The rec room is alive with the sounds of the heavily burdened looking to relax. Those who’ve volunteered to take on the role of being A Real American Hero wind down after the day’s various missions and jobs. In the middle of the room a pool cue connects with the 8 ball sending it rattling down the corner pocket. Towards the back, gathered around an ancient arcade cabinet the blip blip blip of Pac-Man plays as some Joes try to outdo the high score. Along the front wall, sounds of motorcycles racing comes from the tv mounted on the wall while several people relax on the thread bear sofa, “Man, Akira was a badass.”
“The hell you talking about Scrounge? That ain’t Akira.” Gunsmith scoffs.
“Yeah, it is. He’s the damn hero.”
“Man, that’s Kaneda. Have you even been watching this movie.” The banter is interrupted as Blacksmith rushes in and grabs the remote, “Hey! We’re watching that.” Blacksmith ignores the protestations of his colleagues. He turns to CNC, Cobra News Central.
“... the terrorists escaped after murdering 64 refugees looking for safe haven. As well as 16 brave heroes.” The camera cuts away from the newscaster and to a screen with “Warning” in large red letters, “We must warn you. The footage may be disturbing to some viewers.” The screen splits into multiple camera angles. The images flashing across the screen show the scared faces of people who had survived the years of facing the undead. men, women, children huddled together, cringing at sounds coming from outside their covered transports. Then the unthinkable happens, the convoy vehicles explode one after another. Multiple cameras show Throttle and GP running from behind a pile of wrecked cars. The feeds cut to static. The camera returns to the ghost white newscaster as he tries to compose himself, “Our hearts go out to these refugees who faced head on and survived the unthinkable to finally find sanctuary, only to be murdered by terrorists. We keep the memories of the heroic men and women in uniform that accompanied them and did all they could to keep them safe before being ambushed by cowards.” The anchor reaches for his ear, “My producers tell me we are cutting away for an important message from the Commander.”
“What the fuck!” Throttle exclaims having walked in with GP after the pair had spent time with BumbleBee.
All eyes turn towards Throttle and GP. “That’s not what happened!”
“It doesn’t matter.” The Boss enters the room. “This is what’s being broadcast. We know they doctored the footage. It really doesn’t matter though. This broadcast is going world-wide. Anyone and everyone with any kind of receiver is seeing or hearing this. They’re painting us as The Enemy.” The Boss steps further in the room, jaw dropped.
The Joes turn back to the TV. “Is that...?” The words trail off as Bowyer is stunned into silence.
“Sure as shit looks like it.” Sparrow rasps.
On the screen, the President of the United States stands next to Cobra Commander. The Commander steps back from the podium his words missed by the watching Joes, the POTUS steps up, “Thank you Commander. Thank you on behalf of the people of the United States. Thank you for the safe haven you are providing for all those innocent people looking to live in peace once again.” The President turns towards Cobra Commander and offers his hand. The Commander shakes it firmly. “Sadly, there are still those that want to destroy the safety and security you offer.” Looking defiantly into the camera, “The attacks today on unarmed civilians looking for safety are unconscionable. The terrorists calling themselves G.I.Joe are a menace. They hide behind a name long reserved for the finest military men and women our once great nation could produce. Now sullied by the actions of lawless cowards.” Anger clear on his face he continues, “The government of the United States does not condone the actions or the terrorists. We stand strong with the people of New Springfield and all those under the protection of Cobra.
In a time when we are still fighting off the undead it is unfortunate that we need to waste our limited and valuable resources to combat an Enemy that stoops to murdering innocents that just wanted a safe place to live.
Yet, this is where we find ourselves.
We are offering all remaining resources of the United States to Cobra in cooperation for bringing down these terrorists. Including our newly formed anti-terror squad.”
The President gestures to his right, the camera pans revealing a group of ten men and women in varying uniforms. The audible gasp from The Boss gets all eyes on him. The Joes look at their leader, it is his turn for the color to drain from his face. On the tv the men and women stand at rigid attention. Thousand yard stares look into the television camera sending chills down The Boss’ spine. The camera slowly pans from one face to the next.
“I am proud to reintroduce the world to;
Chuckles, Dialtone, Sneak Peek, Outback, Jinx, Blackout, Bombstrike, Barrel Roll, Grand Slam, and Firewall.
The Cobra HEAT.”
Chapter 88: The Bug
30 Miles from New Springfield.
Peering through gaps in the haphazard pile of long-forgotten rust coated car skeletons, keen eyes focus on the fast-approaching convoy; HISS tank mark 1 at point, followed by a HISS mark 7, the middle made up of several transport vehicles, with three HISS mark 1 completing the group. The mission of those waiting is to, stop the supply of weapons from reaching New Springfield.
“Here they come.” The ground trembles as the heavy armored vehicles rumble down the road. “Almost. Hold. Hold. Ready...” The convoy stops suddenly. “What the...”
“What’s going on? Why’d they stop?” The man’s impatience clear in his voice.
“No idea.” Throttle scans the vehicles through a monocular. The column of dark vehicles sits, their engines angrily grumbling away. “What’re they waiting for?”
“I don’t know.” The ground in front of them explodes. “Holy shit! Fall back! Fall back!” The two freedom fighters scramble for cover as the Predator drone sweeps down and rains lead death from the sky. “No one said shit about air support. Call it in.” The two quickly fall into the open door of the brick building. The fallen sign reads, Jumping Jack’s Hardware. “Call it in!”
