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Parker Duncan

Parker Duncan

Montana, United States

Parker began writing the Winds of the Immortals trilogy in 2013 and traveled through the American West for the next six years, basing parts of the epic on his experiences.

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About the author

Parker was raised in the rugged mountains of Montana where he grew up hunting and hiking in the outdoors while developing a love for books and poetry at a young age.  He won the Authors of the Flathead poetry competition in 2008 and was published in several local poetry publications.  As a budding writer and musician, Parker carried his talents to music school in Los Angeles where he studied bass guitar and met different people from all over the world.  His friends in school offered several unique perspectives from their various locations on the globe, giving Parker a window into the unknown while challenging his own beliefs and opinions.  After school, he began writing the epic Winds of the Immortals Trilogy while fighting wild fires and traveling through the vast lands of the North American west.  Journeying through the wilderness in the Cascades, Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, and New Mexican deserts gave Parker the time and settings to formulate this epic saga between his long stints on the front lines in the war against nature.  His writing is influenced by mythology, folklore, epic poetry, stories of people facing adversity, modern and ancient military history, and multi-cultural perspectives.

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Winds of the Immortals

Part I of the Winds of the Immortals Trilogy

A mercenary and a botanist fall in love, trade roles, and evolve into Gods before facing the most deadly terrorist to walk the Earth.

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Sci-Fi Fantasy
75,000 words
100% complete
6 publishers interested

Synopsis

I am pleased to introduce to you my first book in a futuristic dystopian trilogy, The Winds of the Immortals. The entire series, Winds of the Immortals, A Latticework Shrine, and Cellar Door Parallax, is complete and has been revised and edited for submission. I’m seeking representation by an agent who respects my creative vision and can provide the tools to bring these three books to a receptive audience. The manuscript for Winds of the Immortals is approximately 75,000 words, with books two and three at 85,000 and 105,000 words, respectively.
The Winds of the Immortals trilogy features vastly different characters from different cultures, each with their own version of how to save the planet from war and environmental disaster -- and each representing a unique mythological counterpart. At the apex of humankind’s evolution in the early 2030s, these characters fall into the role of their counterparts. Alliances and enemies are quickly distinguished in a fast changing social and political climate as the main character’s mutation into a highly evolved ‘Sararan’ provides both his allies and enemies with an elixir to the post-modern world's complex issues. From the Hindu god Vishnu, to Gaia, to David and Goliath, this multi-layered story of both immortal and mortal beings represents how even the most humble of humans can change the course of history.  This story is meant to challenge ones perspectives and beliefs by offering a dialectic narrative that delves deeply into the current issues of our world:  Climate change;  resource wars; refugee crises; over population; religious persecution; dictatorships; corporate empires; nuclear war; environmental disaster; globalism.  As mankind barrels into the future, the world deteriorates into history’s recesses, where the most divine and demonic creatures from our collective mythology strangely come into existence.

Outline

On a failed mission deep in the Peruvian jungle, mercenary Ezra Beller's life is radically changed as a mysterious plant alters his genetic code.  During the mission he rescues Ingrid McAdam, a young biologist who gives him new purpose. 

As he evolves quickly into a super-modified creature with crystalline finger nails and hawk-eyes, scientists classify him a new species: Homo Sarara.  

Frightened by the ramifications of a mutant race developing, religious groups nationwide fear Ezra's return home to the United States where a civil war between the eastern and western regions is causing widespread discord. 

Ezra's life is further complicated by his increasing attraction to Ingrid, who becomes fascinated by his condition while studying him. As their intimacy escalates, so do the churchs’ protests against their cross-species relationship.  

The couple escapes to the mountains of Montana, where they marry and Ingrid gets pregnant. The journey Ezra and Ingrid take soon becomes treacherous when Vishnu, a former comrade of Ezra’s turned global terrorist, plots to use Ezra's Sararan genes to execute an apocalyptic prophecy.  

When an assassination attempt by Vishnu's soldiers is thwarted by Ezra, his son is born soon after and he and Ingrid abandon him and leave him with their mid-wife to ensure his safety.  

Ezra uses his skills, experience, and new biological frame to retaliate against this malicious foe, but Vishnu has a secret of his own waiting to be unleashed on the western world.  He and Ingrid travel to St. Louis where he thinks he'll be able to assassinate his enemy and end their plight once and for all, saving both his family and the rest of the world at once.

In a time of great turmoil, the future of the human race rests on the shoulders of a demonized Sararan and the woman who loves him.

Audience

The audience for this epic is directed to a large population of jilted millennials, fed-up baby boomers, and answer-seekers from Generation Z, since so many subjects covered in this story are based in current events and conflicts, with Book I taking place in the not-so-distant future. I have a Syrian refugee as a plot-carrying sub-character.  There are security contracting companies competing with the military and winning.  There are Nepalese monks who use meditation and modern medicine to learn immortality, turning their organization from healers into assassins.  The vice president of the United States resigns to become a corporate titan and greater foreign influence.  One of the main characters is a vegan and environmentalist, trying to save the oceans from toxicity, one mission at a time.  Another is a US Marine who questions the code and honor of his own institution and must decide whose side to take. 
My story has many relative topics that people will connect with and find exciting.  With so much anger and division in the US alone, this story is a bleak but also enlightening view into our own future; a catalyst of ages to bring different view points onto the center stage.  My vision is to turn this epic into a mini-series for one of the many popular streaming services, a multi-million dollar industry that produces titles similar to the nature of mine such as 'The Man in the High Castle' and 'The Handmaids Tale'.  Readers and viewers of the saga 'Game of Thrones' or 'American Gods' will equally be fascinated by the story since mine gradually turns from a sci-fi into a fantasy, with a smart and linear transition from one genre to the other. 


