Edwin tried not to fidget as he waited for the young girl behind the desk to finish running his credit card information. He had left Billy outside of the motel office and out of sight, while he’d gone inside to secure a room. The place wasn’t exactly four star quality but it looked clean and relatively quiet.
“Here you go,” the girl said as she handed him back his card along with the room key, a small triangular piece of plastic attached to it showing the room number. “Third from the end.”
“Thank you,” the medic replied, taking the items with a polite smile.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to call the local towing company for you?”
Edwin waved off the offer, “No that’s okay. I’ve already called my auto club. They’ll have somebody here by morning to get it and bring a rental.”
“Well okay, if you’re sure . . .” the young woman smiled back a little shyly.
“Thanks anyway for the offer though.”
The girl nodded her blond head. “Well enjoy your stay, Mr. Steen.”
“Thanks.” Edwin picked up the duffel bag and headed out of the office closing the door firmly behind him.
Billy was sagging against the side of the building when Edwin came back out, looking almost asleep on his feet. He'd said very little during their hike to the motel, and had complained not at all, although he had to have been in severe pain. Now, as Edwin approached, he looked over, raising an eyebrow. “What’s that look for?” Lifeline asked as he joined the other man, Billy’s face faintly lit by the parking lot lights.
The other man shook his head. "Doesn't matter....you manage to get a room okay?"
“Yeah,” Edwin held up the key. “Two double beds and nobody on either side of us.” His dark eyes flicked over the other man. “You going to make it?”
Lifeline gave Billy a small smile and nodded his head. “C’mon,” he said with a nod of his head as he turned away and back towards the front of the motel.
Billy gripped his wound tightly, pressing the already soaked gauze down more tightly as he followed after Lifeline in a slow walk, the type generally meant to hide a stagger. He refused to pass out before they actually made it to their room.
Edwin glanced through the window as they passed the office, grateful that the blond girl wasn’t behind the desk as he and Billy made their way past it. The medic purposefully kept his pace slow, glancing back every so often at the injured man to see how he was faring. He knew that Billy was just about at the end, the exhaustion and blood loss finally taking their toll.
It seemed like an eternity before they reached the room, Lifeline quickly unlocking the door and pushing it open before hurrying inside to turn on the light. Staggering in after him, catching himself on the door frame, Billy sagged heavily against it before pushing away and managing a few more steps into the room. He was about halfway to the closest bed before his strength at last gave out completely, and he crumpled soundlessly to the floor.
After setting the duffel bag down on one of the beds, Lifeline turned just in time to see the injured man go down. “Billy!” Hurrying over, Edwin stepped over Billy’s prone form to close the door before kneeling down next to him. Instinctively, he reached out and pressed his fingertips against the brunette’s neck to check his pulse, finding it a bit weak but still beating regularly. Taking Billy’s arm, he hefted him up and carried him over to the bed, nudging the duffel over as he laid the unconscious man down. Without wasting anytime, he quickly unzipped the bag and once again pulled out his med kit. Flipping it open he put everything else out of his mind and concentrated on treating Billy.
“Duke?” The voice female voice came through over the comm link. “Duke, come in.”
“Here, Scarlett. What’s up?” The blond man put aside the papers that he had been reading.
“We might have a situation. Mainframe’s come up with something on the wire, you might want to come down here and see for yourself.”
Duke frowned, “What kind of situation?” The G.I. Joe team leader sat up straight in his chair.
“I’m not sure,” his flame-haired teammate replied. “But we think Lifeline might have run into some trouble.”
‘Lifeline?’ Duke was on his feet in an instant. “I’ll be right there.”
The darkness that had engulfed Billy receded some, and he became aware of hands on him. He was very still, letting the rest of his mind try to claw its way out of the ether before he reacted. As it did, and he forced his eyes open again, he was greeted by pale walls and the dim light of a motel room lamp. And that realization brought with it the flood of recollection that told him just how he'd gotten there. He opened his eyes completely, looking towards Edwin, unable to do much more than force his eyes to move.
So intent on his task, Lifeline was barely aware of his patient watching him as he worked. He was in “his zone” as Mainframe had once joked; all his attention focused on doing what he could to aid Billy. The other man’s shirt and ripped jeans were once again pushed aside as he concentrated on the bloody wounds to the man’s hip and chest, cleaning them. He swore softly under his breath as he got a better look, amazed that Billy had been able to stay on his feet for as long as he had. Covering the wounds with fresh pieces of gauze, he paused momentarily to search in his med kit for something.
“What’s the story?” Duke asked as he stepped through the door of the communications room.
“Mainframe picked up a security trip about fifteen minutes ago.” Scarlett turned to face her commander.
