TinySprite: Hee, now that we've gotten that teaser of a prologue out of the way here's the first chap! Disclaimer!

Tunnel Rat: (reluctantly coming out of a vent) Yeah yeah, I hear ya....

Disclaimer: TinySprite doesn't own anything except the plot and the OC's, whenever they pop up. Be grateful for that, yada yada, you people know the drill!

TR: (turns to authoress) So, gonna hold up your end of this deal?

Tiny: Of course! (fluttering oh so innocently with hands behind her back, fingers crossed on both of them)

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It was a quiet night in the middle of the desert, something the team within the large vehicle called the ROCC appreciated. Currently there were only two of them awake, team leader Duke and the resident geek, Hi-Tech. Hi-Tech was doing a last minute check to make sure their systems were in order, with Duke supposedly supervising. In reality he was just staying up to keep the other company. They didn't have much longer, according to Hi-Tech it would only take maybe ten more minutes before the check was finished.

Both were looking forward to some well deserved rest. The past few days had been killer on all of them, what with the appearance of two more power stones and Cobra causing their usual mayhem. Then, it happened, a pop-up signalling an urgent message from Hawk, leader of GI Joe. Hi-Tech shot a confused look at Duke, who returned it with one of his own. The blonde man gave a confirming nod, turning to face a different screen as Hi-Tech opened it.

A live feed window came to life on the screen, showing the tired general himself. Duke felt surprise flooding him, considering that Hawk had still been in the hospital the last time he'd seen the other man. Still, Duke was glad he was okay, "General Hawk, it's great to see you. Feeling better sir?"

The older man gave him a tired nod, "I'm doing fine Duke, at least enough to get paperwork done. But this isn't a social call."

At that, Duke nodded, sitting straighter and became professional, "I'm all ears sir."

Hawk motioned to someone off-screen and another window opened up, display a picture of a man. The general continued on, "This is Doctor Anthony Burrows, a well respected geneticist. He's a recluse, hasn't made a public appearance since his wife Miranda disappeared nearly fifteen years ago."

Duke nodded, studying the picture. It showed an older, white haired man with piercing light blue eyes. His age showed on his tired face, something within his eyes making him seem even older. Duke returned his attention to his superior, frowning, "I remember hearing about that. Wasn't she a paleontologist on the verge of a major discovery?"

Hawk nodded, "That's right, she disappeared while on that expedition, but that isn't what this is about. Just yesterday his home and personal laboratory was attacked. He believes they were after a project of his."

Duke frowned again, "Sir with all due respect, how is this our concern?"

Hawk frowned as well, "The attackers were wearing this insignia Duke."

Yet another window popped up, showing a symbol the Sigma 6 commander was all too familiar with. The blonde growled, "Cobra!"

The general sighed, "He's requested GI Joe's help and your squad is the only one we believe capable for this mission."

Duke grimaced internally, but kept a professional face, "Understood sir, we accept."

Hawk gave an affirmative nod, "We're sending you the information now. You just need to keep the doctor and his family safe until he reveals the project at the upcoming seminar in Texas."

The older man hesitated, continuing on with a worried look, "Duke...when we inquired further into the matter as to how the attackers were dealt with, they were scant with details. We had a professional check into it and Duke, the bodies were mangled."

Duke lifted an eyebrow, seeing Hi-Tech mouth the word to himself out of the corner of his eye, "Mangled sir?"

Hawk clarified, "As in they were torn to pieces and some even appeared to be partially eaten. Not to mention that Dr. Burrows' youngest son is missing. They say they can deal with it, but I want you to help as much as you can."

Duke nodded in confirmation, seeing a glint in Hawk's eyes. There was anger there and worry mingled with concern. He wondered what it could be about this mission to make Hawk take a seemingly personal interest. Duke stated, "We'll do what we can sir. Is that all?"

