OPERATION: SNAKE CHARMER
Undisclosed Location, Appalachia, United States
It was impossible to deny that the train was impressive. Even sitting still in the station, it looked like it was in motion. A person with a trained eye could easily see that it was also one of the most modern models available. Equipped with unobtanium that allowed it to levitate without magnetism, it was capable of truly incredible speeds and an amazingly smooth and safe ride.
It also looked more than a little silly, thanks entirely to the paint job. From front to back, the thing had been made to look as much like a snake as possible, with the first car serving as the head and the last one as a rattler. It was actually quite well done; there was no denying the painter or painters had talent.
However, it was still a train painted to look like a snake. A multimillion dollar train at that. The thing was a marvel of modern engineering; owning one would be enough to give bragging rights to a government or a tycoon, and it had the sort of paint job a nineteen-year-old boy would give his motorcycle to try and make it look badass.
/Well, I suppose it’s only to be expected from an organization like COBRA./ The woman in black thought as she strode confidently through the hidden mountain train station.
And really, who had ever heard of a hidden mountain *train station*? Hidden mountain bases were quite common in the insane world of the Core Timeline, but train stations? That had to be a new one.
She shook her head slightly to rid herself of the distracting thoughts and headed to the area where the passengers were boarding.
A guard in a blue uniform was checking the passenger’s identification before letting them onto the train. The woman had to resist the urge to smirk when he visibly swallowed upon seeing her.
“Yes? What is wrong?” she asked, a faint Eastern European accent coloring her speech.
“N-Nothing, Baroness,” he stammered, his gaze sweeping over the woman, who was wearing a tight outfit of black leather, the scarlet emblem of COBRA emblazoned upon her chest. She wore glasses with frames the same color as her long black hair. He struggled, not quite successfully, to keep his eyes on hers. “ID card, please.”
She handed it over, and the man scanned it. “Here you are,” he said, handing the card back to her. “Cobra Commander has requested that all VIP guests head to the grand ballroom. Please, enjoy your trip.”
“Thank you,” she said, proceeding into the train.
Even though he knew he shouldn’t, the guard craned his neck to watch the Baroness as she walked away.
He swallowed again. He had yet to encounter an alternate of the Baroness who was remotely unattractive, but that one was looking *particularly* desirable.
“Ahem,” the next person in line coughed loudly.
He snapped his attention back to his job. “Sorry, sir. ID card, please.”
Whatever one’s opinion of COBRA, it was hard to deny that the train’s grand ballroom was extremely impressive. It took up an entire train car, making it larger than many ballrooms that weren’t contained inside a vehicle. In addition to the size of the room, everything in it was the best. The dark haired femme fatale had been to a number of lavish parties in her time, and this was among the most opulent. COBRA had no doubt spent a fortune on this shindig.
However, the ice sculpture of the snake ready to pounce *was* a little kitsch…
“Anastasia, my dear, so glad you could make it,” a deep voice spoke from behind her.
She turned just as a big man wearing a silver mask that covered his whole head wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer to him.
“Destro, it is good to see you,” she replied, planting a kiss on the mask’s metallic cheek.
“The pleasure is mine,” Destro replied, and though the mask hid it, the smirk he wore was audible. “I must say, you are looking especially lovely tonight.”
One of his hands stealthily crept downwards, cupping her firm rear and giving it a squeeze.
“You flatter me, Destro,” she replied, gently pulling away. “So, I don’t suppose you know what this is all about?”
The big man chuckled. “You know Cobra Commander as well as I do,” he said. “He has a flair for drama. No doubt he intends to make some grand sounding but very vague speech.”
“But Cobra is making some major move soon, is it not?” the bespectacled woman asked.
“Again, you know as well as I do that we are. The signs of it are everywhere. Assets are being moved, resources committed. But the details remain elusive. I’m sure Cobra Commander will hand them out on a need-to-know basis, which means that we’ll be finding out soon enough, I’m sure,” Destro shrugged. “Now, no more talk of business. Can I get you a drink, my dear?”
“Please,” she smiled.
For the next several minutes, she sipped on truly excellent champagne and ate a few of the top notch hors d’oeuvres, while mingling with the rest of the COBRA personnel present. In addition to the various high ranking officers and operatives, there were also a number of alternates of the Baroness and Destro.
/Yet no other versions of Cobra Commander./ She noted.
