Read an Excerpt
G. I. Joe: Tales from the Cobra Wars
By Max Brooks, Michael Montenat
IDW PublishingCopyright © 2013 Max Brooks
All rights reserved.
Dr. Averill Hanover never considered himself to be a ladies man. Mathematicians don't get the chicks. Especially frumpy, fiftyish, balding academicians. But the woman in the third row at his presentation was showing him a flattering degree of attention.
The conference in Geneva was attended only by those deeply devoted to numbers and how they related to life, existence, and everything else. Most of the chairs in the hall were empty. Those attending were either bored, dismissive, or simply holding their seat for the appearance of the next speaker: a best-selling author who made a name for himself on chat shows by providing dumbed-down, simplistic explanations of difficult mathematic principles as applied to socks missing in the laundry and finding lost pets. A phony with an expensive haircut and even more expensive smile.
But the woman in the third row watched with true interest as Dr. Hanover presented his theorem in a PowerPoint show crowded with charts and number sets. She seemed to be absorbing the complex algorithms and rows and rows of symbols with understanding and appreciation. She was a very attractive woman with long dark hair worn loose to her shoulders and designer eyeglasses that took nothing away from her shocking beauty. Rather, they accented it. She wore a black business suit that even someone as fashion-unconscious as Hanover recognized as haute couture.
Hanover did everything he could not to openly stare at her and several times lost his place in his presentation. In the end, he could only concentrate by looking everywhere but where she was seated. When his lecture ended to polite applause he was disappointed to see that her chair was empty and she was nowhere in sight.
He packed up his laptop and made his way from the hall through the crush queued up to see the charlatan who would follow him. He wondered why he even attended these events. He needed attention for his published formulas. The university insisted on it. He had no interest in attending the talks, luncheons, or panels. Each time he went to one of these gatherings, he spent half the time dreading his time on stage and the other half hiding, bitter and deflated, in his room.
That same woman from his presentation was alone on the elevator as Hanover stepped on board. She smiled at him in a friendly way. He turned to tap the number for his floor and stood pretending great interest in the floor display over the door.
"You're quite brilliant, Dr. Hanover," the woman said behind him. A lovely contralto voice.
"Um ... I haven't had the pleasure," Hanover said and half turned to her.
She held out a hand for him to grasp.
"Anastasia deCobray," she said. She wore soft leather gloves. Perhaps that was the style now? He took her hand and searched for something to say. She saved him from the awkward pause by continuing.
"Your equation for creating predictable growth in the economy of a developing nation is fascinating," she said. "It seemed counter-intuitive at first but all makes perfect sense when viewed in hindsight."
"Well, as long as there are no radical changes in a nation's political ideology," he said. "My algorithms, if followed, would provide a steady, reliable growth and a leveling of debt loads and trade deficits."
"But if you could create a formulation that creates a positive economic model, could you not also devise an equation that would destroy a stable economy?"
"I suppose I could," he began.
"Because we would be interested in such a theorem," she said.
His last memory was the touch of her suede gloved fingers to his neck.
Friday 22:30 hours
Yuri Koliabskaia was past the age for leaping about on rooftops. Or crawling about one, as was the current case. The snow-slick surface far above the traffic noise and lights was unforgiving. His smooth-soled dress shoes weren't up to the job. The crocodile-skin loafers, custom fitted in Rome from a mold of his feet at a cost of two thousand Euros, slipped on the slush-coated tiles. He would have traded them in a heartbeat for the pair of combat boots he wore in Kabul all those years ago. Those would be more suited for crossing the roof of the Moscow Grand Hotel in a mid-winter snowfall.
An inch of snow underfoot and twelve stories above the street. He sweated under his suit despite the cold. Too many years of the soft life since the end of the Soviet Era.
Twelve men were paid to protect Koliabskaia from his past. Twelve hard men handpicked by himself and paid well by him. Ex-Spetsnaz. Former mafia. Each one a man more dangerous than anyone Yuri's enemies might send against him.
They were all dead now. He was certain of it. There was no longer the sound of gunfire from the floors below.
Moments before, Yuri was shoved roughly into an elevator when a man dressed entirely in black materialized among his entourage in the lobby. The two women he'd picked up at the club ran screaming. His guards were too late defending themselves and Yuri saw at least three of them go down in the roar of point-blank fire from what appeared to be an Uzi. Mossad?
Four of his men bundled into the elevator car with him and readied their weapons as the ripping, pounding sounds of automatic fire followed them up the shaft. The thunder from below stopped long before they emerged onto the penthouse level. Two of his men rushed Yuri to a secure room in his suite and told him to stay put while the others tore heavier weapons from a concealed cabinet. Alone in the master bathroom, Yuri stood at the door and listened. Magazines snapping home. Bolts clacking. Muttered curses and whispered grunts of confidence. Men psyching themselves for action. Girding for what was to come next.
