A/N: So just a quick warning on this chapter, because there are politics - I know, I know, how terribly impolite of me. It's really supposed to be about the complete mishandling of the presidency and the shameless pandering that were implied by the movie (and not a commentary on any of the things that actually entails), and I think that's clear, but just in case I wanted it all to be unambiguous.
Zartan smiled. The President rolled his eyes.
"Can you guess why I'm here, Mr. President?" Zartan asked, absent-mindedly playing with a pair of pliers.
"Well, let's see. You seem happy, and you have pliers. I'm guessing torture, although maybe you just have some sort of passion for home improvement that I was unaware of."
"I prefer the term 'enhanced interrogation,'" Zartan said. "And I'm going to gloat first anyway, because I need to further my incredibly timely analogy to a presidential administration that ended five years ago."
"Your audacity is an inspiration to us all," the President said sardonically.
"Yes, I know. Anyway, Mr. President, I'd like to tell you a little bit about my approval ratings – or, I guess I should say, your approval ratings. They're excellent."
"What did you say?" the President asked. "Oh wait, let me guess. You made a bunch of impossible promises, and then blamed some vague scapegoat when it didn't work?"
"I said I would cut everyone's taxes by a billion percent, and then offer a bunch of social programs that would obviously improve their quality of life astronomically, but which would not require any additional bureaucracy or cost any money, and thus wouldn't be Big Government. Also, I said we were going to war with the moon," Zartan replied.
"No one lives on the moon."
"That's just what some nebulous outside corporate powers want you to think," Zartan replied. "You elitist."
The president sighed. "So you became a crazy demagogue."
"Correction: you became a crazy demagogue."
"Well, did you at least push through that education funding bill that was on my desk when you kidnapped me?" the President asked. "I had representatives willing to propose it in both houses and everything."
"Oh, no. After I privatized the army so I could hire Cobra, I was so taken with the idea that I privatized everything, schools included," Zartan said.
"Everything everything?" the President asked.
"Yes. The police, the highway system, the Federal Reserve, everything I could think of. It's fantastic."
"So I guess my carefully-crafted Keynesian economic policy is off the table," the President said.
"Pretty much. But that's just what you have to do, when you're at war with the moon. After all, according to the Ministry of Truth, we've always been at war with the moon," Zartan said. "I had to break a few eggs."
"Did you come down here for a reason?" the President asked. It wasn't that he was looking forward to the torture, but the heavy-handed whatever-this-was – fascism, maybe – was beginning to get to him. Also, he was going to have to have a good long talk with whoever thought "Ministry of Truth" was an acceptable name for any sort of government agency, ever.
"Oh, that's right. I was going to pull your teeth out until you told me where Destro and Cobra Commander are," Zartan said.
"And you couldn't just ask someone?" the President asked. "And what makes you think I know, necessarily? I got captured by you almost as soon as Cobra started attacking people. I might not even know where they are."
"This seems like a lot more fun than just asking, to be honest," Zartan replied. "Besides, after I unceremoniously fired all your staffers to cover up my deception, I wouldn't even know who to ask. Open wide, this will only hurt every time you breathe."
Since when did Zartan become a psychopath? Snake Eyes, who sat beside Storm Shadow on the roof of the rest stop, glanced over to gauge the other man's reaction.
"It beats me where they got any of his characterization," Storm Shadow admitted. "But he does seem to take a disturbing level of pleasure in what he does, doesn't he? I mean, especially with the knowledge that he was responsible in part for my training, the bit where he killed Cover Girl and played it off as an 'accident' takes on a completely different meaning."
"So now you care. I suppose I should consider that encouraging."
"I wish you wouldn't argue about me. It just breaks my heart." She looked up at them with an oddly coy earnestness, and smiled.
"I said, I don't like it when you argue about me. I chose, and that's the end of that," she said.
"Do we get context?"
"Don't you remember? I've always been attracted to Snake Eyes, but when Storm Shadow joins the Joes I realize that he, too, has killer abs, so I'm faced with the conundrum of who to pick. I picked Snake Eyes, even though Storm Shadow and I will always be best friends," she replied.