Promotion

Since the entire trilogy is finished and edited, my strategy is simply to release Books I and II of my trilogy in relatively close succession, so that the demand for Book 3 creates a seething hunger by the masses.  I have nearly 2,000 followers on my Facebook author page with many more on the way as I begin this promotional campaign.  I have interviews planned with local media outlets and I will make videos and updates to post on my website.  I'm going to start a writing blog on the website that highlights the progress of the novels and announces events as well as opens up the conversation about the characters, settings, and narrative of the book.  The website is finished and will offer a pre-sale option that brings interested reads straight to my publishizer campaign.  I have contacts in several states and countries who are interested in the novel and I will reach out to them to begin spreading news of this release.  Artist Chris Panatier has been commissioned to illustrate the cover art and will be finished near the end of May.

Competition

My trilogy is part military/action, part spiritual/philosophical, and part sci-fi/fantasy, with a romantic needle threading its way through the narrative.  Though this style has surely been done before, my story stands out by gradually making the extremely fantastic a realistically conceivable monomyth that provokes a reflection of the times.  Themes such as witchcraft, spell-casting, mutant creatures, and people with the ability to fly and read minds are not only all explained in a well thought-out and progressive scientific manner, but unlike most stories of a similar nature, mine develops in a manner that's more historically on track.  Character development and immersion is what sets my trilogy apart from others.  The multi-generational time line allows for a deeper investment into learning the minds of these characters, who are carefully constructed by the nature of mankind to bring out the best and worst in one another. I spent eight years researching non-fiction in genetics, warfare, popular folklore, ancient history, and other relevant subjects to bring this new genre to life.   


Book one begins at the apex of humanity.  The subject for this book is Mental, carrying the theme throughout the story with psychedelic trips, hypnosis, mind enhancement, and similar themes related to the brain.  

As humans de-evolve, the theme for book two is Spiritual.  There are new Gods to worship and a common desire to praise them in the darkening times. The fear of these divine beings drives some humans to take action.

The theme for Book three is Physical, wherein the world returns to its primal roots as each species fights for survival in a hybrid-neolithic time-scape.  A threatening species claims the top of the food chain and humans quickly descend to their origins.  Meant to read like the bible in reverse, the trilogy ends with only two beings, the quintessential idols of Adam and Eve.  


Books similar to mine:


Semiosis: A novel of first contact by Sue Burke published by Tor Books / 2018




Forced to land on a planet they aren't prepared for, human colonists rely on their limited resources to survive. The planet provides a lush but inexplicable landscape--trees offer edible, addictive fruit one day and poison the next, while the ruins of an alien race are found entwined in the roots of a strange plant. Conflicts between generations arise as they struggle to understand one another and grapple with an unknowable alien intellect.

My book is similar to this in the sense my main characters find themselves in a jungle that is untouched, but my story takes place on Earth and instead of the plants taking over the humans negatively, a fungus augments the main character in a way that changes his DNA for the better and the narrative turns more into a social-political conflict of acceptance by his fellow humans.


Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett published by Crown books / 2018
The story is set in Tevanne, a city-state run by four merchant houses, funded by pillaging nearby lands and powered by scrivers who use sigils to make devices that defy reality. When talented thief Sancia Grado steals a sentient golden key named Clef, she’s pursued by paladin-like police captain Gregor Dandolo, scion of the Dandolo merchant house. Clef and Sancia are both shocked when they find they can communicate telepathically. This and Sancia’s other abilities—linked to a painful scar on her skull—hint at strange, terrible things in her past.

Though my story has similar themes as Foundryside, mine starts in far less mystical and more modern-era sense, gradually turning into a story with Gods, withcraft, and other fantasy themes.  My story is more relatable to the reader as they experience the exciting and wild transition into the mystical realm.  


Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller published by Ecco Press / 2018

After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod way of living. However, the city is starting to fray along the edges—crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a dangerous epidemic nicknamed “the breaks” is spreading, ravaging the population.

There are some urban-sci-fi similarities between Blackfish City and mine, yet the climate change scenario in my trilogy is controlled and manipulated by both the antagonists and protagonists themselves as they use the weather as a weapon against one another.  With so much at stake, a balance is eventually reached, but only at great sacrifice to certain regions.