Hawk seemed to relax slightly, shoulders loosening, "Yes Duke, that is all. We're sending you the information now, both what we were given and what we've gathered. Report in when you make contact and at the usual times. Be careful Duke, something feels off about this one."

Duke nodded once more before the window closed, signifying the end of the feed. Rapid typing and a few small dings let him know Hi-Tech was at work receiving the data. He looked over at his subordinate, who answered without a prompt, "Putting it on screen now Duke."

The older man nodded, turning his attention back to the screen. Windows of data popped up, spilling words up words across the screen. Something in the coroner's report made him look twice, "Wait, what was that?!"

Hi-Tech looked over, blinked, and visibly reread the lines that had made his superior start. He paled, "That can not be right!"

They looked at each other, then back at the screen. Duke read further down on the report on the Burrows family, wincing when he came to the part about the youngest son. Well, at least now he knew why Hawk seemed to take it personal. He looked over at Hi-Tech, sighing, "I'll go wake the team up. Print out copies for everyone and meet us in the conference room."

The geek made an affirmative noise, turning to do his task, still disbelieving what he'd read. Duke rubbed his eyes, knowing they were in for a long night. Still, he got up and went to his self appointed task.

Scarlet was the easiest, sleeping in the conference room itself. From the look of it, she'd been reading a book and just drifted off. He smiled lightly, gently shaking her shoulder. She woke up quickly, blinking in a daze with her hands moving to grab before realizing who it was. She looked up at him, curious. He simply told her, "We've got a mission, we're debriefing here once I get everyone."

The lovely redhead groaned, getting up from her seat to stretch out her back, "I'll get Snake Eyes; Jynx and Komakura are probably with him anyway."

Duke let out a breathe of relief, giving her a wave of thanks as they left the conference room and parted ways. Long Range was asleep were he usually was, up front in the cab. He was leaning back in the driver's seat, feet propped up on the console with a book over his face. The blonde man took a minute to wonder what it was with his team falling asleep while reading before reaching over to lightly hit their sniper's shoulder. Long Range snapped awake, pulling the book away while the other was reaching for the knife at his belt. He stopped at seeing that it was Duke, groaning, "I thought we had some time off?"

Duke just shook his head, a half smile on his face, "Nope, just got a mission. Meet in the conference room for debriefing."

The brunette man groaned, rubbing his eyes as he sat up, "Yeah yeah, I hear ya amigo. By the way, Spirit mentioned something about sleeping outside. Pretty sure I saw the ninjas leave too."

Duke grunted, rubbing a hand through his short hair, "Scarlett went to get Snake Eyes and the apprentices. She'll probably get him too."

Suddenly he thought of something, "Hey, Heavy Duty and Tunnel Rat leave too?"

The driver shrugged, "Not that I know of, but usually people tell me. You know, to make sure they aren't left behind when we leave in the morning."

Duke nodded, leaving to go find them. On the way he opened the communicator on his wrist, typing in Scarlett's code. It took a minute, but she answered, "Scarlett here, what is it Duke?"

He answered, "Yeah Scarlett, I just got Long Range up. He said Spirit's outside, along with the ninjas."

She chuckled, "I know, I found him."

A barely heard voice in the background mumbled, "More like you tripped over me."

He heard her shush the other person before speaking to him again, "I see Snake Eyes, I bet he heard us coming. See you in just a minute."

Duke agreed, "Alright, but before you go, see anyone else out there?"

There was a quick bit of conversation before he got an answer, "Nope, just who I said before."

He grumbled to himself, "Thanks anyway, Duke out."

With that he closed his communicator and continued his search. He found them in the back of the ROCC, which often doubled as a temporary garage since that was where the RHINO was. They must have been doing maintenance or something. Tools were out, clearly used judging from some oil smears and dirty rags laying about as well. Actually, he found Heavy Duty, dirt and oil hard to see against his dark skin, fast asleep leaning against the side of the RHINO.

Having experienced this before, Duke stepped close enough to snap out a loud, "Hey!"