He leapt back as his ears rang with the deep thump of an explosion from the next room. Someone blew through a wall or doorway to gain entrance. Then gunfire. The boom of shotguns and freight train sound of an automatic weapon magnified to a deafening degree in the enclosed space. Then the thuds of furniture and the shush of breaking glass.
Yuri used a brass towel rack to break out the bathroom windows and made his way out onto the roof.
The roof was a trap. There was nowhere to hide. Only the big steel boxes of air units. Satellite dishes. He moved breathless around the roof looking for another exit. A ladder. A skylight. It was bitterly cold outside but he didn't feel it. He clambered over sloped surfaces and gullies, fell and cracked a hip on the decorative shingles.
Was it really only one man who pursued him? There had to be more. Who would send anything less than a team to bring down the best bodyguards his wealth could buy?
Yuri reviewed the list of those he'd crossed in the past as he moved as swiftly as caution allowed over the slick roof. There were so many in a lifetime of betrayals and lies. He was old enough to have been an officer in NKVD but they were never his true employers. He received payments into a Swiss account to act as a servant of the KGB, paid by one master to spy on the other. The civilian intelligence service wanting to know what their cousins in the army were up to at all times. Spies spying on one another within the same house. Nothing changed in Russia. Always a people who could not trust themselves. Too preoccupied with looking behind themselves to ever make progress. The list of his NKVD comrades who were sent to Lubyanka or worse (based on his detailed reports) was a long one. He betrayed still more of his comrades when the old regime fell and he used his amassed fortune and the dirty secrets he knew to secure himself a place among those protected by the ruling elite.
And that was to be the end of it. He was out of the game and free to retire to a dacha on the Black Sea with the funds earned through deceit and compounded through theft and extortion. That was when he learned that he was never in the pay of the KGB all those years. The money placed in his accounts was put there by a shadow organization, a dark cabal who shunned the light and moved people about as though they were pieces on a chessboard the rest of the world was unaware of.
Yuri was never told the name of his true masters. He had to learn it by a process of elimination, by sifting through whispers and rumors across the global intelligence network. There was a void there. Wherever that void appeared, Cobra benefited. There were inexplicable occurrences and irrational alliances. Cobra provided the missing piece of the narrative that brought all into focus.
A force was always there pushing events for ends that were invisible even to someone looking for them. Like an object only seen in peripheral vision. Turn your eyes to it and it was gone.
They kept him in the game he thought he'd left behind. He was expected to maintain his contacts and create new ones. In recent years they had him facilitating contacts between terrorist and crime organizations to some unknown purpose. He was expected to use his knowledge and influence to maintain and control his own network of cells, most of which had no idea they were part of a larger scheme and would kill him if they knew how they'd been used. And all the while he knew that his web of contacts were only a single skein in the immense tapestry weaved by Cobra for an agenda known only to themselves.
Was it Cobra who had sent this man in black? Was Yuri's usefulness to them at an end? Is this how they rewarded loyalty?
Yuri realized as he skidded and crept along a ledge that he was not only reviewing a list of his enemies. He was looking back on a lifetime, a lifetime of treason against his fellows, his oath, and his country. This was what a man does when he knows his life is to end.
A shadow fell across him. He turned to see the man in black standing above him. Was that a sword in the man's hand? A sword?
Yuri's movement caused him to lose his tenuous balance and his foot gave under him. He slid toward the edge of the dark roof and toward the bright lights beyond the edge. His heel caught on the strip of party-colored neon that described the rooftop. He could feel it bending, cracking, under his weight. He pounded his hands flat on the icy metal slope for purchase to take the weight from his feet but only slid farther.
His wrist was pinched in an iron grip and he craned his neck to see the man in black crouched firm on the forty-five-degree angle above him. The man had his sword driven into the metal roof as an anchor, his fist wrapped firmly around the long shark-skinned handle of a samurai katana. The man's face was hidden by a mask that covered his head. His eyes were concealed behind a grill of steel. What looked to be a form-fitting Kevlar suit covered his lean form. Blood glistened cold and black on the fabric and Yuri knew that none of it was from his pursuer. The grip on Yuri's wrist was strong, strong enough to easily pull him from the ledge and to safety. But the stranger did not do so.
The man was not here to kill him. The man was here for something Yuri could tell him.
The man was not from Cobra. Yuri allowed himself the luxury of hope even as the neon strand beneath his foot snapped with a brittle sound. The man's grip remained firm. He would not let him fall yet.
Yuri Koliabskaia searched his mind for something, anything, he might say to this man to spare his own life. It had to be a current operation.
"Is this about Dushanbe?" Yuri said.
The man was silent. The only evidence that he was not a statue was the thin wisp of vapor that drifted from his mask.
"Or perhaps Hanover-the mathematician?"
The grip grew firmer.
"I only know a part of it," Yuri said and felt the grip press tighter on his wrist. Painful but encouraging.
"I only suggested his name. Had some people verify his calculations. He was easy to find. His travels were a matter of public record. They made contact in Geneva."
The grip tightened. Painful. The sweet pain of security. Keep talking and the stranger will not let me fall.
