabid Heron to the standard ranks of the Combat Unit in place of this new face. I don’t even remember her fucking name. Rabid Heron and I never exchanged words over this, and that fact will haunt me long past the decay of my bones. It wasn’t personal, it was just business, and that’s just about the worst way I can describe the worst thing I ever did with Diamond Dogs, and we did some fucked shit.
Through blindness on our part - call it the hubris of the so-called “good guys” - we didn’t realise that a strain of the parasite had survived. It was released into Mother Base, and our previous attempts to quarantine the affected staff proved fruitless this time. This was a new mutation, where those affected didn’t just become sick, they became rabid. The Quarantine platform was overrun, and so Big Boss decided to deal with the problem himself, under my guidance and supervision. Words don’t describe the horrors that we saw. People - our women and men - torn to shreds, some by their own volition. Those that were alive had been driven to furious panic. Some openly attacked Big Boss, others pleaded for death. All were robbed of their humanity and dignity. Eventually, Big Boss found a lab technician with enough life left in him to trigger us to the new symptom of the virus inflicted by the parasites: an overwhelming desire to be exposed to sunlight. Outside, nature was already taking its merciless course, as crows flocked in an incalculable murder, impatiently waiting to receive the virus and spread it across the ocean. We were out of time, Big Boss was the only person with the cognition required to neutralise the threat, and my order was clear: everyone infected had to die.
The technician had developed a pair of goggles that assisted in identifying those infected, which I instructed Big Boss to utilise. Attached to the vocal cords, the parasites glowed orange inside the throats of their victims. One by one, I supervised Big Boss’s massacre of countless staff members of Diamond Dogs. As if by some cruel-yet-obvious joke, there wasn’t a soul inside that building that wasn’t infected. There was a brief moment in which we thought we had found a lone survivor, but that turned out to be the second hit of the one-two punch line. Some willingly gave their lives for the greater good, and some did not go quietly. Some tried to physically attack Big Boss, others expressed incredulity that he would willingly participate in this, others simply begged for mercy. Not one was spared. Internally, there was an ongoing debate between higher members of staff over the ethical ramifications of our actions. Big Boss and I ignored them. We knew that it was a hard task, and we knew that some would never understand this, but it was a necessary task.
Big Boss was nearing the entrance to the Quarantine platform when he came across a woman propped up against an overturned hospital bed, with a face that was all too familiar to me. I have to be honest - if only for what shred of a decent person still exists inside of me - but I did not know the names of most of those people. Diamond Dogs was gigantic at this point, and I was far too concerned with “big picture” dealings to keep an eye on the staff roster. But there was something about this woman that I could not shake, and against all better judgement, I asked Big Boss to hesitate so I could pull up her file. My eyes widened in horror as I realised Big Boss had his pistol trained on Rabid Heron.
My heart broke. I am not a man of faith, but I still recall, with crystal-clear precision, my prayer to any deity good or evil to either make this entire situation a shared hallucination, or to spare Rabid Heron of the fate I had so easily directed Big Boss to enact upon countless others in the minutes prior.
“Please,” I spoke. “Please. Not her.”
I received my answer, not from the divine or the wicked, but from the absolute good.
“It’s okay, Boss,” Rabid Heron softly wheezed, barely able to prop herself up enough to look him in the eyes. “You have to do this. It’s okay.”
I instructed Big Boss to recalibrate his goggles, in the slightest off-chance that a malfunction had occurred. The orange glow only seemed to burn brighter in her throat, gleefully reminding me of my prior orders. We couldn’t leave a single infected person alive. Through teeth bitten down hard on my lower lip, tears stinging my eyes, I swallowed the blood welling in my mouth and choked an order to Big Boss. Without hesitation - a man truly devoted to the mission, regardless of the mission - he stole the life from Rabid Heron’s eyes, as she became another statistic for Mother Base’s personnel department.
