a/n: This is a very belated response to JT Magnus's Christmas truce challenge. For those that remember, he had issued a December 2006 challenge to come up with a story about a truce between Cobra and the Joes. The idea was kicking around in my head back then, but work has kept me hopping for a while. Usual disclaimers- I don't own and make no money off these characters. I also have taken some liberties with past historical events and cultural references, which consists of tweaking dates a bit and stretching some religion/mythology. Bear with me for hopefully it will all make sense in the end. Last comment- kind of a mix between comic and show universes.
a/n part II: I sheepishly admit that I wrote the above some time ago. Although the challenge has long since passed, I still like the idea and am determined to finish this bad boy. Cleaning up some of the chapters and posting new ones as I go along. If you see any glaring errors, please let me know. Sometimes I am my own worst editor and my eye will skip over a typo every time. Otherwise, please forgive and hope you will still enjoy.
December 23, 1991: Greater Caucasus Mountains, former undisclosed Russian base in the Republic of Georgia: General-Polkovnik's Meeting Room
Three gentlemen with furled brows huddled around a topography map of the surrounding Georgian mountain region. X's and O's were penciled and erased again as the men practiced the art of war, anticipating and flanking their enemies' every move. One man stepped away from the table to observe the Spartan view of the mountains standing like sentries outside the conference room's walls. Folding his arms in front of his chest, he sighed, thinking of his parents' house back home in Kansas and wishing he was there, surrounded by his family and, more particularly, his loved one. But, there was no way around it. Cobra didn't care if your mom made the best raisin apple stuffing in Wichita and its surrounding counties. He adjusted his beret, pushing an errant strand of jet black hair out of his eye. Damn, he thought, this was going to be the year. A voice brought him back to his present situation.
"Flint, what do you think about this one?"
Flint turned to face his general, a determined man who no doubt lost many more Christmases than Flint cared to count. "Sorry Sir, you were saying?"
General Hawk continued, "If the Georgian military sighted planes here, here, and here," General Hawk pointed to various positions on the map, "then our intel points to their base being somewhere around here." His pencil landed on a large "X" marked over an outlook not far from the old Russian base they currently occupied. Hawk turned to the man standing to his right, a blonde-haired, all-American type, the kind of man you would expect to see leading a football team to victory or winning the hearts of women on the big screen. But, if you looked into his eyes, there was something else there, something cynical, calculating. He may look like the man everyone wanted to be, but inside, his heart held a darkness no one would want to touch. "What do you think Duke?"
The blonde-haired man pressed his lips together, weighing his words, "That would make the most sense given the data we've received from the Georgian authorities, but knowing Cobra, that wouldn't be how they'd operate. That's just too much bare territory, even for them. They would have needed more time, more effort. They certainly didn't have that with the Soviets able to knock on their back door." Duke shook his head, trying to think beyond the situation, outside the box. He pointed to a smaller "X" located across the ridge from Hawk's best estimate of Cobra's location. "I think it has to be here."
Hawk looked puzzled. It wasn't adding up. The amount of sightings had to have their nexus in a larger base of operations. Hawk looked across the table at Flint, who had just sat down. He couldn't help but notice the dark smudges under the warrant officer's eyes. Sleep was a luxury the man didn't have lately, none of them did really. They were all on edge, tense, waiting, planning for the unknowns in an inhospitable place far from home. Flint pushed his beret back again. Looking up, his eyes squinted as his brain went to work, processing the information. Hawk smiled inside, good,finally it was clicking inside Flint's head. Flint was doing what he was good at, processing and synthesizing the information to outsmart the enemy in the end.
Flint leaned forward, drumming his fingers anxiously on the table. "Wait, Duke's right. They couldn't have built a base there. It's too close. The Russians, they would have spotted it. No, it had to be after they pulled out." He looked up at Duke, "So, what, that gave them less than a year?" Duke nodded his head in agreement. Flint's head bobbed in time as he thought through his impromptu analysis. Looking through the papers scattered about, he scanned a few reports of Cobra plane sightings provided by their Georgian hosts. The key to unlocking the secret was in there, it had to be. Flint tossed the documents down in frustration. Leaning back into a stretch, he grimaced through the sore muscles and fought against the impending need for sleep. "It's in there, I know it is, I'm just not seeing it." He slumped forward, head in hands, trying to sort it out.
