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Murdered By Gods: Machu Picchu, Book 1

Murdered By Gods: Machu Picchu, Book 1

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Murdered By Gods: Machu Picchu, Book 1

Length:
421 pages
6 hours
Released:
Jan 3, 2019
ISBN:
9781386213062
Format:
Book

Description

I can’t give up—won’t give up.

As an operative for the Defense Intelligence Agency, failure is not an option. My team, my unit, and innocent lives are all counting on me. Delivering safety is the only endgame.

But when this particular mission takes us into the Andes Mountains to rescue an abducted research team, it’s only the beginning of peril and mystery. Suddenly, we’re up against guerrilla warfare in the jungles of Peru and uncovering deadly secrets in an ancient city in Machu Picchu. As danger sets in and lives are on the line, one thing is certain: we are steps away from uncovering the world’s most valuable secret.

How far will my enemies go to silence us once and for all?

Released:
Jan 3, 2019
ISBN:
9781386213062
Format:
Book

About the author

Charles G. Irion is a publisher, best-selling and award-winning author, successful entrepreneur, adventurer, philanthropist, executive producer, and actor. For several decades, he has served as the sole proprietor and broker for U.S. Park Investments, a leading operator of Manufactured Home and RV communities in the United States. Before that, he was a pharmaceutical representative for Johnson and Johnson, McNeil Laboratories after completing his Masters of Business Administration in International Marketing and Finance from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.One of his life-long passions is for the written word. Determined to make his dreams a reality, he wrote and published fourteen books comprised of the Summit Murder Mystery series, and the Hell series. Inspired by his 1987 attempt to climb Mt. Everest, and a 2011 summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, each book in the Summit Murder Mystery series is set atop the highest point of the world's seven continents. Deaths from falls, avalanches, illness, heart attacks, and high altitude sickness are a matter of course, and when you add in murder, action and adventure, the combination makes for unforgettable reads. The climb begins with the first book in the series, Murder on Everest, and is followed withWIKI ARTICLEMurder on Elbrus, Murder on Mt. McKinley, Murder on Puncak Jaya, Murder on Aconcagua, Murder on Vinson Massif, and ends with Murder on Kilimanjaro. There is also a novella, Abandoned on Everest. The Hell Series includes, Remodeling Hell, Autograph Hell, Car Dealer Hell, and Divorce Hell. He also published a fun novelty cookbook for outdoorsmen called, Roadkill Cooking for Campers - "The Best Dang Wild Game Cookbook in the World."Many years ago, Irion's first medical mission was to Benjamin Hill Senora, Mexico with the Phil Am Lion's Club. Even then, he knew that medical missions were experiences he wanted to continue. Charles is currently a Director of the Phil-Am Lions Club in Phoenix, Arizona and has participated in medical missions in a village near Subic Bay, Philippines and in Caborca, Mexico to provide approximately 300 free cataract surgeries to needy patients. He also traveled to the Municiple Hospital in San Pablo City, Laguna Philippines with the 3000 Club, to administer eye and diabetic screenings for those in need.In June 2011, Irion went on a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro with the K2 Adventures Foundation. They took Project C.U.R.E. supplies and used them to examine more than 200 patients. The following year, he visited Lima, Peru to help translate for the doctors and nurses at a C.U.R.E. clinic for a day. In addition to philanthropy trips and translating services, Charles participated in the training session at the Denver headquarters to become a certified Needs Assessment Representative. He went to Burkina Faso, Africa for the field training requirement and his first assessment alone was in Cuenca, Ecuador to conduct assessments on a hospital and a mobile surgical unit. His next assessment trip to Nicaragua included assessments of Project C.U.R.E. Clinics, where he translated for the doctors and passed out medicines and vitamins to children and adults. Since then, he has also conducted needs assessments to Ouanaminthe, Haiti; El Banco,Colombia; Santa Marta, Colombia; Buenaventura, Colombia; Cali, Colombia; Boma, DRC; Lumbumbashi, DRC; Kalemie, DRC; Lima, Peru; Machu Picchu, Peru; Bahia Kino, Mexico; Nogales, Mexico; Benjamin Hill, Sonora Mexico; Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Belize City, Belize; Cuba; Antigua, Guatemala City, Guatemala; San Jose, Costa Rica; Jaco, Costa Rica; Panama City, Panama; Zambia, Zaire, DRC; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Moshi, Tanzania; Manilia, Philippines; Zambales, Philippines; San Pablo, Philippines; Kenya, and Mumbai, India. He loves being involved with such an amazing organization and helping those that really need it. In that spirit, his slogan is One World, One PeopleTMIrion's passion for adventure has encompassed the full gamut. He has traveled to over 60 countries throughout the world. SCUBA diving is a favorite hobby of Irion's and he has seen the underwater world from California to Mexico, Costa Rica, the South China sea, Belize, Colombia, Rio De Janeiro, the island of Phuket in Thailand, Bali, and in Subic Bay of the Philippines. Irion has also skydived throughout Arizona, loved the thrill of white water rafting on Pacuare River in Costa Rica, and in 1988, Irion completed a week long course in High Wall Mountain Repelling conducted in the Bavarian Alps.


