I would like to thank once again Amy Kay and Pixie Red for Beta reading this story till chapter four. From Chapter Five and on, I'm no longer using Beta. Beta takes too much energy and time from others and I don't want to hold any responsiblity for that.
With sharp fangs evident, the sight of the thin tongue apparent and the blue eyes locked upon her own, Scarlett took a step slowly backwards from the massive looking golden snake. Fighting bo raised high, in a tight grip, her eyes alert and keen, ready for the strike, watching every solid looking muscle twitch, moving slowly forward, and her own muscles tensed, anticipating for the attack. Perspiration formed on her brow, the heat of the room attacking, thrusting its power against her too.
The serpent hissed, its dark blood colored tongue pointing toward her, marking its target. Its head rose high, the blue eyes never leaving hers, not even for a heartbeat. Poised for the deadly strike, its body slowly curling, the muscles contracting together to form a powerful mass, ready to spring forward to destroy whatever object in its path.
Scarlett felt her heart begin to quicken, hammering in her chest. Poised, ready to counterattack with her senses on high alert, awaiting the first move. Feet apart, fighting bo raised in front, shielding her from harm, eyes locked on the sharp fangs and in a heartbeat everything became a blur for the fangs found their way to her left side. Her heart almost burst and the bo shattered in two.
The snake, hissing in aggravation for missing its target, blood trickling down the side of its mouth and muscles twitching, slithered closer, sprung forward, aiming for her heart. A hiss echoed in the air, golden venom dripping from the sharp fangs and stone cold eyes that held only a reflection of death itself.
Fighting panic, Scarlett whirled, her hands stretched in front and the sharp ends of what remained of the bo pricking the snake's skin and sent it flying to the ground in a heap. Her lungs locked, tightened at the sight of the creature, which had shed a small pool of blood from her strike.
"I mean you no harm," she claimed, raising the two broken sticks, ready. That earned her another attack, for the snake shook its head, aimed and the golden mass once again flew toward her, this time its aim lower.
With a calculated flip in the air, Scarlett noted the golden color that passed her, missing her by an inch and her feet touched the cement floor, watching the snake smack into the hard wall, sending it to the floor, disoriented.
She felt the serpent's gaze, its silence making her uneasy. Her intelligent eyes searched the dimmed room, looking for anything to keep her defended from those dangerous eyes that roamed onto her.
Mouth wide open, sharp fangs glittering by the silvery light from one of the ceiling's lights, the snake curled once again in a tight ball of muscle.
From the corner of her eye, she locked on to her escape route—the door. If she made precise footing, her demise would not end with the snake encounter.
The hiss raced to her ears and she ran, wasting not a split second. A wall of gold flew past her, landing and blocking her path.
Inwardly cursing, taking two strides to her left, aiming the two sticks toward the snake, she let out a battle cry, letting her lungs unleash their power.
"What the hell is going on in here?" boomed an unpleasant voice behind the snake.
A shadow crossed the doorway as someone entered the room and stopped near the large cold-blooded animal.
Scarlett halted, panting, still gripping the sticks tightly in her hands.
The silver light touched the features of an irritated looking medic.
Lifeline looked down at the snake, his eyes narrowed, then looked at the counterintelligence agent. "I repeat, what is going on here?" His tone was authoritative, stern.
"She… came… here," a slow raspy voice answered.
Lifeline turned to the snake. "I see that." He looked once again toward her. "What are you doing down here? This place is off limits to everyone."
Scarlett blinked, her gaze glued on the serpent. She had seen its mouth open, uttering those words, "She came here." It wasn't her imagination playing tricks on her. No. The snake talked! She heard it, its voice, so familiar, so evil.
Looking to Lifeline, who had not let his gaze leave her face, waiting for an answer, she had no intention of speaking falsely.
"I was in the locker room when I heard a voice calling for help and it led me here," she answered, her gaze remaining on the deadly animal, who slithered closer to Lifeline. Her senses alert, carefully watching the snake's movements, ready to react at any sign of aggression toward the other team member. Thankfully, no other attack came. She felt the stone underneath her uniform turn heavier for a blink of a second, or was it purely her imagination?