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BOOK I

November 18th 2032 - Year of the Rat

“The devil keeps man from good with a thousand machinations spewed from his belly, so that when a person tries to do good, he pierces him with his shafts; and when he desires to embrace God with his whole heart in love, he subjects him to poisonous tribulations, seeking to pervert good work before God. And when a person seeks virtue, the devil tells him that he does not know what he his doing, and he teaches him he can set his own law for himself.”
- Hildegard Von Bingen, Letter to Abbot c. 1166

CHAPTER 1 – EXODUS FELICITY

    The moon’s soft reprise brought the mercenary to the balcony. He’d never been one to admit its supernal forces could turn a person, but its disappearing silver shadow brought his hearkening a glowing fortune. His eyes reached through the cold distance to embrace that silky light in silent celestial swoon. He tipped his head back to view the cloudless sky, his weary pupils falling into the blanket of the night’s depths where blue hues of dead nebula lay vast at the hearth of time, behind mezzanines of pure abyss pulling the stars ever closer.  And through his troubled eyes he’d affixed on something dissolved beyond that furthest fading sun, an unwavering stare known by all men whose words cease to speak a language only surfaced blood finds fluent. His gaze fell back down to the city where a grid of flashing lights and city clamor clashed with the chaotic Columbian jungle pushing up around the concrete blocks. The bustling surface of faceless beings and noisy machines below overlapped the choir of tropical birds perched on the platform of flickering holographic billboards.
    Pasto was a tourist oasis in a country still ravaged by corruption, standing on a graveyard of both ancient natives and modern slaves, where the memory of hardship met cartel violence and people conspiring against their communities fighting those protecting it, infecting the wound. The mercenary knew these patterns of history well. This knowing was the reason he stood in such a contemplative state, his eyes shifting from the orange lights of the billboards allure and down into his whiskey drink, that eternal mirror of dance and sudden wisdom.
    Born one hundred and fifty years prior, he may have been an outlaw in Pasto, his ghost transient yet absorbed into the land’s decay, wandering between oceans in some tectonic prison of woe. But Ezra Beller, the descendent of European nomads and Missouri mountain men was there for a new kind of crusade. His next mission would take place in the Andes: a vast range of mystery, havoc and plunder.
    Having been born on September 11th, 2001, Ezra’s life began with a bang. His father insisted he join the military when he came of age and Ezra enlisted in the Army at the age of 18 as the global war on terrorism in the Middle East was spilling over into West Africa, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Through years of combat experience, Ezra eventually became a contractor for a security company that took him on more missions he declined existing in than not. And while the war between Iranian puppet states and Saudi Arabia pumped out as much violence as oil, the ocean’s toxicity rose in the people’s negligence. The unprecedented amount of damage urged the U.N. and U.S. governments’ frantic search for a solution to the poisoned seas, allowing them to conduct a worldwide environmental catastrophe initiative. Ezra’s mission was to help lead a security contingent hired to protect biological researchers exploring the soils of South America in hopes of finding an organism that decomposed both radioactive and fossil fuel matter quickly and organically. The mountains of southern Columbia and northern Ecuador and Peru were riddled with heavily armed cartels, savage gold miners, and ancient Jivaro traps. The initiatives’ coordinators implied that a top-notch security team was absolutely necessary for the team’s safety, which was where Ezra and his group came in.
    Ezra laughed at a faint but happy memory as he stood in solitude, smoking his cigar away from the commotion of his fellow contractors in the room of the hotel. Some scientists had come to socialize with the mercenaries. One of them bought cocaine, as the draw to the pure white powder was their first priority upon arriving to the country. Ezra laughed and shook his head. As a veteran of ten years active military duty, ten major deployments, and five wars, there was little social interaction that brought excitement to Ezra inside civilian life. He only knew how to keep running on, and his coagulated emotions kept him distant from his friends and what was left in his family. Still, his bargaining with the moon was a subtle omen; reminding himself of an entity outside his haunting. He flicked the ash from his cigar over the balcony, and watched the grey flakes fall slowly against the building’s mirror clear windows, spiraling to the ground hundreds of feet below. He grasped his glass of straight scotch whiskey and took a drag from the cigar before gulping the fiery liquid. He turned around to a woman striding toward him. She smiled. He blinked and muttered good evening. She slowed and approached him.
    “Hola, senior. Fuego?” she asked. Her eyes were an emerald mirror against the fading orange horizon as she spoke with the soft voice of a morning dove.  She had ravens hair, long and belligerent in its wild beauty. Her hoop earrings rounded her upper jaw, a swinging frame to her cheek freckles as if they were flakes of a comets tail. She smelled of vodka and lemongrass, and looked at Ezra uneasily as though she could see the rage inside him.
    “Sure. And you are…”
    “Ingrid McAdam, assistant micro-biologist for the mission. We met only once during orientation. Ezra Beller, if I’m correct?”
    “Right,” Ezra said, “I remember now.” Ezra said as he flicked his lighter, pressing his face closer to hers and lighting his cigar and her cigarette at once.
    "So I was thinking about something… If you’re a contractor and kill for money, doesn’t that make you an assassin, in a sense?” she asked. She began to fix her hair before kicking off a pair of uncomfortable high heels and leaning against the balcony, lethargic from the jet lag and electric lemonade.  She looked blankly at him for a moment and shook her head.
