The door to Eric’s small office slammed open and startled him hard enough to drop the stack of papers he’d just picked up. They scattered over his desk, and most fell onto the floor, but he was too distracted to notice where they all fell. Eric had heard his name called with that sense of anger and urgency before, but it was usually Pizzazz out to get him, not the man with frazzled hair speed-walking into his office.
“Techrat?” Eric asked. He looked over the man head to toe, taking in his untucked shirt and tie hanging open. “Are you all right?”
The self-proclaimed genius slammed both hands on the top of Eric’s desk, rattling the cup of pens at the side of his desk. They knocked off the edge and fell on the floor at his feet.
“Did something happen?” Eric asked, careful to keep his voice even. Techrat invented a laser ray and gave it to Pizazz when he was calm and in his element. Who knew what he could do when truly unhinged? “You look upset.”
“The Holograms are doing a charity concert for the Joes,” Techrat hissed—a literal one elongating the last plural syllable of “Joes.” The man dug through his jacket pocket and pulled out a crumpled flyer. He smacked it on the desk and shoved it under Eric’s nose. “We have to ruin it.”
Eric carefully lifted the paper and narrowed his eyes at the “Starlight Music Presents” at the top of the page before scrolling down to the announcement that they were doing a show in honor of the G.I. Joes.
“Won’t this event be covered in security?” Eric put the paper facedown on the desk and pushed it back toward Techrat. He loved making Jerrica and her ilk miserable as much as the next, but that didn’t mean he wanted to go to jail like Zipper. “I don’t know if it’ll be worth the risk. I don’t want to be arrested.”
“No one will be arrested,” Techrat said. He flipped the paper back over and stabbed his finger in the center of Jem’s face. “You want to destroy the Holograms, right? This show will be huge for them. If we wreck it, they may never recover from the embarrassment of ruining a G.I. Show.”
“I’m not sure—”
“Eric, when was the last time I asked you for something?” Techrat asked, leaning closer over the desk. He picked the flyer up and held it in Eric’s face. “I need this. I need this show to be a disaster and I will do whatever it takes to make it happen, with or without your help.”
Techrat had a narrowed look in his eyes that swore he’d do it.
He looked pretty alive, for someone who usually stayed so apathetic in his lab, griping about his day or complaining.
The “genius” looked good with a goal.
“You know if we get caught, I’m not going down with you,” Eric said, collecting his papers together and tapping them into a neat stack. He liked the man, but not enough to join him in jail. “For the record.”
“It won’t be a problem,” Techrat said, smiling. He pulled the page back and crumbled it into a ball. He smashed it between his hands. “The Joes won’t know what hit them!”
“And the Holograms!” Techrat shouted quickly, as if he’d caught himself saying something he shouldn’t have. Eric watched his face as he averted his eyes and turned to the side—Curious. Techrat cleared his throat. “They’ll both suffer embarrassment.”
“Right,” Eric said. He set the stack of papers on the counter and pushed it aside. He laced his fingers on the desk and asked, “So what were you thinking?”
Techrat grinned and threw the flyer in the trash. “Oh, you’re going to love it.”
Blood lust really did look good on the man.
“That’s impressive,” Eric said, looking at the latest technological wonder Techrat had created for the purpose of sabotaging Jerrica and her band. Techrat branded the small flying drone with a logo that had a snake on it, completing the look. Eric swallowed and glanced at the inventor in question. “But do we really want to impersonate a terrorist group? Forget getting arrested, what will we do if that Cobra guy gets angry?”
Techrat waved him off and walked around the table, pulling out his modified laser guns to attach to the drone. “This’ll make the Joes suffer. I bet we get a thank you card from Cobra Commander.”
“For impersonating them to avoid getting caught by the authorities?”
“It’s sneaky,” Techrat said. He brushed off his hands and picked up a remote control. He flipped a switch and the drone came to life, rising off the table. “Cobra Commander’ll love it.”