The snake slithered around Lifeline's ankles while still staring at her, its blue eyes locked to her own. Its tongue sticking out, rapidly vibrating—teasing. Then its gaze shifted to her chest, right where the stone touched her beating heart.
Lifeline's eyes widened. "You couldn't possibly have heard a cry for help. These walls are ten feet thick." He looked down at the snake. "Commander, were you playing tricks again?"
The massive golden serpent looked up, blinked twice and shook its head slowly.
She let out a sigh. Lifeline wouldn't believe her for she could see that in his experienced eyes.
"See that it doesn't happen again." His tone changed, filled with deadly seriousness.
Was that a command for her? Or was he directing it to the snake? For the moment, she didn't want to aggravate the medic further.
Scarlett merely nodded. The snake let out a low hiss, still watching her with its bloodthirsty stare.
Lifeline raked a hand through his dark thick hair then blew out a long slow breath. "Good." He looked down at the gold serpent. "Lunch."
He turned, walked out of the room and returned holding a small brown box. Kneeling down on one knee, he slowly lifted the lid and pulled out a large brown rabbit. The animal, fearing for its life, boxed its feet on the medic's hands, able to escape for a split second before a golden wall sprung forward and two fangs grabbed hold of the rabbit's scruff.
Bones snapping in two echoed in Scarlett's ears and she closed her eyes, before looking away, listening to the snake devour its meal. A shiver went down her spine, realizing that at any given moment, the snake could rebel and strike both her and Lifeline.
"Blast it! You're hurt!" Lifeline's strident voice made her eyes snap open and she spotted the medic looking directly at the wound caused by the fighting bo.
Another hiss came from the snake as it tried to conceal its battle wound. Was it scared? Or was it pride?
She glanced to the blood still trickling down the golden scales, droplets of red falling to the ground, fusing together with the rabbit's.
"I need to wrap this up." Lifeline looked at her directly then walked over to a small cabinet at the farthest side of the room. He opened the top drawer, and pulled out bandages, syringes and other veterinary supplies. He nodded to her before returning to the snake and starting to clean the wound.
Was that a dismissal?
Apparently so, for the medic had his full attention on the wound and the animal. The golden creature however, glanced her way and she could swear the snake winked. This was not over. She knew it. Next time the battle may send one of the opponents six feet under and she was not going to be the one walking through the golden gates. However, she wouldn't mind escorting the serpent to the gates of the underworld!
Turning, she headed for the door, but Lifeline's command halted her in her tracks.
"Meeting Room Alpha."
Scarlett turned, gave a short nod, followed by, "I will see you there." Hoping that her tone foretold the creature the warning if anything would happen to the medic, the next thing it would see would be the fighting bo's sharp end!
With a last glance to the golden snake, watching its movements cautiously, reassuring herself that the medical teammate was not in any danger, she turned and walked out of the room. Glancing to her left, she spotted the steel staircase that had led her to the hidden underground room and its cold-blooded resident. Heading up the stairs, she returned to the training room and found it empty.
Walking outside the building, she caught sight of several Greenshirts cleaning debris along with Shipwreck and Mutt.
Shipwreck spotted her, and winked. He bent over, picking up a B.A.T.'s head, closed his eyes, touched his chest and his features were of a man grieving. "Poor Battle Android Trooper, I knew him well," he murmured in his rendition of the Shakespearean line.
"Yeah, you did." Mutt glanced up from his pile of debris. "Wasn't he your last date? Or was that this B.A.T.?" He gestured to his shovel, which held several B. A.T. parts. "Face it, Wreck, you got dumped!"
And with that, the military police soldier dumped the debris over the sailor's head with a hearty laugh.
"Hey!" Shipwreck cried out, dusting off his sailor hat and uniform. "That was your date, not mine!"
Scarlett could not help but giggle at the pair. Some things, she mused, remained the same. But most things, especially in this world, did not. Heaving a sigh, she started toward the main building, her thoughts in a tangled mixture of what she'd had just witnessed down below levels and to what she noted from the Joes. Though both Mutt and Shipwreck teased one another, the aura surrounding them remained tense. As if expecting a surprised attack coming from behind at any given moment!
Her mind reeled with thoughts. Why were the elite members of the G. I. Joe unit frightened? For as long as she knew each individual on the team, none had shown fear for any snake attack. It came second nature to all the Joes, fighting with Cobra, a never-ending battle. However, considering the present circumstances, one would have no sanity if not to be fearful of the snake empire.
