Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
[Cobra Commander had an obsession with world capitals and Washington, D.C. was no exception. Most were captured as quickly as possible with as little destruction as could be managed. Those that did not succumb so quickly, like Berlin and Beijing, were obliterated by massive bombing and terror campaigns. Cobra Commander paid special attention to Washington, D.C. and Moscow, transforming them into honor cities. The monuments were defaced and daubed with blue paint. Statues were sanded into crude renditions of Cobra Commander. The snake's head flag hung from windows and flew from a thousand flagpoles. Vipers marched in formation and Mindbender's slave labor kept the streets clean.
A decade after the city was retaken those memories of occupation are kept fresh by the vague suggestion of cobra heads lingering on the refinished lamp posts or the ominous hissing of snakes from storm drains. Walter Reed Army Medical Center has been returned to its former owners and now veterans, too weak or traumatized to care for themselves, call it home. I am here to visit a veteran with a very unique story. Brad Armbruster fought a solitary war against Cobra far away from the nightmare visions of a burning world. His years spent fighting this battle have left him prematurely aged and frail.]
I was on a re-supply run up in one of the Crusader shuttles, I wasn't supposed to stay. Payload was halfway through a tour on the Defiant-1 orbital station and it was my job to bring him up fresh water, oxygen, food, some scientific material. 24 hours and then a quick turnaround back to the Defiant complex in Cape Canaveral. I had no idea what was about to happen. I should have, I should have known, the signs were there. Riots, strange devices. Hell, Miami was spittin' distance from launch pad.
By the time I finished docking, the Defiant complex back on earth had been overrun by those poor hypnotized bastards. You know, that first day I think I actually talked to Cobra Commander on the radio. I kept asking, "Mission Control, are you there? Do you read me?" Just over and over. Suddenly, this cackling laughter starts. Scared the hell out of me. Then this guy is screeching about the new order and demands I return to earth immediately. I didn't, of course.
[His laughter at the ridiculous demand is swallowed up by a gagging cough. A nurse checks his vitals and he catches his breath before continuing.]
We managed to restore contact with some Joe bases here and there, but they kept getting overrun. About a week in Cobra started jamming us with satellites they had seized from the NSA. We watched. We watched when Atlanta burned again, those poor bastards setting fire to the whole place rather than letting Cobra have it and them. We watched the amphibious landings in Louisiana and Mississippi, messy stuff, lots of casualties on both sides. That was the hard part, because even on the rare occasions where Joe or the Army came out on top, we knew it was because they had killed so many innocent people being used as pawns.
Payload lost it when Knoxville was taken. He had a wife there and it was hard for us, up there and impotent, to do anything other than assume the worst. I guess I don't blame him for offing himself. Laser through the roof of the mouth. He even had the courtesy to take it outside while I was asleep and handle things, so at least the station didn't stink like his cooked brains. She survived, you know. That's the real shitter. She got out of Knoxville and ended up in one of the safe zones west of the Rockies. She visited me a couple weeks after I came down.
How did you fight back?
That's a funny story. You know, Cobra had seized most of our satellite control facilities and by extension control of the satellites themselves, but there was one they missed: one of their own. I noticed it during one of my passes over Africa. It was sending out a maintenance reset signal and it was big enough to see through the window. I decided to grab one of the EVA hard suits and putter over to it during my next pass. Risky stuff, because if I missed I could end up flying off into space or running out of juice and getting sucked into the earth's atmosphere.
I didn't miss and it turned out to be some sort of battle station with this huge cannon that was powered by diamonds. Luckily for me, there was an ample supply of diamonds on board, along with plenty of food and water, so I set up shop there. The cannon was called the Copperhead and it was an ionized laser cannon designed to pierce the atmosphere and vaporize entire city blocks.
My big mistake was taking a pot shot at a Cobra supply depot in Alabama. I blew up a bunch of Rattlers and FANGs, but I also tipped my hand to Cobra and reminded them there was a giant laser cannon they built orbiting the earth. I didn't really think much more about what I had done, because shortly after that I got in touch with the safe zones west of the Rockies and started helping them with coordinated attacks. They needed help pulling the last of their units back into the safe zones so that they could gather and prepare for a counteroffensive. I was so wrapped up in that job I almost didn't even notice them coming.
The B.A.T.s. Cobra had filled up one of our Defiant heavy lifters with their damn robots and launched it up after me. They were crawling all over the station by the time I had located the weapon's locker.
These were the same robot soldiers they used to drop in to protect their para-dropped Mindbender devices?
The exact same, which is the only reason I'm still alive. The tin men are hell on earth, but we weren't on earth and none of Cobra's eggheads had thought to reprogram them for zero-G. They might have been bulletproof and ten times as strong as a man, but as long as I kept out of reach I could take them out pretty easily. Most of them actually just fell off the station before they got inside. The real danger wasn't so much one of them killing me directly, although that almost happened a couple times, it was that they did so much damage to the station it became hard to maintain orbit.
When I felt satisfied I had killed them all, I EVA'd over to their ship and raided it for parts and supplies. I did what repairs I could and was able to keep things going.
They must have realized that their clever plan wasn't working, because one morning I saw another Defiant on the launch pad. I debated what to do for about thirty seconds.
You blew it up?
Hell yes I did, and I whooped and hollered like a cowboy at a rodeo while I did it. Cape Canaveral went up like a Roman candle with all that damn rocket fuel sitting around. Poor robot bastards never had a chance.
[His laughter again descends into a terrible fit of coughing.]
That decision kept me up in orbit for an extra three years. They had old Defiants in mothballs back in the safe zones, but it took them until long after we'd licked Cobra to get a full mission control set up. The ah, the trip back was hard. That gravity just came back like sacks of rocks. My bones are, well, let's just say I won't be doing any bare knuckle boxing because my hand would explode like a grenade.
[He starts laughing and the nurse finally has had enough. She sends me out of the room and as I go I pass a portrait of Armbruster in his Skystriker flight suit. Three days after my interview Armbruster passed away.]
After years of being misunderstood, I had hoped we finally had "our" story. I was wrong.
He had a yellow inflatable tube around his waist, the kind with a comical duck head. There was a tiny fish in one of his hands, and a trident in the other. In the background a squirrel wearing shades was water skiing.
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