Duke sunk into the chair next to General Hawk. "I agree, it's in there, but how do we figure it out? We need more than just my gut instinct and your rash decisions to back this up."
Flint's head popped up at Duke's utterance of the word, "Rash, eh?" he scratched his chin, daring Duke to elaborate further. Duke opened his mouth to speak and was instantly silenced by Hawk. Hawk knew the road down which these two could travel. Hungry and tired, he was in no mood for the imminent logomachy between his top men.
"Okay, that's enough I think. Leave it right there." Flint and Duke reluctantly shook their heads. They were all worn out. The team had been stationed at the former Russian base for the past week working around the clock with Georgian authorities to locate a probable Cobra operation. For the past month, reports had trickled in detailing sightings of Cobra aircraft in the vicinity. It was believed that Cobra had set up operations nearby and was testing new equipment. The harsh terrain and winter conditions made any investigation more difficult than usual. Normally Georgia would be the province of the October Guard. In this case, however, the Georgian president secretly contacted the U.S. government and requested the assistance of the Joe team. The Republic declared its independence from the Soviet Union that past spring but the United States had not yet formally recognized it as an independent and sovereign country. Given the tenseness of that situation, Hawk was surprised when the Jugglers approached him and requested that he take a contingent of his team into the fledgling democracy to work with them on the potential Cobra threat. In no uncertain terms, the Jugglers warned about the consequences of any missteps or failures. Should Cobra be allowed to get a foothold in the nation, there was no telling what the organization may try to accomplish.
Upon arriving, the team's welcome was lukewarm at best. Although State Department and intelligence reports had indicated that the power struggle between the ruling government, reform parties, and ethnic separatists parties was limited and contained, fighting had erupted between the government and anti-government factions. Just the day before, a battle had broken out in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who had requested the Joes, was trapped inside the city and no further communications could be expected from him at this time. Hawk worried that their presence, should it be made known, would inflame the situation, and he had his own private doubts about the government they were called in to assist. The general would never express these misgivings to his team, but he wondered where it would all lead and when the welcome mat would be pulled out from under them. The Joes were supposed to be cooperating with the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, but with the capital under siege, cooperation was next to impossible without working lines of communication. The State Department wasn't much help. It was a pressure cooker waiting to explode and the team was on its own.
Georgia's quest for sovereignty was only a part of the troubles plaguing the region. The leaders of the Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian republics had met at the beginning of the month, issuing a declaration that the Soviet Union was dissolved and replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States. The end of the Soviet Union as they all knew it was at hand, but they didn't know when and how. The uncertainty of its fate added to the mounting tensions against the team. One wrong move, one bad choice, and who knew what terror and retribution they could bring upon themselves, their hosts, and their own country. Hawk's objective for getting his team out alive was to find and neutralize the Cobra threat as soon as possible. His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in," he called out.
The door slowly opened and a middle aged man with a bushy black beard and twinkling eyes stuck his head through the gap, "Hello there friends. I bring some interesting news. May I enter?" It was more of a declarative statement than a request. Waiving a document in his hand, he stepped into the room, a subtle bounce to his footsteps.
Hawk addressed the man, "Sure, Giorgi, what do you have?" Giorgi Makashvili was the team's main contact with the Ministry. He had been born in the Mingrelian province of Georgia and fled the country when he was a teenager, seeking asylum in the United States. Educated at Georgetown, he was a former fellow at its Center for Peace and Security Studies, specializing in conflict resolution. He had come back to the Republic to assist in its democratization. Many vouched for his trustworthiness and credibility; his gregarious nature and dancing eyes soon won over the Joes. Giorgi wasn't one to shirk from his duties and as hard as Hawk found his men working, he knew Giorgi was giving just as much. The men had discussed matters in private and Hawk knew that Giorgi was having difficulties with his own contacts and had expressed his reservations to Hawk about the future of the operation. Hawk appreciated the man's candor and didn't hesitate to allow him access to what would otherwise be a closed door meeting.
