“I think I found hi—”
Cobra Commander slammed his hand over Major Bludd’s mouth and slammed him into the ground behind his Techrat work station. The man’s muffled voice spit into his palm, but Cobra kept it together.
“What are you doing here?” Cobra hissed. His commander voice sounded too clear and open without his trusty helmet to cover it, but that couldn’t be helped. He was open. He was exposed. He was Techrat. “How did you find me?”
Major Bludd found it difficult to answer with Cobra’s hand over his mouth. Common sense told Cobra to remove it so the minion could speak. The panic that Eric could walk in at any moment kept it glued over the surface.
“I can’t tell if that face is fitting or not,” Baroness said. Her heels smacked onto the concrete floor of Cobra’s Techrat warehouse as she hopped in through the window that Major Bludd had used to enter. “But I suppose a plain face is as much a reason to wear a mask as a scarred one would be.”
Cobra jumped to his feet, forgetting about Bludd as Destro joined Baroness. He couldn’t take pleasure from the weapons expert crawling through a window from the rising panic.
Why was his entire command staff at his secret warehouse?
“Don’t touch that!” Cobra shouted as Destro’s hand wavered near the Time Machine he’d been rebuilding in his off hours. “It’s fragile!”
Also liable to send the officer to another time period and Cobra might be tempted to leave him there.
“In fact, don’t touch anything!” Cobra yelled once more. “What are you doing here? How did you find me!”
He’d done so well to cover his tracks!
“We put a tracker on you,” Baroness said. She strolled over and yanked down the back of Cobra’s collar and grabbed something about the bottom of his neck. She moved her hand around so the small, snake-head shaped device could enter his line of sight. “We were tired of our leader disappearing without a word for long periods of time.”
“I don’t disappear that often,” he shot back. Cobra snatched the small device out of her hand and squinted at it. “When did you plant this?”
“Our last planning meeting,” Baroness said. She adjusted her glasses as Cobra snapped the small device in half. “But you can’t blame us. You’ve been missing more and more and if this is where you’ve been disappearing to, I’m not impressed.”
Destro inspected a framed photo of The Misfits on the wall. “One would think you didn’t want to be the leader.”
“Nonsense!” Cobra shouted back. He snapped his mouth shut and lowered his voice, looking around the warehouse. He had the place to himself, but he never knew when Eric or one of the girls would wander in. Minx in particular had been known to invite herself in. “My dedication to Cobra is absolute.”
“Then what’s all this? Some side job?” Destro asked, waving at the multitude of devices scattered about. He pointed at the leftover remains of the laser gun he’d made for Pizzazz. “That looks like weapons development to me.”
“It’s…it’s not what you’re thinking,” Cobra said, shoving a cloth over the damaged weapon he’d yet to find time to fix. “I can explain—”
“Techrat! Are you in here?”
“Hide,” Cobra hissed, voice low. He shoved Baroness behind a table and grabbed Major Bludd’s arm in the same movement to shove him right after. Destro stared in the direction of Eric’s voice, his face twisting the metal in confusion. Cobra grabbed him and shoved him behind a tall case. “I’ll explain later. Hide. Don’t let him see you.”
With luck in Cobra’s favor, his three officers were out of sight when Eric strolled into view with a hand in his pocket and his face in a contract. Cobra dove into his work chair and hunched over a pile of random parts.
“There you are,” Eric said, dropping the contract lower. He leaned over Cobra’s shoulder and dropped the stack over papers in a clean spot on the corner of the table. “Get lost in your work again?”
“Always,” Cobra answered. “What did you need now? Another charity show need ruined?”
Eric laughed. “No, for once it’s on the up and up.”
Cobra looked away from his desk and turned in his chair to face Eric as he sat on the corner of the desk.
“Pizzazz sweet-talked the right rich old man and booked a show at the geezer’s birthday party,” Eric said. He smacked the contract with the back of his hand and crossed his legs at the ankle. “Not only is our client rich, but so are his friends. We can’t afford to screw this one up, so the special effects have to be top notch.”
