Author's Note: This one is exclusively the fault of Twitter and the devious geniuses who lurk therein. I can't say too much about what I was discussing with CrystalOfEllinon, Dragogirl13, Karama9, and willwrite4fics (because it would give too much away, though I think the mere fact of this fic's placement in the crossover section will do that for me) but suffice it to say that it was wonderfully, beautifully insane and inspiring.
If you're a G.I. Joe fan and know next to nothing about the world of Aliens, Predator, or Alien vs. Predator, don't worry—neither do the Joes! It'll be explained to you as it is explained to them. Suffice it to say that there will be blood. Glowy green blood and acidic alien blood, to be specific.
Rating: T for now. May climb to M in future due to violence.
Disclaimer: G.I. Joe is the property of Hasbro, Inc. The Aliens and Predator franchises are property of 20th Century Fox Entertainment. I derive no profit from the use of these characters and concepts, and have received no compensation. Please accept this work in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from these intellectual properties.
Corazones y Cazadores
by Totenkinder Madchen
Chapter One: Tango Team
Scarlett's first thought was that Cobra Commander had finally gone off the deep end.
Sure, he'd never been all there, but the redheaded Intel agent had spent enough time studying and countering the man that she knew there was intelligence hidden under the plastique-laced helmet and egotistical ranting. But if he was responsible for the thing now facing them, gleaming with slime in the half-light of the crumbled corridor . . . well, then she had either overestimated his intelligence or underestimated his sheer balls.
Seventy-two hours earlier . . .
"Looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie," Tunnel Rat said thoughtfully as he eyed the image projected against the wall. A couple of Joes threw irritated glances his way, but they were half-hearted at best; Scarlett was willing to bet that most of them had been thinking the same thing. After all, it did look like something from a movie rather than a mission briefing. Deserted temples weren't usually in their line of work.
"Well, if we're lucky, there won't be any cultists or pit traps," Scarlett said, clicking a button on the slide projector. "Just Cobra."
The image flickered, replaced by a grainy photograph from an old newspaper. The photograph showed two elderly men, both smiling broadly; one held up an intricately-painted clay pot, and the other displayed what appeared to be a curved and notched spearpoint.
"In 1932, in a remote valley on the edge of the Andes range—now part of Chile—a mountaineering party discovered what its members called un templo de corazones y de cazadores. 'A temple of hearts and hunters.'"
"Hearts?" asked Chuckles curiously. "Temple of a love goddess or something?"
"Hearts as in organs." Scarlett's grimace spoke volumes. "The expedition's members had no cameras, but two of the mountaineers were amateur archaeologists, and they brought back some very striking artifacts." She tapped one long finger against the image of the spear. "Artifacts which, if real, would turn our timeline of civilization's development completely upside-down.
"Unfortunately, nobody was ever able to substantiate their claims. That winter was extremely bad, and in a series of avalanches—partially set off by over-eager treasure hunters looking for the temple—all those corazones y cazadores were believed to be destroyed."
Scarlett took a moment to pause and glance around the briefing room. The handful of Joes present were looking back at her with mixed expressions—curiosity, minor confusion, anticipation, and in one white-clad ninja's case, boredom. All of those present were experienced soldiers, though, and they knew they hadn't been brought there just for a history lesson. Nobody, not even Tunnel Rat, interrupted. They trusted that she would get to the point soon enough: namely, where does Cobra come in?
"This temple is a significant archaeological find." Scarlett clicked to the next slide. "Notice that I say is, because it's been rediscovered. A team sponsored by the United Nations has been combing the area for the past year and a half, and they've found the remains of the temple. Most of the surface structure has been destroyed by the harsh weather, but the team confirmed that a complete substructure still exists."
The next slide showed a newer photograph, one that elicited a few groans and one mumbled obscenity from the gathered team. It was a long-distance surveillance shot of a man in a heavy parka, a tartan scarf protecting the parts of his neck that his gleaming metal mask didn't.