“I am!” GP hits his radio, “We’ve been made! We need backup!” The broken glass littering the ground inside the store rattles as the drone flies by unleashing a barrage of bullets. Pockmarks explode from the crusted tile as bullets tear into it. “Damn it! We need help now before this thing turns back around.” They hastily make their way for the rear exit. Throttle and GP had carefully picked this location for their assault as soon as the Intel came in. It allowed for quick egress should things go sideways, like they are now.
The radio crackles to life, “Hold your horses. The cavalry is coming.” The voice snaps and pops.
“Hurry!” Throttle shouts towards the mic on her shoulder. They make it to the back door just as a missile slams into the front of the building tearing it asunder. “Holy shit!”
“Keep going!” Throttle yells as the drone screams through the sky overhead. They cross the alley and launch themselves through the open door they had left ajar for just this reason. “We’ve gotta make it two more blocks.”
The front of the building erupts in an explosion. They drop to the ground. “What the fuck!” The Predator flies by, they know it will return as soon as the remote operator gets it back on their course.
Ears ringing, smoke filling the air, the taste of explosives in his mouth GP shakes Throttle by the shoulders, “What are we gonna do?”
Throttle shakes her head and points. They quickly cross the back room and open the door. They find themselves looking out into open air where once a storefront stood. Ears throbbing, Throttle motions towards the sky, “We’ve gotta move, that thing is coming back.” They make their way across the rubble and run across the street. Throttle looks back over her shoulder, “Let’s go!”
GP’s radio snaps, “What’s your location?” Through exasperated breaths, GP replies, “Second. Approaching third.”
“Copy that. I’ve got the drone on my radar. I’ll be clearing the air.” They look up just in time to see a blur of yellow leap from the roof of the building they’re running towards, over their heads, to land somewhere on the roof across the street. It quickly pops up and into the fast-approaching drone’s flight path. The blur intercepts the drone mid-air. As they crash into one another a mechanical grinding can be heard.
“No fucking way!” GP’s mouth hangs open as the two metal beings slam into the roof.
“We don’t have time. We gotta go now!” Throttle turns as the building gives way sending brick, dust, and debris into the air.
Throttle and GP cross the alley to the next building they hear the cannons of the HISS tanks fire. “He’s got this. Let’s move.” They turn and run. They make it through the last building leading to a garage, the door rolled up, skid marks heading out the door, all but empty except for two dirt bikes. They each grab one, quickly put on helmets, and check the internal mics, “Let’s go GP. We gotta clear the area before they find us again.”
They start on the first try. Throttle smiles. She silently reminds herself to thank Greaser when they get back to base. They launch out of the garage, tires throwing gravel into the air. Throttle and GP push the engines to their limits as the block they escaped is rocked by repeated explosions. As the road screams under their tires Throttle sees a cloud of dust coming up behind them. The yellow car easily catches them pacing the escaping duo. Throttle looks over, “I knew you could do it Bug.”
The synthetic voice made up of old radio clips replies, “How many times do I have to tell you, my name is BumbleBee.”
Throttle nods. “You got it Bug.”
The wall of monitors is the only light in the War Room. They cast an eerie glow on the TeleVipers intensely scrutinizing the scenes playing out on the screens. Standing behind the blue-clad tech soldiers, hands clasped behind his back, Cobra Commander watches the progress of the convoy. “Commander the mission was a success.”
“Good. We have the footage?”
“I want it ready to air tonight. The lead-in will be ‘Terrorists attack refugee convoy’ I want the world to see the lengths G.I.Joe will go to destroy the safety of our citizens.”
“The helicopter is an hour out.”
The Commander looks up from the stack of documents on his desk. His hood hides any hint of expression from the Crimson Guard standing before him. “Good. I’ll be leaving to get ready momentarily.” The Guardsman snaps a salute and turns to leave. “Siege.” He turns sharply on his heel. His mask hiding the uncertainty on his face. “Double my escort. Also, make sure all available personnel are assembled on the grand lawn.”
“It shall be done Commander.” The tension eases out of his body.
“We want to make good impression for our news guests.”
“Most certainly Commander.” Another salute and the crimson clad soldier hurriedly exits. As the door clicks shut the Commander stands and turns towards the reinforced bullet resistant floor to ceiling window overlooking his new domain. New Springfield has risen from the ashes of the apocalypse as a beacon of hope. He takes it all in. It is the closest thing to the metropolis of old. A bustling city with electricity, running water, thriving markets, even an entertainment district. While outside the walls, beyond the one mile clearing separating this new world from the old, the undead rule.
He then turns to the large map on the wall. Once it would have been a map of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Now, it’s something else. It marks the boundaries of the new territories. Those in red, under his control, grow daily. The map is red from just north of New Springfield down into Central America and northern South America. His domain expands to the east right up until the irradiated Wastelands. Beyond the Wastelands lie the Badlands under the control of the United Tribes. He looks carefully at the territory. “They will need to be dealt with eventually.” He says to the empty room. Beyond that, running to the Atlantic is No Man’s Land. A place where rival warlords carve up territory faster then they can claim it. The red stops at the Rockies to the west. That is about to change.
He steps away from the window. It’s time to get ready. With the new arrivals landing his position as leader of this new world is one step closer to absolute.
An hour later he stands at the edge fo a landing zone flanked on either side by a large contingent of Crimson Guard. The Commander and Sieges seem unaffected by the downwash. As the rotors begin to slow the side door opens. Several Vipers jump off followed by a group of old men in suits. The first heads towards the Commander the others herd the men to the side of the landing pad away from the still spinning propellors. Two more Vipers drag a man, clearly unconscious, from the aircraft. The first Viper off, an Officer stops in front of Cobra Commander, “Package delivered Commander.”