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Murdered By Gods - Charles G. Irion

www.charlesirion.com

Published by Irion Books, LLC

Copyright © January 2018 by Charles G. Irion trustee C.I. Trust, Summit Murders LLC

First Edition 2018

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

The Library of Congress number is 2017918232

ISBN paperback - 9780999316399

ISBN ebook - 9780999316382

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover Design by www.candesigner.com

Proofreading and Book Design by Elaine York, www.allusiongraphics.com

Voice of Summit Murder Mystery Series and Murdered by Gods by Greg Lutz

Irion Books, LLC

4462 E. Horseshoe Rd.

Phoenix, Arizona 85028

email: charles@charlesirion.com

Reviews for

Murdered by Gods - Machu Picchu by Charles G. Irion

Irion’s best work yet! – Adam Tucker, reviewer

I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, but I didn’t want it to end either. A great story! – Marie Cantonelli, reviewer

"It felt like I was seeing the ruins of Machu Picchu myself! After reading Murdered by Gods, I’d love to visit Peru. It’s now on my bucket list!" – Roger Link, reviewer

Once again Irion is consistent. He’s delivered action, excitement and nail-biting suspense. I didn’t see the twist coming! Sensational! – M. Weller, reviewer

When will the movie be out? Because I’ve got to see this on the big screen! – J. Howell, reviewer

Fans of Dan Brown and David Baldacci will love Irion’s work! He can definitely hang with the big hitters any time. – Luke Arrington

Kept me guessing until the very end! – Steve M.

A Note from Author Charles G. Irion

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Peru many times, home of the great mountain Machu Picchu. It was during my exploration of this amazing mountain, experiencing the magnanimous sights, sounds, and smells—immersing myself in their traditions, hearing the myths, tales and stories of these great ruins, that I determined a book of this mighty mountain was in order.

Many elements from my trips find a place in the story, such as Incan gods, danger, action, adventure, history and folklore.

I’m excited to bring you another story full of mystery, an intriguing culture, nail-biting suspense, a touch of romance and of course…murder.

I invite you to turn the page and begin your journey through the ruins of Machu Picchu. Enjoy!

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter One: White Sands and Untold Tales

Chapter Two: A New Assignment

Chapter Three: Duty Calls

Chapter Four: Summoned by the King

Chapter Five: The Assignment

Chapter Six: Holding Court

Chapter Seven: Due Diligence

Chapter Eight: Unearthed

Chapter Nine: Back to Peru

Chapter Ten: King of The Mountain

Chapter Eleven: Warm Welcome

Chapter Twelve: Rogues' Gallery

Chapter Thirteen: Restless Natives

Chapter Fourteen: Into the Bush

Chapter Fifteen: Crimson and FIre

Chapter Sixteen: Survival of the Fittest

Chapter Seventeen: Confidant

Chapter Eighteen: At the Altar

Chapter Nineteen: Control

Chapter Twenty: Fight or Flight

Chapter Twenty-one: Elevated

Chapter Twenty-two: Heavy is the Crown

Chapter Twenty-three: Transcendence

About the Author

Machu Picchu – A History

Gods and Goddesses of the Incas

Summit Murder Mystery Series

One World, One People

To the world’s richest and poorest inhabitants who suffer in one form or another from the differences or maladies the world has given us.