"Ah Hawk, this is most fortunate news. You see, your friend Mr. Bush has recognized Russia! He's abandoning Gorbachev on this one. He's granting diplomatic recognition to Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, um, it says here Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, and Armenia." Giorgi found an empty chair next to Flint and sat down, pointing out the news wire to the curious men. "I have hope then that recognition of us won't be far along, no?" Giorgi shook his head, "That Bush, he is a cautious man; does not like to stir up the pot does he now, no?"
Flint read it over, "Well, I'll be. I never thought this day would come, well, at least not in my lifetime," he qualified.
Giorgi poked Flint in the shoulder, "Ah see, that is where you went wrong in our discussions. For all of its strength on the outside, the Soviet Union was a house built of sticks. One good gust of wind from a wolf, and it would collapse. Your President Reagan out-spent the machine. Sending a man to space is one thing, trying to feed him, his family, and his people is entirely another."
Hawk examined the wire report offered by Giorgi. "Still though, it doesn't say what's happening here. I don't like this."
Giorgi batted away his words, "It is what it is General, it is what it is. Gamsakhurdia is reaping what he sowed and we are here in the middle, no? It is a tale only his father could have weaved. He may be one of my own, but I think I am too jaded from my time in your country -- the lone gunman, Watergate and all of that such. I cannot trust any of these politicians. It is a new and exciting time, but, as with all change, it will take time. I am sorry that conditions could not be better for you, no?" Giorgi turned back to Flint, "Now tell me, how does the search go? Are we closer?"
"We're in circles. The locations and scales don't match up."
"They haven't had time to establish the presence that the sightings suggest." Duke interjected.
Flint glared at Duke, "I think he got that."
Duke met his stare full on, but once again Hawk interposed between his men. "Flint, Duke, enough!" The men sheepishly looked away from each other, like two brothers caught by their dad in a row. Tempers were flaring and they always managed to get the best of each other, intentionally or not. They complemented each other, but they also tended to repel each other like magnets. It was a deep seeded rivalry, mostly good natured with the occasional butting of heads. Hawk took it in stride, playing referee when necessary. While it would make life easier if they weren't always trying to one up the other, it was in their competitiveness that their best work was accomplished. Hawk took the good with the bad and prayed that the bad would not be as much.
Giorgi was also learning the temperaments of his colleagues and, ignoring their outburst, reached forward to look at the reports recently cast aside by Flint as Hawk silently reprimanded the two men. His lips pursed together as he compared the original reports written in Georgian to the English language translations. A commonality jumped out at him, "Here, Flint, Duke, I noticed something that did not translate very well in these reports. See here," he pointed to a few common words, "it does not mean that there were lots of planes, but that there was the same plane, together."
"What?" Duke quizzically examined the proffered report.
"Here, see this." Giorgi pointed out similar passages in another report to Flint. "There was a choice to be made in translating and the wrong choice of words was used. It happens," he shrugged his shoulders, "if not using English every day, some word choices seem just as good as others. In this instance though, not as good. It seems that in the original document, the National Guard reports indicate that the same plane is seen flying with itself."
Flint scratched his head, "But how could the same plane fly with itself? It doesn't make sense."
"No, it would seem not."
A light went off in Flint's head, "Unless, they're trying to say that two planes spotted flying together . . . had the same markings, same build, were identical? That could happen." Flint looked up at the men around the table for some type of affirmation. Hawk was nodding his head, trying to think through the ramifications of that. Two planes looking alike certainly made more sense than squadrons of planes suddenly appearing in the area.
"But, it is more than the planes," Giorgi continued, "It seems that everything is the same- same plane, same flying, same pilot."