“So you want to waste my brilliance on a light show,” Cobra said. He saw Major Bludd sneak his head around the corner and glared at the man until he retreated. From his angle, Cobra could keep an eye on his minions, but they were just out of view of Eric—that he needed to get rid of quick. “I have better things I could be doing with my time.”
“You really don’t,” Eric said. He picked the contract up again and rolled it. He smacked Cobra on the back of the head, careful to only let the paper touch him—Eric could be considerate to the “No touching” rule at times. “You work for me, remember? If I need a sabotage, I get a sabotage. If I need a fancy light show to impress a bunch of geezers, I get a light show. You got it?”
“No need to get violent,” Cobra said. He grabbed the contract stack and opened it. He scanned over the money and fees, skipping straight down to what Eric promised to provide for the show. “You promised their costumes would blink lights in time with the music.”
“What? You can’t do it?”
“Of course I can do it,” Techrat said, throwing the paper back. “I’m a genius.”
“Yup,” Eric said, rolling his eyes. He shoved off the desk and folded the contract, putting it inside his coat pocket. “Show’s in a week. The girls will be over for a fitting in two days. Dress rehearsal is Friday.”
He had an attack scheduled with Cobra on Friday.
“Make it Wednesday. I don’t need a week to get this done,” Cobra said. “I’m not wasting my weekend on a light show.”
Eric pulled out his phone. “Fine, Wednesday. But if it’s not done, you’re going to hear about it.”
“It’ll get done faster if you let me work,” Cobra said. He waved his hand and shooed Eric back toward the door. “Now get out.”
“Someone’s in a mood,” Eric said. He dialed a number as he walked out and shouted “Get it done!” over his shoulder before the call on the other end picked up and Eric put on his best schmoozing voice. “This is Eric, I’m running a few minutes late but I can promise you’re going to like what I’ve got.”
Cobra stayed tense until he heard the front of the warehouse door slam shut before he collapsed on his work table.
His three officers wandered out from their corners and stood near his desk.
Destro was the first to speak: “What the hell was that?”
Not willing to risk his cover, Cobra grabbed a pack and stuffed it with everything he’d need to work on the Misfits’ light show inside. “I’ll tell you back at the base.”
Dressed once more in the safety of his uniform with his hood secure over his face, Cobra sat in his favorite chair and addressed his confused officers.
“So you’ve been spending your free time acting as some corporate scum’s lackey?” Destro asked, laughter trailing at the end of his sentence. “And he has no clue who you are?”
“Eric isn’t the brightest man at times,” Cobra said, tapping his finger on his armrest. “Which works in my favor.”
“But why?” Major Bludd asked, his voice straining. “You’re Cobra Commander! You’re the leader of Cobra. Why would you possibly waste your time answering to some idiot who manages bands?”
“Because it’s relaxing!” Cobra screamed back. He slammed his fist on the armrest. “Running this organization is stressful and I can’t be at my best if I don’t cool down once in a while!”
“Getting ordered around by someone else is relaxing?” Destro asked, snorting into his fist as he covered his mouth. “I’d think it’d be the opposite.”
“I don’t know,” Cobra said, turning his head toward Baroness. “I think out of everyone here you’d get it the most, considering what you two get up to at night.”
The weapons expert coughed and dropped his arms to cross them over his chest. Baroness snickered behind him, shooting Cobra a knowing look over her glasses.
“Point made,” Destro said. He tilted his head back and squared his shoulders to compose himself. “Though there are better ways to get your kicks than letting a corporate lackey boss you around.”
“You’re acting like it doesn’t come with perks,” Cobra said. He leaned forward in his chair, dropping his elbows on the armrests. “I get to hang out with the Misfits and the Stingers on a regular basis.”
“Sure,” Major Bludd said, still confused and staring at the floor. “Sounds like a perfect tradeoff.”
“None of you get to judge me!” Cobra shouted again. “And this stays a secret. Do you hear me? No one can know.”