“Good good. Well done.” The Commander nods his head in the direction of the unconscious man as a MediViper runs up to check him. “It seems you had a bit of a problem.”
“Nothing we couldn’t handle Commander. Just an old Joe that didn’t like seeing us.”
“You brought back another Joe. Do you know which one?”
“Dialtone. A communications expert.”
“Very good Major Onesi. If you will have those men brought over.”
“Right away Commander.” He turns to head back to his men.
“See to it that you and your men get the next 5 days off.”
“Yes Commander.” Major Onesi double times back to the rest of the Vipers’ Nest group. The suited men are escorted to Cobra Commander. The five guests walk briskly towards the masked man. A look of awe on each of their faces.
Under his mask a smile spreads across the Commander’s face, he spreads his arms in front of him. “Welcome to New Springfield, Mr. President.”
"Commander, the information you requested has arrived." The uniformed trooper places a folder on the well worn oaken desk, snaps a salute, then quickly leaves.
Cobra Commander sits back in his chair, elbows on the leather armrests, fingers steepled. He peers at the manila folder steeling himself to look inside.
For 8 years the war has raged on. Man vs undead. Cobra vs the remnants of the US government. So far he has been winning on both fronts. In fact he's been using the undead in his battle against the new G.I.Joe team. The strategy has been simple, get a horde to follow a team to Salem, Oregon the capitol of the New States of America, point the mass of flesh eating monsters at the walls, and make the fledgling government use their precious resources to stop the creatures from feasting on those inside. It worked surprisingly well. Until it didn't. All went as usual, the team of troopers had rounded up a horde made up of several thousand walking corpses. They had already chosen the attack point as well as the area where they would splinter off leaving the swelling mass to attack. When they arrived at the location where they'd double back, a team of heavily armed Joes were waiting. They suffered heavy casualties, the first to the Joes in well over a year.
There was no way the Joe team could have guessed where the next attack would be. Which meant there was a mole. Cobra had recruited a number of former Joe operators as well as operatives and agents from numerous US Federal Agencies but none were on the mission or a part of the planning process. Cobra Commander spared no resources to find the information in the file in front of him. Now he hesitated to open it. Leaning forward he pressed the intercom button. His assistant answers, "Yes Commander"
"Get me Generals Tomax and Xamot. Immediately. When they arrive make sure I am not interupted under any circumstances."
"Yes Commander." Cobra Commander sits back fingers steepled, waiting.
It takes only a matter of minutes for a knock at the door to draw his attention away from the dossier. He calls out, "Enter." The door opens slowly. Generals Tomax and Xamot are no strangers to the office of the Commander having assisted in every aspect of the creation of New Springfield and the continuing attacks on Salem. They were however unnerved at the unannounced meeting. They step in coming to a stop and saluting. "You called for us Commander." Tomax says.
"Yes. I did."
They remain standing as no seat is offered. "What can be so important as to take us away from..."
"Are you questioning me Xamot!??? The words are growled not as a question but a warning.
"No Commander." Xamot stands rigid like a rabbit seeing the snake and hoping it doesn't see him. His brother freezes next to him.
"Gentlemen." Not Generals. The two instinctually know this will not turn out well. "As you know the last mission to Salem was an abject failure."
Tomax interjects, "Sir we know things didn't go as planned..."
"SILENCE!" The word reverberates through the office. He looks from one to the other his gleaming mask showing nothing of his face. It simply mirrors the reflections of two very still and very uneasy Cobra Generals. "Inside this folder is the reason why." He slides it across the desk. "I went to great lengths to get this information."
"I said silence. I will not repeat myself again." The threat is not only implied but punctuated by the placement of a shining silver revolver on the desk. "I have yet to open the folder but have been told what it contains." He looks at each man again, beads of sweat beginning to form on their brows. "I'm going to ask you to open it and to deal with it." He then goes silent relaxing into his chair in the familiar pose with steepled fingers. "Open it." He doesn't direct the order to either man in particular.
Tomax reaches out, "Brother don't" Xamot's hand grasps his brothers wrist catching Tomax of guard. "Why not brother?" "No good will come of it. This is clearly a test by the Commander. A test of our loyalty to Cobra." Tomax looks at his brother's pleading eyes. "Don't." Is all Xamot says.
"Brother I don't know what you think this may contain but we have been ordered by our Commander. I shall not ignore that order." He twists his wrist away. A tear runs down his brother's cheek. He turns to look as he flips the cover open. Inside are photos. Photos that cannot exist. Photos of him handing information to a Joe operator. His vision swirls. The world around him seems to come crashing down. A cacophony of sound erupts in his head. "What... How?" He stammers looking at the Commander seeing only the reflection of his own palpable fear. The Commander turns his head toward Xamot. Tomax sees something in the reflection he can't quite comprehend. He turns towards his brother not realizing that he had retrieved the pistol from the Commander's desk and now had it leveled at his head. "B-b-Brother." Xamot cocks the single action weapon. "I'm sorry brother."
"NO..." The earsplitting sound of the .357 cuts off the word as Tomax's head splits open like an overripe melon. Behind his mask the Commander smiles. Xamot turns towards the man. "I'm sorry Commander." In one smooth motion the gun is under Xamot's chin, the trigger squeezed, and the lifeless body falls to the ground with a wet thud. The Commander's smile grows. He presses the intercom, "Get me a clean up crew."
"Right away sir."
Date: May 1st, 2015. time: 2100 hours. Location: Vipers' Den, somewhere in the Colorado Rockies.
"Hey Doc." The voice pulls him out of his reading. He puts down his well worn copy of "The Real Ironman. The Autobiography of Tony Stark" and glances at the clock on the wall.