“Talk to me.” The blond man said as he approached the console where Scarlett was standing next to a seated man.
The Joe code-named Mainframe turned in his chair to face Duke. “You know our true identities are top secret, so whenever someone makes an inquiry about one us under our real name, a security flag goes up. Usually it’s nothing to worry about, like when Alpine and his wife bought their new house and the mortgage company ran a credit check.”
Duke nodded. “Yeah, so what’s that got to do with Lifeline?”
“Somebody ran a check on his Jeep – the license plate and the VIN number.” Mainframe answered.
It was Scarlett who continued the story. “They did it through a back door, Duke. Not just with the car manufacturer but through the Department of Motor Vehicles, too. Whoever it was, they didn’t want anyone to know.”
Duke frowned. “Have you tried reaching him?”
Mainframe nodded, “I’ve been trying his comm link since the security breach came through, but no luck.”
The blond man’s frown deepened. “Get on the horn with Collins and see if he’s there yet, or if they’ve heard from him,” he instructed Scarlett. “Mainframe, I want you to see if you can trace whoever it was.”
“I’m on it already,” came the computer tech’s reply.
Duke nodded his head, his frown not lessening one bit.
Billy watched Edwin silently as the man worked, his eyes memorizing the man's face, build, and posture. He was more than just a doctor, the former Marine knew. His brain kept throwing images of Rebecca at him and it hit him; the man might be a field medic of some sort. Keep it to yourself for now, Coen, he thought. Just be glad he isn't from Umbrella...
Edwin pulled out a suture kit to stitch up the wound in Billy’s hip. Removing the gauze, he glanced back up to the other man’s face, seeing Billy’s opened eyes. “I’m going to have to sew this up to stop the bleeding. I can apply a local, but it’s still going to hurt like heck.”
Billy almost managed a chuckle at that, but shook his head. "No meds...I'll bite a pillow or something...."
Lifeline nodded and took a breath before he started. Once again, he shut everything else and focused on his work, the stitches precise and neat before he finished tying them off. Cleaning up the area around the wound once more, he covered it with a fresh piece of gauze and taped it down. Pushing up his glasses, he wiped his forehead on his sleeve.
As Lifeline worked, Billy had resorted to gritting his teeth hard against the pain; he had a pretty good pain tolerance, but it still hurt like a bitch. Once the fresh piece of gauze was taped down, he exhaled his breath in a shuddering sigh, his vision floating in and out again.
“You okay?” Edwin asked as he resettled his glasses and began to clean up. “I can give you something for pain if you want it.”
Billy shook his head a little. "I'll be fine...no drugs..."
The medic nodded his head in understanding. If he’d been in Billy’s shoes, he’d probably refuse too. Being drugged up in the company of someone you really didn’t know or trust wasn’t exactly a good idea, particularly if that someone might just be an enemy agent.
Tossing the used dressings and packaging in the trash, Lifeline once more dug into the duffel bag and took out the bottle of water that he’d given Billy earlier and placed it on the nightstand next to the bed. “That . . . thing back there . . .” Edwin started as he sat down in a chair nearby. “What exactly what was it?”
With a grunt, Billy pushed himself up into a sitting position, moving carefully so as to not pull on the stitches. "It's called a Tyrant. It's a bio-weapon, like I said..."
“I know that’s what you said, and I’m up enough on current science to understand some of what that means, but . . . but where did it come from and what was it chasing you for?”
Billy debated internally for a few moments as to whether or not to try and explain. The story was, at best, unbelievable. On the other hand, though, Edwin had seen the Tyrant, and that had a tendency to make people suspend their disbelief a little. Decision made, Billy spoke. "Have you ever heard of Umbrella Pharmaceuticals?"
The medic thought quietly for a few moments before nodding his head. “It sounds familiar. I’ve probably seen their name on some of the things we have back on the b -- on some of the supplies and medications that I use for work.”
Let's upgrade that to definitely field medic... Billy thought and nodded. "They're pretty big. And for the most part, they're legit. However, they've got a branch that the general public doesn't know about. A branch called White Umbrella."
Edwin nodded his head as he listened, glad that he had caught himself before he said “base”, hoping that it wasn’t so glaring that Billy had picked up on it. He wanted the other man to keep thinking of him as just a civilian emergency med tech until he could get in touch with Joe headquarters. He turned his attention fully to Billy as the man went on.
"They specialize in bio-weaponry. That Tyrant is apparently the crowning glory of their work, or at least the closest thing they have at the moment to what they're aiming for..."
Lifeline couldn’t help the shudder that went down his spine as he recalled the creature that had been separated from him by only auto glass. As a member of G.I. Joe, he’d seen and come into contact with a lot of strange things while battling against the international terrorist organization Cobra, but he’d never seen anything that had made his skin crawl like that Tyrant had. “Is it . . . was it – was it human?”