- Charles G. Irion

Prologue

We’d hacked and slashed our way through the jungle, inch by inch, for the better part of three hours. Every step we’d taken had been earned, from the trailhead at the base of the Andes range where the Peruvian Jeep convoy dropped off our thirty-man detachment alongside the Urubamba River, to where we stood now, a few miles into the Amazon. Although, not exactly technically challenging by a seasoned climber’s standards, the combination of the slight incline, heat, humidity, and exertion of hiking through the dense bush over the last few miles had even the most hardened member of our escort dripping sweat and feeling the effects now. There was no other option, though. In order to maintain the element of surprise, it had been determined our current path was the only acceptable route of approach.

A few clicks out, if the intel was good, Alex said as he trudged along next to me, wiping the sweat from his brow and swatting the buzzing insects away with his shemagh.

Hope we aren’t too late, I said, somewhat bitterly. I knew the clock had been ticking and when it came to ransoms and recovery, especially here in Peru, every second counted.

The Inca shaman serving as our guide through the area fearlessly led the way up front. I had to wonder if he had been imbibing the local chicha beer, or perhaps something stronger, for his lack of concern was worrisome in and of itself. He had been cheerfully offering blessings to Pachamama, his beloved Mother Earth all along the way. The pompoms that dangled from his ceremonial hooded hat bobbed on either side of his head with each carefree step and chant he delivered. He had even refused to wear body armor over his colorful, ceremonial smock, believing it to be all the protection he needed from what lay ahead.

A step behind the shaman, leading the team of TerraForma mercenaries and Peruvian military, was Eldon Trask and his Chief of Security, Frank Merced. Trask had proven to be about as enigmatic and eccentric as that rare breed of tech-billionaire comes packaged. Trading in his laptop for an assault rifle earlier in the day, I was stunned to see him join the search party, let alone lead the charge. Frank flanked Trask the entire way, like a well-trained guard dog, and ensured he was always a half-step ahead of his master.

We’re getting close, sir. Perhaps… Frank began to say, meeting eyes with Trask, as if to plead with him to head to the back of the group.

I want to look these bastards in their eyes when we reach them. If you’re not the leader, Frank, then you’re stuck staring at the assholes ahead of you in the rear of the pack, Trask said smugly. He actually seemed thrilled by the possibility of engagement, which seemed to only add to Frank’s concern. Nonetheless, chain of command held firm. Frank nodded an acknowledgement rather than plead with his employer any further.

The contrast between the appearance of the Peruvian military men accompanying us as an off-the-books favor from the Peruvian government and the TerraForma Guardsmen who Trask had escorting us on this trip was night and day. The TerraForma security guards were made up of a consortium of multinational elites, akin to the assemblage of an All-Star team of decorated military men turned mercenaries from around the globe. They wore customized, TerraForma, hi-tech body armor composed of an active-sensory fabric that mimicked the surrounding environment. They appeared as mirages moving through the jungle while leveling brand new, tricked-out assault weapons. The Peruvian Army men, however, looked as though they had unearthed their garb and armaments from a Vietnam War-era surplus landfill. In spite of the gap in gear and training, they had proven tireless and were seemingly impervious to the foils of the jungle.

I just hoped we had brought enough men and artillery to face down the Blinding Path, the cutthroat guerrillas who had embedded themselves deep within the Andes range after abducting the TerraForma research team. They routinely ambushed foreign nationals and posted ransoms for their safe return as a lucrative source of income, and the TerraForma logo must have been a glimmering dollar sign to them.

We’re close, Scotty. Safety off, Alex said as he glanced at the GPS display strapped to his forearm. His stance crouched lower, and his gaze through the foliage ahead narrowed, directing my own.

I nodded, and thumbed the safety on the full auto carbine that TerraForma had been kind enough to supply me with for this little pleasure hike. Frank stopped ahead and sharply raised his fist and circled his index finger in the air. The entire squad dropped to their knees and then fanned out, taking positions. I followed Alex’s lead and took cover behind as thick a tree as I could locate. After a moment of quiet, I peered around cautiously, lifting my digital binoculars to scan the area.