He wisely jumped back as soon as he did so, a large hand swiping through the space where he'd once stood. Heavy blinked drowsily, staring at him in confusion. Duke stayed where he was, speaking from the relative safety of that position, "We've got a new mission, meet in the conference room."

The large man groaned, standing up. He began to work the kinks out of his spine and shoulders, "Do I even want to know the time?"

The smaller man shook his head, wishing they'd gotten this later in the day, "Know where Tunnel Rat is?"

The small redhead wasn't anywhere that he could see in here, but that often didn't mean much when it came to the infiltration expert. Heavy Duty frowned, glancing around the room, "He was in here with me, you ain't seen him?"

Duke shook his head, already feeling a headache growing in the front of his skull from lack of sleep. His subordinate mumbled something, before crouching down next to the side of the RHINO. He glanced up at his leader, "You might wanna step back a bit more."

Confused, the blonde man did so. Heavy reached underneath the RHINO, seeming to feel around for something. He grunted after a minute, yanking his arm back sharply and standing up at the same time. There was the sound of wheels and something being dragged. An automotive creeper shot out from under the RHINO to nearly slam into the far wall. A sudden glint of something metallic made Duke start forward, but Heavy Duty was faster. His free hand snapped forward, grabbing something and squeezing. Whatever it was hit the floor with a clatter, making Duke blink in surprise, recognizing now the standard issue blade.

He looked back up to see a surprised Tunnel Rat hanging upside down in Heavy's grip. Apparently the taller man had grabbed and yanked him out from under the RHINO by his ankle, his other hand tightly gripping a pale wrist hard enough to force that hand open. Duke blinked again, more surprised that his headache hadn't gotten worse, "I take it you've done this before?"

Heavy Duty shrugged, "A time or two, yeah."

It was easier to see the dirt and oil on Tunnel Rat, along with a few other stains that came with caring for vehicles. The other Joe mumbled something, appearing to tilt his head even though he was upside down. Heavy Duty turned his attention to his other team-mate, "No TR, you didn't hit me."

The redhead seemed to nod, mumbling something that was unintelligible to Duke, but Heavy seemed to understand it just fine, "No you can't go back to sleep, there's a mission."

There was a sharp whine from the smaller man, but he let his shoulders slump in defeat. Heavy Duty put him down, helping the redhead right himself. Tunnel Rat stooped to collect his knife, giving Duke the opportunity to ask, "Why did you tell me to step back? He wouldn't have hit me either.."

Heavy Duty just shrugged, "Couldn't remember if he had any explosives on him or not."

Duke started to crack a smile, then noticed the other's serious expression. He decided to let it go for now, turning on his heel to go back to the conference room. Footsteps behind him let him know that the other two were following.

Upon entering, he was pleased to find the rest of the team there, all in various stages of waking up, excluding himself and Hi-Tech of course. Snake Eyes too, appearing as ready to go as usual. Duke took his spot in front of the room's large screen, wishing he'd at least had the chance to get maybe an hour's worth of sleep. Instead he faced his team and began, "Alright, I know everyone's tired so I'll keep this short and to the point. We'll have a more thorough debriefing before arrival."

A nod to Hi-Tech told him to start passing out the printed copies of the data. Duke continued speaking as everyone accepted their copies, mostly with grumbles although Tunnel Rat gave a very convincing zombie-like groan, "We're pretty much babysitting on this one. Cobra attacked a scientist, one Dr. Anthony Burrows, and we believe they were after one of Dr. Burrows' projects."

Scarlett spoke up, idly flipping through her info packet, "What exactly are these projects of?"

Duke shrugged, "There wasn't any specification, but since he's a well respected geneticist, it can't be good."

Surprisingly Jynx was the next one to speak, "I've heard of him. He specializes in the DNA of rare and extinct animals and plants. His work recently helped revive an endangered species of mountain flowers that were near extinction by making them more resistant to airborne pollutants and warmer climates."

