It goes by many names: "The Onslaught," "The Blue Wave," "The Serpent Terror," as well as newer and more "hip" titles such as "World War C" or "C War One." I dislike that last one because it overlooks those one hundred or so small-scale conflicts we had previously fought against Cobra. That word, Cobra, is considered by some too narrow a term to encompass the variety of enemies that sought to enslave the world. That may be, but it is the word at the root of this conflict and a word that evokes powerful memories and emotions, and memories and emotions are the subject of this book.
Cobra Island, China
[Before the war, no maps marked the location of Cobra Island. It was lost in the South China Sea, uninhabited and overgrown. The island was small enough and isolated enough from Chinese urban and military centers to escape the notice of Western surveillance satellites. Once, perhaps thousands of years ago, it was inhabited by a civilization advanced enough to construct a stone temple. Those people disappeared, leaving their monument to be reclaimed by the jungle.
Since the war, Cobra Island can be found on every map and it is constantly under surveillance, yet it has only a single inhabitant. The infamous cobra-headed temple has been cleared of vines and moss. It shines in the tropical mists and serious-faced monkeys watch from the ancient alcoves.
Mr. White has no name, yet he is paradoxically one of the most famous figures of the war. He sits in a full lotus position on a worn tatami mat, serving tea with graceful sweeps of his arms, as if it were a dance. Mr. White is a master of eight martial arts and expert in dozens of lethal melee weapons. Mr. White's head is shaved and his face is wise and ageless. He smiles a lot and speaks softly.]
There were always many doctors around. Doctor Death Adder, Doctor Crimson, Doctor Malevolent; their names all blend together in my mind and their snake oil schemes of world domination were easily forgotten. You must understand, Cobra Commander refused to plan a normal military campaign against the powers of the world. He sought a coup de main with each new plot and each new secret weapon. These doctors and advisors, they were all too willing to sell him a Tyberion Laser or a gas that could burn all of the money it touched. I paid little attention when Doctor Mindbender arrived.
On Cobra Island?
Not then. Not yet. Cobra Commander's secret army was being prepared here, but we were still operating out of his headquarters in the Yucatan. Mouth of the Asp I think he called it, built out of an abandoned copper mine. It was very hot and very cramped. The working conditions of the Labor Vipers were appalling and several collapsed each day from exhaustion. I don't think they ever finished installing the stonework cobra head over the mouth of the main entrance tunnel. Just as well, I suppose.
Mindbender arrived in the dead of night. I was training at the time. I saw him with his entourage, but I thought little of him. He seemed very vain, with his ridiculous monocle and that cape. Even Cobra Commander had realized the impracticality of a cape. I assumed he was just another crackpot with a useless gadget to sell to Cobra Commander. When trucks began unloading strange machinery I felt my original estimation of him had been vindicated.
[He takes a measured sip of tea.]
The first test subject was a political agitator. She was a local woman who had tried to instigate a unionization effort among the Labor Vipers. She was released from the holding cells into our prison exercise room. Doctor Mindbender warned us to wear ear protection and then activated his device. I could feel its sonic rumbling in my chest. The woman fell to her knees and covered her ears. She seemed to scream and then she collapsed. By the time Doctor Mindbender shut off the device, she was already back on her feet.
A Viper entered the exercise room and brought her a uniform and, I was surprised to see, an old-style combat rifle. She undressed, unashamed to be naked. The uniform was a throwback to the pre-Viper days when Cobra Commander had relied more heavily on a lightly-equipped standing army. A blue uniform, black painter's mask, black boots and simple combat webbing. She secured the painter's mask over her mouth and the blue helmet atop her head. She shouldered her rifle and snapped to attention. Doctor Mindbender asked over the intercom, "Who do you serve?" She replied, "Cobra!"
She was the first of Cobra Commander's new army. As you well know, tens of millions followed.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
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