No matter what direction this blasted wind chooses, the snow always manages to burn my face. Each flake arrives as a poignant reminder of how cold it is and then proceeds to briefly melt against me, only to reform later as ice. It's dark and we probably should have stopped and made camp an hour ago, but in the distance I see it, our destination, the temple.
At least, I think I see the temple. We only have simple drawings done by questionable sources to go on, but there shouldn't exist any building up here, in the mountains of China, the ones not famous enough to have a tourist industry of climbing enthusiasts. For all I know, it's just a blizzard mirage, should such a thing exist. Visibility is a scarce commodity at the moment. Still, I assume Scarlett, following at about ten paces behind me, sees it too, otherwise she would have stopped us.
We're so close. We've been traipsing around these mountains for weeks. It hasn't exactly been a happy affair. Most of our conversation has been focused on the journey, which is fine. I prefer it that way. Being out here so long, essentially alone, you begin to get worried that you'll be lost forever. The temple is evidence that we're not.
For some reason, I have a feeling that this is going to be it. I know we're chasing a nearly forgotten legend and even if that temple isn't just my mind playing tricks on me, it's got a high probability of being empty, but I can't help but taste the success. I'm already imaging what I'll say to Alison, when we bring her back. I know I'm setting myself up, but I can't help it.
Breathing in the cold, unpolluted air, I feel as though I'm thinking more clearly than I have in the past year. With the temple only another hour or so away, I think back to how we ended up here.
I quit GI Joe shortly after Snake Eyes was brought back from the dead by an unstable offshoot of his adopted ninja clan. Yeah, not exactly something I ever thought I would be party to when I enlisted. Anyway, I was hanging onto Joe because I had once loved it. I still love it... and hate it. It all got to be too much for me. My thoughts were so muddled. I needed to take the time for myself, though not for the reasons I had originally intended.
My last day at headquarters, I went to see Snake Eyes. He was kneeling on the floor in the middle of an empty room, meditating or something. Scarlett and Storm Shadow were in a connected room, talking quietly. I straight out asked Snake Eyes to tell me how the Red Ninja did it, how they brought him back to life. I told him I wanted the same for Alison. He only shook his head and turned away. I asked him again, more forcefully, reaching out to grab him. Storm Shadow was in my face before I even got close.
"Your wife has been dead for over a year. The situation is different," Storm Shadow shouted urgently in that raspy accent of his. Scarlett looked apologetic for his bluntness. It didn't faze me though. I was already too angry for something that weak to have an effect. I was generally too angry back then. Man, it already seems like a lifetime ago. It's only been a few months.
"Well then what's a good magical ninja way of bringing back someone who has been dead for over a year?" I gave it right back at him.
"There is none." He looked me straight in the eye. Snake Eyes nodded in agreement. I stormed out.
I said my goodbyes to Colton and then to Stalker and the others. They said nice, but empty, things. I knew they had been unhappy with my actions for a while. Yet at the same time, I think they thought me a traitor for leaving. Maybe they just pitied me. I don't think they knew what to think, and certainly not what to say. I sure didn't. As I walked down the dark hallway to leave headquarters one final time, I could feel their eyes boring into me. I didn't look back to confirm.
It was a long, quiet walk. I had never thought of that hallway seeming so long. The last leg of that maze of a building ended in two glass double doors leading out to the bright midday sun. I remember darkly laughing to myself, wondering if that was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, or the one you're supposed to walk towards when you die.
As I got closer, I started to make out a familiar silhouette leaning against the wall near the door. Scarlett.
"Came all this way for a proper goodbye?" I mocked her.
"Snake Eyes is lying to you," she said bluntly.
My lips were already parted to let loose another barb, but I couldn't quite make myself. As much as I didn't think she had anything to offer me, I couldn't help but grasp at the straw she was dangling before me.
"How so?" I finally managed to speak, grimly.
"I don't know the specifics, but he is," she said. "I can tell."
"Well, that doesn't really do me any good then does it?"
"If he won't tell us, we'll just have to go to Japan and find out for ourselves. The information has to be out the somewhere – if not written down, someone knows."
"'We,' huh? Why are you so interested in this?"
"Jaye was my friend too."
"Not good enough," I said. Her statement really made my blood boil. Here she was, standing right in front of me, using my dead wife's codename for a lie. She didn't care, not enough anyway. No one cared enough.
