What is this madness? A new chapter?! Whaaat?!
I know, I know...it's been...actually, I can't remember how long it's been, but it's been WAAAAY too long. I haven't forsaken Nomad, I promise...I've just been sidetracked by other stuff...like zombies, and superheroes, and Doctor Who (my friend introduced me to it and I finally realised the goodness I'd been missing out on my entire life) and...stuff.
BUT one of my resolutions this year was to write SOMETHING every day, even if it was just one crappy line, and I started, and I kinda found my Joe inspiration again. So, hopefully, I can finish this off soon, and get cracking on the other unfinished ones I have up.
So this chapter is once again mostly recap, and it's not the greatest. And it's shorter than usual...it's just more to get myself back into the habit of writing and posting stuff. To everyone who reviewed the last chapter, or read the whole thing and reviewed (I don't think I got around to replying to everyone, sorry) thanks, as always.
Anyway, hope you enjoy this new chapter, if there's anyone actually still reading this :)
Nomad heaved an impatient sigh as she joined the stream of Joes leaving the War Room. Even though she knew it was unreasonable, she'd hoped that once Airtight, Lifeline and Doc had figured out the neurotoxin, there'd be some kind of action. Instead, it looked like there'd be more sitting around - for a short while, at least. Hopefully Mainframe, Dial Tone and Breaker wouldn't take too long to find out who was supplying Destro with the neurotoxin chemicals. After all, how many suppliers of that kind of stuff could there be?
Nomad had no idea. All she knew was that she wanted to be on the mission that took Cobra and their insane plans down.
Although, if she was honest, she'd be surprised if she was chosen to go on any more missions. Duke had pretty much said it before the last one: the only reason she'd gone to the mine was because of her ability to move quickly and quietly in darkness. If it hadn't been for that, she doubted she would've been picked; everyone knew that things had got personal for her since Goldilocks had shown up working for Cobra.
And then there was her run-in with Tomax and Xamot. Everyone knew how that had turned out, and if Hawk, Duke, or Stalker - whoever honchoed the mission to Extensive Enterprises, if there was one - thought there was any chance of her wanting to get some kind of revenge, she was out. All three men had warned her that if her issues impaired her ability to do her job, she'd be gone.
Truth be told, though, she didn't know all that much about Tomax and Xamot. From what she'd read in reports, they mostly concerned themselves with running the business side of Cobra - the funding, the businesses…the pyramid schemes. It was only rarely that they left the safety of their offices…but when they did, they were just as formidable as any other Cobra. Nomad could understand that - they'd managed to sneak up on her in Sierra Gordo without her knowing it, hadn't they?
"Jeez, Nomad, don't look so disappointed."
She glanced around as Lady Jaye came up beside her. "I'm not disappointed," she said, a little too quickly. "I just wish all this wasn't taking so damn long."
"Yeah, you're not the only one," Flint muttered, falling into step on Jaye's other side.
"Hey, we're going as fast as we can," Lifeline said defensively, turning on his heel to walk backwards as he spoke.
"Oh, I wasn't talking about what you guys are doing," Nomad explained. "I mean…this whole thing in general. I hate waiting."
"I know," Lifeline said dryly, "I had to put up with you waiting to heal, remember?"
"That's…" She decided there was no point arguing with him; he did have a point, after all. She settled for a good-natured, "…Shut up."
He rolled his eyes at her before turning down the next corridor with Airtight, no doubt to continue working on the antidote. For a brief moment, Nomad was glad she didn't have that kind of pressure on her - Lifeline, Doc and Airtight (plus their team of greenshirt medics) would be working non-stop until they found something that worked. Airtight already had dark circles under his eyes to rival her own; last time she'd snuck a glance in the window of his lab, his desk had been littered with coffee cups. She made up her mind to go by later; if they were still there, she'd gather them all up and take them back to the mess hall for washing. It was the least she could do.
Jaye grinned and clapped Nomad on the shoulder. "Well, at least now Breaker, Dial Tone and Mainframe know what they're looking for."
Flint nodded. "I just hope if we have to go to the EE building it doesn't end up like last time," he grumbled.
"Last time?" Nomad wondered. "Why? What happened last time?"
Lady Jaye pulled a face. "Ever wondered why I don't like heights?"
"Oooh. That bad, huh?"
Flint chuckled and smiled roguishly at Jaye. "It worked out in the end, though."
"Yes. Yes it did," she replied sweetly.
Given the expression on Flint's face, Nomad decided that now would be a good time to stop listening. "Aaaand I'm going over here now," she said, edging away.