He doesn't try to correct the man. He had tried for a while. He was told a degree didn't matter, he was the one keeping them all healthy and alive. Besides wasn't Hawkeye one of the doctors on MASH. He'd given up after that. Now everyone calls him Doc.
"Yes?" Sitting alone behind the desk in the large and currently unoccupied infirmary the long time Mediviper looks at the Rockviper standing in front of him. "What's up John?"
"Oh nothing much. Just thought I'd come check on how my favorite Doc is doing." He pulls up a chair and flops down into it. "Whatchya reading?"
"Tony Stark's autobiography."
"Yeah? I'm more of a Steve Roger's fan myself."
"Oh yeah. Big fan." He pauses for a minute getting a faraway look in his eyes. "That Steve Rogers was everything I wanted to be. Did I ever tell you about my time in the Army?" He hadn't but Hawkeye had read his file and knew all about it.
“I was in the 10th Mountain Division:
We are the 10th Mountain Infantry,
With a glorious history
On our own two feet,
All our foes we'll defeat,
Light fighters marching on to
We go where others dare not go,
Through the heat or cold or snow,
We are proud to be in the Army of the free.
Climb to glory, Mountain Infantry.
Climb to glory, the Light Infantry."
He sits silently as thoughts race across his face. "Four years. Four of the hardest years of my life." Another pause. "I enlisted right after 9/11. Figured it'd be a good job. Support my wife and kids. Help the country. All that good Patriotic crap ya know." He doesn't pause for an answer. "Anyway, there I am in Afghanistan getting shot at by jihadi pieces\\] of shit and my wife is stateside shopping with food stamps. Fuckin' food stamps. I'm risking my life and the government won't pay me enough to support my family.
They drop over 60 billion dollars on a plane that doesn't work while my wife goes hungry so our kids can eat. Fuck is that about?
So there I am in the shit. Getting shot at. You know something, that didn't scare me, being shot at. You know what did? Not knowing if the electricity would stay on back home. I had done it all the right way; graduated high school, got an Associate's Degree, was gonna get a BA in geology but then the Twin Towers…” He goes still remembering back to the day that changed the United States forever.
“…anyway I enlist. You know what an Associate's Degree gets you? Jack and shit. Oh sure I was a Specialist, fuck everyone and their mother were Specialists. You know what a BA gets you? A chance at OCS, better pay, business recruiters waiting to swoop you up, a real life after the Army. That's what they get.
I'd get letters from home, an email about how my wife had to get groceries donated to her. Donated! Why does my wife need donations?
Four years I was in. 3 deployments. I was up to re-up my enlistment, Carol and I fought about that. I don't know what I was thinking. Anyway, one night we really got into it. Yelling at each other. Kids crying. I left. Went to the bar. I was nursing a pint when a guy sat down next to me. Said he was a recruiter for a PMC firm. Wouldn't say which one, Opsec and all that he said. I swear he knew everything about me. Said he had a job to offer me. Slid me his card. Told me he'd written a number on the back of it, my starting salary. He said not to look at it till he left. He ordered us a round and told me all about the benefits my family would get; relocation, rent free housing in a house with a yard, the medical, dental, the whole nine yards. He told me I'd do 3 months on 3 months off. It'd be a 5 year contract, after that we'd renegotiate.
He paid my tab and told me he'd call me in a few days, I hadn't even given him my number. I went home, we had a small 2 bedroom apartment off base. My kids shared the larger bedroom, my wife and I in the smaller one. It was more like a glorified closet if I'm honest. I didn't tell Carol at first. I needed to make up for the fight.
Carol is the best thing to happen to me.
So a couple days later I tell her. She's suspicious and said if something sounds too good to be true it's cause it is. But she said I could check it out. He called the next day. I went on a tour. A tour. He showed me where I'd be trained and showed me a model home. He asked if I wanted to talk to my wife some more. Maybe bring her by. No hard sale. No pressure. I told her all about it and signed up.
On day one I met everyone else in my training unit. All of us had similar stories. It was a week before we learned we had signed up with Cobra. Don't get me wrong we weren't a bunch of idiots. We had suspicions but when we walked in to an amphitheater and saw the back drop it became clear. We were all Vets mind you. We all served our countries, every one of us honorably too. Not a slacker among us. No POGs either. We had heard about Cobra, who hadn't? They were fucking terrorists. They murdered civilians. They were the dregs the worst of the worst of society. We had heard that Cobra was in 'Stan supporting those assholes.
Turns out Cobra was there.
Did you know Cobra Commander sent two squads of Rock Vipers to Afghanistan to help find those POS? They worked with the Special Forces several times doing stuff the US couldn't do themselves. You'd never see that reported on the nightly news. The Commander hated Bin asshole. Hated that he killed innocent people." The Rockviper sits forward, "Did you know the Commander did everything he could to keep civilian casualties to a minimum? Yeah Alley Vipers cause havoc and mayhem but how many civilians have they intentionally killed? No carpet bombing. No accidental drone mishaps. I'm not delusional Doc, I know innocent civilians die, that's the cost of war, but not nearly the same number. It's not comparable. You ever met the Commander?" He pauses clearly hoping for an answer.
"No I haven't had the pleasure."
"I did. You know what he asked me? He asked me to tell him about my family. I told him Carol, little Tommy and Bethany. He asked how my kids were doing in school. How we liked our neighborhood. He asked me how we were doing with the deployment schedule. If I was holding up okay. He literally looked me in the eyes and said, 'Sergeant, I know that this is probably not how you saw your life going. Secretly working for a group labeled terrorists, but it is for a common good and in the end you'll realize that this was the best decision you've ever made.' Then he shook my hand and left. There was no cackling or grandiose speech, just one man talking to another man.