“You sound pretty sure of that,” Eric said, rubbing the back of his neck. Watched the drone fly over his head and stop in front of a target in the corner. It fired twice, blasting a hole in the center. The “Cobra” logo was clear as day, as well as the blue paint job branding it further. “It’s not too late to paint them a neutral color or something.”
“Everyone knows you hate the Holograms,” Techrat said. He walked around the table and shoved the controller in Eric’s hand. “We’ll be the first suspects. Blaming this on Cobra is smarter.”
“Until he comes after us for using his name without permission.”
“That won’t happen!” Techrat shouted. He pointed at the target at the end of the field as his small, Cobra drone hovered in the air under Eric’s command with the controller. “I’m a genius. I’ve got this covered. Trust me, Eric.”
Eric pressed a button, firing the laser into the target that looked like Jem’s face.
“If this goes bad, you’re on your own.”
Techrat snorted and leaned against the table, crossing his arms. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”
“As long as we’re on the same page.”
Eric flew the small device around the room and stared at the small Cobra logo.
The chance of getting caught was high, but it was a good plan.
He hoped it worked.
“We have a very special selection of guests out there with us today,” Jem said into the microphone. Her bouncing pink hair moved with her body as she waved to the crowd. The Holograms stood behind her with their instruments and equally bright colors. “Let’s give a big round of applause for the great servicemen and women attending tonight!”
Eric did not want to attend the actual event.
It increased the risk of getting caught, it made him look suspicious to be anywhere near a sabotaged Holograms show, and there was a literal ninja in the audience.
But Techrat needed assistance and it was either Eric or the girls. Lord help them all if someone gave Pizazz access to that Cobra lookalike weapon.
So there Eric stood, dressed in black next to Techrat on a hill overlooking the venue. The lights and holograms Starlight Music made their claim to fame with were on full blast in an array of blinking red, white, and blue. The band wore stylized soldier costumes and had started giving individual thanks to the people who put the show together.
“I can’t wait to see their faces,” Techrat said, checking his equipment one last time. “This’ll be in the papers for months!”
“I hope not,” Eric said, narrowing his eyes at the stadium below. The special guests were easy to spot in the front rows: trained, in shape, and dangerous. “I’m still not sure blaming this on Cobra is going to work out for us. I know we’re not exactly obeyers of the law, but those are actual bad guys. Who kill people.”
“Eric, Cobra is not going to care,” Techrat said, groaning as he raised the drone in the air. He flew it closer, checking the lasers on the unit before he handed the control to Eric. “Hold that.”
He held the controller as requested and sighed as his partner-in-crime strolled to the end of the hill and pulled out a pair of binoculars to survey the audience and look for the best points to attack.
“Can they track the drone back to the controller?” Eric asked, looking down at the thing. It used radio waves or something to speak with the drone, didn’t it? “Are you sure there isn’t an auto feature on here? We can’t just set the thing moving and leave?”
“I was short on time or there would be,” Techrat said, pulling down the binoculars. “But don’t worry. When the Joes start moving, we’ll drop it and run. You’ve got your gloves on and I cleaned it before we came.”
“Of course it is,” Techrat said. “I’m a genius. I thought of everything!”
“I’m starting to think ruining this show is personal for you,” Eric said, handing the controller back to Techrat. It was his plan and his vendetta—might as well let him press the final button. “Not a fan of the military?”
“You could say that.” Techrat pulled up the binoculars one more time before flying the drone forward to the end of the hill. “Do you think it’ll be a bigger impact on the show if I start the fireworks when it starts or after a song or two?”
“After a song or two,” a sultry voice said. Eric and Techrat turned to see a beautiful woman with long black hair and glasses in a tight body suit walk up the hill. “Their guards’ll be down.”
Techrat clutched the remote closer to his chest with his eyes wide open.
Eric figured out why when he spotted the snake logo on the woman’s chest.