According to rumor, several alternates of the evil leader had popped up in the Core Timeline almost simultaneously, most of them appearing with at least a few chunks of their respective versions of COBRA. The result had been a chaotic and brutal war that had continued until only one version of Cobra Commander remained alive. The victor had quickly declared himself the one true leader of a united COBRA, and with his competitors for the title finally gone, it hadn’t taken him long to be recognized as such. The few holdouts that had remained loyal to dead alternates of him had met with brutal ends.
All of this had occurred before the woman in black leather had appeared in the Core Timeline herself, so she didn’t know for sure if the rumors were true, but she had never seen anything to disprove them. One thing was for certain: Cobra Commander remained constantly vigilant for the appearance of any other versions of himself, and never hesitated to send out his best assassins whenever he located one.
Eventually, she felt the floor beneath her feet start to move. Trains such as this were known for reaching blazing speeds in a very short period of time, but the acceleration felt so gentle that she didn’t for a moment fear that it would cause her to fall. She wondered briefly what technology it employed to almost totally void the rules of inertia.
“Seems like we’re finally on our way,” Destro remarked. “I’ll bet the old snake will be making his grand entrance soon.”
“I should go freshen up before then,” she said, handing him her champagne glass. “I wouldn’t want to have to leave while he’s speaking. I imagine he would be insulted if I did that.”
“Indeed. Cobra Commander always was surprisingly sensitive for a man of his position,” Destro agreed with a chuckle.
Giving the masked man one more smile, the dark haired woman walked off, exiting the car that contained the ballroom and moving to the adjacent one that had the restrooms, among other things.
Once within the safety of one of the stalls in the ladies’ room, the “Baroness” reached up and pressed a tiny stud on her right earring. It released a tiny beep, one so soft that even she could barely hear it. Then it went silent.
Smiling, she prepared to truly get to work.
Meanwhile, far, far above the train that held the leadership of COBRA, a tiny alarm started to go off on a crowded control console.
“Well, look what we have here. Seems that ‘Whiplash’ is actually carrying out her part of the plan so far,” remarked Jeff “Joker” Moreau. “She’s activated the homing beacon.”
“I told you she would,” answered the only other person in the cramped space with him.
“Can you blame me for being skeptical? Historically, she’s not the most trustworthy person in the world, and we let her go off unsupervised into the COBRA’s den.” Joker retorted. “Seems like she would’ve seen it as an opportunity to give us the slip.”
“They’re not her kind of people. Now, where is the homing beacon putting her?”
“About where we expected. US of A, flyover country. And it’s moving fast,” Joker added. “They’re on that crazy super train of theirs. It’s the only way she could be moving at that speed.”
“Just like we expected. Get us into position for the drop.”
“You know this is insane, right?” Joker asked.
“Just do it. I’ll make it an order if I have to.”
“Aye aye, captain,” Joker grumbled, getting to work.
Not that there was so much work to be done, let alone any real challenge for his formidable piloting skills. All he had to do was plug the data into the flight computer and let it tell him where they needed to be, which it quickly did.
His hands dancing over the controls, he threw the tiny High-Flyer into motion. As they were situated right at the very edge of outer space, there wasn’t even a whole lot of air traffic to worry about. Just a straight trip from Point A to Point B.
As there was so little to occupy him, he turned his head to glance at his CO, who was in the process of gearing up for the mission ahead of her.
Not for the first time, he couldn’t help but feel that he was doing something incredibly screwed up, even if he knew logically that this was little different than all the times he’d dropped Commander Shepard off at one death world or another.
/Still, all the logic in the world doesn’t help that much when the person you’re ferrying from op to op looks like a fourteen-year-old girl./ He thought.
Joker didn’t know how this particular alternate of Maria Vincennes had wound up as a Captain America, or how her aging had been effectively halted. He hadn’t yet worked up the nerve to ask, and she hadn’t volunteered the information.
At the moment, her usual stars-and-stripes attire was nowhere to be seen, having been replaced by the all black outfit she used for her covert ops. Joker made quips about it being ninja garb sometimes, but in truth it more closely resembled a scuba suit. As he watched, she pulled the suit’s headgear up, completely concealing her blond hair but leaving her face uncovered. After strapping on her utility belt, she donned a visor that was tinted red.
Then she put on the final piece for her current mission, the part she needed for the truly crazy part of the plan.
A black wing suit.