You know Brian, you and Emily should stop by for dinner soon. The kids love your dogs."
"I think we can do that."
"Great. I'll let Carol know. Anyway I should get going. My squad is next on patrol rotation. I should check over my gear. Good talking to you Doc."
"See ya later."
"See ya." And with that the Rockviper known as Cairn, Sergeant Walden, John pushed up from the chair and walked off. Hawkeye had gotten used to these interactions. He and John really were friends so he didn't mind the sharing. If letting his buddy unload meant he was more focused and safe out in the field then it was well worth the time. It was just another hat he wore in his infirmary. He thought about putting up a sign, Psychiatrist .05 cents. Nah better not.
Date: March 9, 2015. Time: Unknown. Location: Somewhere 65 miles from New Springfield
It's been six years since that fateful night. The tragic 911 call that came to announce the rising of the undead. The screams had been played by the media over and over again in the early days. The screams became symbolic of the times.
6.8 billion people hunted down to unknown millions. Could be hundreds of millions. Could be 1 million. Billions joined the ever growing ranks of the undead. Hundreds of millions more died due to the nuclear fallout. Still more found their end due to starvation, dehydration, the resurgence of once extinct illnesses, others to suicide, then there was the unspeakable loss of life at the hands of monsters.
Right now none of that mattered. Right now all there is is survival. The lone stranger needed to make it to New Springfield, come hell or horde.
He had hunkered down when it all happened. He had supplies to last several years. They'd run out 2 years ago. He'd spent the intervening time scavenging. There hasn't been much to find. Living things are scarce. Living things that are easy and safe to eat even more so. Then there's the water.
He'd seen all the movies growing up. He'd been a fan of that one show the Walking Walkers. Stupid name, "walkers." Were they all related to that Texas Ranger? His kids perhaps? Or had the people in that show never seen a zombie movie?
That would be some weird alternate reality shit. A world where no one made zombie movies. Or tv shows. Or t-shirts, bobble heads, candy. Mmm. He'd chop off his own hand for a candy bar. Perhaps a Snickers. He can see the commercial now; some undead bastard is chasing a bunch of people on a soccer field and someone yells, "Hey Mark eat a Snickers." The dumb fool holds his hand out to the zombie, candy bar in hand, the thing turns, grabs the arm, and tears into it. Blood squirts wildly into the air. The shambling piece of crap looks up, flesh clinging to its chin and winks at the camera teeth glistening. The fresh maker.
No. That's not right. Damn it. His thoughts are jumbled. It's hard to focus on any one thing for too long. Except for his goal. Get to New Springfield. The last people he came upon had told him all about it. They have big strong walls with armed guards at the top. Enough food and water for everyone. Enough food to plump them up. He was tired of thin, bony, wiry meals. He dreamed of fat, soft, scrumptious morsels.
He licked his lips just thinking about it. New Springfield. The ultimate all you can eat buffet. He was nearly there.
Date: March 7, 2014. Time: 0735. Location: Free World Radio, Dodge City, Kansas.
"Hello..." :indistinguishable mumbling: "... Are we broadcasting?" :indistinguishable mumbling:
We've been off the air for so long, actually we thought we were done for. We were surrounded. We'd been cut off. We had to stop reporting to defend our small retreat. Out of ammo, out of food, and out of hope. Our water had gone dry two days prior. We knew about the "Rule of 3s" and the "3 days without water" was weighing heavy on our minds. We were resigned to our fate. We would soon be dead. Then undead.
"If you can hear this know you are not alone. There are pockets of resistance around the world. Cobra is leading the charge of reclaiming our lands from the hordes of undead flesh eaters. You heard that right. Cobra has established multiple safe zones around the world. The largest is New Springfield. If you can get to any Cobra controlled territory you will be protected and provided for."
The rifle fire came quick and controlled. We had no idea who it was. We had hoped it was the military, we had heard the stories, hell we reported the stories of rouge military factions. They would be better then being eaten alive. At least they'd kill us quickly first.
We were able to smell the cordite. The staccato of shots went on for what seemed like forever. Then just as suddenly as they began they stopped. "HELLO TO THE SURVIVORS INSIDE." The voice projected over a bullhorn sounded commanding. "WE HAVE SECURED THE AREA. IF YOU ARE IN NEED OF FURTHER ASSISTANCE PLEASE SIGNAL." We were definitely in need of assistance. So we took a chance and opened the door.
We couldn't believe what we saw. Men and women all around our station. Most in blue uniforms. Other in varying types of camouflage. All armed and wearing masks. Then we saw the sigil. The Cobra. We knew we had made a mistake. Several large tanks, HISS Tanks, rolled up followed by several other vehicles of varying size.
A man approached. He wasn't wearing a mask and his rank insignia identified him as a Major. "Sir, I'm Major Clay Moore. You're safe now." He extended his hand. A smile on his face. I was in shock. I took it unsteadily. The big man before me turned and shouted "Medic!" Several soldiers ran up red crosses on pouches identifying them as medics. "Take care of these people. Full once over." He turned to look back at me, "Sir are you and your people hungry?" I was barely able to nod my head. He turned back to the medics, "Fill 'em up too. Food. Water. Give them whatever." He once again turned to me, "Sir you go with these folks. They'll take care of you. I'd stay with you but we've got a lot to do if we're gonna get your station up and running again." The medics took each of us off to a tent that had been set up. As we walked we saw all kinds of activity. People moving bodies of the truly dead. Others with all kinds of tech gear moving into the station building. Others doing what I came to learn was sentry duty. Everyone was doing something.