    "I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to offend."
    “Well if I was an assassin, I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything,” Ezra said, smiling from the corner of his mouth.
    An awkward silence ensued, which she broke once again.
    "Well we’re here! Are you excited to go into the Andes?”
    “Although I usually enjoy central and south American assignments, not so much this time. Seems like a waste of time and resources, but who’s to say,” Ezra said, looking away slightly, “I’m not sure if the world can be saved.”
    Ingrid sighed, then focused for a moment before speaking with fortitude in her voice.
    “Benign are the consequences of mans misgivings until his inability to adapt lapses his inertia.”
    “What?” Ezra chuckled.
    “This planet is like Medusa, the Gorgon mother who devours her children.  Eventually we will outnumber our resources, but there is some time for us.  And I believe for every greedy man there is an enduring mother giving the world back what it gave.”
    “Ha! Yeah I guess so.  I just think the nature of humankind is sublimated by civilizations distorted version of community.  There is no one pledge that solves all dissent.  But that’s what you were just saying right? That we’ll get what’s coming to us?”
    “I don’t disagree, but I remain an optimist,” Ingrid said, squinting her eyes,  “In the face of innumerable toxicities; physical, psychological, spiritual... we must have hope. If our team can be a part of the movement to rid the world from the buildup of pollution and waste, then I can die happy. With the prospect of discovering a new species of fungus that eats away waste, we can begin to build steps in restoring our planet to a more natural, biodiverse state, and hopefully-"
    “Perhaps hope is a conspiracy," Ezra said, cutting off her speech and spitting over the railing.
    “Well it’s good that some of us have some left, or else we’d all be screwed,” she said, perturbed.
    “Have a good night, Mr. Beller,” she said as she walked away abruptly. On her way back in she bumped shoulders with a gorilla of a man. The middle-aged brute looked back, only to see Ingrid storm out of the party. The man approached Ezra and smiled.
    “You still scaring women away?" he asked.
    Ezra recognized the man and shook his head and smiled. It was Major Sergio Rodriguez, one of Ezra's former commanding officers and close friends in the desert wars of northern Mali. Sergio was a tall Hispanic masterpiece of good genes combined with military ingenuity. He was part of an experiment for the government when the department of defense began injecting older soldiers with super-steroids that improved their physical performance in the field. Sergio was in his late forties but could out-run and out-lift almost anyone half his age.
    "What are you doing here Rodriguez?” Ezra asked, joyfully surprised. They hugged for a good few seconds. Back inside, the paranoid contractors quickly hid the cocaine under the table, laughing with beat read faces as they did.
    "I had a chance to get out of the office for a minute,” Sergio said, “I don’t get out in the field anymore. The DOD has me pinned. But I needed to burn some leave before the year ended. Heard you were gonna help the team get in and out of the jungle? Should be an easy assignment for you, huh cowboy?"
    “Easy is my name.”
    They shared a laugh and Sergio asked, "So when do you mobilize?"
    "Weathers been shifty. Could be as soon as tomorrow."
    "On-call and at-the-ready. Fits you."
    "Yeah we will see. Once we set up camp, the mission should go fairly quickly and smoothly.”
    “Why the urgency for the mission?”
    “If I had to guess… Leonard’s probably rat-fucking resources in preparation for something?” Ezra shrugged.
    “Well I want to let you know, firstly, that I'm really proud you’ve made it so far in your career. The potential success of this mission is not only a huge feat for you, but for all of humankind, in a way. You know, my cousin worked for the nuclear fusion energy crisis program. They made leaps and bounds during the oil wars. He was confident that it would all pan out, and the seizure of the refineries would end, along with our campaigns across Saudi Arabia. Then their reactors proved faulty and poisoned the whole god damned ocean. And America’s exodus is just the beginning. All those people on the coastlines being forced into the mid west right now? It’s gonna be a mess. The cartels are thriving from it too.  Their business hoop is getting smaller and smaller but there are infinite ways inside.  We don’t have enough agents to cover the border AND the coasts!”
    “The government justifies the exodus as a matter of national security. Several other countries have done the same.  Ironic isn’t it?”
    “Yeah. And just yesterday the president deployed the homeland security army to California in full hazmat to start pushing people east. They’re gonna get lit up once they arrive to the private militaries defending west coast timber and tech companies. I'm just glad you’re here and not there, because uh..."
    He hesitated, and then said quietly, "There’s a reason I came here in person. As you may have guessed, things aren't looking too good through the panel right now."
    Ezra turned toward him, and pulled the battery and the SIM card out of his phone so no one could hear or track them, "What do you mean?"
    "Well I can't talk about it much, obviously, but when you get back to the States, I suggest you get off the grid. Somewhere secluded. It’s gonna be the way to go for a few years, maybe longer.  I gotta ask you, as a friend, not a government intelligence director… does the name Vishnu mean anything to you?"
    Ezra oriented his body into a more rigid figure and looked at the Major with quivering eyes. Ezra’s pupils shrunk as if cowering back into his own skull.
    “Never heard of him,” Ezra said, looking into his drink evasively.
    “If you had heard of him, I’d tell you to be extra careful. Word through the panel is he’s looking for you. Not the kind of person you want tracking you. He’s a Nepalese contact for the CIA that broke off a few years ago. Highly dangerous with multiple assets. Most of its beyond what our Intel can offer, but the FBI’s identified him as the mastermind behind the Vatican assassinations last month.”