I saw about a hundred meters ahead what had caused Frank to halt so abruptly. White smoke rising from a small, thatched hut. I could faintly hear the light whirring of a generator somewhere beyond. Then, two armed guards donning red armbands appeared. No mistaking the fashionable earmarks of the Blinding Path. It was then, through my specs, that I saw it. A twenty-meter-tall stone structure, carved with Incan symbols and the fierce faces of long deceased gods that had recently been cut clean of jungle brush and vines, surrounded at its base by TerraForma stamped crates.

That was when the first barrage of gunshots rang out like staccato thunder claps. The leaves and trees exploded around us in a flurry and it was as if we had rudely awakened the jungle from its ancient slumber…in that moment, we realized that Pachamama had heard none of our shaman’s prayers…

Chapter One

White Sands and Untold Tales

Long periods of inactivity had been known to cause anxiety and feelings of guilt in soldiers, even those long-since retired vets and contractors who hadn’t been on the front lines actively serving in decades. The head shrinks attributed this to a sort of survival mechanism and qualified it as a form of separation anxiety, unique to those of a military discipline. The feeling of disconnect from their fellow brothers in arms came against rationale and logic of circumstance, but no less left them feeling as though they were abandoning their comrades in a dire time of potential need, racking them with guilt and leaving them terrified they may be absent from roll call during a time of battle.

Even though it had felt as if I’d seen more intense action in the last ten years—serving as a private contractor, of sorts—than I suspected the majority of my military colleagues had during their entire careers in the armed forces, this sensation still prevailed and gnawed through the base of my sun-beaten neck, sifting steadily into my stream of consciousness here and now. In the moment of self-actualization, I smirked, considering how many of my comrades would trade places with me at this very instant, lounging about in the equivalent of a cheesy and picturesque tropical island postcard.

Here at sea level, the thoughts of my personal trials and close calls over the last decade employing my unique skill-set and well-publicized background as a mountaineering mercenary filled nearly every waking moment. The adrenaline, the close calls, the lust and love…like a drug, the cocktail of these heightened experiences on every level left me craving more against my own better judgment. Somehow, in the last year I had managed to avoid and reject numerous offers to continue such work. Not to mention the lucrative book deals and offers to provide exclusive exposés from the social media hounds seeking me to regale them with tales from the celebrity summits. They tried sniffing out some untold detail from the prestigious excursions I’d been on that hadn’t already been raked over in the rival tabloids. Everest¹, Kilimanjaro², Aconcagua³, Elbrus⁴, Puncak Jaya, Vinson Massif, and the list of summits that served as the greatest hurdles—both physical and psychological in my life—were somehow dwarfed by the hyper-sensationalism generated by the new age, pseudo-reporters, bloggers, and re-posters on the World Wide Web now.

I’d be lying if I were to say that some part of me didn’t revel in the fact that good fortune seemed to have a fondness for me, in spite of the nuisances of the over exposure, which left me with a sense of vulnerability trained and engrained in me from years of military service. For whatever reason, the conquests that had so often and so preposterously brought me to the precipice of my own demise atop those mountains had a very special and rare place in my heart. Call it pride, but to consider and reflect on the life I’d led up to this very serene and safe stretch of time I found myself enjoying, was to trigger an urge to leave it all behind once more, a byproduct of that familiar mix of anxiety and adrenaline once again.

What could I possibly do in my lifetime that would ever rival the feeling of serving as a personal escort detail alongside the CIA for the President of the United States on the planes of Africa and atop the legendary Mt. Kilimanjaro?⁵ Or thwarting the bloodthirsty foils of a billionaire media mogul hell-bent and hard-boiled in his own insane revenge quest, targeting myself and a climbing party within the death zone of Everest? So many close calls, so many indescribable visions from heights that so few could ever realize in person, I’ve experienced with my own eyes…and so many cold bodies left behind to never tell their tales having succumbed to the mountain gods. Truly, the greatest highs, and lows, of my lifetime.