"Look," she averted her gaze. I had expected her to argue with me. I had wanted her to, just to give me enough reason to lay into her. Instead, she spoke softly and hesitantly. "Things haven't been so good lately. I haven't been myself – no, I haven't been who I want to be. I need to get away for a while."
Now that answer made sense. How many times had she been taken by the enemy since we were reinstated? How many ups and downs had she gone through with her boyfriend and his clan? I had been thinking she would want to stick by Snake Eyes after all that had just happened, but at the same time, for some reason, I could see why she would choose that time to do some soul searching.
Partnering up with Scarlett to go on a wild goose chase still seemed like a bad idea. However, I was just desperate enough and she seemed to have a touch of that feeling too. I sighed gruffly. I still couldn't reply without bite in my voice though, as vulnerable as she might seem. "So are you going to go quit Joe too? I don't think Colton's just going to let you run off on sabbatical."
"No," she said simply. "I'm going to go see Hawk."
"Hawk? What can he still do?"
I sure got the evil eye for that remark.
"Before Duke disappeared, classified from even us, he went to see Hawk. I'll just have to convince Hawk to let me do the same."
"I see," I said bitterly. It's as if Scarlett never has to play by the rules. "And what about your boyfriend? I can't see him being too happy about you running off after magic he's willing to lie to us about."
"If I tell him I'm taking off for a while, he'll understand. He won't track me if I give him warning. He trusts me."
I bit my tongue. Whether I believed that or not was immaterial. I had to. Scarlett was still my only option.
"Well then, I suppose we should see Hawk."
I drove. We didn't say anything to each other the whole way there. It was obvious that I wasn't one of Scarlett's favorite people. I guess she needed me, a cause, some reason to get away, just as much as I needed her, if not more. I saw no reason to talk about our future plans until she was really willing to go. If Hawk had said no, I don't think she would have had the resolve to quit Joe.
No one knew where Duke was, but I had always assumed he was at least on some mission. He's not the type to just up and take leave like that. Did Hawk send him on something more important? We could have used him during that whole Wingfield mess.
Duke's been weird ever since we got reinstated. Well, maybe even before that, I admit I wasn't the best at keeping in touch. I had always imagined Duke would settle down with some beautiful wife, have a couple darling kids, pets, a nice little house – a happy life, a good life, the life I wanted eventually for Alison and myself. Instead, I find out he's become a spook in the intervening years and is more military than ever. Each tragedy he detaches more. I don't know if I can ever truly reconcile that 'mission' he pulled in Sierra Gordo. I suppose his path took a turn in Trucial Abysmia. I should have been more aware. Some friend I am. I guess I deserve the fact people weren't there for me... not that I let them try to be.
Hawk and Duke are pretty close. They even look a bit alike. It's almost as if Hawk picked Duke to serve as his surrogate when he could not longer lead Joe in the field. Duke lost his own father at a pretty early age, so I guess he plays right into the role of son and heir apparent. For 'America's Elite,' we're pretty messed up aren't we? Heh.
Of course, if Duke is Hawk's son, I suppose that makes Scarlett his first daughter. Though they always seemed a little too close, not that I would dare bring it up the issue in front of a fellow Joe. She spent more time with the general than with Snake Eyes. When she took a bullet a la Baroness to the skull, Hawk was there to personally to airlift her to a hospital, from Switzerland. Hawk rushed over when Scarlett awakened while Snake Eyes was in Borovia, and even roughed up the head of the Jugglers for badgering her while there. (I kind of regret not getting to see that though. I'd love to pop a Juggler one.)
So, I guess Scarlett was in pretty good shape to have her wish granted by Hawk.
I stood outside the door while Scarlett went to speak to Hawk. There was a lot of yelling, all by him. Duke said he hasn't been the same since Cobra Commander disappeared from the scene, like he's still fighting a war against a phantom. Hearing this all go down, I feel bad for Duke. He was probably feeling a lot of stress over this, and perhaps a lot of pressure from Hawk. I couldn't make out what was actually being said though except maybe something that sounded like 'He's still out there!' The door was too thick to make out anything else.
When Scarlett came out, she only said, "I'm good to go." She looked pretty drained and her eyes were wide.
I didn't say anything, but simply turned towards the car. I didn't want her to start crying on me or anything.