"Just like it says on the package—United Nations projects tend to be multinational. And the chief sponsor for this archaeological expedition was the sovereign nation of Cobra Island." Scarlett clicked to the next slide, which showed Destro now looking distinctly unhappy as he argued with a man in a U.N. parka. "Right after establishing themselves as an independent nation, Cobra made a few attempts at trying to look legitimate. They decided to try and raise their public profile by sponsoring cultural restoration projects and expeditions, including the team that rediscovered the temple. Since that team originally set out, though, Cobra's reputation is back in the gutter where it belongs, and now the whole project is being held in escrow while the U.N. argues over who owns the site."
Scarlett crossed her arms and turned back to the assembled Joes. "The site has been temporarily cleared, not counting a small UN-backed military security force to guard the area against treasure hunters. Cobra Island is currently trying to play nice, going through the legal channels in order to gain legitimate control of the site, but we all know that's not going to last long. The head of the United Nations Security Council has issued a quiet request for an on-site Joe team, to guard against possible Cobra action. Questions?"
There was a moment of silence, then a rumble from the back of the briefing room. Beach Head crossed his arms, his skepticism plain on his face. "We're going to be security guards?" He glanced around the room, which was currently occupied by—among other people—himself and both of the Joes' ninjas. "Ah get the impression we're assemblin' an invasion force."
"That's because it might be." Scarlett nodded to Lady Jaye. "Jaye's deep intel contacts have almost-definite evidence that Cobra will do anything to get hold of that site. It's highly probable that they've already got personnel on the ground there, including Dreadnoks and Red Ninjas."
Tunnel Rat barked out a laugh. "Dreadnoks in the Andes? I'd like to see that-"
"And you probably will," Storm Shadow interjected. The mention of the Red Ninjas had put a hard edge into his voice, but as ever, his demeanor was outwardly calm. "Why does Cobra want this so badly? The Commander deals in a specific breed of megalomania, and a temple is much too intellectual for him."
"Evidence suggests that Destro and the Baroness are actually the driving forces here," Scarlett replied, motioning to the projection, "or at least were in the beginning. Cobra needs better P.R., fast, and excavating a find like this would get their public-spiritedness and respect for culture lauded in the academic world. And," she added, a small smile quirking her lips, "there's something for everyone."
The next slide clicked into place, displaying a grainy '30s photograph of a handwritten letter. Two lines were highlighted in bright yellow. "'Repeated iconic imagery, striking and absolutely terrifying,'" she read aloud. "'Again and again, the figure of the serpent . . . the natives must have been truly in fear of these animals.'" There was a collective groan from the Joe team, and Scarlett nodded, still smiling.
"Good old Cobra Commander," Outback muttered. "Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll wind up buried there, along with all the other outdated junk."
"We can only hope." Scarlett said dryly. "Whatever the outcome, though, this is an intel-lead operation, which means that our visible presence needs to be low-key. However, we'll still have to field a lot of firepower quickly if—or most likely, when—things get hot." She crossed her arms and surveyed the assembled team. "We'll be going in looking like normal peacetime troops, mingling with the rest of the troops on-site. As Intel, Jaye and I have the lead on this. She'll be serving as our chief translator as well."
It only took Scarlett a moment to hand around everyone's orders. Given the situation, she was willing to bet that they had already guessed why they were there, but protocol was protocol and this was a rather unusual op for them.
Tunnel Rat: invaluable when staking out the subterranean temple itself. In addition to being an enthusiastic tunneler, he had also spent a lot of his off-time exploring archaeological sites. Alpine: expert mountaineer, exactly the kind of man they needed on a tricky operation in the foothills of the Andes. Outback: survival expert, not to mention well-acquainted with the art of vanishing into the scenery. Chuckles: even better at blending than Outback, and an excellent undercover man with a gregarious personality that could subtly wring information out of anyone he was presented with. (Scarlett had personally recommended him to Hawk for the mission. She remembered the woefully underprepared and unwary UN peacekeeping troops from previous missions, and would bet good money that Chuckles would have them eating out of his hand in no time.)
And of course, Beach Head, Lifeline, and the ninjas. Those selections pretty much spoke for themselves.
"Get some rest, everyone," she said when the last set of orders had been distributed. "We're going to be on the plane to Chile at 0500 tomorrow."
