Chapter Seven

July 15, 2001

8:01 pm

"So this is what my local sewer backs up into," Creed said with a turt sigh. He was scanning the area around the swamp Zartan was leading them into and it wasn't pretty. The place was about the absolute largest chunk of Lousiana Everglade privately owned by any individual in the state and it pretty much proved to
the majority of the team that Washington had no idea what the hell they were doing if they couldn't figure out the Dreadnoks were operating out of the
place. It looked like a full training facility with ample room to stock their weapons.

"Be silent! This is the type of place that my ancestors were forced to move into when we couldn't function in normal society because of our aversion to sunlight. It is a place of beauty as well as strengthening power that a cretin like yourself cannot appreciate!" Zartan hissed as he looked about the place for signs of what he expected to find in this place. The mercenary leader had no doubts where his old companions loyalties lied and it was always with the man who could provide them with the biggest paycheck.

"Yeah Swampy, you and the poor Potato famine victims are really high on my sympathy list. Right up there with smokers." Playboy said even as he looked around, edgy with his rifle.

"Be careful guys. Zartan may not look it but he's a doctor of bio-engineering as well as advanced robotics. Even thirteen years in the slammer haven't dulled the fact he's a smart cookie," Scarlet looked around the tiny islands formed in the middle of the place. They had to ditch their boat someplace back to make sure they could avoid all the little alarms that the Dreadnoks had put in place.

"Thank you Joe for recognizing that the way I choose to live my life doesn't necessarily impact my intelligence. Given enough years I'm sure you'll be able to learn how to create fire or if what I heard on base to be true, keep a man," Zartan gave a cruel grin as he sneered at Scarlet from the lead of the trees. Even the slightest bit of pain he could inflict on G.I. Joe was a symphony to him. Zartan was still torn whether or not he was going to inflict an equal amount of pain on the Cobra leader who had refused his rescue, simply kill him, or get a fortune from him to pay for all the time he had spent in prison before both. Zartan was leaning towards the latter are the most appropriate.

"I'm not getting anything on my scanners. The Dreadnoks must have coated the entire place in some sort of dampening field generated from the place's heart. I'm afraid we're sitting pretty blind here," Dialtone was forced to concede as he looked to his team leader.

Snake-Eyes then lifted his hand and gave a sign that Scarlet translated "Snake-Eyes hears something. Zartan, what's going on?"

"If I had to venture a guess G.I. Joe then I would have to say I believe it's jet-skis or some other method of transportation for the Noks. They're probably comming in very large numbers and very well armed because of the alarm I tripped a few minutes ago," Zartan said with a sneer even as the air filled with blue laser blasts.

"Zartan you..." Scarlet was cut off by the merc's spin kick to her skull as he dragged her underneath the swamp water where he began to swim with all of his might.

"Fuc..! Its the Joes! Blow em all to hell!" Buzzer shouted on the back of the Swamp-flyer as his little woman rode on the back with a heavy repeating laser canon straight from the factories of Cobra in India. Buzzer had changed little in the past decade save deciding to grow a goatee and getting himself a nicer pair of glasses.

"Right-o! I'll bag meself one for our honeymoon Buzz!" Anarchy said, a punk girl from the streets she was barely legal now and they'd been married two years. Still with her flaming red hair, a body to die for, and a ten foot vicious streak in a five foot four package she was everything that he wanted in a girl.

"Take your time, it's like shooting fish in a barrel! Cut em up good Green!" Buzzer shouted.

Green was a new recruit to the Dreadnoks that had been a left-over result from one of Doctor Mindbender's little side-projects. When they'd pulled him out of a tank. Zarana hadn't let Ripper put a laser bolt in the poor billy's head and instead had adopted the horrible little mutant. One arm was entirely steel with a bit of Edward Scissorhands action going on and the rest of him was furry shark-monkey. Green lept off his own Swamp-flyer and did a sommersault through the air over the G.I. Joe counter fire to drive his little knives into the preacher's heart.
"God..." Creed cried even as Green let out a cackling laugh.

