They switched from the transport plane to a helicopter on an aircraft carrier stationed in the Gulf of Mexico. This made Wild Bill much happier; though the Texan could fly anything with wings, choppers were his first and truest love.

Breaker had located a few possible landing sites, all several miles away from their target facility. Bill set them down in a clearing manufactured by some local farmer cutting and burning down the trees and undergrowth; several cows hightailed it to the furthest edge of the clearing and then turned, eyeing them and chewing assorted plant parts meditatively.

Recondo eyed the surroundings with a vague look of disgust as they debarked, shouldering packs of gear. "Slash and burn." He shook his head. "Destroys more of the Amazon…"

"You sound like Footloose." Wild Bill leaned out of the chopper. "Good luck, and try not to get killed. You need out in a hurry, just call me."

As the chopper lifted off, the four Joes hurriedly vanished into the trees. The cows went back to browsing, forgetting about the whole incident almost immediately.

Safely hidden from any curious farmer's eyes in the dense growth of the forest, the four men paused for a moment to go over things one last time before starting out to recon their target.

It was hot, and the air was humid. Snake Eyes was sweating, despite the fact that the material of his skinsuit was engineered to be breathable and to wick moisture away.

He didn't like jungles. He'd spent enough time in them...Cobra Commander had a fondness for inaccessible bases constructed in remote locations of extreme climate, and before that he'd spent months in the dense jungles of Vietnam…but he really didn't like them. Actually, some not-so-fond memories from his LRRP tours were part of the reason he didn't like jungles.

The dense growth and close-set trees of a rain forest did afford a ninja an incomparable opportunity for concealment and stealth, though.

Beach looked utterly indifferent to the environment. Recondo had the same gleam in his eyes that Dusty got whenever they found themselves somewhere with sand dunes.

Beach's olive drab and brown blended into the background with ease. Recondo's jungle cammies mimicked the play of light and shadow on the undergrowth almost perfectly. Snake Eyes knew that in his black skinsuit, he could blend into the shadows with almost no effort.

And then there was Tommy, sitting on a fallen tree with a map on one thigh, pointing out important landmarks around their target. The white of his gi was almost jarring against the greens and browns of the forest.

Recondo was plainly thinking the same thing. He leaned close to Snake and whispered.

"Why the hell does he always wear white?" The jungle trooper seemed almost contemptuous. "We're in the damn Amazon. It's not exactly practical."

Snake Eyes lifted one shoulder. *His father always wore white on missions. And he can hear you perfectly well.*

"His father?" A moment of silence. "Yeah, I suppose he did have to have a father. I always kinda thought of him as not really human, you know? Why'd his father…?"

*Ask Tommy.* Snake shrugged again. *I never met the man.*

"Because it just gets too easy otherwise." Tommy's voice cut in. "Recondo, when I was last here the patrolling squads were having trouble with one of the local indigenous tribes. A few vipers got shot. Hoti, I believe they were called. You know them?"

Recondo perked up. "This would be their territory. I speak a little Yuwana. Trouble with them, you say?"

A nod. "Several vipers got shot. Those people are surgeons with blowguns. What kind of poison do they use?" Tommy eyed Recondo with keen curiosity. "I've seen it stop hearts in less than a minute."

"Poison dart frogs. The Hoti usually prefer to just move on rather than fight, though. What…"

"People generally get irritated," Tommy rolled up the map, "When you capture a few of their friends and set them to forced labor." A disgusted snort. "I can't say I felt sorry for those vipers, really. Anyway, don't get hit by any of those darts. I don't have an antidote for that poison on me. If you do get shot at by them and manage not to die, try to save me the darts. I believe we all know what we're doing. Shall we?"


Several hours after a helicopter had landed in a cow pasture, a rather bored Viper was walking his beat at the perimeter of the secured area around the mine facility.

He paused at the far end of his patrol, glanced around, took his helmet off, and extracted a cigarette from behind his ear. They weren't supposed to smoke on duty, but that rule was never enforced so long as you made an effort to be discreet.

As nicotine filtered into his bloodstream, he eyed the boggy, marshy swamp just off the well-worn guard path with distaste. This whole damn country was filled with swamps, mud, creatures that would bite your head off, bizarre parasites, spiders the size of his damn head, and mosquitoes that you needed a sniper rifle to put down. Plus, of course, land leeches and flesh-eating fish.

Two more months. He sighed and flicked the butt of his cigarette out into a particularly muddy patch overhung with vines and ferns, hopefully burning some form of bloodthirsty parasite to death in the process. Two more months, and I get a transfer. I don't even care where they put me, so long as it doesn't have ten pound spiders and rain every damn day.

He gave the mud one last disgusted look and turned around, heading back the other way on his beat. Twelve more rounds….quarter mile up, quarter mile back, at fifteen minutes for a full round…and his shift would be up.

What kind of sadistic place has leeches on land, anyway? He sighed again and stumped off.

He never knew just how lucky he was. Behind him, a particularly thick patch of ferns moved; two sharp brown eyes watched every movement of the viper's retreating back.

Beach Head grinned to himself. Ninja weren't the only ones who could sneak. He shot over the narrow path with a speed that was downright shocking (he wasn't as big as Roadblock, but he wasn't a small man either) and almost immediately vanished into the scenery again.

He touched the communicator in his ear. "Ah'm inside the perimeter."

"Ah, good. I was wondering when you'd catch up." Storm Shadow sounded almost cheerful.

Beach ground his teeth. Smug bastard. I'll run that grin off of his face yet.

"Not that many guards." He scowled; it made their job easier, but incompetence and laziness never failed to irritate him. "And those they've got are bored and slacking."

"Makes it easy." Storm still sounded cheerful, like he was downright enjoying himself. "I haven't found any snipers, but I'm guessing that they'll still have some on the upper levels of the building itself. They've gotten lax since I was here last. I don't think they know that I'm working for General Hawk now."

Beach snorted to himself. Quietly.

The tapping of morse code. *Two boats on river. Four men each. Heavily armed.*

"That's the same, then." A long stretch of silence. Beach Head slunk his way past a second guard. This one looked marginally more alert, but it didn't help much. Beach Head was an Army Ranger; enemies only saw him when he wanted them to.

It was always so much easier to just kill the guards. He glared at the next one from underneath the moss-covered, vine-draped, half-rotten branches of a fallen tree. It'd be so easy…wait until he turned, pop up behind him, break his neck, drag body into undergrowth…

But no, this was a recon mission. Sneakiness. Violence would come later. Possibly with explosions.

He grinned to himself. I love my job.