"Pilot?" Flint and Duke exclaimed in unison.
"Yes, same pilot. It seems one solider got a close enough look and noticed that it was the same pilot flying each plane. The pilots looked in the same direction, made the same movements, um, you would say, mirrored each other, no?"
Duke settled back into his chair, "Well that changes things."
Flint nodded his head in agreement as he sent his thoughts into overdrive, taking and processing the new information. "Hey, do you guys remember the recon that Beachhead and Mainframe went on? The scientist who defected from Cobra? Who was that guy?" Flint tapped his foot impatiently, trying to summon up compartmentalized memories still in storage somewhere in his grey matter. Duke shared a similar pained look. "It wasn't that long ago. Mainframe's been going through his files. What was he working on? It was a transmuter, or a . . ."
Duke shook his head no, "No, not the matter transmuter, I know where you're going, it wasn't that. That was a different guy."
The sound of Flint's fists hitting the table snapped the room to attention. "That's it, you're right Duke. Not a transmuter. It was a matter replicator. Cobra was working on a way to replicate their troops and create a clone army we couldn't stop. The side effects were too gruesome though, even for the snakes, well some of them anyway." Flint's thoughts went back to that mission. Destro had provided some key intel to Jaye that helped stop that campaign. When was Destro ever on their side? He knew the answer before he even asked the question. Ever since he and Lady Jaye had assisted him in regaining control of his ancestral home in Scotland, Destro would covertly feed information to the Joes when he felt the Commander had gone too far. Flint struggled to push away his wary thoughts. Ridiculous, he clenched his fist under the table riding out the feeling, Jaye and chrome dome, no way. How do I let myself think these things?
"But what if they found another use for it, another way?" Duke was developing his lead.
"Whose to say that's not what they're doing out here?"
"If they can replicate their equipment? No . . . no . . . we can't let them."
"Men," General Hawk's commanding voice cut through the exchange, "I think we've had a break through." Hawk acknowledged Giorgi, "Looks like you came in the nick of time friend." Hawk returned to the matter at hand, "Duke, find Mainframe and see what he can dig up. Flint, prepare a recon team to head out in the morning. I want to know the who's and the what's before I send in a full force. I'll contact headquarters with the update and see if we can't get more help out here. Meeting adjourned."
"I would like to make a small suggestion? I know it is late tonight, but tomorrow night, perhaps you would not mind if I held a dinner for you, my guests? You see, it is a custom in my country that we hold a supra. I will explain more, but I would like to hold a supra for you all and I would like you to be my tamada. Would you do me the honor, no?"
Hawk wasn't sure what to say. He didn't want to offend his guest, but he didn't want to grant permission before he knew what it was about. The general glanced at Duke and Flint hoping for some help, maybe an out.
Flint noticed his leader's look and went in for the save, "Giorgi that would be an honor. We're humbled that you would even offer the suggestion. It might be a lot for Hawk to try and keep the toasts flowing." Flint winked at his general who was busy picking his jaw off the floor. Flint had a Georgian friend at Oxford and had participated in a supra gone horribly wrong. It was like a banquet of never ending food and wine, toasting and singing, but it was more; there was a spiritual side to it. Each supra had a tamada, a toastmaster, master of ceremonies, who kept the festivities flowing through carefully ordered toasts. No one could drink unless a toast was given. No one could add a comment, unless it related to what the tamada had said. When done right, it was a beautiful moving experience. When done wrong, it could devolve into a drunken revelry followed by a few bouts of fisticuffs. Flint had naturally witnessed the later.
"Oh, it is not necessary that we follow the whole order," Giorgi winked at Flint, "just a toast or two. As host, I could think of no one better than you General Hawk, to lead my table. I will tell you everything you need to know."
"Well then Giorgi, it would be my honor and privilege to serve as the . . . talamada."
"Yes, tamada, thank you Flint." Flint knew it was for more than just the word correction and gave a brief wink to the general.