Recalling last night's encounter with Cobra, her thoughts turned to the battle itself, seeing it as if for the first time. There was no structure, no command, and in addition, no Joes. True, Breaker and Lifeline were in the control room, Shipwreck and Cover Girl in Strikers, Mutt, Law, Wild Bill and some others as ground troops. She did not know where Roadblock was stationed during battle, but her thoughts grew gray wondering if he was capable of even fighting with Cobra. But, knowing the heavy gunner, he would never miss a chance to cook some snake grub!
Her heart grew heavy when her thoughts moved to the chain of command. Hawk, missing in action. Duke, dead. Flint, invalid. Beach Head, sold out. Lady Jaye, dead. Alpine, Gung Ho, Snake Eyes, were they dead too? And what about the other Joes like Ace, Dusty, Spirit, Stalker, Ripcord… had they fallen in battle too? Gone from this world? Gone from her life? A shiver crawled down her spine as her stomach twisted from the vile thought.
Her thoughts turned to the hidden room below levels and to the snake. Cobra Commander right underneath her very boots. Cobra's leader so close, it unnerved her. Was he the reason Cobra attacked? In order to free their leader? It must be, she mused. There was no other logical reason, was there? A new thought dawned in her mind. Was Cobra Commander their captive? Or was the big snake under their protective custody? The way Lifeline tended to the Commander concluded that it could be the latter! But why? For what possible reason were they protecting the Commander? Gathering from what Lifeline had released to her, that the room was off limits, to anyone, stated that the medic was solely responsible for the creature. What possible role did the medic play in this world?
Recalling last evening's events where she had found Lifeline in the command center, along with Breaker, could it possibly be that he was second in command? Even his authoritative tone could hold true to her thoughts. Lifeline, the preacher's son, the pacifist, had turned into a strong leader. But a capable leader? That had yet to be proven.
Right now, she would not create a rift in the command pecking order. However, if need to be, her leadership qualities could be reinstated. She'd recalled the numerous times she'd been placed in command of the team. One particular memory hovered over her thoughts, the time when Destro had created the Weather Dominator, a machine where Cobra could control the climate around the world. Snow in the desert, ten-pound hail hammering to the ground in Washington D.C. and severe storms in the oceans. During that mission, Cobra had captured Duke and Flint was missing in action. Leadership had turned to her hands for a brief moment until Flint had returned, by entering the command center riding a sheep, along with Mutt and a new teammate, Shipwreck.
Would the Joes look to her now? Look for answers? Would she able to answer their questions, their hopes? Her mind battled for that answer itself. What would she do? Gravely, she did not know for the moment.
Walking inside the building, she headed toward the meeting rooms. Greenshirts passed her in the hallway, some barely acknowledging her presence, others saluting non-stop, until she returned their salute. One stared at her wide eyed with pure fear. It took her only a moment to realize that she had been frowning. Though the Joe count was slim, the Greenshirts held a great population on base. Why?
She rounded the corner and entered the second room to her right. All eyes turned to her direction and for a mere moment, she felt nervous. Clearing her throat, she nodded a greeting to the Joes in the room and settled next to Cover Girl.
Scarlett noted that not many of them were in the meeting room. Only five Joes: Cover Girl, Roadblock with Sock, Wild Bill, Breaker, and herself. The atmosphere in the room felt stale, grim. She glanced to the others in the room, before gazing at the front, to a blank white screen.
Cover Girl turned to her with a encouraging smile and her mouth slightly opened, but the tank jockey's words were not uttered for the door slid opened and Lifeline with another man in a lab jacket walked into the room.
"It's what we feared," Lifeline claimed, frowning as he walked over to the front of the room.
Scarlett noted the others exchanged grim expressions. Whatever Lifeline had stated, it did not take well. She watched the medic stop in front of the screen, click on a button and turn to the man in the lab coat, who remained by the doorway.
"Are you sure, Lifeline?" Wild Bill queried, scratching his head before he shook it.
"Positive," the man in the lab coat stated, walking next to the medical team member. "Cobra is reproducing the pods at an expeditious pace, using the B.E.T."