    “No shit? And here I was thinking it was the Serbs.”
    “He had contacts inside the church who used swords and knives to kill all twenty-two people. The armed guards were dead or missing. The one surviving witness says Vishnu cut the popes hands off at the wrists and kissed the Popes ring before beheading him.”
    “He’s bringing back romantic terrorism.  Sensationalists will love him. Have there been any arrests relating to the assassinations? Any of his cohorts detained?”
    Sergio shook his head.
    “The French military is working with authorities in France, Germany, and Italy to find him or anyone working with him.”
    Ezra laughed, “Good luck.  Trying to find a Nepalese man in Europe is like finding a needle in a haystack. A quarter of Europe is a refugee camp.”
    “Please heed my words, Ezra. You don’t have to tell me how you know him. Just don’t let him find you.”
    “I’ll keep my wits about me,” Ezra said, turning his cheek.
    "Anyways Ezra, the overall point is that this is the height of your career and I just want to see you end it on a good note. You're a damn good man. That out of the box thinking you got… you fight war like its meant to be fought; as an art."
    "Thanks Sergio, that means a lot. You know, I've been thinking about retirement," Ezra said.
    "You have? I think that would be good-"
    Sergio saw Ezra start to laugh and realized he was being a wise ass.
    "Don’t bullshit me. You could use a break, brother. I know because I was with you for almost your whole service. Hell, I started way before you, but some of my best and worst were with the Special Forces.”
    “Oh yeah how old were you when you joined Special Forces?”
    “Fuck you.  I had already got fucked up in Afghanistan in ’05 with the rangers and was relearning to walk when you still had training wheels on your bike.”
    Ezra laughed, and Sergio continued, “But I've seen it with too many of my best men, Ezra. You gotta quit before this contract work before it breaks you. It’s not the same shit we did. In a world full of enemies you’ll lose sight of justice. When you left for the private sector you didn’t give me a chance to talk to you. Just remember man, any soul can get wounded from our line of work.  It’s usually just a matter of time before it catches up to you.”
    "Who says it hasn’t already?" Ezra asked,  “I have my moments.  But I can assure you I’m confident about who I am and what I’m doing.  Thanks though, Serg.”
    Sergio quieted and nodded slightly before asking, "Do you mind if I grab a drink real quick?"
    "Yeah, go ahead. Grab me one too, will ya?"
    "Sure thing E-Z-B."
    Ezra sighed and looked at the ice cube in his drink turn over like a capsized ship. As the Major walked away, Ezra couldn't help but slip into a strange place of nostalgia from the wild times he and Sergio had shared. They'd navigated a stolen tank named Castro in Nigeria, who’s failing engine started a brushfire that ended up cutting off the advancing army of machete wielding children chasing them. They’d been caught in the middle of pitch-black shoot-outs between Indonesian rebel groups in the depths of jungle caves, where mounds of guano and bat bones served as a nesting ground for the lingering arachnids.
    Ezra's hand quit trembling for a moment and he had a moment of peace and clarity. As his mind settled, a slight nervousness grew from the temporary neutrality of his emotions. He suddenly realized that he was about to embark on was a mission that would potentially solidify his retirement.  It paid enough, and he didn’t have any other incentives to say if what Sergio said was true.  What would he do? Where would he go? The thought frightened him more than jungles dangers themselves, which were many.  Once in the mountains they had to be weary of land mines, booby traps, armed cartel groups, feral pumas, snakes with neurotoxins, tissue eating parasites and dormant diseases. But the rules were simple: protect the research team. If any violent scenario unfolded whatsoever, the mission’s objective would immediately transfer command to Ezra and his unit.
    'How bad could it be?' Ezra thought. As he looked up toward the stars again, a feeling of both wonder and fear caught him by the neck. That’s how he’d always felt, as if someone held the tip of a sword to his throat. Ezra couldn’t remember the last time he felt what it was like to feel alive without fighting. Most of his closest comrades were either dead or retired, giving him little to protect and die for, since the people in his own nation were ungrateful and hung by a thread of their own, and each family or community he’d liberated in the war-torn countries he fought in would fall victim to the recurring power vacuum. What actual purpose he felt was dwindling from a single fiber of hope that one day a feeling happiness and purpose could once again be attained.
    Sergio returned with Ezra’s drink, and the two of them spent much of the evening reminiscing of old times. Eventually after a healthy amount of liquor they succumbed to the party’s wild knife games.
    Ezra walked up to one of his subordinates and motioned for him to hand Ezra his knife. Thompson gave Ezra the knife back and licked his thumb where he’d cut himself playing five finger filet. Someone turned the music down.
    Ezra looked at the piece, lost in its treasured reflection. His eyes followed its edge like a serpents tongue.
    “Hey Ezra, why does it say E.E.B.?” Thompson asked, taking a swig from the tequila jug.
    “It was my grandfathers knife, Eugene Ezra Beller. He got it as a gift from his father before his second deployment in Vietnam. It’s welded from a railroad spike, see the twisted handle? He told me that when he detailed with the Army studies and observation group, they’d do long distance recon and end up far behind enemy lines. See my grandfather grew up in the Ozark's, poor, and far from any town. He was an avid hunter from a young age and his family relied on his hunting and trapping skills to bring food to the table. When Eugene was sent on a long campaign into Laos and Cambodia, and having already partook in a vicious deployment once before, he began hunting the NVA during his patrols as if they were game. He’d seek them out, stalk them, kill them, and study their habits from afar when not engaging.  Sometimes he’d hide in the trees and pounce on them like a cat.  He said he’d cut the ears off his enemies and keep them as souvenirs on a necklace, all with the edge of this knife.  So Thompson, you’re not the first to draw blood from its blade, and you won’t be the last.” A few of the scientists made sour faces and quickly lost interest in the game.