That was two weeks ago. Since then the station has been secured; a large stockade was built around it with lookout posts at the corners. Our signal has been boosted with all kinds of technology that had only been rumored to exist before the undead. We have a round the clock compliment of soldiers. Major Moore has moved on to secure more areas but he left us in the hands of Lieutenant Garcia. He apparently worked in broadcasting before the apocalypse. As for supplies, we have all we need and then some. The extra is for anyone who makes it here alive and infection free.
"We will be broadcasting around the clock the locations, longitude and latitude, as well as local identifying land marks of all Safe Zones held by Cobra. Know that help is finally here. Our government failed. But rest assured Cobra will not."
We all know there's propaganda mixed in to our broadcasts from this point on. But wasn't there always? And isn't a little propaganda okay if it helps save lives?
Date: February 1, 2013. Time: 0900. Location: South America, somewhere along the Amazon River.
In a small office on a lower level of the Vipers’ Nest the men who had been the original guardians of the post gathered.
“Why are we leaving here man?”
“Because those are our orders Crouch.”
“With all due respect, screw orders man. They don’t make sense. We have a stronghold here. We have food, water, supplies, weapons. Look at this place. Look at all the guys who fought to get here. Now we’re just gonna leave it all? Just like that?”
“Not all of it. We’re keeping this base active with a small unit just like before.”
“Then why the hell do we have to leave?”
“Because your Commander has bigger plans for you.” The voice catches the Vipers off guard. It always does.
“Agent, didn’t hear you come in.”
Turning towards Captain Onesi, “And you never will.” Turning slowly back towards Viper Crouch, “The Commander has placed a lot of trust in you and you have proven yourself worthy of that trust. I’ll assume you don’t want to disappoint the Commander. Am I correct?”
“Very good. Now if you’ll excuse me gentlemen I have to see to a few last minute arrangements. I suggest you men find your way outside.”
The air is alive with the energy of the amassed troops; excitement, anticipation, apprehension, and under it all permeating everything fear. Upon the arrival of Cobra Commander preparations had begun immediately from readying transports, to issuing new uniforms, armor, and weaponry. The men and women gathered at Vipers’ Nest had known what the end goal was, returning to the United States and reclaiming it for Cobra. Now the day had come.
Standing before his assembled troops Cobra Commander looks out assessing each man and woman before him. He has come to know every one personally, learning their fears, their passions, hearing stories about their families. He has used the passing months wisely, uncovering what drive them, what motivates them. He knows many have lost everything, unbeknownst to his troops he also knows that there will be reunions for some when they reach New Springfield, reunions that will only solidify their loyalty to Cobra and more importantly to him. Now is the time, they haven’t lost anyone in months, the locals who have survived have turned to them as saviors, and that is what they have come to believe themselves to be. He raises his hand and immediately a stillness spreads over his army.
“I stand before you humbled by your perseverance and strength. I will not lie to you both of those qualities shall be tested as we are about to embark on the next stage of our journey. The expedition we are about to undertake shall be drought with peril. We will undoubtably be forced to confront untold hordes of the undead, vicious bandits and marauders, and let us not forget the natural and man-made threats; disease, the unforgiving elements, nuclear, chemical, and biological fallout, not to mention the destruction of infrastructure. We will be paving our own paths for much of the journey. And through it all we must stand together. We must stand as one, united. It is true some of us may not survive the the trek, however we must not let our loss be in vain.
We shall fight shoulder to shoulder to protect each other. We shall offer refuge to those who seek it and we shall defend them as vehemently as we do ourselves. We shall travel as a beacon of light in this dark new world. We shall be a place of hope for any and all who need it.
We return to the United States not as a hostile force determined to take over, but as saviors looking to restore peace and order. Our order.
Along the way some of you may feel the calling to spread the word of our mission, of assisting those who need a guide. I encourage you to answer that call.
Already our ranks grow in the north. As we speak Lieutenant Colonel Bludd along with Captain Claymoore are working to reestablish routes of communication, travel, and trade in preparation of our arrival.
Men and women of all races, creeds, religions, and backgrounds are flocking to our New Springfield. They have thrown off the shackles of corporate control, influence, corruption, injustice, inequity, and inequality. Those that are able are joining our cause. They are taking up arms to defend our future.
We shall rise from the ashes of the old world. We shall stand with open arms accepting, assisting, protecting those unable to defend themselves. We shall stand as leaders for humanity.
We go forth now with glorious purpose. To New Springfield. For the innocent. For Cobra.”
“COBRA!” The thunderous response shakes the very ground of the jungle.
As the convoy begins to roll out the men of Vipers’ Nest look back at the place that had become their home. Nearly 8 years of living and working in the isolated listening post had left an indelible mark on the tight knit unit. As they drove off they watched the jungle close around the dirt road enveloping the reinforced doors.
Date: August 23, 2011. Time: 1221. Location: Somewhere in the Pacific.
“Aye aye sir.”
6 hours earlier:
Date: August 23, 2011. Time: 0621. Location: Somewhere in the Pacific.
“She’s within visual range sir.”
“Bring us up and along side. Prepare to board.”
“Yes sir.” The crew of the Hammerhead Poseidon’s Trident work quickly and efficiently in the cramped confined space to make ready the team that will enter the large vessel above them.
