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Chapter 97: The Return Of...

Updated: Jun 11

Blazing light pours through the 12-foot floor-to-ceiling windows, gleaming off the lustrous hardwood. Leaning rearward in a high-back leather chair, Cobra Commander stares at the man across from him. The President of the United States is trying to shrink into the seat he was offered. The Commander's intense gaze seems to pierce the soul of the man squirming across from him. The POTUS is unable to meet the belligerent stare. Behind the Commander, Chuckles stands with his back to the room, lost in thought while admiring the view of the ever-sprawling New Springfield. On either side of the POTUS sits the Commander's most trusted officers. Once those seats were held by the twin Generals, Tomax and Xamot, after their unfortunate demise, those positions were filled by Colonel Bludd and Major Onesi. Onesi clears his throat and then speaks, "Commander, Sir, our source inside tells us everything is going according to plan. They informed us that Falcon is reacting as you predicted. They also reported that there was a fight amongst the team. Several members were left with minor injuries."

The Commander's eyes never waver from the President. "Good. Good. It seems our little ploy is working." He leans forward, placing his elbows on the desk, steepling his fingers together in an oft-repeated gesture. "It looks like your plan is operating even better than expected." The words were directed to Chuckles.

"Yes, father, it appears so." Chuckles answers, turning from the window and placing his hand on the back of the Commander's chair. "Father, what should we do with our 'guest'?"

"I've been thinking about that very thing. You know, 'Mister President,' the rumors have it that you died like a cowardly dog in your bunker." His voice lowers to a whisper, "I saw it happen after we hacked the CCTV cameras." There, the faintest twitch in the President's face. A spasm in the corner of his lips. The reaction is negligible, but the Commander sees it. "I'm of the mind to have my men shoot you where you are." Instantly, Bludd and Onesi are on their feet, chairs forced back, pistols pressed against the head of the man once The most powerful man on Earth. A smile grows unseen under the Commander's blue hood. He trained his men well, and their loyalty shall not go unnoticed. The smile on Chuckles' visage, more a sneer, sends shivers down the President's spine.

The President tries to find his voice, "Wha...what is the meaning of this? I've done everything you've asked."

"Except tell us who you are." The Commander's voice spits like venom.

"I... I'm the President of the United States."

"No. You may believe you are, but I know the President is dead. I had a team retrieve him from the bunker." At some unspoken command, the double oaken doors to the office open. A raging zombie enters, gray emaciated skin pulled tight against jutting bones, gnashing teeth stained with blood, black ooze dripping down its chin, a thick collar secured around its neck, held at the end of eight-foot-long pike poles, its face contorted in unbridled anger. Two Vipers force the creature directly toward the imposter President. The Commander pushes back from the desk and stands, "Mr. President." He spreads his arms in welcome, "Please, come in." The Vipers continue driving the beast toward the seated man claiming to be the President. With two pistols pressed to his head, he cannot turn and see the beast behind him, but he is all too familiar with the sounds and smell of the creatures. The man begins to sweat in fear. The Commander leans forward threateningly. "I will only ask one more time. If I don't like your answer, you will join the ranks of the undead." He places his hands flat on the desk, leaning forward like a predator waiting to strike, "Who. Are. You?"

The man's whole demeanor changes in an instant. "I can see my ruse has come unraveled." The man tilts his eyes to look at the Commander. "had I known about the President's unfortunate existence, I would have chosen someone else." He maintains eye contact. "Commander, if Colonel Bludd and Major Onesi would take the pistols from my head, I would be more than obliged."

Cobra Commander nods, and the two men step back, pistols hanging at their sides, fingers off the triggers. "Thank you." He nods thanks to the Commander, "Commander, I am sorry about my scheme, but I was unsure what your feelings towards me would be." The man reaches towards his face, peeling off a mask while, at the same time, an electric shimmer jolts the air. Now sitting before the Commander is a familiar figure, pale, sunken white eyes void of irises, surrounded by what looks like a black mask. And as suddenly as he appears, his skin begins to turn blue. "Commander, if you might be so kind..." The Commander taps a button, and the windows darken.

The Commander sits in his chair, "Zartan." The disgust in the name is plain.

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