“You’re from Cobra,” he said. She had her arms crossed and eyes on the snake logo on their drone. Eric should have shut up, but he couldn’t help want to ask—
“What are you doing here?” Techrat asked, beating Eric to the question. He narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth. “This is a concert.”
“A concert where the Joes are,” the woman said. She walked forward and stood at the top of the hill. “It’s the perfect opportunity to watch and gather intel—though it looks like you boys are here for more, while using the Cobra name I might add.”
Survivor instincts kicked in and Eric grabbed Techrat’s arm, ignoring his “Don’t touch me.” Eric wasted no time in encouraging Techrat to give up the sabotage. “We should leave, right now. We haven’t done any damage yet so we can save this. Give her the drone, we’ll apologize profusely, and hopefully she’ll let us go with a laugh at our expense.”
“No! I came here to ruin this show and I’m not leaving.” Techrat yanked his arm back and brushed off the sleeve where Eric had touched him. “That’s the Baroness! She’s the second-in-command at Cobra and has to appreciate us ruining things for the Joes.”
Eric could have sworn he heard a muttered, “If she knows what’s good for her” tacked on under Techrat’s breath, but he didn’t know what to make of that.
“I can hear you boys,” she said. Baroness returned and held up the controller with a grin. “This is a cute little toy you’ve got here. How big of a mess is it going to make?”
“It’ll light up the entire show,” Techrat said, throwing his hand out. He looked at Eric. “Right? You saw the tests—tell her how much damage we’re going to do.”
“It is an impressive laser,” Eric said, biting his lip. Why were they still talking with the second in command of Cobra? Why was Techrat so calm? “It’s bound to create some mayhem.”
“Perfect,” Baroness said. She tossed the controller back to Eric and stood at the top of the hill with a grin. “I was expecting a boring evening, but you just made my night far more interesting.”
She sounded amused, but Eric needed clarification. “So you’re not angry we’re using the Cobra logo to sabotage a G.I. Joe charity concert?”
The Baroness laughed and patted Eric on the cheek before shooting a glance at Techrat. “It’s a very sneaky move—I’m sure our commander will love it.”
Techrat pinched between his nose and counted to ten before he returned to the edge of the hill. “Good, we’re all in agreement: This concert needs to go down.”
On stage, the Holograms said their thanks for the first song and announced the next one. Techrat slowly moved the drone down the hill, careful to keep it above the heads of security and in the shadows.
Eric stood between Techrat and the Baroness, feeling out of place between the two as the shared equal smirks of mirth at the upcoming destruction. He crossed his arms and braced himself.
As much as he wanted to be excited, he couldn’t help the fear that the Joes would find them on the hill or the Baroness would stab them both in the back when she got what she wanted.
Techrat did not share his woes and gleefully pressed the button to activate the laser when it reached the bottom of the hill.
“I can’t believe we got away,” Eric said, his chest heaving as he collapsed on the side of his car. It sat on the side of Techrat’s warehouse and he hadn’t caught his breath since he and Techrat sped away from the scene. “We had a ninja chasing us. A ninja! What if he saw us?”
“He didn’t,” Techrat said, laughing as he fell out of the passenger seat and leaned on the car on the other side. He kept grinning, pushing his hair out of his face. “He was way too distracted with the Baroness.”
The Cobra officer had engaged with the Ninja when he arrived on the hill, looking for the source of the flying drone’s controller. While they fought, Techrat grabbed Eric’s arm and yanked him to make a run for it. As far as Eric knew, The Baroness could still be in combat with the Joes, but he wasn’t going to turn around and check.
The entire time they ran, Eric could hear the screaming of the people below as the stage burned accompanied by men in uniform yelling directions for escape. Techrat had laughed like a maniac attacking every piece of equipment he could see that could catch fire and spark.
It’d been effective.
It’d been devastating.
It’d be all over the news the next day, but for better or worse had yet to be seen.