"Dreadnoks-1 Joe-0!" Buzzer shouted even as the rest of the crew soared forward from the swamp. Over the years they'd invited cousins, bastards, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, husbands, wives, and even the occasional dirty piece of trash who was just cool enough to hang with the group. Combine that with the pay and weapons from the new boss and the fact they'd get to kill Joes made this the best day of Buzzer's life. It was also his last as Dialtone ducked under Anarchy's fire and threw a magnetic grenade that attached itself to to his ride's engines. The resulting explosion gave the new acting team-leader time to shout out his next order

"RETREAT!"

Too bad Snake-Eyes was already well under the water, following Zartan.

***

Torch would have mourned the passing of the one man who he could still reasonably call a friend from the old days had he not been watching the
Power Puff Girls on the Cartoon Network instead of the security cameras depicting the G.I. Joe slaughter. The Dreadnok mansion was one of the most
advanced Cobra facilities currently on Earth but it was also one of the most comfy. Thrasher was currently playing pool in the next room with Zandar and
neither of them were paying much attention to the presence of G.I. Joe. The damn rules said that at least four of them had to stay behind whenever
something came up to be killed and even then Zartan's illegitmate daughter Zanya had snuck off to do some damage.

"That's the problem with young people these days. They've got no respect for their elders." Torch muttered as he sipped down his beer.

"Yes, I've often found respect lacking among those under me," Zartan said from behind as he wrapped Torch in a strangle-hold.

"Zartan!" Ripper said busting his stick against the pool-table in mid-shot as he stepped up from behind in absolute terror.

"Brother!" Zander looked at the man with a look of both joy and horror.

"Don't you oh brother me you traitorous dog! Where the hell have you been for the past decade! No don't answer that! I know you've been willing to visit for the few years but the security was always too tight to bust me out. I should kill the lot of you and set up something similar for everyone who comes back to this little Taj Mahall!" Zartan was actually quite serious and he began to squeeze on Torch's neck to snap it like a twig when he heard the oddest statement from the front door of the Dreadnok Swamp Mansion.

"Zartan!" Zarana said with joy as she ran up to her brother and wrapped her arms around his neck. Zarana was a far cry from the girl that Zartan had remembered with apparently some style having rubbed off on her. She was wearing Paris fashions and her hair she'd let grow long to his complete disapproval. Still, Zartan let his heart soften as he closed his arms around his sister and gave her a cool hug.

"So at last the infamous Zartan is met. I cannot say this is an honor," the voice that followed Zarana was a cold one like the kind you'd expect to come from a walking corpse. It didn't scare Zartan whose own voice was affected by a second pair of vocal chords that had been part of the mutation he'd undergone thanks to the wonders of evolution. He was dressed in a three thousand dollar business suit with the Cobra Hood embroidered on his left lapel. His eyes were bio-implants like the kind Doctor Mindbender used to give members of the Crimson Guard who were too stupid to keep all their body parts. Zartan didn't want to know what this fool was doing with his sister but the mercenary kill him before he could find out.

"So your the little boy who thinks that he can rule Cobra? You have no idea how much that organization depended on me.

"No one is certainly more aware of the history of Cobra than myself than perhaps my father Sir Zartan. Your contributions were considerable, I will be the first to admit. But you were also ambitious and needlessly destructive in your efforts. Hence my decision that it was better for you to pay your debt to society than spend valuable Cobra lives to secure your release," The new head of Cobra causally caught Zartan's fist from connecting with his face and applied a great deal of pressure to his hands. Surprisingly Zartan merely struck out with his other fist into his face at the shattering of finger bones.

"Impressive reflexes," the man said shaking his face a bit from the blow.

"I don't know what sort of people your used to dealing with COMMANDER but where I'm from you learn whether or not you should be afraid of those you hire. I'm in charge of the Dreadnoks now and if you want to leave this house alive you'll...." Zartan noticed that the man wasn't even looking at him but looking at his prisoner.

"I'll pay you ten million dollars for that woman," Cobra Commader said with not a word of hesitation.

"I want double that. Consider it payment for the years of hell in a dry prison cell I had to go through," Zartan had just been going to kill her anyway. Perhaps giving her over to some of his men for a round of sport first.