Scarlett hated alarm clocks. Growing up in a house with several loud, active brothers, she could always rely on something to wake her up early—whether it be an early-morning tussle, a dropped plate, or Sean thinking it was funny to test his youngest sister's reflexes by jumping on her bed at six o'clock in the morning. To Scarlett, being shaken out of deep REM by a shrill, mechanical beeping seemed an awful way to wake up. Clock radios weren't much better: hearing the cheerful chatter of an early-morning DJ telling his listeners to "rise and shine with KPRX, the Sunshine Station in the heart of the nation!" only ensured that the redheaded martial artist would wake up feeling murderous.
Fortunately, she had been able to dispense with the hated alarm clock after a couple of years in G.I. Joe. Being woken up by a ninja—even a ninja who occasionally used an alarmingly sharp elbow to do it—was even better than awakening to the melodious sound of squabbling brothers.
But having this particular ninja as her personal bed-warmer had other advantages as well. Behind the formidable mask, Snake-Eyes was a smart man with a good heart: someone who had been through more pain and loss than any human being should rightfully have to suffer, but who had managed to cling to his sanity and even his sense of humor. She knew that she was something of an anchor for him; once, in a very close moment, he had admitted as much to her. And while she kept the scarred ninja centered, he reciprocated by lending order to her sometimes chaotic thought process.
She found him meditating on their bed when she returned to their room after chow. He had locked the door so that he could remove his mask in comfort, but Scarlett slipped through quickly enough that nobody casually passing by could have seen a glimpse of his face. He glanced up as she locked the door behind her, a small smile quirking the scarred lips.
[Spit it out,] he signed, never rising from the lotus position he had comfortably folded himself into.
Scarlett glowered, but without malice. "You're psychic, aren't you."
[Fear the mystic powers of the ninja. No, I just know you. Nervous about the op?]
"A little too much." She settled onto the bed next to him, stretching out with a sigh. No lotus for her: in her unguarded moments, she preferred to sprawl. "Having an intel-led mission is unusual."
[You can't tell me you're uncomfortable with command.] There was an odd panting noise from the ninja, one which Scarlett recognized as his laugh.
She rolled over and grinned a little tiredly at him. "If this turns into a comment about me being bossy, mister, you're sleeping on the rug." Snake-Eyes folded his hands and pretended to bow contritely to her, making her laugh in return and imitate the gesture grandly. "Rise, you are forgiven. And, no, I'm not uncomfortable. I've led a few teams in my time. The truth is, I just don't like operating on this kind of terrain. I've read file after file about the environment, the weather, the likely floor plan of the temple. Jaye and I have put our heads together with Psyche-Out-" A soft snort from the ninja. "Yes, I know you can't stand him, but he knows what he's doing. We've come up with a list of likely moves for the Cobra forces, depending on whether they're there already yet and who they send in to secure the site."
[So what's the problem?]
" . . . An ancient mountain temple, Snake?" Scarlett shook her head.
Snake-Eyes spread his hands, his version of an "Aah" of acknowledgment. [Unfamiliar terrain.]
"Plus the possibility that we'll most likely wind up damaging an incredibly valuable piece of human history." Scarlett stretched again and sighed. "I did the research, Snake. If the original discoverers were correct in their observations, there's some breathtaking things down there. One of the archaeologists swore that he saw elements of Aztec influence in the structure."
There was a moment of profound silence from her lover, and Scarlett couldn't restrain a laugh at that. It seemed to be one of the unwritten parts of the ninja code: if you didn't know something, you never, ever admitted it. Snake-Eyes bore her humor with patience, although he cocked an eyebrow at her grin.
[I presume you told me that for a reason?] he signed finally, a hint of a smile on his own face. She knew he didn't know, and he knew that she knew he didn't know (Scarlett took a moment to mentally parse that thought), but he was willing to play along.
"Snake, the Aztecs were mainly located in Central America. Chile is in South America—Inca territory." Scarlett pulled herself back into a sitting position, twisting her neck until she felt the vertebrae crack back into place. "If an Incan-era temple showed strong Aztec influence, it could potentially rewrite the history of the Americas."