Everyone looked at her, making the kunoichi blush. She quickly added, "Those flowers contain a main ingredient used for making a more effective vaccine against TB. Dr. Burrows was well praised in Japan for his work."

Komakura nodded to himself, remembering that article as he thought aloud, "Oh yeah. If he could manage to bring back something from the brink of extinction, what would he be able to do with the DNA of something that was actually extinct?"

The scenarios Duke's tired brain offered up at that weren't pleasant, especially once he began to make the mental connection to the Jurassic Park series and several science fiction movies. From the uneasy looks the others had, he wasn't alone in that respect. A sudden yelp from Tunnel Rat snapped everyone out of their thoughts, "Whoa, hold up, this can't be right!"

Previously practically a zombie from being half asleep, the redhead was wide awake now. He looked at Duke, essentially pleading, "Please tell me either someone at the coroner's office made a mistake or Hi-Tech did while printing these out!"

Said geek shot a venomous glare at Tunnel Rat, ready to defend the accuracy of his computers and gadgets. Duke winced and hurried to intervene, having hoped to get to that point later, "No Tunnel Rat, there is no mistake. I had the same reaction."

The others looked between the two in confusion. Komakura asked "What mistake?"

Before the Sigma 6 leader could answer, Heavy Duty had moved to read over his best friend's shoulder, Tunnel Rat helpfully pointing out the unbelievable part. He blinked, grabbing his own info packet to check it against Tunnel Rat's before exclaiming, "You absolutely sure about that Duke? Cause this seems like a mistake to me!"

Duke just went ahead with his explanation, "The Cobra operatives who attacked Dr. Burrows' residence, which doubles as his lab apparently, were...dealt with."

The infiltration and explosives expert snorted in disbelief, "What dealt with them, a baby Megalodon?!"

Spirit was lost, "Megalodon?"

Tunnel Rat further explained, cutting Duke off, "Giant shark, maybe as big as the ROCC if not bigger, extinct though or they should be at least!"

That woke everyone up, flipping through their own packets. Heavy Duty took over, not giving Duke a chance to speak either, "According to the coroner's report, whatever got to them was either that, or one of those giant crocodiles from the movie Lake Placid!"

Duke finally had enough, slamming his hands down on the table, "Listen I know it sounds hard to believe but yes, that report is accurate. We've already been assigned this mission from General Hawk himself and we're doing it! A young boy is missing as well, a boy who happens to be Dr. Burrows' son!"

Everyone shut up, paying attention now, but for the missing boy or the unbelievable way the Cobra soldiers had died, it was hard to say. Duke sucked in a deep breath, letting it out slowly before continuing, "As I said before, we're basically babysitting on this one. We're to make sure there are no more attacks on either Burrows or his family, as well as assist in the search for the missing boy when we can."

Scarlett frowned, "Assist? We're not to actively search for him?"

Duke shook his head, "No, the Burrows family said they can handle it. Officially we're not even supposed to offer any help at all."

Everyone glanced at each other, not taking that well. Duke sighed, "As I said, that's pretty much it. We'll have a more thorough debriefing when we arrive. Until then, it's a long drive."

They took that as their cue to leave, Long Range going back to the cab as everyone else spread out to finish what they had been doing previously and prepare for the upcoming mission. Duke slumped down into nearby chair, wondering if he could catch some sleep on the drive. His answer came in the form of waking up suddenly by a smiling Scarlett, offering him a welcome mug of coffee.

He accepted it with a smile of thanks, a glance at the wall clock letting him know he'd gotten almost six hours of sleep. Some mental calculations let him know there were still at least four hours left in the trip. Duke stood up, taking a large gulp of the reviving brew before walking off, ignoring Scarlett's light giggle behind him.

He'd need that time to prepare himself for this mission. But he wasn't sure if anything could prepare them for whatever had done that damage to the Cobra soldiers.