Once the pride and joy of the Joe Naval Fleet the USS Flagg sits in the water little more then a floating refuge camp. Long ago the crew had distributed the last of the rations, immediately afterwards small scale rioting had erupted requiring the use of what little ammunition the dedicated men and women had left. Once depleted the crew found itself forced to improvise, making it near impossible to more difficult by the day to maintain any semblance of order. It wasn’t until Admiral Keel Haul ordered that those disturbing the peace be summarily disciplined that he regained control over his ship. A series of stocks were made out of the available materials on board and placed on the center of the deck, those who chose to break the rules were made examples of. The addition of the stockades made the ship feel more like a medieval castle then the flight deck of a multi-billion dollar naval vessel, yet they got the job done. Using a hastily made whip the Admiral would deliver punishment to any wrongdoers. With each lash a small piece of Keel Haul’s soul died. It only took two men being punished to reestablish relative peace onboard the ship.
It had been months since those days. While the violence had ceased the death and disease hadn’t. The bodies of civilians received a burial at sea, while the bodies of service men and women were held below deck until such time as they could receive proper burial befitting their service. Illness and starvation only added to the deplorable conditions. The decks that had once overflowed with makeshift tents humming with the sounds of survivors now held the silent faces of fewer then 100. Those that remained were little more then walking skeletons. If it wasn’t for their ability to speak one could almost mistake them for the undead.
“Sir the men are ready.”
“Breach the surface. Come around her starboard side. Paul. Cruze. You two stay here and keep the old girl running. I want eyes and ears on everything. While we’re up there if a whale shits below us I want to know.”
“Well Admiral you ready to take us aboard?”
“Yes.” Like so many survivors in this new world Admiral Keel Haul had resigned himself to fate. Gone was the loud commanding figure of a hardened Naval Veteran, that had died slowly piece by piece with each body sent to the bottom to join Davy Jones. All that remained was the hollow shell of a man trying desperately to survive. No not to survive, to not die. His small band had watched from the control room of his massive ship as the Hammerhead made landfall on the atoll. It was then that the idea he might be able to lead a small team to gather supplies was born. He hoped they could find just enough to perhaps prolong the lives and ease the suffering of a few people under his watch. He knew it was a long shot. He knew the vessel couldn’t hold enough supplies for all that looked to him. But it was something.
Since their capture the men and women of the Flagg had not been mistreated. They were given food, water, and were even allowed to clean up using the outdoor shower system that had been set up, the best part being the bar soap they were given. They had long ago run out of such a luxury. The Captain of the Hammerhead had offered nothing but respect to the Admiral and his team. For that Keel Haul was eternally grateful.
For a moment he thought perhaps things could turn around, that this mission had led them to their unlikely saviors.
The boarding of the Flagg was uneventful. The Hammerhead hadn’t tried to conceal their approach so as they entered the ships belly they were met by a handful of men and women, uniforms clinging to their emaciated frames. In their hands they held a menagerie of melee style weapons; hammers, pipes, wrenches, lengths of chain. Each wore a holstered pistol which Captain Wright knew to empty. Hanging from sagging chest rigs and belts were fixed blade knives. The site would have been amusing were it not so depressing. Admiral Keel Haul seeing his people so fragile and frail yet still attempting to be strong in the face of certain death felt the last of his heart break. “Stand down. These men are here at my request.” His voice dripped sadness.
“Sir they’re Cobra…”
“So was Munita. Those labels… They mean nothing now. These men are the first contact with the outside world we’ve had in months and may be all that stand between us and a watery grave.”
The frightened crew had neither the strength nor the will to argue. They simply sulked back towards the top deck without so much as a word.
It was no wonder that the people on board the Flagg had abandoned the lower decks, the heat and humidity were unbearable. “Captain if you’ll follow me topside.”
“She’s your boat Admiral, by all means.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “Lead the way.” As the Admiral stepped forward Captain Wright turned to his men, “Stay sharp.”
Much like the boarding process the trip topside was entirely uneventful. Once on deck the full scale of the tragedy that was the USS Flagg came into view. The survivors, if you could call what they were doing surviving, were living in abject squalor. Despite having thousands of square feet on the deck they were huddled in one section, the rest home to abandoned tents and other waste and detritus. The smell hit the men of the Hammerhead first, it was somehow worse then the stale stench below deck. Even in the open air the odor was horrendous, a vile mixture of shit and piss mixed with the unwashed body odor of the living. Captain Wright swallowed back a mouthful of bile fighting to escape his throat.
Areas of the once meticulously maintained flight deck were now slick with human excrement and urine. The stink of death clung to the men’s throat with each inhalation of breathe. Each man, woman, and child on deck looked like they were little more then a half step away from death’s door. “My god.” Was all the Captain could muster. Taking it all in he turned to his men, “Mack. O’Leary. Go gather any supplies we can spare; food, water, medicine. Get Paul to go cast some nets, let’s try and get some protein in these people.”
“Yes Sir.” Without another word Mack and O’Leary set out to complete the mission assigned to them, glad to no longer have to witness the suffering on deck.
“Admiral with your permission we will distribute what we can to those most in need.”
The Admiral’s response, “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. We certainly do not have enough for everyone but we will do what we can.”
Minutes later the two EELs arrived back at Poseidon’s Trident. They related what they had seen on the ship to Sergeants Paul and Cruze. No one argued about how scare their supplies were, or even questioned how they would restock what they were giving up, hands just went to work collecting what they could. As soon as it was amassed the men rebounded the Flagg and headed straight for the deck, ignoring the creaking and banging of the large ships underbelly. What little they had filled two rucksacks and was distributed faster then it had taken them to load the packs. They went to the few children first, then the sickest adults. The recipients meek “Thanks” and tear wet eyes of the refugees made the men of Poseidon’s Trident see just how lucky they had been all this time. It took several hours but eventually Paul returned having been able to locate and net a school of small fish, no easy task from the one man submersible he had taken. Nevertheless there were enough of the little fish to put something warm in the bellies of each person on deck.