/I don’t care how good she is. This is suicide, and I’m taking her straight to it./ He thought grimly. /This is *not* what I expected when I signed up to join SHIELD Team Seven./
Really, when he’d discovered that SHIELD had formed several semi-autonomous groups to help them counter the myriad threats present in the Core Timeline, and that one of them wanted him as a pilot, he’d been thrilled.
He’d become… less so when he’d been introduced to his new CO. Working for someone who looked like a kid could mess with your head at times, and it didn’t help that Vincennes was even more willing to take on the impossible than Shepard had been.
Half the time he felt like he should be playing dad and looking out for her. The other half… well, the other half he actually remembered who and what he was working with.
A hardened war veteran with peak human capabilities and a genius-level intellect who was a lot older than she looked.
“Two minutes ‘til drop time,” he announced.
She nodded. “I’m ready.”
“You do know that you don’t *have* to do this, right?” Joker decided to try one final time.
“And you know that neither SHIELD nor any of the other agencies we collaborate with have been able to get any meaningful intel on COBRA for months, right?” she countered. “Every high level meeting they’ve had lately has been on that train, which they scrupulously sweep for bugs every time it stops. Cobra Commander has even made it his mobile headquarters.”
“The only thing everyone knows for sure is that they’re up to something,” she continued. “They’ve been spending too much money and moving around too many assets not to be. Whiplash is the first person to successfully infiltrate that train, but she can’t do much else without a little help. Cobra Commander keeps close tabs on his guests.”
“Fine,” Joker sighed, defeated. “But I wanted it on the record that I’m against this. I don’t want anyone blaming me if you become street pizza.”
Maria smirked. “So noted,” she said. “But really, if this doesn’t work, I doubt they’ll ever find my remains.”
Joker’s response was cut off by a beep from the console, a warning that they had thirty seconds. Maria opened the High-Flyer’s door, and Joker grimaced as frigid air rushed in.
“We r-really need to make sure the next model comes w-with an airlock,” Joker grumbled, his teeth chattering.
“Wish me luck,” Maria said.
A loud alarm went off, and the girl in the black suit leaped out of the High-Flyer.
As she went sailing downwards, the winds buffeting her harshly, Maria found herself thinking that if she was going to die today, she really hoped it wasn’t by crashing into the side of a mountain or something. Joker wouldn’t be happy to see her go, but she still didn’t think he’d make it through her funeral without letting at least one “I told her so” slip.
Honestly, the jump was a bit of a long shot. The computer calculated when and where she should dive from the High-Flyer to the millisecond and the millimeter, but in order to do so it had had to make some assumptions. Assumptions that could easily be wrong. A stray gust of wind could send her off course, and from there, all bets were off. At no point was a soft landing guaranteed.
Still, she’d done far crazier things in her time. Indeed, what Joker didn’t quite seem to get was that for her, this was pretty much just another day at the office.
A more hectic and crazy day at the office than normal, but nothing truly extraordinary.
The HUD in her visor highlighted the speeding train before even her sharp eyes could pick it out, and Captain America adjusted her course accordingly. Even at such a great height, it was obvious that the thing was *really* moving. The blonde did some quick math in her head, calculating what the intercept point would be.
Down, down, down she went, getting closer and closer to the ground—and the train—with every second.
Of course, she was also picking up speed as she went. The wing suit didn’t do much to slow her down, which was why most people who used them either landed on the ocean or brought a parachute.
She didn’t have a parachute, and the nearest ocean was hundreds of miles away.
/Here we go./ She thought as she drew closer and closer to the moving train at speeds great enough to shatter even her exceptionally strong bones. She was sailing right above the roof of the vehicle now…
A series of tiny retrorockets embedded in the front of her wing suit fired automatically, slowing her down just in time. She was only a few dozen feet above the roof of the train now, soaring through the air above it as it raced down its track, rapidly bleeding speech with every moment. Soon, she’d be able to land on the train without hurting herself.
Unfortunately, while that part of it was going perfectly, the calculations had still been wrong somewhere. The train below her was going a lot more quickly than she was; within a couple of seconds, it would have pulled away from her. She wasn’t *quite* going to land on it, she realized.
There was a short railing the ringed the top of the train car. Maria couldn’t guess at why it was there, but right now it was her only chance. If she could just grab onto it…
Of course, as soon as she moved her arms to try it, that would move the “wings” of her suit out of proper position, and it would no longer catch the air. She would go plunging downwards if she missed grabbing it.
She only had one shot at it.
Gritting her teeth, Maria reached out, moving as quickly as she could.
One hand found purchase.