Eric could think about those things in more detail when he caught his breath, still racing even after an hour of driving away from the scene of the crime.
“Did you see their faces?” Techrat hit the top of the car, still delighted. “They didn’t see that coming!”
“Yes,” Eric said. He took deep breaths between each short session, reaching up to check his pulse. “Lots of chaos. Let’s hope no one died.”
“Relax, Eric,” Techrat said, pushing off the car. He tugged the dark sweatshirt over his head and aired out the shirt under it. “We went to sabotage the concert, not kill anyone. The actual Cobra would have spared no mercy and would care not for civilian casualties, but I know you’re not that bad. Your tiny conscience might not get over it if we killed half the crowd.”
“Your tone suggested an insult, but I’ll take the compliment.” Eric checked his hair in the side mirror and pushed it back. “What about you? Would your conscience have been fine?”
“I don’t like people, Eric,” Techrat said. He shrugged and walked toward his warehouse door. “I’d have gotten over it.”
Eric believed him.
“How did they salvage that?” Techrat shouted, slamming a newspaper on Eric’s desk along with a stack of mail he just have picked up with the paper. Eric was ready for the outburst after he saw the door slam open and grabbed the pencil cup before it could fall and scatter the pens. Techrat grabbed his hair after he dropped the paper and growled. “It should have been a PR nightmare!”
Eric lifted the newspaper and read the main article aloud. “Jem and the Holograms assist the G.I. Joes in rescuing the crowd after an attack from known terrorist group Cobra set the stage ablaze. It looks like true heroes can be found anywhere.”
He snorted and threw the paper back on the desk.
Eric folded the newspaper and threw it in the trash bin next to him. “I’ll take the hit for that, Techrat. It’s my fault.”
“How is it your fault?” Techrat asked, frowning in Eric’s direction. “Did you write the article?”
“No, but I am well versed in public relations and making bad scenarios look good,” Eric said. Pizazz and the others gave him a fair bit of practice at that daily. He rubbed his temple and waved in the direction of the trash can. “I should have realized the press would spin this in the Holograms’ favor the moment we started the plan.”
“So I can blame you for this failure?” Techrat said, cracking a smile. “It wasn’t my own genius that failed?”
“Don’t push your luck.” Eric pulled over a contract he needed to look over and grabbed a pen. “I’m still your boss.”
“Yes, sir,” Techrat said, using as much sarcasm as he could muster. “Whatever you say.”
“We’ll get them next time,” Eric said, circling a few paragraphs in the contract he needed to rewrite in his favor. “Don’t you worry.”
“And next time we’ll cover all our bases,” Techrat said. “There won’t be a PR writer on the planet that can save them.”
“That’s the spirit,” Eric said, waving his hand in a shooing motion toward Techrat. “Now get out of my office and work on those special effects you promised for the next Misfits concert.”
Techrat snorted and left the office, flipping his hair over his shoulder.
Eric shook his head and put the contract aside when he remembered the stack of mail that had been brought in with the paper. He pulled it over and flipped through it, placing the overdue bills aside and dumping the junk mail in the garbage. However, when he got to the last envelope he noticed it was a bright navy blue.
Eric turned the envelope over and choked his own breath when he saw the red Cobra logo on the front. He looked both ways before reaching behind and closing his blinds before he sliced open the envelope with his letter opener.
He pulled out the card and opened it, sitting back in his seat.
“Misfits Music, we greatly appreciate your assistance in terrorizing the G.I. Joes. You gave our second-in-command a fun night,” Eric read. He stared at the words on the page, written in neat script. “Thank you for the entertainment. Sincerely, Cobra Commander.”
Eric dropped the card on the desk.
It arrived the morning after the attack—which meant someone had delivered it personally.
“Don’t think about it,” Eric said. He shoved the card back into the envelope and hid it in a drawer under an old day planner. “Just, don’t think about it Eric.”
Eric vowed to never tell Techrat he’d been right about the thank you card.