We were soon in Japan. Knocking on the door of the Arashikage clan seemed like a bad idea. We were having enough trouble just making sure we didn't cross paths with Jinx and Budo. I suppose the nice thing about having the counter intelligence specialist with you is that she knows all the vulnerabilities to keep your own side at bay. Of course, had it just been me alone, our side probably wouldn't have been so interested.
I don't know Japanese though, so I guess it worked out.
Scarlett also ruled out the Omikana clan of ninja, feeling that they would feel the same way as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. She suggested the Nichira clan of ninja. From her description of them, they sounded more like yakuza to me, but I didn't care as long as they were a good lead.
We staked the Nichira out for a little bit, trying a few times to go about things in a civilized manner. We didn't get very far, understandably. I doubted that asking some desk jockey about resurrection arts would take us very far, but we had to try. I have my doubts how good Scarlett's Japanese business etiquette is too. When it was clear we were being stonewalled, we decided to take a more physical approach.
Supposedly last time the former members of Ninja Force took on the Nichira's skyscraper, they only escaped death by, you guessed it, ninja magic. However, when Scarlett and I went through, we didn't have much trouble at all. Maybe we caught them on an off day.
It really felt good to just beat the crap out of a whole bunch of ninja criminals. It was like the good ol' days, beating up Cobra by the dozen, making the world a better place with your gun and your fists, no other BS to deal with. I'm surprised Alison didn't come down from Heaven and slug me for thinking that.
Also, it was nice to have full contact proof that not all ninja are like Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. In the end, a ninja is just another type of soldier. People forget that Snake Eyes is a gifted commando and was one before he learned all of this ninja stuff. You don't have to be a ninja to be talented and you're not talented just because you're a ninja.
I can't say I didn't imagine it was Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow I was hitting a few times. That was also therapeutic.
We fought our way through the cubicles and into the more traditional rooms and finally to a room with just one old man, sitting on the floor, doing nothing to defend himself. It was like he was waiting for us. Scarlett made motions for me to stop and bow as she did the same and then said something in Japanese.
No more ninja came to slice us up from the back. I'm not sure why exactly. That's another thing I don't like about ninja, they don't make any sense.
Scarlett didn't move from her position, only rose from her bow and conversed with the old guy in Japanese. It's not easy on the nerves, having no clue what's being said when you're in the middle of enemy territory. I kept thinking any string of syllables might be the tip off that we were going to need to start fighting again. I was on edge, watching both Scarlett and the geezer for any sign. I nearly grabbed my gun when he tossed her a scroll. I'm sure that would have been quite the faux pas.
The old man seemed amused. I wasn't sure if that was directed at me or at Scarlett or at us both.
Scarlett bowed deeply and said something before turning around and motioning me to leave. As we walked out, the old man said something else. Her jaw tightened. I was too busy keeping my wits about me to ask her about it. We left the building peacefully and through the front door, as if we had been clients of their white collar operations.
I managed to wait the entire train ride back to our hotel before asking Scarlett what was in the scroll. I was hoping to hear 'magic spell' but instead the answer was 'a map' – a vague map of some area in China.
I had thought Japan was frustrating. China was much worse. For one thing, neither of us knew Chinese, let alone every little back country dialect. We hired people as we traveled the countryside to translate for us and I didn't trust a single one of them. There were a few I'm sure didn't know English well enough to give us a real feel for what was being said. At least if anyone decided to leak information about us, it wouldn't seem quite as strange that Scarlett be in China as it would if she were caught in Japan.
Figuring out what area the map referred to was like finding a needle in a haystack. Certainly no one knew of any temple which the map seemed to feature. We didn't have access to fancy computers to run data analysis on the topological features of the country. When not talking to locals, we pored over the maps ourselves but it just all seemed to blend together. Who knew how old the scroll was anyway?
What really ended up working for us was visiting experts. Religious figures, folklorists, mythologists, mystics, elders – we tried all sorts. We were cautious with the details, especially when it came to people like university professors. Through them, we weaved our way through the country, following whatever guess of a direction they might give us.
It was half a whim that lead us up this path. We spoke to an old, old woman. She must've been over a hundred. I'm not sure she was entirely all there. Some people in town regarded her as special though, thinking she had some sort of special communion or something. Either way, at the very least she had seen a lot. She said that someone, a foreigner like us, had gone up the mountain nearby and had the same sort of feel we did, whatever that means. This event was when she was just a child she said. Then she took it back and said that no, it hadn't happened, and she wasn't sure why she was remembering such a thing.