Of course, physics being what it was, she immediately began to flap in the wind like a flag, being dragged along with the fast moving train. Getting herself completely onto the roof of the thing wouldn’t be fun. She was very strong, especially for her size, but she was fighting against continuous winds more powerful than the most violent tornado.
Pulling herself forwards, she just managed to grab the railing with her other hand. She allowed herself a second to rest, then heaved herself forward. Beneath her suit, powerful biceps bulged and tendons stood out like steel cords.
With a loud grunt, she managed to pull herself fully onto the roof of the train. She hugged the metal beneath her, reducing her drag as much as possible.
“Toughest pull-up ever,” she chuckled, feeling the ache rapidly recede from her arms as her body flushed out the fatigue toxins.
Getting a move on, she managed to find a hatch on the roof that allowed her entry to the train. Dropping inside, she found that the train’s final car was exactly what she expected and wanted it to be. A cargo car.
She resisted the urge to let out a low whistle as she took in the contents of the car. Crates and crates of firearms. Boxes of ammo stacked up upon each other until they reached the ceiling. High tech equipment of all kinds. It looked like COBRA was arming for a war.
Then again, this was COBRA. All this stuff could just be standard shipments for them.
Reaching into her belt, Captain America produced a number of small remote charges and started to attach them to several of the crates.
/If this doesn’t distract them, nothing will./ She decided.
The “Baroness” (codename 'Whiplash' to SHIELD Team Seven), had decided several minutes ago that Cobra Commander was an extremely dull public speaker. Everything was “destroy our enemies” this or “dominate the world” that. It became formulaic within the first thirty seconds.
Really, this guy had assembled a menacing terrorist organization from scratch. She couldn’t believe he was such a lousy orator. Maybe
he’d just gotten sloppy over the years.
“Tomorrow we will eliminate GI JOE!” Cobra Commander barked, waving his fist. The silvery mask he wore distorted his voice strangely. “The next day—!”
She assumed the next words were “we will take over the world!” or some variant of that, but she would never know for sure.
The huge BOOM! from the explosion that shook the train drowned him out.
Many of the people present in the ballroom were veterans of various battles and wars. However, many others weren’t. Plenty of the organization’s financial backers and bought-and-paid-for politicians had also been invited, and many of them immediately panicked, throwing the room into chaos.
“What happened? What happened?!” Cobra Commander bellowed over all the noise.
“The train’s rear car has exploded, Commander!” one of the grunts responded. “It’s completely gone!”
“Sabotage! It must be!” Cobra Commander barked. “Take a squad of guards to the last remaining car! No! Take three squads! If that saboteur is still alive, I want him *dead*!”
Watching Cobra Commander fly off the handle, Whiplash felt her heart lift. The plan had always been for the explosion to serve as a distraction, but she had never dared to hope that the leader of Cobra would be so incensed that he’d strip the rest of the train practically bare of security in his zeal to catch the saboteur, nor that he would instantly leap to the conclusion that the train had indeed been sabotaged.
Whiplash grinned. Time to get down to business…
“Well, looks like they noticed my arrival,” Maria muttered to herself as the sound of blaring emergency klaxons assaulted her ears.
Taking advantage of what little time she had until the train’s security forces showed up, Captain America made quick work fortifying her position as best as she possibly could. Pulling several proximity stun grenades from her belt, she armed them and tossed them near the entrance of the car she currently occupied, which was the new last car on the train.
That done, she did what she could to further barricade the position she’d chosen to defend from. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much. She was in a basic passenger car, and while the seats offered some cover, there was little could do to enhance that.
That done, she hunkered down and drew the pistols she had holstered in her belt. Giving them a quick check to make doubly sure they were loaded and ready, she contented herself to wait.
It didn’t take Whiplash very long to escape the grand ballroom and make it to one of the other cars without attracting much attention. A squad of armed guards passed by her in the halls but barely spared her a glance, and when they did it was just to ogle her chest and ass.
Moving quickly and with purpose, it wasn’t long before Whiplash reached the door to Cobra Commander’s private office. It had two locks on it, one electronic and another old fashioned.
The old fashioned one she picked in under a minute with a long, thin wire she’d had concealed in her hair to look like a hair pin. As for the more high-tech one…
Looking around to make sure no one was near, Whiplash unzipped her leather suit far enough that she was able to reach into her ample cleavage and withdraw a small device she had concealed there. Zipping back up with one hand, she affixed the gizmo to the electronic lock with the other. It beeped once, twice, three times, and then the second lock opened with a click.
