GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Seven Years Ago
Explosions rocked the city of Baghdad like a string of massive firecrackers. Each blast seemed to shake the ground and send rubble and debris toppling from the buildings, where it fell on the soldiers like hail. The street was littered with garbage and abandoned cars, and a carpet of spent bullet casings.
Sergeant Lonzo Wilkinson pressed his back into the peeling paint of a storefront wall and peered down the dusty avenue, squinting his eyes to see through the glare of the midday sun on the bright white and cream-colored buildings. He gripped his M-16 assault rifle and held the stock firm against his shoulder, aiming it down the street. His squad crept up along the building edge right behind him.
No one on his squad ever called him Lonzo, and rarely called him Sergeant, except when other officers were around. Everyone on his squad had a nickname that started with the letter S. He had started the tradition himself as soon as he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, to create a sense of camaraderie and friendship among the troops. His own nickname was a gang alias he used on the streets of Detroit, in another lifetime before joining the army. He was known among his squad as Stalker.
Beside him crouched Spike and Samson, aiming their own rifles down the adjacent alleyway, scanning for any movement. They had been lucky so far that day, having encountered little resistance on their forward patrol. Each day the military claimed another few blocks of the city, and within a few weeks they were confident that all of Baghdad would be under control. But until then, they had to deal with a constant stream of insurgents and guerilla fighters.
Stalker pointed forward and the team slowly edged along the side of the building, moving as one unit with Stalker in front and a squad member nicknamed Scooby covering the rear. Their radio man, Squeaky, was in the center, keeping their squad constantly in touch with command, as well as the Black Hawk helicopters circling the city. The other members of Stalker’s squad, in no particular order, were Storm, Soccer, Scratch, and Snake.
They entered an open intersection along the main street, where two open markets faced each other next to a wide alleyway strewn with crates and barrels and other containers. The markets were abandoned now, a hot breeze blowing through the scattered tables and chairs, making the edges of the fabric screen roof flap and flutter.
“I don’t like this,” he heard someone whisper behind him.
Before Stalker had time to agree, he caught movement in a doorway along the edge of the market. He raised his gun, and immediately, more figures appeared in the windows above them.
“Get cover!” Stalker shouted as gunfire erupted over their heads.
The men scrambled across the intersection or back the way they had come. Stalker dove behind a thick concrete slab holding up the post for the market roof, crouching protectively as bullets rattled around him. He adjusted his helmet and risked a glance around the edge of the slab to see where the shooting was coming from.
Three men in the windows on the second floor, and another on the third. By the sound of them, they were using standard AK-47s, and they probably didn’t know how to use them effectively. Many of the insurgents were not weapons experts, and Stalker had learned that most of them were not very good shots either.
He glanced behind him and saw two of his squad members crouched defensively behind an abandoned vehicle. It was not the best place to hide, since bullets could easily penetrate the doors and frame, but they were each ducked behind the car’s engine, where none but the most powerful bullets could get them. It was Storm and Scratch, each of them peeking up over the hood before ducking their heads back down. They had a better angle on the shooters than Stalker did.
Across the intersection, Spike, wielding one of the squad’s two M-249 machine guns, leaned out and tilted the huge gun upward, opening fire with a deafening roar. Stalker watched as bullets sprayed across the side of the building, letting off little puffs of dust and chunks of plaster with each bullet. He riddled the side of the building, spraying bullets across the windows where the insurgents were shooting from.
“Come on!” Stalker shouted, jumping up and taking off across the intersection. Storm and Scratch were a few footsteps behind him. They all reached the other side unharmed, rejoining the rest of the squad.
Spike lowered the gun and ducked around the corner. As soon as he did so, more gunfire burst out, but Stalker doubted anyone was taking the time to aim. Squeaky was already on the phone, shouting their coordinates over the roar of gunfire. The welcome sound of a helicopter came from high above them. Stalker looked up but couldn’t see it.
“Stalker! There!” Scooby shouted, pointing an arm across the street from them.
Three men appeared from a doorway, wearing dirty rags and bandanas across their faces, battered AK-47s in their hands. One of them ducked into a shallow doorway while the others ducked behind some crates. They stuck their guns up over the edge of the crates and opened fire, but their bullets when high.
Stalker raised his gun and opened fire. His bullets burst apart the edge of the doorway, sending chips of brick flying. The Iraqi insurgent leaned out to return fire and staggered backward, blood erupting across his chest. He stumbled back and slid to the ground, the gun falling from his hands.
Storm, Spike, Samson, and Soccer edged around the side of the building again. The whole squad was in an awkward position now, pinned out in the open between the shooters up in the windows, and the men shooting at them from down the street. Spike opened fire again, giving the squad some cover. Stalker led them around the building as Squeaky shouted into his microphone. They all could hear the Black Hawk overhead, but it must have been a block or two away.