When we returned to the place we were staying, we were both sure that we had hit another dead end and planned to move on. Scarlett smiled tiredly and said she was disappointed because the scroll map did match very well with the modern map of the area. I told her that we could say that about half the places we had been to.
It was then I noticed a piece of artwork in the front room of our inn. It had a little plaque next to it, indicating it was native to the area. It wasn't perfect and it was somewhat obscured by other adornments, but I could make out a map in it, one that was very much like our scroll. It was almost as if our scroll had been copied from it.
Scarlett was skeptical, but I wouldn't let go. I insisted we try it. She told me I was just bored. Honestly at the time, a hike through the mountains sounded like a nice chance of pace. I knew it would be cold and bitter at times, but I don't think I realized how bad it would be. She gave in eventually though and we prepared to search the mountains under the agreement that we would turn back before we ran too low on supplies.
We've gone a number of ways since then. Our map isn't exactly clear and we've climbed some areas that have led no where. It seemed though that just beyond every peak is a better target, a closer match for what's on the old scroll. Scarlett urged we should go back several times. She decided the map was some sort of allegory and suggested perhaps the temple was in the heavens. I probably should have turned back too, especially when the weather worsened, but I didn't want to acknowledge that all our effort was likely wasted.
Thinking about it, I know Europe has a rich history of myths like these. I wonder if I had gone on my own to England and searched myself, put my degree to use, if I could have found something like this, only amongst those who speak languages I know. Surely if ninja magic exists, which Snake Eyes is evidence of, then old European magic exists too. Perhaps Asians view the European myths the same way we view their Eastern magic. The Chinese folk we spoke to probably thought we were as crazy as I used to think the Camelot believers were. Seeing the temple so close, I'm ready to believe in anything.
God, I hope it's not empty. I'm at my limit. Everything feels like it's freezing and burning. I'm afraid to turn around and find out Scarlett's no longer behind me. It's just a little further.
I reach out my hand to grasp at the door. The tips of my gloves whiff past. Is that because it's not really there? I find myself with my face in the snow, yelling at myself to get up. I barely lift my head, hoping that I still see the temple before me.
I do. The door is open and the inside is lit. My last thought is how warm it must be in there.
I wake up confused. My clothes have been changed and I've been disarmed. I stagger towards the familiar sound of people. They're not talking but it's the tell-tale sounds that they make – sounds of footsteps and sounds of utensils. I smell food.
"Flint! You're awake!"
Scarlett comes rushing up to me. I wonder if I should feel embarrassed. Did I lose consciousness while she didn't?
"How long has it been?"
"Only a few hours."
Scarlett sits me on a bench and offers me some soup. It takes every bit of concentration I have to use a spoon instead of just picking up the bowl and downing it.
"I see you're not as wolfish as your friend," a man says in a strangely accented English. I look up. He seems to be about my age. He wears long cream robes. Elements of his outfit look European, like Catholic vestments. However, other parts look more Asian. The same can be said of the man himself. There are others around, trying not to stare at us. They wear thematically similar clothing but not as complex.
"I try to make a good first impression," I say, ignoring the fact that my snow face-plant was probably the true first impression.
As the soup revitalizes me, I take a look around. The temple is lit by candle and lamp, nothing electrical. However, architecture, placement and mirrors make the room seem bright. There are bookcases everywhere, lining the walls of every room I can see into. They seem dutifully reinforced. Fire and books don't get along after all.
I wait until I'm finished eating to speak again. "Where are we?"
"This is the Archive of the True History of the World," he says evenly with a genuine smile.
"All of these books," he raises his arms. "Contain the true history of the world, as best as we are able to record it."
I guess I don't look impressed enough. Scarlett seems happy just to be inside.
"My name is Sima," the man backed up a bit. "I'm the head archivist here. You might say I'm the leader."
I really don't know where to begin. Sima is very matter-of-fact and yet he's hidden on a mountain in the middle of no where and almost no one has ever heard of his temple, or rather, archive. I haven't forgotten my mission though. "Look, I came here searching for a way to bring someone back from the dead."
Sima pauses. He keeps his smile although it looks like that fact was a bitter pill to swallow. "Yes, you had that look."