“Surprisingly good taste in décor,” she remarked to herself as she stepped into the posh office, closing the door behind her.
In stark contrast to the ostentatious silliness of the train’s paint job, Cobra Commander’s office had a somber, dignified look to it, albeit a very expensive one as well. Really, the only thing in it that let one know that it wasn’t the office of any wealthy or powerful individual was the emergency teleporter unit in the corner, which she assumed was there in case Cobra Commander needed to bolt in a hurry.
Locating a small safe sitting on the floor behind the large oak desk, Whiplash reached into her boot and withdrew a stethoscope, much smaller than the ones used by most doctors. Putting it on, she pressed the end to the door of the safe with one hand and grabbed hold of the dial with the other. Long, nimble fingers did their work as she listened intently, and soon she was opening the steel container.
“Bingo,” she whispered to herself, withdrawing a folder that was stuffed full of papers.
Activating the camera that was built into her glasses, she quickly took a picture of each page. Once she was done, she put them all back in the folder, then returned the folder to its spot in the safe, sealing it again. It was imperative that Cobra Commander not realize anyone but himself had seen those documents.
Packing away her things, she got up to leave, but stopped when she spotted something glimmering on the desk.
“Hello, gorgeous,” she purred.
Meanwhile, Captain America was trading fire with the guards who had appeared at the entrance of the passenger car.
Her proximity stun grenades had done their job perfectly, taking out the first wave of COBRA troopers, but they had been just the first of many. More than she would’ve expected, in fact. Without the entrance to the car and the narrow aisle between the seats serving as a bottleneck, her foes would’ve quickly overwhelmed her position.
The comm. in her ear crackled to life. “Boss, this is Joker,” the familiar voice of her pilot spoke. “Whiplash is reporting that she has what she came for.”
“Good, then I guess it’s time for me to make my exit,” she replied.
“Yeah, about that…”
The interior of the train suddenly went dim as all the natural light streaming in through the windows vanished, interior lights automatically coming on to compensate for the loss of illumination.
“You’ve gone into a tunnel,” Joker explained unnecessarily. “And it’s a long one. It runs the entire length of the Rocky Mountains.”
Some part of Maria couldn’t help but be impressed. They had started in Appalachia but had made it to the southern tip of the Rockies. The train was damned fast, which might be her saving grace.
“How long until it comes out the other end?” she asked.
“The train was reducing speed just before it went into the tunnel,” Joker said apologetically. “Computer estimates twenty-five minutes.”
She scowled. “You know, a little warning about this ahead of time would’ve been nice.”
“Hey, we didn’t realize that track was there until a minute ago. Satellite images don’t exactly capture underground tunnels,” Joker said defensively.
“Noted. So jumping out a window’s not an option. Guess I’ll just need to find another way out,” she said. “Can’t be too hard…”
Suddenly, the door at the rear of the car burst open and several guards stormed in, weapons blazing. Captain America snapped her gun in their direction and squeezed off several shots, keeping them from just charging her.
/How the hell did they get there?/ She wondered.
They would’ve had to have traversed the outside of the train car to reach the back without passing by her, either climbing across the roof or somehow clinging to the sides. Either way would’ve been extremely dangerous, even with the right equipment. Indeed, even aside from every other hazard, they’d had to gamble that they could make it back inside the train before they reached the tunnel. Obviously, they’d won that wager, but only barely.
“Well, this isn’t good,” she remarked. “I’m surrounded.”
She wished she had her shield with her, but she’d had to leave it behind for this mission. It was both too big and too distinctive to carry along with her.
More bullets would’ve been nice, too. She didn’t even have enough shots left to take out all the lights in the car.
No matter what plan she came up with, she couldn’t think of any way to proceed that didn’t carry a significant risk of her getting shot.
“Can you hold out for three minutes, boss?” a new voice sounded in her ear.
“Whiplash, you were supposed to maintain radio silence after signaling that you were done!” Joker snapped.
Maria couldn’t help but smirk. Joker wasn’t exactly a stickler for regs and guidelines most of the time, but when it came to people he didn’t like or trust, he was quite happy to beat them over the head with a rulebook whenever possible.
“I can even hold out for four,” she said. “But remember, you *cannot* blow your cover.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Whiplash assured her. “There’s a teleporter in Cobra Commander’s office. Head for there once you’re out of your current sticky situation.”