    “Thats a beautiful story, Ezra,” Thompson said smiling from his drunken cloud, setting the bottle down and retracting his fingers with his handkerchief wrapped hand, “Beautiful…Thank you.”
\#    
    The next morning, Ezra awoke to a sledgehammer beating his skull in the form of a tequila hangover. The warm, rising sun burnt through the curtains and pierced his squinted eyes, his lips as dry as hot stone. He looked around, wondering when and how he got back to his own room of the hotel. After standing up, the pulsing between his temples worsened, and he grasped a cup of water and chugged it quickly.  He looked in his pockets. His phone was in his left pocket while the battery for it was in his right.  After connecting them, he turned it on as a wave of messages and voicemails rolled in.
    “Oh fuck,” he said, clearing his throat, “And that’s what I get for following OPSEC standards.  Ugh… you’re losing your edge dammit,” he mumbled to himself.
    Ezra jumped into his clothes, slipped on his boots, and put on his beret before running to the hotel conference room for briefing. He wasn't in the mood, and he’d hoped that everyone else felt as hellish as he in his  half-drunken state.
    While marching down the hall hastily, Ezra watched a disheveled Ingrid walk out of her room. She fumbled with some folders and straightened her glasses.
    “You the last one?” she asked, smiling nervously.
    “Not if I can help it,” Ezra said, quickening his pace.
    They both raced down the hall as Ingrid beat him to the door. She opened it. The entire room stared at the two team members with annoyance.
    "Nice of you two to join us!!!" yelled Daniel Gomez, Operations Chief.
    Ezra walked in first as everyone looked at him.
    "My apologies sir. My phone’s been causing me some trouble," he said tapping on the perfectly functional device.
    "You’re excuses are tiring. While you and Miss McAdam here were sleeping in, we’ve been waiting to discuss today’s operations."
    “And just so you know… we weren’t…uh… sleeping together or anything,” Ingrid added as she quickly took her seat, “I just need to make that clear.”
    The Operations chief looked at her and then at Ezra.
    “I don’t care,” he said, “There’s the coffee. Drink it. Wake the fuck up.”
    Ezra shook his head as if trying to get something out, and the rest of the group awkwardly situated themselves in their seats.
    "So. We just got the forecast in and the mission is a go. We leave at 1300 today. Our supply is almost done loading, but I’ll need a few of you to help get that squared away before our transport ship comes in. Ezra, are your men and their gear ready to go?"
    “Affirm. The mobile armory was transferred from customs to the cache yesterday. Our load-outs have been finalized.”
    “Then we just need to get the ecology teams cache and gear inventoried and we’re ready.”
    "As for everyone as a group – nothing much has changed from our previous plans, which you should all be thoroughly briefed on by your supervisors. So the idea is that once landing the ship, Ezra’s forces will set up a perimeter and clear an area for an optimal extraction sight, which needs to be big enough for a transport ship. Once we’ve established our base camp, we need to be ready to leave quickly and in an efficient manner in any emergency situation. In terms of your personal gear, I suggest bringing everything you think you need, because there is always a chance we could be there longer than just a few days and our aerial support would be limited at that time if the weather isn’t being cooperative. Any questions before we wrap this up?"
    "I know you guys still had a few different locations in mind, so where and what elevation will we be landing at again?" asked Ezra.
    The Officer whistled quietly and thought, then said, "We will be at just over 8,000 feet in a valley near some east facing mountain slopes of the Peruvian Andes, eighty miles east of Cajumarca. I’ll give you the GPS coordinates when we’re finished here.”
    "What is the topography and terrain like?" Ezra asked, writing down notes.
    "High mountain jungle. We will be nestled in a high valley so conditions may vary.  Bring your rain poncho."
    "Have you seen satellite images of this area? Are there good look-out positions near our landing zone?"
    "Uhhh... I'm not sure. That will definitely be looked at though."
    "It would be good to get eyes above the canopy. Maybe three sniper teams with wide vantages-“
    "What do you think this is, a shooting spree?!" Ingrid interrupted angrily from across the table.
    "I'm just trying to protect that pretty face of yours, Miss McAdam. So why don't you let me do my job, and I will let you do yours," Ezra said calmly. Ingrid quieted and pursed her lips as she shook her head in anger.
    “Settle down you all, its too early for that shit,” the Officer said.
    "All I'm saying is it would be nice for us to be able to get eyes on the whole area and allow everyone a little bit more breathing room. The narcos still monitor those mountains frequently and a ship coming in is good way to draw attention."
    “Hey, you got it Ezra, I'll see to it. Now are there any more questions?"
    Dozens of people raised their hands, all with more scientific questions about the foreign plot they’d delve. Ezra leaned back in his chair and drifted back to sleep. He did not want to act excited. He felt this would be no joyride, no matter how badly the scientists wanted to make it one. To him, it was just one of those uneventful security details to make some company feel safe. Ezra’s premonitions for such assignments were rarely faulty, but once in a while he’d get proven wrong in a big way.
\#
    A quiet anxiousness was in the air as Ezra looked out of the plane window. For quite some time he sat gazing, if at nothing else but the constantly shifting surface of mist between the Andean peaks. Blackish grey clouds swirled and licked the sky with the ebb and flow of the wind. The flight took hours, as heavy turbulence came in waves that had Ezra gripping his stomach in his state of fluctuating dizziness.