Is that just the plot of Twilight?
"It is. And there are also the questions of what she's doing in the military, exactly, and what her name is, but somehow I think that since none of those things have interfered with her wish fulfillment so far we're probably never going to get answers," Storm Shadow said. "And for your information, Nameless Girl, we were not arguing about you. We were having a philosophical debate about Zartan."
"Is he hot?" she asked.
Storm Shadow frowned. "He's the one who's pretending to be the president."
"Oh. Ew, why are you talking about him?" she asked.
Because he contributes to the psychological development of several major characters in ways that deviate significantly from other versions of this franchise?
"Boring. Don't you want to hear about our wedding?" she asked.
"I would like to know how you're doing invitations if neither of you have proper names," Storm Shadow said.
"But Snake Eyes does have a name," she replied.
Damn it all.
"Oh? What is it?" Storm Shadow asked. "I mean, I'm sure whatever ridiculous name you've arbitrarily assigned to him will really give you insight into his character, even more than the heavily symbolic nickname he adopted for himself."
Why aren't you shooting her already?
"I left my bow in the car."
Liar. It's right there.
"Fine, but do it yourself. I want to hear what your name is."
"He's Fang from Maximum Ride, so obviously that's what we'd put on the invitations. But he calls himself Snake Eyes because he has the steely gaze of a snake," she said.
"Besides the part where he's somehow hiding wings under a Spandex suit, you do realize that 'snake eyes' is just rolling a pair of ones with dice, right? It has nothing to do with actual snakes or eyes, and everything to do with being permanently unlucky," Storm Shadow said. "Anyhow, I think it's about time to send you back to spend some quality time with a red pen-"
"Oh, Storm Warning said you wouldn't want to do that."
Storm Shadow paused, and turned to Snake Eyes. "You wouldn't happen to know who that is, would you?"
A Bonnie Raitt song?
"Well then, Nameless Girl, it looks like you might just be interesting enough to keep alive for a little bit longer. Do tell me about Storm Warning."
"I'd like to begin this press conference by making a brief statement about the circumstances that have caused me to call it. From what we can tell, GI Joe has entered Pakistan illegally in order to steal nuclear weapons, while it appears that Snake Eyes murdered the president of Pakistan to give them a pretext for being there. In order to control the situation, I sent my awesome private army in to blow them all to hell. Any questions?" Zartan looked over the press corps, who sat there in stunned silence. Finally, a woman in the front reluctantly stood up.
"Mr. President, I'd like a little clarification on what exactly you mean by 'private army,' and it would be nice if you could explain how this doesn't constitute you overreaching your executive powers."
"By 'private army', I mean an army that I hired that answers only to me, sort of like if the Praetorian Guard had helicopters. And as for my executive powers, political science is for boring losers," Zartan said. "Next?"
"Who is GI Joe?" asked another reporter.
"Who are these people? Are they the people who we saw a couple years back in Paris? Because they were with NATO. You don't have the authority to discipline them if they're with NATO," the reporter said. "Also, this is a top-secret unit you're referring to like we should know who they are already. Should we?"
"First of all, all of these people are in the U.S. military now," Zartan said. "And I have no idea if you should know who they are, but they're dead now, so I don't think it really matters."
The first woman stood up again. "Mr. President, how do you plan on repairing diplomatic ties with Pakistan?"
"Oh, did we hurt their feelings?" Zartan asked.
"U.S. soldiers invaded a sovereign nation, murdered their head of state, and stole their nuclear arsenal. We're honestly lucky that they haven't declared war on us," she said.
"Again with your boring political reality. You're really harshing my buzz, lady." Zartan sighed. "But I'll make it up to them next week when they attend my special summit for nuclear countries. Meanwhile, let's all get acquainted with Cobra, which is completely unrelated to that unfortunate incident last year with those terrorists who had a thing for snakes."