Just the same, most of my legacy would remain buried in the annals of my own memory, bound as equally by legalese and Top Secret stamped memoirs as they were by my own personal code and respect for the experiences and characters that had shaped my journey, for good or ill. The code of the mountain, the sheer impossibility of being able to fully relate the experiences I’d endured, these extended beyond courtrooms and quests for fifteen more minutes of ever-fleeting fame. Who would fully appreciate, let alone understand, the path to the summit of madness and back down again time and time over? To consider the scope of my travels and the challenges I’d faced on the world’s tallest peaks was to acknowledge the sheer insanity of the circumstances and accept them as my very own rare and sordid affair with Mother Earth. Few suitors survived these trysts and those tales were for myself, the mountain, and the gods above in their numerous incarnations to revel in.

Luckily, visceral therapy and distraction was in no shortage, as I lie there on the private, white sand beach of Llandudno, one of South Africa’s most renowned sundowner beaches, soaking in the rays of the dipping sun as it was just starting to melt into the crystalline blue ocean. My beautiful, bronzed companion stirred slightly beside me, as she had been contentedly sleeping off the last round of mojitos on her sand-swept beach towel beside me. The rising and falling of her breath gently giving sway to her diaphragm in sync with the rolling tide, her skin smooth and pristine, the result of a short lifetime of pampering, leisure, genetics, and carefree days on the coast. This was in ironic contrast to my own vessel, bearing the scars of war and global mountaineering alike, perhaps a reflection of each of our inner states. In spite of spending the last few years on hiatus enjoying the finer things in life, and my age catching up with me over the course of perilous assignments, with both known and unknown government agencies, I had somehow managed to stay in relatively good shape.

When are you going to tell me what you do? she asked, half awake, coyly resurrecting the first discussion point in what had become our go-to game of fifty questions.

I told you…sales. I sell shoes, I said, not budging. She sat up, propping her chin on her palms and digging her elbows into the sand, swaying her bare feet behind her.

They must be some very expensive shoes, no?

The best money can buy, I said. She smiled, standing slowly she stretched and gracefully bounded off into the surf, diving and quickly reemerging with slick, wet hair, beads of saltwater glistening on every curve. She’d been a fine no strings, no stress companion over the last many weeks along this most recent stop in what I had come to consider my personal sabbatical from the limelight of all things high anxiety. The tour of leisure and distance from the nagging press, PR teams, and high-profile headhunters had been ongoing for the better part of the year at this point and there was no predetermined final destination. Perhaps, though, it was the combinative effect of excess UV rays and alcohol on top of the exhaustive introspection that now finally had me drifting to the crash and pull of sea foam. With sunglasses dropped into place to ride out the last blast of direct sunlight, the world was gone and I was ready to wake up after dark, refreshed and anew, to continue yet another night of overeating, over drinking, and generally, over indulging in the alleged finer things in life, all in an effort to drown out everything else.

Knowing better never was my strong suit, and here and now surrounded by the serene surf, basking in the sun of South Africa at sea level, I should have suspected it was only a matter of time before the reprieve would be cut short. It was at that moment, between consciousness and twilight, that the tempo of the oceanic currents began to slowly and steadily overcome the staccato rhythm of helicopter blades chopping at the air…


¹ Murder on Everest.

² Murder on Kilimanjaro

³ Murder on Aconcagua

⁴ Murder on Elbrus

⁵ Murder on Kilimanjaro

Chapter Two

A New Assignment

I pondered the chances that the chopper touching down on the deserted coast a hundred yards off was for anyone but myself. Beyond the odds seeming slim, as we were the only people on the beach for as far as the eye could see, the sudden appearance of fortified luxury transportation arriving unexpectedly within my vicinity had become one of those things I had just become used to over the years. What company or news they delivered was always the real question on my mind. I recognized the model, a hybrid private jet blended with an executive helicopter, as a ten-million-dollar AgustaWestland 609, which was able to take off like a traditional prop plane. It could also take to the skies vertically at a moment’s notice, if necessary, or if a proper runway happened to be lacking. This made it a choice selection for dignitaries and social elites traveling in territories of questionable integrity. I’d been around enough of these types of crafts to fill the tarmacs at JFK. It wasn’t the make and model that caught my eye, but the virtual absence of insignias on the matte black paint job, reminiscent of the radar signature-reducing paint that coated the legendary super-stealth SR71 blackbird back in the day.