After doing all they could up top the men of Poseidon’s Trident accompanied Keel Haul below deck to check on the integrity of the large ship. “We’ve done all we could but honestly she’s seen better days. We ceased all non-essential operations, we have plenty of fuel to keep running what we’ve been using; desalinator, communications, basic engineering. We could probably get her fully operational we just don’t have the man power.” Looking at the men behind him the Admiral ends his conversation. They continue on in silence. Their footsteps echoing off the bulkheads of the narrow lower decks. As they pass a crossing hall a slight hum, vibration, and something else catches the Captain’s attention, “Wait.” Stopping abruptly his men instantly brought their weapons to the ready, aiming down empty corridors. “Did anyone else hear that?”
“Hear what sir?”
“I’m not sure Ganson. I thought I heard something.”
“I assure you Captain all you heard was the settling of this big lady. She makes quite a few…” His words are stopped by the loud banging coming from down the hall.
“Admiral, is there anything we should know?”
“No, I swear.”
BANG! The sounds of faint shuffling comes from down a dimly lit hall. “Captain. I’m hearing something.”
Turning on the Admiral, Captain Wright grabs the man by the collar of his shirt, through gritted teeth, “What is down that hall Admiral?”
“Just… Just the bodies.” Tears streaming from his fearful eyes.
“What bodies?” The question comes out as a controlled growl.
“My men. I couldn’t throw them overboard. They were dead I swear.”
“And you didn’t make sure they were down for good?”
“Sir!” Anxiety growing in Ganson’s voice at the sound is unmistakable moaning. Slowly the sound of scraping feet grows in volume. The men target their rifles on the empty space before them knowing what is coming.
“Whatever you do don’t fire.”
“If there’s one there are likely more. You fire and all your doing is signing our death warrant. Not to mention we’ll all go deaf.”
“Should we head topside?”
“Negative. We need to eliminate the threat.”
The seconds tick by. After what seems like hours the creature is visible in the weak light. “Good god it’s Travis. He was on duty in engineering.” Hearing the cracking voice of the Admiral the creature lets out a bellowing moan.
“Sir what should I do.”
“Stand down Ganson. I’ve got this.”
“Sir…?” Before the EEL can protest Wright pulls his knife, a blacked out Kabar BK2, walks the distance between his men and the approaching creature, and sinks the blade hilt deep into the temple of the beast. It falls to the ground with a wet thump yet the moaning persists. First one distinct groan then another, followed by more. Each passing moment the noise grows in strength and ferocity. “Men I think we need to take this topside.” The men do not hesitate. Weapons hot they make their way through the dank maze of passageways following the Captain’s lead. The whole time the Admiral’s eyes dart side to side terror plain on his face. “Men if you have your ear pro use it. If you see one of those things light it up.” One by one in perfect since each man takes his ear plugs out of the small container dangling from the collar of their shirts and places them in. “Admiral, you failed to mention you were storing the dead.” There was no response from the man, the look on his face was enough. “Move it EELs.” They moved faster as one, like a well oiled machine, each man maintaining his post and covering their assigned firing line.
Making their way through the corridors Keel Haul swallows back his fear, “Captain through that bulk head and up those steps 3 levels and we’re out.”
“You heard him, go.” Pointing in the direction the Captain stops to look behind. Coming around the corner a pair of outstretched graying hands leads the way for the snapping jaws behind. “Go. Go. Go.” They double time it out into the waiting sunlight. They move as one onto the flight deck, the sight of the armed men weapons up and pointing in the direction they just came from causes panic amongst the withering refugees. It doesn’t take long for the creatures to topple out of the doorway. Lead screams and the smell of cordite fills the air, as do the whimpering shrieks of the unarmed survivors. Men and women, Naval uniforms sagging on their rotting remains stream out arms outstretched seeking their next meals. “Hold them back!” The Captain barks the order as he changes the magazine in his sidearm. The shots are well timed and well placed, one after another the creatures meet true death, only to be replaced by more of the snarling horde. Captain __ grabs Keel Haul as he tries to back away, “Look at what you’ve done. You’ve brought this on yourself.” Between sobs the Admiral replies, “I swore an oath to protect those men and women.”
Shaking the blubbering man, “How many?” Keel Haul doesn’t answer.
“Magazine!” The shout of Mack is answered by O’Leary, “Last one.”
“Shit I’m out.” Ganson pulls his blade ready to meet the enemy hand to hand.
Looking at his men, the refugees, and the monsters flowing from below Wright barks out his order, “EELs! Abandon ship! NOW!” Knowing their escape route is blocked and not being familiar with the layout below deck the EELs take the most expeditious route off the Flagg. One by one the men run for the edge of the deck and take a flying leap into the cold water below.
Screams fill the air as the disheveled refugees fall prey to the ravenous zombies. Others fall from the deck into the briny depths pursued by the undead.
The men climb onto the Hammerhead and quickly get inside and seal the hatches. Immediately the crew get to work moving the vehicle away from the death trap before them. Looking out the small portholes the men watch as the ship falls into utter chaos.
“Captain what should we do?”
Knowing what that ship holds the Captain has no choice.
Date: August 23, 2011. Time: 1221. Location: Somewhere in the Pacific.
“Aye aye sir.”
Without another word Sergeant Paul presses a button, the torpedoes speed away from the retreating Hammerhead. They run true to their target.