Rather than hanging out on the roof, Jinx had taken the stop as an opportunity to stretch her legs, setting out on a short trail that wound down into the wash below. She made it about a hundred meters before she ran into a Stu. Or at least she thought he was a Stu. Unlike the others, whose garish characterization made them easy to pick out, he was merely unnatural. But there was something unnerving in his bland and inoffensive face. Perhaps it was uncanny smugness or knowledge, or perhaps the fact that he was wearing a pair of hideous sunglasses in full shade. Either way, Jinx felt a vague sense of unease.
"Don't tell me you're going to try and rescue me too," she said. "Just so you know, your princess is in another castle."
"Oh, no. It's nothing so cliched," the Stu said. "I'm really just here to ask you what you're doing."
"What I'm doing?"
"Yes, what you're doing."
Jinx sighed. "I'm not just going to give you information because you ask for it."
"Fair enough. I know you're trying to rebuild your clan, and you think that's predicated on Snake Eyes and Tommy becoming bestest friends. It's sweet and it's idealistic, but seriously Kimi, do you honestly expect anyone to believe that you got here from a clear-eyed assessment of the facts?" he asked.
Odd, that he knew their names. Odder, that this stranger cared about clan dynamics. Jinx frowned. "Who are you?"
"I'm Storm Warning."
"Creative. And uninformative."
"Well, we can't all have badass last names," Storm Warning replied. "Anyhow, I know it sounded rhetorical, but I meant what I asked. Why a family reunion?" When she did not even begin to answer, he smiled knowingly. "For what it's worth, I'm not from a rival clan. I'm just another self-insert who wants in on the action."
"You're awfully aware, for a self-insert."
"Joyce did self-inserts. We're not categorically bad," Storm Warning said. "But back to the matter at hand. You know, what I like the most is that you know you aren't dealing with some tragedy-forged bond of friendship. This Snake Eyes and this Storm Shadow are two strangers who spent six months trying to cave each others' faces in when they were ten, and they solve interpersonal problems with strangling and show trials. No, this is about you and what you want. Now, I'm a bit shaky on the metaphysics, so I'm curious whether you're motivated by remembering how things were in another continuity, or by some bland childhood nostalgia. Either way, it's all rather quixotic, but it's an important difference, at least to me."
"If you want answers, you could at least try to be civil," Jinx snapped. "But I would think it's obvious by now that the Arashikage take care of our own, or at least that we try to."
"It's still not a great answer, but I don't really know what I expected," Storm Warning said. "After all, we don't really know who you are, so I suppose it's cruel to ask why you want something. You have what, six lines in the movie? That's barely a sketch, much less a character. Anyway, I'm sure the cavalry will arrive if I keep you any longer, so I'll have to cut our conversation short. Always a pleasure, Jinx." With that, he walked into the underbrush, disappearing swiftly into the shaded depths of the wash.
She found Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow as she made her way back to the car. She frowned. "Tommy, where did your shirt go?"
"We dusted a vampire. It got a bit messy."
"A vampire?" Jinx asked.
Really just a Twilight fangirl who lacked a sense of context. But still dustable, apparently.
"Well, that's fortunate for you," Jinx said.
Almost as fortunate as keeping stakes around in a universe with no vampires.
"I told you, you can never be too prepared," Storm Shadow said. "Although with the benefit of hindsight, I probably would have chosen something else. I wasn't expecting it to be quite so sparkly."
"I'm sorry I missed it," she admitted. "It sounds memorable."
"You were gone for a while."
"There was a Stu," she replied.
"She did say she was here with someone," Storm Shadow said, gesturing to the pile of glitter on the ground nearby. "Storm Warning or something."
"Yes, that was him." Jinx examined the gleaming pile of dust more carefully. "There was nothing odd about her, was there?"
"Not for a Sue, there wasn't," Storm Shadow replied. "Why?"
"Because there was something off about Storm Warning," Jinx said. "He was definitely arrogant enough to be a Stu, but he seemed to know a lot about us, and he was more interested in clan business than any of the others have been. Plus, he used the word 'quixotic' in casual conversation."
Pretentious. Or a Scrabble player. Snake Eyes considered this a moment. Don't like it. We should go.
"Quickly, to the Angel Mobile!" Storm Shadow set off for the car, attempting nonchalantly to brush the glitter from his hair.