"Once," Billy affirmed with a nod.
“Good God,” Edwin put his hand to his mouth and closed his eyes for a moment. Opening his eyes once again, he looked at Billy. “How can they get away with doing something like that? Why hasn’t anyone reported it?”
"Umbrella's too spread out, they're too covert, and they tend not to leave witnesses..."
“We’ve got to tell someone.” Lifeline’s tone was resolute, his eyes intent on the man across from him.
"And just who do we tell? The police? The military, maybe?" Billy snorted, shaking his head. "Trust me, Umbrella's got 'em both in their pocket."
“I can’t believe that, not everyone. I know people who will listen.”
That earned Edwin a quirked eyebrow. "Oh really?" Billy said, not bothering to keep the disbelief or sarcasm from his tone. "Like who?"
In a penthouse office at the top of the Extensive Enterprises building in New York City, two men sat across from one another at matching desks, their eyes riveted on matching computer monitors as text scrolled across the screen.
“Well it seems . . .”
“ . . . that the quarry has escaped.”
The two men looked up at one another, their eyes reflecting a mirror image of the other.
“Most unfortunate.” Said Tomax.
“Yes, Cobra Commander will be very displeased,” added his brother Xamot.
The two were identical twins, or had been before the injury that had left an angry looking scar down the right side of Xamot’s face. They had started out as mercenaries and then arms dealers, eventually amassing a fortune that now allowed them to run one of the largest and wealthiest business empires in the world. It was well known that they did business their way – which was often shady and less then professional – but what was not so well known was that Tomax and Xamot were also Cobra agents, the commanders of the elite Crimson Guard. It was also the twins who had first seen the potential in the work of White Umbrella and what it could mean to Cobra.
“We should not have allowed the Umbrella people to handle Mr. Coen’s apprehension.” Tomax’s voice was hard with anger.
“He’s injured. There were traces of his blood inside the vehicle.” Xamot tried to mollify his brother.
“Injured, but not dead thankfully.”
“He won’t get far. He and, “ Xamot glanced at the computer screen,” this Edwin Steen will be located shortly. They can’t have gotten far on foot and there aren’t many places for them to go.”
Tomax nodded his head. “True. All we have to do is wait for them to make a move or show themselves.”
“Don’t worry brother, everything will be back under our control in due time.”
Xamot glanced down at the monitor as he heard the ping of an incoming message. A small smile spread over his still handsome face as he read the new text. “It seems that the time is now.”
Edwin grew a bit uncomfortable under Billy’s gaze, his dark eyes glancing up to the injured man’s face. “I uh . . . I have some friends in the military . . . uh, pretty high up.” He offered up, realizing how lame it sounded even to him.
"Uh-huh." Billy's expression was disbelieving, although there was an undercurrent of worry in the man's eyes. If Edwin was military, then he'd have to try and get the hell away as quickly as he could. Furthermore, he wouldn't allow Edwin to take him anywhere near any military installations or hospitals -- the fewer people who knew where he was, the better.
“Look, they’re good people and they wouldn’t think that you were crazy either.”
"So just who are you to have friends in such high places?" Billy asked, skirting the comment.
Lifeline considered for a few moments, but in the end he did the only thing he could do under the circumstances while hoping beyond hope that Billy wasn’t a Cobra agent as he’d first suspected. Reaching for his jacket, he reached into the breast pocket and pulled out his wallet. Opening it, he pulled out a plastic card about the size of a credit card and held it out to Billy. “Captain Edwin Steen, U.S. Army, currently assigned to the G.I. Joe team as a combat medic.”
SHIT! Billy tried to keep his expression as neutral as possible, but his eyes registered surprise and shock. Bad news, Billy boy....Trying to avoid the military and be damned if you don't end up in the lap of not only a superior officer, but a god-damned Joe!
During his time with the Marines, Billy had heard about the Joe team. They had utilized members from each branch of the service, taking the best of the very best, if he recalled correctly.
Edwin pulled the card back and slipped it into his wallet. “I probably should have said something before, but I wasn’t sure. I thought that you might’ve been a Cobra agent so I decided to play the dumb civilian.”
"Yes, Sir," Billy replied, the words coming out of his mouth more automatic than anything, his surprise and pain keeping him from catching the slip until it was too late.
Lifeline tucked the wallet back into his jacket. “I thought you might’ve had some military training. The way you moved through the woods and you’re a pretty crack shot, too.”
With a sigh, Billy laid back in the bed and closed his eyes. After what he'd been through, he was willing to risk execution, if it just meant he could spend a night not running. "Second Lieutenant William Coen, USMC Special Forces...." he said softly.