It’s shameful for me to put her death above the others, but I cannot ignore that her being in that room was a direct result of my involvement. Wooed by the allure of someone with a higher statistical advantage than her, I effortlessly cast Rabid Heron aside, not just from the career she had proven to me she was capable of both cognitively and emotionally, but from her dream. I had forgotten she existed, until her sick and decaying body lay in front of Big Boss as another casualty of a parasite we were too stubbornly proud to recognise was still out there. Her replacement was fine, but she didn’t want the job. She hadn’t come to me, willing to prove herself out of sheer desire to be in that position. I just looked at the numbers and went with the higher one. How could I have been so fucking stupid?
Not long after that, Big Boss completed the mission. It took a toll on all of us, but I know it hit him harder than anyone else. I’d once heard him describe his time with Diamond Dogs as his personal journey through Hell, and I think he saw this blood-soaked march as his final steps towards standing side-by-side with the ultimate fallen angel himself. Mark my words, this was the beginning of our downfall.
In the aftermath, we burned the bodies. We had to; we couldn’t risk any possibility of the parasite spreading. I was present for the cremation, but I couldn’t bear to witness it. Big Boss, ever the beacon of strength I could never be, stood there for its entire duration, devoting the time necessary to watch every single coffin burn. We prepared a burial at sea for the ashes of the fallen, to scatter them across the waters we travelled over every day as we continued the work they gave their lives for. In the eleventh hour, though, Big Boss had a change of heart. In his later years, he was a man of few words, but in this moment, he knew that this wasn’t right.
“I won’t scatter your sorrow to the heartless sea,” he said, as he lightly drew his fingers through the top of the open urn cradled in his mechanical arm and spread the ash across his face, “I will always be with you. Plant your roots in me.”
He turned his back on the setting sun to face us, a ghostly visage, his guilt and pain etched deep into his scarred face.
“I won’t see you end as ashes. You are all diamonds.”
It turns out his words of passing were literal. He ordered the ashes be crafted into diamonds, and distributed amongst the remaining members of Diamond Dogs to carry with them, as a shining reminder of who we were, even in death. I received mine, but I did not wear it. How could I? How could I bear something representative of my callous, cutthroat, implicit participation in the murder of my best soldier? It was a murder I could have avoided if I’d kept her where she rightly belonged, on the frontline of battle. She was the perfect example of what we represented. Our leaders were disgraced soldiers, broken souls, rabid animals with no guidance. They came together in spite of all of that, in the name of something greater. You can argue that, for them, it was only revenge, and you might be right. But don’t you dare say that’s what it was for us. We saw flawed heroes doing their best, and amongst the mire of an endless cycle of blood, death, and vengeance, we saw an opportunity for hope. Rabid Heron was exemplary of those values. She could have stayed in the Intelligence department in relative safety - assuming the virus didn’t reach her - but she chose to participate where the cost was ultimate. She led soldiers. She showed them that anyone with drive, and ambition, and passion, could reach the highest of heights. She wasn’t a Diamond Dog. She was the Diamond Dog. And, in an instant, I dashed all of that for a numerical advantage, and doomed her to death by the hands of her hero.
I left Diamond Dogs not long after that. I held on long enough to witness exile, betrayal, heartbreak, and another encounter with that walking nuclear monstrosity, before realising that I had nothing left to give. On my final day, I was clearing out my quarters, and in the bottom drawer of my bedside table, empty but for one object, I found my diamond. For a long time, I couldn’t tell you how much, I sat on my cot and stared at the shimmering, impossibly brilliant rock, and I reflected on this entire journey, on my actions, on the actions of my heroes, on the decisions we made, and the lives we forever changed, for good or for bad. And I reflected on that day in the Quarantine platform, and Rabid Heron’s incalculable bravery in the face of death.
On my way out, my fellow Diamond Dogs saw something on me they had never seen before. Pinned to my chest, perfectly positioned to pulse ever-so-slightly with the beating of my heart, was my memento of the sacrifice we had made. In time, like all things, the memories inside of my head will fade, and a day will come when I will struggle to recall the things we did in the name of a better place for us, and you. In those moments, I hope that some force more powerful than anything worldly will direct me to that diamond, and I hope that in that moment, there will be only one thing I remember. It will be you, and your name: Rabid Heron. You deserved better, and I'm sorry. Rest in peace.