Lady Jaye gave her a dismissive wave, then turned her attention back to Flint.
Nomad glanced at her watch. The meeting had gone for an hour and a half; it was 10.30. She didn't have anywhere to be until after lunch, when she had hand-to-hand. Storm Shadow was taking the session today. At least she wouldn't have to partner Short Fuse - he'd gone on leave a few days ago. Maybe she'd get lucky and get stuck with Tripwire…then she'd just have to stand and watch while he took himself out.
Then again, Stormy hadn't quite forgiven her yet for walking out of his session a few weeks ago…it was a wonder he hadn't tried to demonstrate his ninja 'death touch' on her yet.
Granted, Snake Eyes had forbidden him when he'd first threatened it…but that usually wouldn't stop Stormy.
Nomad was actually a little curious about the death touch. Not that she'd ever tell the ninjas that.
"Yo, Nomad, you headin' upstairs?"
Nomad glanced around to see Rock 'n' Roll poking his hairy head out of the personnel elevator. "Yeah, why not? Got nothing else to do."
She spent lunch hanging out in the PX Snack Bar - much to the chagrin of Percy, the chaplain's assistant the Joes loved to annoy - with Rocky, Clutch, Steeler, Zap, Grunt and one of the newest greenshirts, a blonde mechanic codenamed Spanner. Nomad didn't know Spanner all that well yet, but she liked her; she had a habit of blurting things out before thinking, ending up with her blushing and stammering. She was also a little clumsy, though not quite on the same hazard level as Tripwire. She was into art - it was common to find her using her phone to take photos of random things she found interesting, so she could draw them in her spare time. Usually it was things nobody else took any notice of; the rainbow on the underside of a CD, the bubbles in a glass of lemonade, a reflection in the back of a spoon. Spanner just seemed to notice little things like that. Every now and then she'd draw one of the Joes or greenshirts, but she rarely showed anyone those. Nomad didn't know why; she'd snuck a peek over Spanner's shoulder in the mess hall once, and her drawing of Short Fuse had been pretty good (despite the bad model).
In any case, Rock 'n' Roll clearly had a crush on the girl. Or at least, Nomad guessed that was why the surfer dude seemed to be a little shy around Spanner; she'd never known him to be shy around anyone else, after all.
Then again, she could be wrong. She didn't exactly have the best track record with that kind of stuff. Hell, to start off with, she hadn't even known Lowlight felt…the way he did.
Well…she didn't exactly know how he felt now, did she? Because -
"Hey, Nomad, did we ever tell you 'bout the time Stalker killed an alligator with his knife?"
She looked up at Clutch, feeling a little guilty that she hadn't been listening. "Stalker killed what with what? Fuck off!"
The rest of the day was uneventful, as were the next few days - as far as Nomad was concerned, at least. A couple of small teams were sent out on minor missions; she was chosen for neither. She didn't know whether to be relieved or worried - relieved, because secretly she hoped that if any missions to do with the neurotoxin missiles came up, she'd be at the Pit to volunteer; worried, because she wondered if Hawk was sidelining her.
Then again, if Hawk was sidelining her, he'd tell her to her face. That thought was reassuring, in a weird kind of way.
Mainframe, Breaker and Dial Tone were rarely seen away from their computers, save for scheduled training and the occasional meal in the mess hall. The rest of their time was spent searching for Destro's suppliers - and fielding questions from impatient Joes. So far, the only news was that one of the chemicals in the neurotoxin had been bought in Russia. Destro had covered his tracks well, and Mainframe was still working on that lead - as he patiently told Nomad each time she so much as looked at him. Last time - yesterday - he'd turned back to Breaker and said something about getting in touch with the October Guard, whoever they were. Nomad had been about to ask, but Dial Tone had irritably shooed her out of the computer room, loading her arms full of coffee mugs that needed washing.
The guy was lucky Mainframe and Breaker were there. Nomad may just have brained him with Breaker's 'Sarcasm is just one of the services I offer' mug otherwise.
Yeah. She still didn't get along with Dial Tone all that well.
Doc, Lifeline and Airtight were having just about as much luck with their project: the antidote to the neurotoxin. Airtight - who usually took any chance he got to explain something scientific - was uncharacteristically tight-lipped about it, grunting brief answers to questions…if he gave any answers at all. Lifeline, of course, would try to answer as well as he could, but the poor guy just looked so tired. Nomad felt sorry for him…and she couldn't help but wonder if he'd felt the same way for her when she'd first arrived at the Pit.
As for Doc…well, as far as Doc was concerned, the best thing the Joes could do would be to find Cobra Commander and foil his plan before he put it into action.
