Flint halted in his patrol, coming to a stop just outside the door to the rec room. With an inward groan, he prepared himself for whatever the strange mix of noises coming from within might mean that day. If he had to guess, he would have chosen a wrestling match, or possibly paper-mache. Instead, the sight that greeted his eyes appeared to be of a hostage situation. A small ring of Joes standing around an absurdly large cardboard box snapped to attention as he stepped through the door. A pair of unidentified legs stuck out of the top of the box, kicking at the air. They disappeared, and a moment later Breaker sheepishly peered over the cardboard flaps. Packing peanuts clung to his hair and spilled out over the floor.
"Just what is going on here?" He didn't feel that he should have to ask, but no explanation appeared to be forthcoming. One hour until he was off duty. Just one hour...
The guilty smiles in the room began to tend toward 'downright apologetic.' "Y'see, we were wondering about the... uh... the logistics of mailing a person, sir."
Flint allowed that comment to linger in the silence for a good minute, deriving very little pleasure from the expressions that soured further as their bearers realized how ridiculous the idea sounded when articulated.
"We weren't gonna actually mail him!" A greenie - Steve was his name, Flint believed - interjected. "It's dangerous, I know sir. It was just an experiment. To, uh..."
"To analyze the risk of Cobra sending a care package full of Vipers somewhere effectively," Jaye piped up quickly.
Flint took a deep breath before starting. "I hope I can trust that you weren't imbecilic enough think that mailing a living person was safe." He turned to Lady Jaye. "And you, of all people, know that every piece of mail that makes it to the Pit is scanned and tested numerous times."
The brunette blushed ever so slightly and leveled a warning glare at the warrant officer. He decided to drop that line of prodding, if only because he didn't want to return from his shift to find any of a number of devious traps blocking him from collapsing onto his bunk.
"We didn't mean it seriously," Clutch attempted with an appeasing tone.
"Hey, I bet you could mail a ninja." The idea rose from the middle of a clump of Joes, none of whom seemed eager to meet Flint's accusing glare.
"I'd better not be hearing about any living things being mailed, or a shortage of any packing material," he warned with a slight growl.
"Roadblock brought the box. Said it was extra from the kitchen, and, uh... the peanuts..."
"Don't tell me." Flint shut the sturdy steel door a little harder than was necessary behind him.
"Phew. What a killjoy." Clutch crushed a packing peanut between his fingers before noticing that their mail item had wormed his way out of the box and was sitting in a pile of the foam pieces, struggling to free himself from the rope looped around his arms.
"That box is tiny on the inside," he complained. "My legs were cramping."
"I bet a ninja could fit." The suggestion came from Jaye this time, accompanied by a mischievous smirk.
"Of course a ninja could fit. Have you seen the vents they squeeze into?" Breaker freed himself from the rope with a final shrug and began to dust the packing material off himself. He gestured vaguely toward one of the two vents in the room which, despite being approximately six inches tall, bolted shut with a grate, and located on the ceiling, seemed to serve as the ninjas' main doors to the rec room.
On cue, a shadow flashed to the floor without disturbing the solid steel grate. Kamakura materialized behind Clutch, looking rather proud of his entrance. "My sensei and his brother could sit and have tea in that box comfortably."
"Yeah?" The driver did a remarkable job of sounding unsurprised at the appearance of the apprentice a mere foot behind him.
"So, what size box would you say one of them alone could fit into?" Jaye hinted.
Kamakura shrugged, but the spark of mischief had spread to his eyes as well.
"There was a box kicking around the kitchen yesterday, about the size of one of those vents. I'd bet Snake could fit himself into it if he wanted to travel by airmail." Roadblock crossed his arms thoughtfully.
"Here, let's set this up properly. Y'all bring boxes, and we try to put ninjas in them. Owner of the smallest box that fits one of the spooks wins." Ace was already rubbing his hands together at the prospect of a gamble.
"Are you in?" Jaye sized up Kamakura. "How flexible are you? And do you think you can convince Snake to get into a box?"
The ninja apprentice shrugged noncommittally. Clutch began dumping the packing peanuts out of the large box.
"I know one way to get a ninja into a box..." Roadblock grinned as well, having caught the mischief bug. Kamakura eyed him suspiciously.
Behind the ninja, Clutch was slowly lifting the box, now empty of peanuts, over his head.
"Do you think Storm Shadow might join? They could compete." Jaye carefully avoided staring at the empty box that was nearly positioned over Kamakura's head. "Or maybe Scarlett could help?"
He didn't have a chance to answer. With a whoosh of air, Clutch slammed the box down to the floor. The ninja disappeared beneath it, and the prankster jumped on top, eyeing the thin cardboard warily. Any minute, a sword would probably cut the box to ribbons, dropping him directly into trouble. "I think I caught him." His voice was mildly shaky.
"No way." Roadblock's laugh sounded almost nervous. If he was right, there would be at least one angry ninja under the box. If not... the angry ninja could be anywhere. "Someone check."
"No way. I'd prefer to keep my face." Ace retreated a few steps to the couch and leaned on the armrest.
"Hello? Anyone in there?" Clutch kicked one side of the box. It slid a few inches.
"No." Kamakura's voice sounded from directly behind the clump of wary Joes. By the time they whirled in place, there was nothing but air behind them. "I could feel that coming from a mile away."
"Good for you." Lady Jaye addressed the ceiling, where the voice was now issuing from. "Now, do you think you could bring Snake Eyes here?"
She was answered with nothing but silence. After a minute of waiting, Clutch slid awkwardly off the empty box and upended it with a foot. Empty.
"For a moment, I thought you'd have our second favorite shadow under there," Roadblock prodded.
Ace slumped onto the couch, slowly relaxing as he counted signs that none of the ninjas were near."Do you think I could have the kitchen's next bagel box?"
"Take it if you want. I've seen the chefs practically disappear into one of those themselves, though. It's way too big."
"How about you put your money where your mouth is?" Ace held out a hand.
"Deal. Ten on the cream cheese box I'll bring." Roadblock handed over the sum.
Ace spun in a slow circle. "What are you waiting for?"
"An excuse to stop by the supply post. And now I've got one." Jaye smirked, scattering the peanuts across the floor as she exited.
Kamakura hung his head, inclining it only enough to see his master's hands in the gloom of the ventilation shaft. "I apologize for my frivolity, Sensei," he whispered. "Whatever punishment you find necessary, I will- Sensei?"
If it was possible to project a smirk through a mask, the ninja master was doing just that. His apprentice steeled himself for an exceptionally "creative" punishment.
*Have you mastered the fifth flexibility routine yet?* the darker shadow asked innocently.
"Nearly, Sensei." Kamakura fought to keep his fingers from tapping impatiently on the floor of the vent.
*If you can fit into a smaller box than Jinx, your endurance training will not be increased for one extra week.* With that, Snake Eyes slithered silently out of sight.
Kamakura knew he was doomed.