Storm, a young Asian man and the youngest member of the squad, jumped in front of a doorway and opened fire, blasting the doorknob apart and splintering the wood. He kicked it in and continued shooting. Stalker gritted his teeth at his foolishness. Storm was a talented soldier, but he was too reckless, especially in the heat of battle.
Bullets popped along the ground a few feet away, sending up splashes of dirt. They returned fire randomly, trying to find some kind of cover. Above them, the shooters pointed their guns downward and fired wildly. Spike shouted and fired up at the windows again. One of the shooters above fell away the window, his gun falling down to the street.
Finally, the Black Hawk helicopter appeared in the sky directly above the intersection, its rotors sending a torrent of dust and sand around like a tornado. The gigantic hum of the chopper deafened Stalker to all other noise and he had to shield his eyes from the blowing sand.
An M134 Minigun swivelled around on the side of the helicopter and opened fire on the side of the building. The gun’s muzzle flash was like a flare as bullets erupted from the gun at a rate approaching 3,000 rounds per minute. The gun cut through the building’s walls like a knife through butter, and Stalker felt a brief moment of pity for the men in those rooms.
“Let’s go!” he shouted as loud as he could, taking off across the intersection and past the market area to the relative safety of the other side. His squad followed him, and he glanced back to see Storm, Spike, and Snake lagging behind. More bullets came flying at them from down the street and his men returned fire.
There was a bright flash of light and a trail of smoke as a rocket launched into the air from the alleyway on the other side of the street, behind the chopper. It shrieked into the air and struck the Black Hawk right in the vertical rotor. The helicopter shuddered and immediately began to rotate in the air, smoke streaming from the shattered rear rotor. It spun around a few times and lowered to the street.
Stalker led the team across the street once more, to the corner opposite their original position. The helicopter spun dizzily, tilting back and forth, the rotors leaning dangerously close to hitting nearby buildings. Stalker’s silent prayers were answered, this one time, and the chopper hit the ground with a lurch, staying upright as the rotors powered down. It was only about twenty yards away, but the middle of a firefight, twenty yards might as well be twenty miles.
Snake ran forward, opening fire at the pile of crates where the other pair of insurgents were hiding. Wood splintered as the bullets ripped into them. He pounded to the edge of the building and braced his shoulder there, firing a line of bullets across the top of the crates. Like always, he wore a bandana across his mouth and nose, so only his piercing blue eyes could be seen under the brim of his helmet. He had been a member of the squad for two years and was one of Stalker’s closest personal friends on the team, although some of the other members found him a bit antisocial because he rarely spoke.
“Get the pilots!” Stalker shouted.
As the laid down covering fire, Storm and Samson ran to the helicopter doors and helped the pilots and the machine gunner out. The gunner had an M-16 as well and could defend himself, but the pilots were only armed with pistols.
Suddenly, more bullets descended on them from an unknown location, and sprayed across the side of the chopper, right across where Storm and one of the pilots were standing. Storm cried out and spun around, grabbing his shoulder, and the pilot fell to the ground in a heap beside him.
“There!” Spike bellowed. “The roof!”
Two more Iraqis were up on the roof, firing down at the squad. They fired back, but the insurgents ducked back away.
Snake ran toward the chopper, slinging his rifle over his shoulder. When the insurgents behind the crates tried to return fire, Spike opened up with his M-249 and blasted the crates into splinters. The two men cried out and fell over backward.
The pilot was the more wounded of the two, so Snake lifted him up by the arm and hoisted the pilot over his shoulder like a sack of flour. Storm desperately lifted his gun and opened fire toward the roof, blood spilled all the way down his arm and another circle of blood on his thigh. Snake shuffled back to the edge of the building and deposited the pilot on the ground before heading back for Storm. The shooters on the roof reappeared, but one of them was no longer holding a machine gun.
The RPG on his shoulder fired with a whoosh of smoke and the rocket shot down toward the helicopter. Snake grabbed the straps of Storm’s backpack and hauled him backward, pulling him right along the ground because he was too heavy to lift with all of his gear.
Stalker screamed for them to get down, but it was too late. The rocket struck the front of the chopper and exploded in a blast of billowing orange flame and the piercing shriek of tearing metal. Wreckage and shrapnel flew into the air and streams of flame lifted up like geysers.
Snake went immediately limp and fell over backward, slumping to the ground like a rag doll. Storm covered his face to protect himself from the flames. The squad continued to return fire toward the roof as Stalker and Scratch ran out to pull their teammates to safety.
“Good Jesus,” Stalker breathed, looking down at the bloody smear that was Snake’s face. The entire front of his face and neck was gushing blood, and little bubbles appeared at the edge of his mouth, showing that he was still breathing. Stalker pulled Snake up to the building and sat him upright. Scratch managed to pull Storm out of harm’s way, and he crawled beside Snake, wincing at the pain of his own wounds and looking in shock at Snake’s face.
Squeaky was already on the radio, calling for evac. The helicopter burned like a bonfire, sending a huge black column of smoke into the air. The squad stayed in place until backup arrived, an excruciating twelve minutes later.