Ideally, that would happen. Even more ideally, Nomad would be on that team; she wouldn't mind taking a crack at the Commander's shiny metal buckethead.
There were a few other heads she wouldn't mind cracking, too.
Nomad shook her own head and put the book she'd been trying to read back on the bedside table, resting it so it sat like a tent, open at the page she was up to. Then she remembered she'd borrowed the book from Sci-Fi, snatched it up again and glanced around for the scrap of paper she'd been using as a bookmark. Sci-Fi was very protective of his books.
The makeshift bookmark had fallen to the floor. Nomad stuck it between the pages and put the book down again, sighing. She didn't feel like reading - she'd sat down twenty minutes ago, and had only read a few sentences. All those thoughts of the last week or so had distracted her.
But…that wasn't exactly all that was on her mind.
Covergirl had been tiptoeing around the subject for the last couple of days, but hadn't quite been game enough to bring it up. Nomad had almost said something, but in the end, of course, hadn't known what to say.
It wasn't that she was worried, or anything. Well, not really.
Okay, so maybe she was. Just a little. But it wasn't like there was anything she could do about it.
All she could do was wait for Lowlight to get back.
Wait, and hope that he hadn't changed his mind.
Another two days went by without anything happening. On the third, Airtight announced that he may have found something to neutralise at least one of the chemicals in the Cobra missiles. Nomad cheered with the rest of the group of Joes who'd gathered around; Lifeline chimed in that it was still touch-and-go, but still, it was the first good news they'd had in a week. Mainframe hadn't been able to get a hold of his contact in Russia yet - one of the members of the Oktober Guard ('Oktober with a 'K'', Mainframe had told her when he'd had a few minutes to explain…when Dial Tone had been out of the room). Apparently they were the Russian equivalent of G.I Joe; initially, the two teams had been rivals, but an incident in Sierra Gordo - of course it was Sierra Gordo, it was always Sierra Gordo - had changed that.
Looking at them - Doc, Lifeline, Airtight, Mainframe, Breaker and Dial Tone - Nomad once again felt a guilty sense of relief that she didn't specialise in the technology or science departments. The responsibility they - not to mention all their assistants - had, was huge. They all looked like they could sleep for two weeks straight. Lately, Lifeline hadn't even admonished Nomad about the amount of coffee she drank, mostly because he'd been drinking about the same.
On the other hand, she wished she could help. She'd offered several times in the last few days, although it may have been slightly self-serving; she wanted to be doing something, not just sitting around. Lifeline had politely refused, pointing out that she'd most likely get bored. Breaker had laughed at her and basically said, 'thanks, but no thanks'. She'd given Mainframe what she thought to be her most beseeching look, which hadn't got her anything but, 'sorry, kiddo'.
Not that she'd really expected anything else. Both Mainframe and Breaker knew she wasn't good with computers - and also that she found it…difficult…to be in the same room as Dial Tone for an extended period of time.
Still, at least she'd offered, and even though they'd said no, she felt better for it.
The Pit was feeling a little brighter that afternoon; Airtight's news had done everyone some good. Jeckle was making brownies for dessert. The recipe had originally been her friend Heckle's - she didn't make them very often now, since Heckle had been killed. They were saved for special occasions.
…Well, special occasions, and for when the Joes were feeling down in general. Jeckle was a firm believer that chocolate could fix anything.
"Smells good, Jeck," Nomad said as she walked past food prep.
"Tastes better," Jeckle replied, holding out a wooden spoon covered in brownie mixture. "Congratulations, Nomad, you're the lucky winner!" She grinned. "Seriously, take it. If I eat any more I'm gonna be sick."
Laughing, Nomad took the spoon and crossed the room to sit beside Clutch, protesting lightly as he swiped his finger through the batter. He did it again, giving her an innocent look.
She sighed. "Alright, alright, you win. You can have that side; I'm not touching it after you have."
"Oh, that hurts."
She raised her finger at him. He did it right back, and then they settled comfortably into sharing the spoon between them. For a moment - not for the first time, and she doubted it'd be the last time - Nomad wondered how, of all people, it had been Clutch who'd become like a brother.
She turned in her seat to see Stalker striding toward her, and her stomach did a nervous little flip. She didn't have the best relationship with the Ranger - they'd got off to a bad start on her first mission as a Joe, when Nomad had questioned Stalker's decision to have her stay with Lifeline. Though he'd seemed to understand her doubt when Hawk had made her explain her…issues…Nomad felt Stalker still didn't quite trust her. It was the same kind of feeling she got with Duke - the feeling that she'd always have to prove herself to him.