"Can you do that?"
"It is possible in a manner of ways."
I feel like I'm dreaming. My heart races. As soon as the meaning of the words sink it, I believe them whole heartedly. I want to jump for joy but I stay glued to my seat, waiting to hear more. I almost start asking questions when Sima speaks again.
"May I start at the beginning? It need not be a rush," Sima's cheerful expression was replaced with a more solemn one.
"Okay," I squeak out.
"Long ago this archive was built. The people who built it considered this to be a place favored by the Gods. It was a temple back then, the core of which still exists within this archive. Within that temple, one may go back and inhabit the body of their former self. Armed with the knowledge of the future, they may change history. That is why this archive exists, to chronicle the true history, including that which is lost every time history is changed."
Things have just become a bit heavier. I take in his words and understand that I cannot necessarily resurrect Alison so much as keep her from dying, and in the process mess with history. Is this the best I can do? It would be worth it though. It's simultaneously disappointing and hopeful.
Scarlett looks around at all the books in awe. I can't say I'm not curious myself to read what may have happened. I wonder if major events in history have been rerouted by this temple. So few people know about it though. Surely, it can't be. It's unsettling.
"How do you know if history has changed? How can you remember what the old history was? Shouldn't you be affected by it as well?" asks Scarlett.
"That which is inside the Archive, human or object, when a person is sent back are immune to the effects. We have agents throughout the globe, archiving history as it happens, trying to collect as much information as possible. The advent of computers and printers has helped, though due to possible changes in technology, we must always keep a hard-copy. When someone comes requesting to use our temple, we call back our agents so that they will be here when it happens."
"But why let anyone use the temple at all?" asks Scarlett. I almost kick her under the table. I don't need her spreading seeds of doubt among the denizens of the temple.
"If we use it, if we have the Archive, we must let others use it," Sima says as if it were plain fact. "I think you can see why it's necessary to keep this place a guarded secret. Only the most tenacious individuals find us. There are two types – those who wish to change history like yourselves and those with a passion for history. The latter often join us. In the past, we would have killed those who didn't join, to guard our secret. However, even those we put out in the field, as it were, will not necessarily always keep this place secret. Should one speak, we 'undo' such a transgression using the temple."
He emphasizes the word 'undo' such that I know he means in a lethal way. Scarlett looks horrified.
"Don't be so upset. I assume he's the one that wants to use the temple," Sima says evenly as he nods his head in my direction. "That means in the old days, you Scarlett would have had to join us or die. Now you can go free, if you can keep a secret."
I almost feel bad for what I've gotten Scarlett into, but it's not really that different from the secrecy demanded by being part of Joe.
"What about the person using the temple?" Scarlett presses on. "Do you handle them the same way?"
"The person using the temple always dies shortly after completing his task."
My heart reacts. I suppose I always knew there was a cost.
"What? Is it poisonous or something?" Scarlett asks.
"Not like that, no. It's just that the person who uses it dies within a few days of completing their task, always. Sometimes sooner." Sima looks each of us in the eye carefully before continuing. "Often times an accident befalls upon them. It all fits into the flow. It's as if it's part of changed history righting itself. It's not even a life for a life, it's just something that always happens."
"That means when you 'undo' you..."
"Why don't you just destroy the temple then?"
"You know," Sima says, a hint of sadness in his voice. "Almost immediately after this temple was constructed and used, attempts were made to go back and prevent its birth. It was the one thing that the people were unable to successfully change. Of course, now all of those people are long dead. This temple has stood for millennia. I fear what would happen to the Archive if we were to destroy the temple. Do you realize what we would lose?"
"Is it worth human life?" Scarlett shouts exasperatedly. She begins to rise.
"It is to them." I put an end to her conversation and place my hand on her forearm to keep her in her seat.
Sima turns to me. "So knowing that, do you still want to do it?"
We spend the next several days waiting for the the Archive agents from around the world to convene. It's kind of amazing that I can simply arrive and cause so much of a stir. I can tell that most of the people in the Archive are just excited something different is happening. They're like Sima when we first met him. They don't get many visitors here. It's amazing they can sustain themselves, especially when they require a sacrifice of one of their own to 'undo.' They must look forward to new people.
Neither Scarlett nor I read through any of the archive. They're delicate and valuable, worth human life after all. Also, I think I just don't want to know. Perhaps Scarlett feels the same. She spends a lot of time staring out the window into the snow. I don't think she's been sleeping much.