Scarlett blinked, not only recognizing the voice of the scientist, but also his features. If it had been any other given time, or place, she would have gasped, but she remained passive, continuing to gaze at him.
"Bazooka," she whispered under her breath, locking with his brown eyes, which now bore on her own.
Bazooka gave her a nod, his face remaining serious, not even a smidgen of a smile. He turned to the others, then looked to Lifeline, who nodded his permission for him to continue. He clicked on a button, which dimmed the lights in the room, and a picture came to focus on the screen.
"Looks like Cobra's been busy multiplying the pods. There must be thousands of them," Cover Girl said in a low tone, but it took seconds for Scarlett to realize that Cover Girl was describing the picture to Roadblock, who shook his head in disgust.
Gazing at the picture before her, Scarlett blinked a few times, disbelieving the image right in front of her eyes! She was there when the pods and Cobra La were destroyed. None had survived. The Joes saw to that. However, in this world, Cobra La survived and by the looks of it, thrived.
The plants looked ripe, ready for the spores to be sent to space. Once there, the seeds would burst open, transforming every human being on Earth into a monster. A shiver went down her spine and she felt the stone grow heavy once more. Could it feel her emotions? she mused. But how could that be?
Her gaze shifted back to Bazooka who now held the golden B. A. T.'s head. It looked exactly like the dozen others she had seen the evening before, but this particular head had a silver stripe in the middle of its skull.
"Judging from the information that the Cobra B. A.T. held in its computer data base, it also shows that Cobra is after the core." Lifeline looked to Bazooka.
The core? Scarlett felt baffled for the moment. She looked to Cover Girl but the tank jockey held her attention to her husband and Bazooka.
Bazooka cleared his throat, taking up the implication in the medic's tone. "The sphere," he began, while tapping the B.A.T. head a few times, causing it to open in two halves, revealing a glowing round object hovering in mid-air. "Indicates the potential completion of the core from the images withdrawn from the data base. The cervix exhibits that Cobra has located five of the crystals. If they succeed in recovering the last crystal, and completing the core, the B.E.T. will be back in working order."
"Then we have to make sure that Cobra does not get a hold of the last crystal," Scarlett found herself saying, her gaze glued to the pods.
They all turned to her, watching her intensely. Had she said something she shouldn't have?
"Correct, Scarlett." Bazooka walked up to the table, placing his hand on the wooden surface. "However, considering our circumstances, it's in my perspective that Cobra may obtain the crystal in a short time."
Scarlett gazed at Bazooka, allowing herself to comprehend his present state. Bazooka, the heavyset, bubble gum chewing, football jersey uniformed, baseball card collecting, simple-minded G. I. Joe member, would never had constructed such intelligent wording. The Bazooka in front of her stood apart from the one whom she knew. This Bazooka wore a lab coat, with a red shirt underneath, with the Joe insignia embroidered in small letters. His dark hair was combed neatly to the side, unlike his counterpart in her world, who barely let a brush touch the untamed thatch.
"No!" Cover Girl shot straight up from her seat, glaring at Bazooka. "I will die first, just like the others have done to protect that crystal! Cobra is never going to posses it!
Lifeline took a step forward, with a frown on his face. "Courtney, calm down," he requested his wife, but Scarlett wondered if that was indeed a request or a command. He turned to Bazooka. "The crystal is in a highly secured area. It remains safe for the moment."
"For the moment," Bazooka mumbled, walking away from the table and back to the B. A. T. head. He raked a hand through his dark hair and let out a slow breath. "The B. E. T. is not the only purpose I've requested this meeting."
Scarlett looked from the scientist to the medic. Everything began to make sense. The battle, the Cobra attack last evening. It wasn't a mission to rescue Cobra Commander, but to retrieve the last component in order to make the B. E. T. fully functional. The crystal must be somewhere hidden in Joe Headquarters and by the looks of it, Lifeline could be the person who held that classified information.
However, another disturbing thought tugged on her mind. The B. E. T. activated with seven large microchip-resembling components, not crystals. Could in this world, the Broadcast Energy Transmitter operate differently? And why crystals? Surely, she prayed, these were not the crystals which Cobra had created. The same crystals that if touched, could create a massive explosion, leaving nothing but dust behind!