    Tips of spiny peaks poked above the river of clouds that the crews ship seemed to follow downstream. The tail wind saved fuel, but didn’t help those already doped up on Dramamine or quickly trying to cure their hangover.
    Ingrid looked back from her seat and locked eyes with Ezra for a moment. She quickly looked away, and Ezra noticed how scared she was.
    "Suit up and prepare to land!” Yelled Gomez as he went to check on landing conditions with the pilot.
    The scientists watched out their windows all aglow and filled with the curiosity of children. The security team faced the floor, loading their firearms and packs.
    Gomez came back to the cabin in a whirl.
    “Ezra, it looks like the ship is burning through its fuel faster than we had thought. Some leak in the fuel line likely. The drop point we had hoped to reach will be out of our range.”
    “What’s the new drop point?” Ezra asked.
    “Some small valley about fifty miles out from the original zone of operations. We’re about to descend.”
    “What’s the new location like?” Ezra asked.
    “The Nebula One Space Station is relaying a topographic map to us but a solar flair caused a delay in the readings.”
    “Motherfucker,” Ezra said, “Just one shit storm after another.”
    “I’ll give you the new coordinates.”
    “Copy that,” Ezra said, pulling out his GPS and inserting the new numbers handed to him.
    “I know how fucked up this is, and I’ll be the first to write a report. I wasn’t expecting them to load us onto some old piece of junk.  They must need the modern models for something more important.”
    “I wonder why that could be?” Ezra asked, shaking his head.
    “I know you’re pissed at Leonard for being a penny pincher but the guy is between a rock and hard place with everything going on right now.  It’s not a good time for private military owners.  Anyway, once we get on the ground it should be a cakewalk,” Gomez assured him, turning away and walking toward the flight cabin.
    “Here we go,” Ezra whispered.
    After Gomez came back, he looked even more distraught.
    "Everyone listen up! I just got word from the pilot. Because of some issues we’re having with the ship, we’re going to have to adapt a bit to get you all safely on the ground. We’re descending sooner than expected so prepare yourselves for landing. Lets make this easy, simple, and safe, and we wont have problems. We drop in ten!!”
    An anxious bustling in the cabin of the plane grew steadily. Ezra felt a lurch in his stomach and puked into the baggie in front of him. The tequila was affecting him more than it used to in his younger years, but he shook it off. He stood up and took a long drink of water before dropping to the ground and cranking out diamond push-ups in the center isle. People watched in amusement, but he paid no attention. His heart thumped like a bass drum revived in the memory of Incan sacrifice. His hands steadied. His mind felt at ease. He thrived on the coming fear. Fear was his ally.
    Ezra sat back down and went through his kit again. A charcoal stained patch sewed to the side of his pack read ‘I don’t believe in anything, I’m just here for the violence’. He turned and talked to one of the overhead members on his security team.
    “You got the radio frequencies I gave you, with Alpha on priority, and then cloned the teams?”
    "Yes sir."
    "Are you carrying non-lethal’s?"
    “That’s standard, right?"
    “Leave them and bring more grenades.  Grab like, six or so and tell Thompson to do the same.”
    “Roger.”
    “Where’s your head at Cooke?”
    "Feeling good, sir!”
    "Good!"
    Ezra yelled, “Just so you all are aware, Cooke will be your commanding officer in case I’m not around and have to go out on patrol. Initially, Alpha squad will set up a perimeter for Bravo squad. Bravo will reinforce that perimeter. Only once all I’ve just said has been executed, will the Foxtrot and Echo bio-teams assemble. We’ll have a communications and operations briefing on the ground. For now lets focus on safety and getting on the ground until these issues have been remedied. Gomez and our operations chief back on the USS JFK are the ultimate authority here unless communications fail or we are involved in a hostile situation requiring immediate action. Then I am. Is that understood?”
    Everyone acknowledged with a yes, or yes sir.
    “This is a simple mission, but with many dangers. These are the mountains that give way to the Amazon we’re talking about. They could just as easily take your life as become the subject for your noble prize winning thesis. So stay close, be mindful of the terrain and wildlife, and always stay in contact through your radios and superiors. Am I clear?"
    With Ezra's words the whole crew buckled up and prepared to land. A massive drop in altitude made some people scream as the ships engines began sputtering. The bay door behind them suddenly opened without warning. Cool, moist air shot in. The temperature gauge on Ezra's watch dropped significantly as he clipped his M4 rifle to his pack securely and felt his chest rig for any loose gear items. The wind slapped his face as he put his pack on and stood up, grabbing a parachute from under his seat on the way up.  Then the clouds suddenly opened up for a moment and a fierce cliff could be seen only a few hundred feet away from them. Everyone gasped.  Up in the cockpit, Ezra could see the emergency landing light began blinking red like a terror strobe, followed by the screech of an alarm to match its abrasive warning.  Gomez turned to him and yelled an order he didn’t think he’d ever have to execute.  
    The ship started shaking from the disturbance, then dropped a few hundred feet with another heart pounding weightlessness before catching on a wind current and jolting the crew around. People screamed and began to panic.
    “Everyone get your parachutes out!” Ezra yelled.  The crowd began to fumble with their parachutes and after the security team had fastened their own they initiated helping the scientists.  Ezra looked around and saw everyone being helped but Ingrid was struggling with hers because her hands were trembling so violently.  
    “Here I got you, I got you,” Ezra said as he began clipping the straps.  She dropped her pale hands and looked at him.
    “What’s going on?”