The train conductor sighed as he lay back in his seat. He hated doing the Rocky Mountain tunnel run. Nothing to see for miles and miles on end, and he even had to hand complete control over to the computer, since he couldn’t effectively guide the train down the dark tunnel himself.
It was, in a word, boring.
However, Cobra Commander had ordered him to change course and head for the tunnel, and to take it at one-eighth of the train’s top speed. And whatever Cobra Commander wanted, Cobra Commander got, and without a word of complaint from him. He liked all his blood inside his body, thank you very much.
The door behind him opened, and he turned just in time to get a glimpse at his visitor before she started shouting.
“What is the meaning of this?!” the Baroness demanded.
“Wh-What do you mean?” the conductor asked, caught completely by surprise. It was vanishingly rare for any of the senior leaders of Cobra to personally come to his little corner of the train.
“Do not play dumb!” she barked, waving her arms about in pure fury. “The train was not supposed to take this course!”
The conductor knew it was a *very* bad move on his part, but he couldn’t keep his gaze from drifting from the Baroness’s face down to her chest. He’d never seen an alternate of the Baroness who was lacking in that area, but this one appeared to be unusually “gifted” in that regard.
“I have places to be after this trip is concluded!” she continued. “Places that are NOT in Canada, which is exactly where this route will take us!”
The conductor struggled to keep his focus on the conversation. “I’m sorry, Baroness, but I received orders to change course from Cobra Commander himself,” he said.
“Oh? And did you verify that the orders were in fact coming from the real Cobra Commander?” the Baroness demanded.
“Verify? He gave me the orders over the train’s intercom,” the conductor sputtered. “That’s the way I always get any orders to deviate from a pre-set course.”
“You stupid little man!” the Baroness yelled, waving her fists. “Did it not occur to you that with the train under attack, great caution must be used!”
She continued to rant after that, but the conductor didn’t take in any of the words. His attention was all on her flailing arms.
He’d been too busy ogling her breasts to notice her “accidentally” hitting the control to turn off the train’s inertial dampeners, but he didn’t miss her getting dangerously close to hitting the main brake.
Unfortunately, his fear of interrupting a tirade from a high ranking member of COBRA made him hesitate for just a little too long.
She struck the lever with her fist.
The conductor let out a cry as he was thrown from his seat to the floor and the sound of screeching brakes filled the cabin.
Captain America reacted instantly when the train’s abrupt deceleration knocked her attackers off their feet all at once. Vaulting over the seat she’d been using for cover, she sprinted toward the cluster of soldiers at the front end of the car.
Time seemed to slow down as her brain and body automatically shifted into a higher gear. She was nowhere near as quick as speedsters like the Flash or Quicksilver, but she was *much* faster than the average person.
Moving with extreme precision, she administered punches, kicks, and two-fingered jabs at the COBRA troops, most of which were still on the ground, rendering them unconscious or otherwise incapacitating them with blazing speed. The seemingly young girl became a whirlwind of perfectly efficient violence, wasting not a single movement.
Of course, not even she could hope to deal with two groups of soldiers at either end of the train car before any of them could get to their feet. The men at the back end managed to get to standing positions just as she was finishing with the ones at the front.
Raising their rifles, they wasted no time in opening fire on her.
Captain America hoisted one of the soldiers who’d fallen to her assault to his feet, moving him effortlessly despite him being more than a foot taller than she was. Her human shield cried out as bullets peppered his body.
She snatched his rifle with one hand, setting it to full automatic and squeezing the trigger, spraying the back end of the train with gunfire and forcing her remaining attackers to take cover.
Releasing her human shield, who immediately collapsed to the floor, she quickly retreated from the car, bolting the door behind her. Knowing that wouldn’t hold off the remaining troopers for long, she bolted down the hallway.
“I need a map of the train,” she said. “Where’s Cobra Commander’s office?”
Her visor’s HUD immediately sprang to life, showing her the requested map and her destination.
She was displeased but unsurprised to see that she needed to go through the grand ballroom car to get to the office.
Running through the length of the train, it wasn’t long before she reached the car next to the grand ballroom, which held all the facilities necessary to throw a fancy party. Maria made a beeline for the kitchens.
“Hello,” she said to the group of bewildered cooks and bus boys she encountered, raising her commandeered rifle and firing a short burst into the ceiling.