She also had a feeling that Psyche Out would tell her she was imagining it. He'd probably be right, of course.
"Hey, Stalker," she answered, a little more warily then she liked.
He nodded to the other Joes at the table - Clutch, Wetsuit and Dusty - then got back to business. "Got a job for you," he said. "Briefing room, 2100. "
"Yes, sir." Nomad paused, then added somewhat hopefully, "Is it -"
She broke off as Stalker shook his head, but - surprisingly - he answered patiently. "It ain't Cobra. Not this time."
Damn. She wasn't game enough to say it, but from the half-amused, half-exasperated Stalker gave her just before he turned and strode out of the mess hall, she figured her expression said it all.
Clutch elbowed her in the ribs. "Looks like they're tryin' to get rid of you, Nomad."
She elbowed him back playfully. "Shut up."
"Well, it was only a matter of time, wasn't it?"
"Clutch…" she warned.
He smirked at her. "I mean, seriously -"
Nomad brandished the wooden spoon.
"Okay, okay!" The grease monkey held his hands up in surrender. "Yeesh, you try an' have a bit of fun around here."
Duke and Stalker were leaning against the table, chatting quietly, when Nomad stepped into the briefing room five minutes early. Both stopped and turned to her, but instead of the appraising glares she was used to, Duke flashed a rare grin. "Hey, Nomad."
"Sir," she answered awkwardly. Conversational tone wasn't something she heard very often from Duke; she wasn't sure if she should try and think of something else to say, or not. She settled for a kind of half-grin, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
She was saved by a knock on the door. She breathed a sneaky sigh of relief - which she had a feeling Stalker noticed, judging by his suppressed chuckle - as Duke called, "Come in."
The door opened, and Outback walked in, followed by Recondo. "Hey, look, it's the old team," Outback said, grinning at Nomad.
She could pick the exact moment he remembered what happened last time they'd been a team - his grin faded and he started fumbling for words. "I mean…uh…"
She waved a hand dismissively. "Over it, Outback."
Not exactly the truth - that night would always be with her. But she could deal with that, now.
"Good to hear," Recondo said, clapping her on the shoulder. "Anibal says hello, by the way."
Nomad blinked, surprised that the leader of the Tucaro tribe in Sierra Gordo would remember her. "Really? Well, say hey back for me next time you talk to him. Tell him to save me a fried spider."
The jungle trooper chuckled. "Will do."
Stalker cleared his throat. "Well, now you're all here, might as well get down to it. Long story short, you three are gonna be bad guys."
Nomad frowned, puzzled, and glanced sideways at Recondo and Outback. Both were nodding thoughtfully; apparently she was missing something. "Huh?" she asked stupidly. She quickly added, "Sir?" when Duke raised an eyebrow at her.
"Probationary Joe training," the first shirt explained.
Nomad hadn't had to go through the Joe selection process - Hawk had sought her out for the Joe team after her old boss had recommended her. She'd had to pass standard medical exams, of course, and a fitness test, but apart from that, she'd become a Joe as soon as she stepped into the Pit.
The greenshirts, on the other hand - as well as satisfying their instructors in everyday training - had to pass a training mission to become probationary Joes. It was set up exactly the same as a real mission - paperwork, orders, gear (although they used the paintball guns from the firing range, grenades were replaced with flashbangs, blades were either the harmless, theatrical retracting kind or made of rubber). The greenies' objective was to complete their mission in the set time while avoiding a team of 'bad guy' Joes. A team captain - usually Duke - judged the greenies' performance. If he deemed them worthy, they'd become probationary Joes.
"So, where we headed?" Recondo wondered.
Outback ran a hand through his hair, grinning ruefully. "I'm guessin' it's not the beach."
"Sorry, Outback," Stalker said. "You'll be heading to Olympic National Forest, Washington state. Ace'll fly you out to McChord AFB tomorrow morning at 0600. There'll be a car waiting for you."
"Don't think we're gonna make it easy on you three, either," Duke added. "This training is as much for you as it is for them."
Was it Nomad's imagination, or did he look at her a little longer than necessary?
"You got it, Top," Recondo said, giving a thumbs-up. "Them greenshirts're gonna have to work pretty damn hard to get past us."
"You'll get further orders tomorrow when you leave," Stalker advised, "and gear will be packed for you."
With that, the discussion was over. Nomad followed Outback and Recondo to the door - and then turned back. "Hey, Stalker?"
"Did you really kill an alligator with your knife?"
He stared at her. "No," he answered.
Damn Clutch. She'd kill him.
"It was a crocodile. Damn near took my leg off, too."