    “This plane is about to crash.”
    He stepped away and put his hands up.
    “Everyone listen up!  We’re going to line up single file and jump out of the bay in increments of four seconds.  Pull your cord only two seconds after you jump because we’re pretty close to the ground as you can see!  I’ll be your Jump master and guide you through everything.  Just stay calm and we will get through this!”
    The nervous team lined up but before Ezra could tap the first person to go, a massive spire came into view just below them, this time close enough to touch.  With a thunderous crash of splitting wires and crunching metal, the massive plane was torn apart by the merciless Andes. Those close enough to the door fell, their bodies lurching and tangling in their half opened chutes. Those unlucky enough to be on the ship projected their final screams as they were either engulfed in burning fuel or pulverized as the battered cabin tumbled down the steep canyon, plunging thousands of feet below the inversion, a falling steel coffin.  Ezra tried to pull his ripcord after being thrown from the door, but he had no spare moment. He hit the ground with a violent crack and rolled a ways before stopping on a small outcropping, just inches from the edge of a seemingly bottomless cliff. Pieces of the burning craft could be seen trickling down the peak like flipping candles, dimming as they fell into the thick grey fog below.
\#
    The fall hadn't knocked Ezra out, as he later might have wished. Instead, Ezra's first moments on the Andean peaks were spent wiping blood from his eyes as a gash on his for head poured like a sieve. His body and skull were immediately sore, as if he had been beaten with a baton. His helmet had been thrown off of his head. His rifle and gear were gone. He gasped but his lungs sucked at the thin air in vein.
    Ezra pulled glass shards from his slashed face before opening the canteen that dangled from his pants. He took a long swig of water from his shaking hand, and then doused his face so he could see through the coagulation. As quick as he could get the blood from his sockets they would refill. Ezra started panicking and that's when he noticed the moss dripping above him, except it wasn't like a moss he’d ever seen. He stepped back to view the deceitful organism. On the overhang above him a black tangled plant dripped large red dewdrops on his face. He began to realize what was happening. There was something in the algae, he thought, something that changed the water's color, because the rain itself was clear; but once it touched the soil it ran deep crimson. Turning about and seeing this all around him delivered Ezra into a new phase of horror. He’d been in crashes before, but never so far from extraction teams. He’d been in survival situations, but never alone or in such isolated country. He felt dizzy and began hallucinating from his head injury.  
    Ezra tried to convince himself he wasn't in as bad of a situation as he truly was. He leaned back against a rock to put steady pressure on his for head and took several deep breaths. As his heart rate slowed, he felt a strange sensation in his arms. He looked down and saw his skin slowly morphing into the texture of lichen. The feeling crawled up his fingers and limbs with a prickly sensation. He tried to peal off the strange plant, but his flesh became overrun by the lichen. The feeling changed to that of acid burns growing hot from his finger tips to his torso's center like he was being dipped into a corrosive mine-lake. His entire body began boiling, and with each blink he envisioned himself soaked in a bath of gore; wrapped in human gristle, guts, and bleeding tenderized muscle. He felt he was in hell; this mountain was his hell. Thus he felt beyond death at last, rotting in that terrible realm as his third eye spewed blood to match the rivers hue in his existence wrought with suffering.
    He started screaming and tearing at the black moss around him but the plant would grow several inches more each time he pulled it. Then it jumped at him. He could not tell if it was his imagination or not. As his rage grew, the moss grew back twice as long with every pull, but he kept tearing, for it infuriated him. The moss was his enemy; such a simple creature yet invincible to even the most dreadful warrior. Ezra wanted the plant to suffer, like himself, but it fed off his violence. The plant grew and grew; snaking its way up and out in a coil formation, surrounding Ezra and subduing him. He took out his knife and sliced wildly at it until a massive sized nest of the disgusting organism spiraled above and around him. It caged him in, and constricted any movement he so attempted. He could see through the roof as there was a small hole to the sky’s blanket of light grey wash. Rain would catch on the plant's small crooked fingers on its way into his tomb. The red water gushed in faster, submerging his head.
    After all the bullets and grenade shrapnel he'd managed to ghost past in life, all the evaded captures and close calls with explosions, Ezra's fate was to drown alone in a cocoon he made for myself. He couldn't grasp any real memory. Panic and fear swept him, as that was all that remained in his being. He became paralyzed as the acid lichen spread into his mouth and blossomed down around the inside of his throat, generating little mushroom caps that shot up out of his mouth as they weaved into the moss. The moss and the lichen had a partnership and Ezra was their prey. The falling water continued to fill the cage further to just under his fear-swept eyes. He held his breath, trying not to choke on the filthy fungus. A faint feeling of confusion struck the back of his neck as nausea ensued. With every small exhale into the watery tomb, his throat closed further, and the foreign invader grew and meshed within itself.  Once his entire head was submerged, he opened his eyes. Small particles danced in the water around his seeping blood, a few shades darker than the crimson rain, and appeared as a smooth moving smoke below the pool's turbulent surface. He prayed, as any dying man might pray for mercy once his efforts cease to save him.  In a bubbling mess, Ezra regurgitated through his fungal infected esophagus before blacking out and submitting to the rancid enclosure.


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