Unsurprisingly, the kitchen staff went fleeing for the doors. Once they were gone, Captain America quickly found the dry ice that was being used to preserve much of the food present, cramming bits of it into several of the wine bottles sitting around and corking them before any of the resulting gases could escape.
Grabbing bottles, she ran toward the ballroom, hoping that none of the kitchen staff had had the presence of mind to alert the guests there about her yet.
Bursting into the ballroom, she hurled the bottles in all directions, watching them shatter as they struck the floor.
The improvised smoke bombs really weren’t all that effective. Certainly they weren’t nearly as good as real ones. However, they *did* succeed in making several of the guests go into a panic again, which was nearly as good.
Plunging into the crowd, Maria pushed and shoved people out of her way, heading for the door even as she used the mass of frightened people to conceal herself. She was almost to the door…
Whether by luck or by skill, the single gunshot knocked the rifle she was holding out of her hands. Reacting immediately, Captain America jumped behind one of the long serving tables.
“No one attacks my train and gets away with it!” Cobra Commander yelled as he charged forward, a smoking gun in his hand.
Captain America quickly checked her own pistols. One was empty. She drew the other, popping up from behind the table long enough to squeeze off a shot.
The gun jammed.
“One of those days,” she muttered to herself, ducking behind the table again as a bullet whizzed over her head.
Cobra Commander rounded the table, leveling his gun at her. “Goodbye, whoever you are.”
He pulled the trigger.
Captain America snatched a heavy silver platter on the table and brought it in front of her just in time to deflect the shot. Growling, Cobra Commander fired several more times, but she blocked with her improvised shield until the weapon clicked empty.
The masked man wasted no time in producing a new clip to reload, but he wasn’t fast enough. Captain America switched her grip on the platter and hurled it like she would her shield.
“Gah!” Cobra Commander’s scream almost drowned out the loud clang of the platter impacting his helmet.
“Bye,” Maria said as she rushed past the fallen terrorist leader, finally making her way to the exit.
Reaching the door to Cobra Commander’s office, she didn’t bother with the sophisticated methods of opening it that Whiplash had employed. She gave it a single swift kick, instantly breaking it open, then ran for the small teleporter.
She changed the location, not wanting to send herself into a different COBRA base, then powered it up. She stepped inside just as Cobra Commander appeared at the doorway.
“Cure you!” he hissed. “I’ll get you for this! I’ll get—!”
There was a flash, and then she was gone.
Two Hours Later
“Well, look who finally decided to make an appearance,” Joker remarked as Whiplash strode into the small common room of SHIELD Team Seven’s headquarters.
“It wasn’t particularly easy to get away from all the COBRA people,” Whiplash retorted. “Especially since I had to endure letting Cobra Commander chew me out for harassing the train’s conductor and ‘accidentally’ hitting the brakes.”
“Thanks for the save, by the way. And for transmitting those images you took of Cobra Commander’s documents,” Maria spoke up, holding up a small stack of printed photos. “You didn’t need to risk that, though.”
“I didn’t want them to be lost if Cobra Commander decided to toss me in a holding cell or something. Just doing my part for the mission,” Whiplash said piously.
Joker rolled his eyes. “Oh please.”
“Don’t you have some high contact sport to get to?” Whiplash asked him.
The pilot, who had been afflicted with brittle bone disease all his life, scowled darkly. “Hey, how about you—!”
“Kids, play nice,” Maria spoke up, halting the fight in its tracks. “Oh, and you can take off that disguise now.” She added, casting a glance at Whiplash.
Nodding, Whiplash grabbed hold of her cheek and pulled, causing the mask she’d been wearing to come free and reveale her true face. It was just as beautiful as the Baroness’s, if not more so, with eyes that hinted at Japanese ancestry. She shook out her long brown hair, which was several shades lighter than the ebony locks of the woman she’d been impersonating.
Fujiko Mine, the infamous master thief and seductress, grinned at her two fellow team members.
“So, what was in those documents, anyway?” she asked. “I didn’t exactly have time to read them.”
“Quite a bit of information about COBRA assets, bases, and troop movements,” Maria answered. “Unfortunately, it looks like Cobra Commander isn’t committing much of the information about his new grand plan to paper. There’s one document that mentions something called ‘Chimera’ a few times, and it sounds ominous, but there isn’t a whole lot of detail there.”
“Great, all that for nothing,” Joker grumbled.
“Hardly nothing,” Maria countered. “I’ve already sent everything to the Director, and I’m sure he’ll use the information to impede COBRA’s operations. I’d bet a few bank accounts have already been frozen.”