Snake-Eyes, a student of an ancient clan of shadow warriors and the personal bogeyman of thousands of hardened terrorists, wasn't terribly impressed. "It gets better, though," Scarlett added. "The other archaeologist was convinced that he saw Egyptian elements."
That got a bit more of a reaction—a skeptical, silent laugh. [Thin air in the mountains,] Snake-Eyes signed. [Did he also see the Loch Ness Monster?]
"At this point, it wouldn't surprise me." Scarlett shook her head a little. "But this is a major find. If we manage to destroy it, the Jugglers won't be looking at the BATs we dig out of the rubble; they'll be issuing press releases to cover their own asses, and the international media will have a field day with 'loose-cannon Americans destroy priceless cultural treasure!'"
[So . . . an intel-led mission on unfamiliar terrain with the whole world watching if we screw it up.] Snake-Eyes, the experienced soldier and assassin-commando, eyed his girlfriend and assessed the situation expertly. [Neck rub?]
"Oh God, please." Scarlett leaned back against Snake, closing her eyes blissfully as his skilled hands went to work. "You are earning so many brownie points right now . . ." One smooth stroke trailed down the nape of her neck, making the nerves tingle pleasurably. "And if you do that again, I swear to God you can have anything on the face of the planet when this mission is done." Another stroke. "Anything . . . at . . . all."
[I can do one better,] he signed into the skin of her shoulder. There was a brush of scarred lips against the the flesh of her neck, and Scarlett forgot everything, including her own name and address.
The unofficially-named Tango Team (Tango for T, T for Temple) fell out at 0415 the next morning. Scarlett, as the senior of the two Intel agents in charge, briskly and efficiently inspected the small team in the predawn light of the aircraft hangar. Hawk's orders were specifically to not take chances. The team was extremely well-equipped, but they would be putting on an appearance as another normal set of peacekeeping troops, and they would be in regulation gear from the beginning of the mission onwards.
Inwardly, Scarlett smiled at how odd it was to see everyone dressed in uniform. A few years in G.I. Joe sure changed your perception of what was normal for a soldier; seeing Lifeline in normal cammies, or Beach Head without his sweater and balaclava, was downright strange. Even the dog tags were new, since their normal Joe tags conformed to the secrecy statutes by giving their code names, and those code names wouldn't be used while the team was playing it quiet. The normal-sounding names printed on the tags were as fake as the code names they normally went by. In deference to their intended function, though, each set of faux tags had an implanted microdot which contained their real information.
She paced the line of Joes, checking each of them over for minute errors in the disguise. Snake-Eyes' prosthetic face was perfect—after so many years applying it, he had gotten depressingly good at making it look realistic—and he and Storm Shadow both passed muster without comment. Thanks to his customary balaclava, Beach Head's unmasked face had the beginnings of an odd reverse-raccoon tan effect, and Scarlett made a mental note to introduce him to the wonders of liquid concealer. (He was definitely an Autumn.) Lifeline's raccoon tan line was of the normal kind, and Tunnel Rat needed only a reminder about the use of hair gel. Alpine and Chuckles were impeccable. Outback, on the other hand, seemed to radiate some kind of internal scruffiness field, and Scarlett promised herself that she would sic Beach Head on him about that.
Nobody even bothered checking Jaye.
"Remember," she said, surveying the group, "from this moment on, we are not G.I. Joe. Orders come from me—Sgt. Theresa Dietrich—or Cpl. Ellen Cameron." Jaye nodded back to her. "If you need ninja backup, call for PFCs Soto or Levy. We have some leeway on the transport, but once we land in Santiago, it's new names only. Hawkins?" There was a moment of silence before Lifeline snapped back into focus at the sound of his nom de mission. "Stick by our newly-minted Pvt. Levy. Do all the talking for him whenever possible. If anyone asks, he's still recovering from a period of bronchitis and, while noninfectious, has been ordered to maintain silence. Baffle them with medical jargon if need be."
She spotted a bit of movement out of the corner of her eye. Lift-Ticket, as benignly attired as the rest of them, was talking to the ground crew and running his own inspection checklist on the transport plane. Scarlett turned back to her team and took a shallow breath, mentally realigning herself. Mission time.
"Tango team—fall out!"
Next stop, South America.