I briefly muse to myself if Snake Eyes had lied to us so as to not be 'undone.' I dismiss the thought quickly though. It seemed Storm Shadow knew as well. I don't think either of them have spent much time over here. Apparently the Archive can't stop vague legends. They both must have had an inkling that it was something terrible. All cultures seem to know that time and death aren't things to be toyed with. What's wrong with me that I feel little remorse about what I'm about to do?
My mind wanders to the old woman at the village where we found the map similar to our scroll. Did she actually remember a foreign man coming here only to decide not to become part of the Archive? Or did that man use the temple? If he did, surely history would have changed and the old woman never would have seen him... or is that why she thought she was misremembering? I get the feeling no one really knows how this temple works, or how well it works.
Waiting on the global members of the Archive is sort of like a cooling off period. I could back out at any time, but I won't. The world will be a better place with Alison. Scarlett has been trying to talk me out of it. She says Alison wouldn't want me to die for her. That's true. I have faith in Alison though. Alison will do better than me. I look back at what I became and I know she can do better. I can rest in peace knowing that. I will make the most of the few extra days we have together, and maybe, just maybe, whatever gods allow this temple to be, will see it fit that I should live.
The big day arrives. A large number of the archivists gather around me, led by Sima. Scarlett's there too.
"Are you sure you want to go into the temple?" Sima asks her. "It's haunting to see a man walk to his death."
"I'm sure," she says confidently. She doesn't mention how often she's seen it before.
"After Flint has vanished into the past, look into the reflection pool. It will follow him until his end. We would appreciate it if you would record this information for us."
Scarlett nods solemnly. She's given up asking me not to do this. She looks like she has more resolve now.
The old temple has a similar motif to that of the Archive but it feels very different. It's a large dome with blue-green tile walls. In the center is a large circular pool, like a fountain, not very deep. Light seems to emanate from the water. I can't see to the other side though, there's a glowing mist rising from the center. The pool provides the sole lighting of the temple, making it much darker than the Archive. We cast eerie shadows all around the dome.
I've been briefed on what to do. I'm to think about where I would like to go until the time is right and walk towards the middle of the pool. The archivists leave us there. I close my eyes and begin to remember.
At first I hear the sound of the roads. I hear the crashing sounds of Dela running me off the road. I hear Alison's voice.
"Flint! Look!" Scarlett interrupts me.
I open my eyes. Shadows of cars have formed all around the walls of the dome. Scarlett must hear them too. It's not just in my mind. I'm almost tempted to walk into the fog right now, but I realize I'm thinking too late. If I want to save Alison, I have to go back further. I close my eyes and try again.
My thoughts shift to our house, the nice little place they set us up with. I run through the argument we had. I hear it echo throughout the dome. I need to go back further though. I search my memory. I need to make sure that argument never happened.
Then I hear it, something incongruous, a click. I know that sound but I can't put my finger on it. Then I hear helicopters. I open my eyes. Scarlett's pointing a crossbow at me.
God dammit. All I want is Alison, why do I always get stuck with the would-be femme fatale? She must've been hiding that thing all along. They stripped me of my weapons when I was out cold. She must've stowed hers during that time.
I put my hands up, even with my head. "What are you doing Scarlett?"
"You can't do this. Jaye wouldn't want this."
The helicopters roar in the background. I see their silhouettes in the shadows. I begin to realize what she's thinking. She intends to go back and save Snake Eyes' face. "And you think Snake Eyes would want this?"
"This isn't about just Snake Eyes. If I go back there, if I change history back there, maybe, maybe Jaye would never die either. Maybe Hawk would still have his legs. Maybe Doc and Quick Kick and Mainframe and Chuckles and everyone would still be with us. It's the butterfly effect."
Damn. She's gone nuttier than me.
"You don't know if that will happen. I want my wife back, Scarlett."
"Well, if this doesn't work, you can just go back and save your wife. Come on Flint, look at everything Joe became. I'm giving us another chance."
"You're just blindly rolling the dice! What's wrong? You knew what you signed on for."
"Don't throw that at me, not with what you planned on doing."
"And just think about Snake Eyes. Are you really going to put him through your death on top of everything else? You know you'll die in that crash." The sounds of a huey exploding punctuate my argument. At least I know she's listening to what I'm saying.