"Done," Cobra Commander rose and reached into his business suit. Zartan had his arm held back from striking him in the throat with a fatal chop by Zarana to see that the man was pulling out a black snakeskin checkbook. Zartan took it from Cobra Commander's hands and looked at the numbers inside with wide eyes. Apparently they'd finally hired someone other than those idiot twins to run their business ventures. Handing it back to the Commander, Jonathan Sharp wrote the check and handed it over to Zartan who snatched it away.

"My business has already been concluded with the Lady Zarana for this quarter. If you are truly taking over the Dreadnoks I shall be seeing you in three months and I suggest you manage to conclude the inevitable bloodshed quickly for the operations planned at that point are extensive. I suggest you furthermore make sure to ask your sister just how I run my operation. You will find it quite different than working under either Serpentor or my father," the huge man then cradled Scarlet in his arms and lifted her up like he was lifting a bride off the thresh. Exiting the house to the boat which was waiting for him on the docks, he did not notice Snake Eyes hiding underneath the wooden planks.

The ninja had already slain the Dreadnok's crocodiles and had been intending to go directly after Zartan to rescue the person who meant the most to Snake-Eyes in the world but the presence of the leader of Cobra complicated matters considerably. It broke his heart but he had to follow the man to Cobra's base and get a call off to G.I. headquarters.

***

10:14 pm

The trek through the Everglades was one of the most harrowing that Dialtone had ever experienced in his life and would go down in his memory as the worst hour of his command. The game of hide and seek had gone on with the Dreadnoks for more than two hours with every few minutes interrupted by a hail of laser fire that meant the battle and run was rejoined. If Gung-Ho hadn't been with them, Dialtone was sure that both himself and Playboy would be skinned and mounted over the Nok's hiding place. As such they had killed about three of them and wounded another one of their pursuers which left just about half the state as far as the communications expert could tell.

"It wasn't right that he die this way," Playboy said about Creed whose cold corpse the kid had insisted on slugging through the entire swamp. Dialtone had hoped that they might be able to get the poor guy some medical attention but the thugs had just kept comming to the point that he had just bled to death on them.

"It's never right kid for a man to die in combat. I was perfectly happy slinging gumbo with my wife and kids in the Big Easy before I got called back into service. Still, he knew what he was getting into when he signed on for this job and that's what he got," Gung-Ho said in about as comforting a voice as the grizzled marine could muster at a time like this.

Playboy looked like he was going to be sick and Dialtone didn't blame him. "What exactly are we going to do now? Creed is dead and so are
probably Scarlet and Snake-Eyes..."

"Don't say that. No Joe is dead until we have a body!" Gung-Ho pointed his gun at the socialite's face with a spit of tobacco to the side of sweat
drenched body.

It was hard to imagine Scarlet or Snake Eyes dead and Dialtone knew that G.I. Joes had come back from worse situations in their lives but the last couple of days seemed like hell on Earth. The MASS Device, the invasion of Washington D.C., the Spores of Cobra-La, and the Pyramid of Darkness had been damn dark times for the world but Dialtone had thought he'd left that all behind when he'd entered into business for himself. He'd made millions in dot.coms before losing it all but he'd never thought he'd be afraid Cobra was going to conquer the planet again. As absolutely bad as it sounded, he was getting too old for this sort of thing.

"Okay we're just lost in a swamp with a small army trailing our ass. Any bright ideas Creole?" Playboy copped an attitude which got him thrown against a tree by Gung-Ho.
"Provided Dialtone is up for it I think we need to take the fight to the Swamp Rats where they live. I know these bayous just as well as they do and I'd wager better. I'm not about to go back to Hawk, Duke, and Falcon and say that I lost Zartan before running with my tail between my legs. We might all end up dead but at least we'll make sure they'll be a few less scumbags for Cobra to put against the American people!" Gung-Ho shouted even as he started re-loading his laser based assault-rifle.
"I can't say I'm exactly enthused about the prospects of facing Cobra's thugs head-on but I don't see that we have much choice.
"Do I get a vote?" Playboy asked as he felt the back of his neck.
"No,." Gung Ho answered.