She blinked, realizing that the picture on the screen had changed. Gone were the pods and the current image showed a wall made of plant thorns. Her gaze scanned the picture, spotting the red scaled insect people that inhabited Cobra La, but her quick eye also caught something else. Right next to the Cobra La soldiers, right by their feet. A boot, its tip showing underneath a small crack in the wall.
Simultaneously they all stood up, chairs pushed backward, gazing at the picture and all coming to the same conclusion.
"They're alive!" Cover Girl broke the silence with a soft sob. "It's them. I know it's them!"
"Or it could be ruse to make us think it is them," Lifeline bitterly reminded them. "It could be another trap."
Cover Girl shook her head at her husband. "No, it's them! That has to be Lady Jaye or Gung Ho!"
"Or Alpine!" Bazooka added, staring at the boot in the photograph.
"We must rescue them!" Wild Bill claimed, taking off his western hat and throwing it on the table. "Let's get in the choppers, go through the tunnel and release our buddies from the pits of hell!"
Roadblock cleared his throat, getting the group's attention. "I say we think before rushing off to another heroic deed."
"Roadblock is right," Scarlett agreed. "If we try and rescue them, we may wind up in that same cell." She recalled Cobra La, the insect soldiers, the creatures, the man-eating plants. Rushing into battle blind could mean their demise.
Lifeline nodded toward her. "We need a battle strategy before taking any sort of action." He placed his hands behind him as he began to pace and cautiously glance to each Joe member in the room. "Under no circumstances will any of you try an unauthorized rescue mission."
From the corner of her eye, Scarlett watched the others nod toward the medic, who nodded at their approval of his command. It was the evidence she needed to prove her thoughts. Lifeline indeed had risen to commanding officer and from respect, the others would follow his leadership.
She wondered however how they would infiltrate Cobra La and rescue the prisoners. Cover Girl had mentioned that the team had tried numerous occasions to free the others, yet, always failed. The last mission had gone horribly wrong, and that reason could have been because of the traitor on the team. Another dreadful thought occurred in her mind. Could the traitor still be part of the Joe team? No, she was certain that Dusty was not near the Joe base and probably remained part of Cobra's team.
However, there was another reason for her heart to skip a beat. They were outnumbered and judging from the inexperienced Greenshirts, there was no mistake that even if they walked into Cobra La, the team had only a slight chance of winning the battle. She needed to find information, discover what strength and weaknesses inhabited this team of Joes. For instance, she would never place Cover Girl in a Sky Striker, nor would she place Bazooka in battle. The man would be more useful in a laboratory, trying to invent a substance that could easily destroy the pods, or the B. E. T. for that matter than to be placed in the frontline.
"Dismissed," came the command, bringing her out of her thoughts. Scarlett turned to spot Roadblock head out of the room with Sock at his side, followed by Wild Bill.
Lifeline glanced to her before walking over to Bazooka and murmuring softly to the scientist. But, Scarlett's keen ear, caught a few words that the medic spoke. "Don't worry, we will find Alpine."
She watched him shake Bazooka's hand, reassuring the man, before he headed over to his wife. Looking at Bazooka, she could feel his torment, of his best friend who was being held in Cobra's clutches. For as long as she remembered, both Alpine and Bazooka held a strong bond of friendship. She vowed she would do everything in her power to see them both together, laughing, talking and getting into mischief.
"Scarlett, I'll see you in an hour," Cover Girl said, walking over with a weary smile. "I need to head to the Infirmary for an appointment."
"Sure." Scarlett nodded, spotting Lifeline waiting at the doorway of the meeting room, awaiting his wife. She watched the couple leave the room before she released a long breath. The objective was clear, this mission—the one Ying Ty's stone bestowed upon her would be one of her most challenging ones yet and she knew, failure was not an option.
Glancing to the picture one last time, her gaze locked on that brown military boot, hoping its owner still remained alive, she left the room, closing the door behind her. A soft sound caught her attention to her right, making her turn her head toward it. A man's silhouette on the floor moved from down the hallway, rounding the corner, disappearing from her view. Walking briskly, she ventured after the person, only to find not a single trace.
However, she had caught sight of the familiar looking beret and knew instantly that Flint had been listening in on the meeting.