"I... I can't help Snake Eyes anymore. I've tried, believe me. At least he'll have his voice, his face. We weren't so close back then. He'll get over it."
"You don't even sound like you believe that."
She pauses, obviously trying to come up with something to say. Then I notice. The helicopter sounds have faded. Instead, I hear the din of the jungle. Shadows of tropical plants appear against the dome's walls. Scarlett notices it too, her eyes darting back and forth between the walls and me. For all her irrationality, she's still got a damn steady grip on that crossbow.
He drops from out of nowhere. Storm Shadow. He's well-armed too. His stance indicates he's ready to take both of us on.
"Storm Shadow!" Scarlett's voice is even more unhinged than before. "Have you been following us all this time?"
"Looks like your boyfriend doesn't trust you so much after all." I can't help but take a stab at her.
"Colton's orders." Storm Shadow glares at me. "And I didn't need to follow you, Scarlett. Remember, you're chipped."
"Only Snake Eyes knows the code."
"Is that so? How many days were you awake, using those codes in hopes of finding Silent Master's body? Do you remember everything that went on? Do you think Colton would hesitate to take advantage of the situation? When we saw you were stationary in the seemingly middle of no where, we decided it was time to find out just what was going on."
Scarlett says nothing but her eyes flash with rage. She turns her crossbow on Storm Shadow. Sima's words, "sometimes sooner," echo in my mind. I try to come up with a scenario where I can take back the will of the temple and dash into the mist before the other two notice. Everything I think through ends with me getting shot in the back and no Alison, so I keep the conversation going, waiting for an opening. "So what now? Going to drag us back before Colton?"
"Originally I was to report back, but it seems I can't resist the allure of this temple either. I'll go back in time. I'll keep our unit from the fire fight that sent Silent Master home. His family won't go to the airport that day. They won't collide with the car of Cobra Commander's brother. No crash. No Cobra."
I let out a small laugh. It sounds too good to be true.
"Don't be too happy. No Cobra means no GI Joe. Your wife might have a safer road ahead of her but you might never meet. You're not so young anymore. You might walk out of this temple and find she's fallen in love and married someone else. You give up a lifetime of memories. You give up the history that created yourself."
"I'll always have my memories."
He ignores me. "Same goes for you Scarlett."
Scarlett's lowered her crossbow. She has a far away stare. She's useless now.
My gut instinct is to tell him off, but I have to admit his offer is the best one on the table. The possibility of a world without Cobra – it seems wrong not to take it, even if what we're about to do seems at it's core, a great sin. "You sure about this?"
"I owe him," he says firmly. "With this, I can undo almost everything."
"Okay," I say softly. "Scarlett?"
"Okay," she whispers.
The jungle shadows around the dome seem to move more violently. They've become darker as well. Storm Shadow removes most of his gear, handing his sword to Scarlett as if she's supposed to know what to do with it. Storm Shadow steps into the pool, the water is up past his ankles. He begins to walk into the fog.
"Good bye Storm Shadow," I say. Scarlett echoes me. She's started to cry.
I hear Storm Shadow say one last thing. "Let us hope this history works out better."
He really vanished. I walk around the pool, half expecting to see him on the other side. I suppose the water could get deeper in the center, but I'm not about to mess things up testing it.
We watch Storm Shadow in the reflection pool for days. Scarlett cries nearly the entire time. I don't really understand it. The two seemed to have some sort of resentment of each other, but here she is bawling her eyes out. I do what I can to make her drink from his canteen.
He looks so young and friendly back then. They all do. Stalker's face looks so much softer. Scarlett can't help but steal glances as young Snake Eyes, though she's forcing herself to watch over Storm Shadow.
When the fateful time arises, Storm Shadow diverts the unit elsewhere. While on point, an enemy mine takes him half a day later. It's gruesome to watch, but I'm almost certain he looked happy in that one instant of realization before he was gone.
We spend the next few days writing our account and forcing ourselves to eat for the journey back to civilization. The snow storm has stopped, that's a good sign. Sima briefs us on our expected behavior. He's awfully busy, what with that much history possibly having changed.
After everything has been squared away, we depart. We'll be escorted at least part of the way by some of the agents of the Archive. As I step into the crisp cold air, I wonder what world awaits me when I descend the mountain. I will find Alison and then go from there.