“At least we’re both on the same side.” Edwin said with a sigh.
That gave Billy a moment of pause. Edwin obviously didn't recognize his name. Not as a K.I.A., which Rebecca had said he was reported as, or as an escaped convict on the run. It made him wonder just how authentic that "Court Order" had been. Or was it just one more game Umbrella was running? But why me? He thought. "Yeah..."
“If you know anything about the Joes, then you know it would be near impossible for this White Umbrella group to get inside.”
"I didn't think they'd be able to touch Special Forces, either," Billy replied softly.
“Is that what you were doing? Going undercover?”
"You...honestly don't know, do you?" Billy sounded both tired and confused. "Look, is there anyway you can check something out for me?"
Edwin’s brows quirked in puzzlement. “Yeah, maybe. What is it?”
"Can you find out if Regarthon Base was expecting any prisoners to be transferred in for execution?"
The medic’s puzzled look deepened as he regarded Billy. “Why?”
"Just humor me. If I'm right...I'll explain the whole thing to you."
Frowning slightly, Edwin considered Billy’s request for a few moments before rising from the chair and moving back to the bed where the duffel bag still sat. After rummaging around in it for a moment or two, he brought out his two-way communicator. Normally, he should have had it on him while he traveled, in case the Joes needed to call him back, but he’d ended up tossing it in the duffel bag with his uniform instead. Mainframe had his cell phone number and if he couldn’t reach Edwin one way, he more than likely could with the other. Flipping it on, he looked at the small LCD screen seeing that several attempts to reach him had already been made.
Billy lay silently in the bed, his eyes closed, literally saying his prayers. If things went badly, he'd just put his head on the block. If not, then maybe he could trust Edwin enough.... He sighed, hoping he hadn't just made a mistake.
Lifeline glanced at Billy before moving away towards the door. Opening it, he stepped outside into the cool air.
“Lifeline! Where the hell have you been, buddy?” Mainframe’s voice boomed out from the communicator.
“It’s a long story.”
“We’ve been trying to reach you. Scarlett called up to Collins and they said you hadn’t arrived yet.”
Edwin sighed, “I uh . . . I, uh, ran into a little, uh, car trouble.”
“Man, are you alright?”
“Yeah I’m fine, but the Cherokee isn’t it. Jeeps and deer don’t mix well together.”
“Dude . . .”
Lifeline cut the other man off before he had a chance to finish. “Look Mainframe, I need you to do a favor for me.”
“Uh yeah, sure thing buddy. Whadda ya need?”
“I uh need you to find something out for me, but it’s kind of on the Q.T.”
The other end of the connection fell silent for a moment. “You’re not in some kind of trouble are you?”
“No no, nothing like that. I just need to find something out, but I don’t want anyone to know about it. It’s uh . . . it’s kind of personal business.”
Mainframe hesitated once again. “Uh, I dunno. You know if Duke finds out I’m doing personal stuff . . .”
“I know Mainframe, and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. Look, I’ll owe you big if you do this for me, okay?”
“Well . . . since it’s for you, yeah I'll see what I can do.”
Edwin sighed in relief. “I need you to find out if Regarthon Base was expecting any prisoners in for execution.”
“Yeah. It’s kind of important. I’d appreciate it if you could get on it ASAP.”
Mainframe’s voice sounded a bit puzzled. “Uh yeah, I’ll get right on it. Are you sure everything is okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Edwin replied with a nod of his head.
“Okay then. It might take me a few minutes, so I’ll give you a ring back.”
“That’s fine Mainframe. Thanks a lot.” Lifeline cut off the link and turned to look back in the door of the room, his dark eyes fixing on Billy’s prone form. Billy was staring at the ceiling of their shared motel room, his expression worried, maybe even a little scared. Little things kept making him start from his thoughts, and pain was keeping his brain hazy.
Now that Lifeline had a chance to get a better look at him, it was easy to see the signs of his long flight: the dark circles under his eyes, and the tight set of his jaw. Even now, bandaged as he was, he was ready to run if he had to. It was likely he wouldn't get far if it came to that though.
Edwin came back into the room, closing the door behind him and leaning against it. “He’s going to call me back.”
"All right. I...appreciate this."
The medic moved away from the door, returning to the chair and sitting down. “Mainframe probably thinks I’m nuts; and for some reason he seemed to think that something had happened to me.”
"Like I said...once I have an answer...I might have enough information to finish explaining this to you..."
Lifeline regarded the Marine before nodding his head slightly. “Guess all we can do is wait then.” His voice sounded tired, the evening’s events finally catching up to him as well.