"My contact was the woman. The one in glasses. I do not know her name."
The grip shifted slightly. Blood flowed unrestricted to his hand. Displeasure.
"No! Let me think! There may be something useful to you!"
The vise-like pressure was restored.
"I ... I ..." Yuri searched his mind for anything, true or untrue, that would buy him a few moments more.
The fingers relaxed. The slightest change in pressure.
"There's an operation in Nepal. I've heard rumors. If you let me go I can learn more for you!"
The grip relaxed further.
"I've told you all I know! All they would let me know!"
His fingers tingled as blood rushed back into his hand.
Yuri screamed now, high and shrill. He was past disgrace now. An animal in a trap shrieking for its life.
"I can find out more! I can work for you! I can spy on the spies! It's what I do!"
The grip released and, as he slid the final few feet to the edge, and the roar and hum of traffic grew in his ears, Yuri looked up to see the man was gone.
And then Yuri was gone.
Saturday 04:00 hours
United States Navy Geological Station N-99
A dusty service road stretched across a hundred miles of empty desert to end at a sad collection of Quonset huts. The steel buildings were beginning to bake in the early morning light. Sagging cyclone fence and razor wire enclosed them. Heat haze rose from the rocks and sand that were soaking up the first light of the rising sun. A solitary Marine stood at a corrugated steel shack. Unmoving. Not a bead of sweat on his immaculate BDU's. He cast no shadow. Occasionally he fluttered. His holographic image flickered.
Like everything else about this lonely base, the jarhead was not real.
A thousand feet below USNGS N-99 was the Pit. Blasted from solid rock, it housed vehicles, ordnance, and self-sustaining living quarters for five hundred. It was built to not only withstand a nuclear strike but to keep its occupants fed, armed, and safe for the day they would take the fight to whoever dared to nuke their beloved country. This was the super-secret subterranean base of G.I. Joe. The American secret weapon made up of men and women who were dead to the world but lived a second life as the vanguard of a force that defended their country from the dangers of a world of harm.
That's what the recruitment brochure would say. If there was a brochure.
Florescent lights flickered and hummed and bathed the room along Barracks Block A. She sat up in her bunk. Squinted eyes found Shareware standing timid in the doorway. He didn't want to approach and startle her. Last guy who did that spent two months in rehab with a broken collar bone.
"Sorry, Scarlett. You said to come get you anytime."
"Yeah. Mainframe has a text."
"Give me thirty seconds."
Mainframe was already seated at the main console in the intel center when Scarlett entered. High-res monitors surrounded a massive table top touchscreen—all of the high-frontier weapons of cyber war. The current field operations were being directed by General Hawk's staff in CommCon (Command and Control) on another level. Intel's background work was done for those ops, and only one intel specialist was required to hold the fort.
"Been up all night, Mains?" Scarlett said as she filled a coffee mug behind him.
"Night. Day. My circadian rhythms march to a different drummer, Red," he said without turning from the triple array of monitors. "I know we're supposed to stick to military time. But I never go topside so it's all good, you know?"
"You have Snake Eyes' contact?" she said and took a seat and keyboard by him.
"Read for yourself," he said and tapped a key. On the monitor appeared:
h/-\n0\/3R /-\8d|_|CtI0N G3N3v@ iNtel?
"It's Leet Speak," Scarlett said.
"Abbreviated multi-byte Leet Speak," Mainframe agreed. "And then encrypted. Our silent buddy is quite the one for hacker cool."
"He's in Moscow and wants an update on a math egghead who disappeared in Geneva?"
"What's his interest in a guy like that?"
"Snake Eyes concentrates on the micro," Scarlett said and tapped in her access code to open her JOEweb account.
Scarlett keyed and scrolled through intel reports from Swiss FCP and INTERPOL. Averill Hanover was a UK native attending a Global Mathematic Solutions Initiative conference and was not seen after delivering an address over a week ago. Swiss cops had it down as a missing persons. No sign of foul play. No evidence of a crime. Hanover was reportedly depressed. He was either on a drunk or was a suicide. Neither of which was illegal in the land of chocolate and coo-coo clocks unless you did your business in public.
Snake Eyes thought otherwise.
Dark hints that this incident was a cover for something more sinister. But that was the world of intel. The glass was always half full. Of cyanide.
"If Snake's into it then it means something," she said.
"Ping him then?" Mainframe said. Fingers poised.
"I'll do it. Translate it to Leet for me and send." She began tapping.
Reliable intel on Hanover?
No active police investigation
What are your needs?
How do we help you proceed?
Mainframe keyed the conversion program and they waited. Fifteen minutes passed with neither of them speaking. A text message opened on monitor:
r3lI@8L3 iN73l. |-|@n0\/3r ab|)|_|C73d.
Excerpted from G. I. Joe: Tales from the Cobra Wars by Max Brooks, Michael Montenat. Copyright © 2013 Max Brooks. Excerpted by permission of IDW Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.