“Besides, it’s not like you did so much of the work,” Fujiko added, smirking at Joker.
“Everyone played an integral part in the mission,” Maria said, stopping Joker from retorting.
“Yes, you’re right of course,” Fujiko agreed, flipping her long hair. “Well, if that’s all for today, I think it’s time for me to get some shut eye.”
“Sure, that’s fine,” Maria agreed absently, looking at the photos.
Her grin widening, Fujiko turned and headed for the door.
“Oh, one thing before you go,” Maria said just as she was nearly gone, causing the buxom brunette to grimace.
“Yes, what is it?” Fujiko asked innocently, all smiles again as she turned back to face the blonde.
“Let me see it,” Maria said.
“Don’t play dumb,” Maria said. Her tone was calm, but it was clear she wasn’t playing around. “Let me see it.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Fujiko said.
Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
“Have you forgotten again that I’m older than you?” Maria asked. “Now show it to me. I don’t want to have to go digging around in your cleavage again to find whatever it is.”
Joker coughed. “If you don’t want to, I could—”
“No,” both women said at once.
The pilot shrugged, clearly unsurprised by the response. “Worth a try.”
The two women ignored him.
Fujiko huffed. “Fine,” she relented at last. “But first, you turn around.” She ordered Joker.
The pilot rolled his eyes. “I want it on the record that she denied me even a little peek. You know, for the next time she needs me to pull some insane aerial stunt to get her ass out of a hot zone.”
Despite his grumbling, Joker did turn around. Once he had, Fujiko unzipped her leather suit enough for her to retrieve the item she’d hid inside her cleavage and hand it to Maria.
“Satisfied now?” she grumbled, zipping back up. “You can look now.” She added to Joker.
The pilot did a double take when he saw the object Maria was holding. “You had *that* hidden in your bra?! Holy hell, I knew they were big, but—!”
“Joker,” Maria said warningly, instantly silencing the man, who had been impervious to Fujiko’s glare.
The item in question was a small gold statuette of a cobra, naturally. In its mouth it held an enormous diamond, almost the size of a doorknob.
“It looks harmless enough,” Maria said. “No sign it’s bugged or has a homing beacon.”
“So I can keep it?” Fujiko asked hopefully.
Maria tossed her the gaudy but very expensive thing. “Don’t keep trying to hide your trophies from me,” she warned.
Fujiko responded with a mock salute and then finally made her exit.
Joker waited until he was sure she was out of earshot before he spoke again. “That is one opportunistic woman,” he remarked. “Spectacular cans, though.”
“You said that last part out loud,” Maria said mildly.
The bearded man had the good grace to look chagrined, but only for a moment.
“You know, Cobra Commander probably assumes you stole that thing on your way out,” he said.
“That would be the natural conclusion for him to draw, since he doesn’t know anyone else was in there without permission,” Maria agreed.
“But if you *hadn’t* had to use the teleporter in there, if you’d just escaped through a window as planned, he would’ve realized someone had been in his office,” Joker said. “He would’ve known his documents might have been compromised, at the least. And if he’d realized that it was gone before the train reached its destination, he might’ve had the passengers searched. Fujiko would’ve been a dead woman if he’d caught her with that on her.”
“What are you saying?” Maria asked. “You think she advised them to go into that tunnel? To force troops to traverse the outside of the train car so they could flank me?”
Joker shrugged. “It wouldn’t be the most conniving, backstab-y thing she’s done in her life.”
“The woman has skills. There’s no denying that. But I’m still not sure it was a good idea to offer her the chance to earn her freedom from jail by working for us,” he said. “We’re not the Suicide Squad, boss.”
“Noted,” Maria said. “Though you do realize that she would’ve needed to have given Cobra Commander that piece of advice *before* she snuck into his office and spotted that thing, right?”
Joker shrugged. “C’mon, boss, with an organization like that, it would be more shocking if there *wasn’t* some fabulous Cobra Diamond or something kicking around. I know it, and I’m sure Fujiko knew it.”
“Keeping a giant gemstone in his office does seem like something Cobra Commander would get a kick out of,” she admitted. “However, there’s no proof Fujiko made my life harder today so she could make off with the thing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to head down to the training room for a workout before I turn in for the night.”
“Okay, see ya,” Joker waved. Then once she was gone, he allowed himself a sigh. “You know, when they offered me this job, they did *not* tell me I’d be the only sane person on this team.”