“It would kill moral if the soldiers knew what you got up to in your free time,” Baroness said. “It’d ruin your ruthless leader image.”
“Exactly,” Cobra said. He sat back in his chair. “Worse yet, it could get outside the base and get back to Eric somehow.”
“Does it matter if he finds out?” Destro asked. “He seems the type who wouldn’t care unless it effects his profits. You think he’d be thrilled to have Cobra Commander under his thumb.”
“No! You don’t understand,” Cobra said. He stepped out of his chair and cornered Destro in the room until they were face to face. “Eric’s a groveler. He acts high and mighty, but when there are people with real power around, he’s nothing more than a corporate suck up.”
“It’ll destroy the entire dynamic!” Cobra said, throwing his arms up. “Do you really think Eric Raymond will keep bossing me around if he finds out I’m Cobra Commander and not his little lackey Techrat? No! He’ll turn me into those people he grovels to for resources and everything will be ruined!”
“Whatever you say,” Destro said. “We understa—”
Cobra grabbed the front of his uniform and dragged Destro’s face lower. “Do you understand, Destro? Do you?”
“Yes,” the other man choked. “It’s a secret.”
“Good,” Cobra said. He let go of the other man and walked backwards to take his seat once more. “Because if anything happens to get rid of my side gig, there will be hell to pay.”
“Now get out of here,” Cobra said, waving his hand. “I have lighted costumes to design and the rest of you have an attack to prepare for.”
The three saluted and left him alone.
Cobra exhaled and slumped in his seat.
“Who said you three could be here?” Cobra hissed into his drink. The party around him was in full swing. He’d been hoping to relax after the failure of an attack the night before after the Joes thwarted his plans once more. “This is a private event.”
Baroness smiled into her own wine glass as the Misfits sang on stage in the background. Her evening gown helped her blend in with the rest of the rich clientele and no one gave her another look. “But how could I miss the fruits of your labor?”
“Are Destro and Bludd here too?” Cobra whispered. “Because the last thing I need is for you fools to make a scene.”
“No, just me,” Baroness said. “Major Bludd is refusing to acknowledge your hobby and Destro still thinks it’s a waste of time.”
“I’m here to see the band,” Baroness said, tilting her drink toward the stage. “They’re good.”
Cobra snorted into his glass and let his shoulders relax. “Of course they are. You think I’d work with amateurs?”
The band continued to play on, the light show that Cobra had arranged perfect in its execution. The flashing lights on the stage were perfectly color coordinated with the sparkling lights he’d sewn into the Misfits’ costume.
“I hate to say it, but you really outdid yourself, Techrat,” Eric said, strolling up to the two Cobra agents hiding in the corner. “We’ve gotten six bookings out of this deal and Minx has already bugged me to make sure you work your magic for the next Stingers concert.”
“Anything for her,” Cobra said. “Though I’m insulted you had any doubt of my abilities.”
Eric rolled his eyes just enough that they caught sight of Cobra’s companion. “Forgive me, I didn’t see you there. My name is Eric Raymond and who might you be?”
Baroness fake-giggled as Eric kissed the back of her knuckles and released her hand. “No one special. My father thought I’d enjoy the show and brought me along.”
“And who might he be?”
“No one you’d know,” she said, dodging the question. Baroness put her acting skills to use, dripping with the same sort of schmooze that Eric practiced on a daily basis. “And for the record, I am enjoying the show. The special effects are amazing, as I was just telling the artist here.”
“He is a wonder,” Eric said. The man winked at Techrat and turned away. “I’ll leave you two alone then.”
Eric disappeared back into the crowd and Baroness barely held it together before she snorted into laughter in her glass, covering it with her hand.
“I can see why you like playing with him,” Baroness said. “He’s easy.”
“Maybe,” Cobra said. He lifted his glass and held it toward the Baroness. “To Eric Raymond providing endless entertainment to lift morale.”
She tapped her glass against his and they both returned to watching the show.
Cobra would take his successes where he could get them.