It struck me as no surprise to see a familiar face ducking beneath the swirling rotors as he approached, even though it had been a while since I’d seen him sporting the beard of a seasoned operator and was used to seeing the half-cocked grin of his on a clean-shaven mug since he’d joined the CIA. There was no mistaking the purposeful gait in his step as he trudged across the stretch of sand, though, as quintessentially my dear friend, Alex Turner. I had always made great sport of referring to Alex only by his official title, Special Agent Turner, since he had been accepted and assigned to the Agency, an inside joke harkening back to the times before either of us had been scooped up, when we would merely joke about taking on such titles.

AugustaWestland 609, a hybrid plane / dual-prop helicopter.

I understood the nature of his visit the second he stepped foot on that beach. Whenever you are recruiting a team for assignments, it was always wise to deliver invitations in the hands of trusted comrades to those you suspected may hold reservations about signing on. Alex and I had been close throughout our early years and had engaged in special combat training long before either of the Agency’s had accepted us; he was drawn into the CIA and I gravitated to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The last two decades had provided us with regular overlap and opportunities to share data both on and off the record, but more than anything it was a rare and special comfort to have a longtime friend in the system who understood the nature and scope of that sort of life and all that it presented. I realized it had been at least a year since we last connected, although it felt like no time had passed at all. The comfort of seeing Alex in the role of messenger now meant only one thing, and although I knew I had eluded the call for longer than even I had expected to be able, that hundred-yard march Alex was plodding along between the aircraft and my impromptu patch of tropical paradise began to feel pretty heavy with anticipation.

Sorry to interrupt the vacation, Scotty. Looks like you’ve been keeping busy, Alex said with a sly grin as he peered toward the surf, watching my friend frolic just beyond the water line.

Well, if it isn’t my old friend, Special Agent Turner. I almost didn’t recognize you under all that hair. Did the agency change their grooming requirements, or have you gone rogue? I said, relaxing back on my towel with my sunglasses lowered on the brim of my nose.

Alex grinned and peered off into the sunset while scratching his beard. He removed his own sunglasses, revealing the small scar over his right eyebrow that he’d earned during a winter hockey game in Massachusetts so many years ago. He kneeled down slowly, grabbing a handful of sand and letting it slip through his fingers. No more Agency. I’m freelancing now with a new outfit. That’s why I’m here, he said with that grin, like a kid who had gotten away with stealing a cookie from the cookie jar.

I sat upright. If not a house call on the government’s dime, then what was the nature of Alex’s visit and on behalf of whom? The Agency had been the end-all, be-all for Alex for as long as I had known him. He had always been a lifer for the cause, and for him to leave his calling, well…this was truly big news in my world.

Come on, I’ll explain in the air. Trust me, it’s a white buffalo of an opportunity, Alex said, employing our less-than-clandestine or well-mannered tavern code for beautiful, rare, and otherwise exotic women. If it was anyone else providing such vague information, I knew I would be hesitant to move a muscle, and I was sure this, too, was the very reason Alex had been sent. A white buffalo of an opportunity was being delivered, clearly with no expense spared, at the hands of one of my oldest friends and most trusted colleagues. Whomever his new employer was had tactfully considered this approach, which immediately led to my consideration of the character, situation, and motivations behind the alleged opportunity that were attached to the offer.

I’ll need to grab a few things back at the hotel… I started to say as I stood, crunching the sand between my toes.

I’ve got you covered. Change of clothes is on deck and your things have been sent ahead to the airport, Alex said over his shoulder as he smiled and briskly began to walk back to the bird.

Wait, you had my things moved already? Aren’t you going to tell me where we’re headed?

In the air, my friend. All will be revealed once in the air. Alex pointed to the deep azure sky, fringed with melting reddish orange hues far off on the horizon line.

I stood and brushed the fine grains of white sand from my legs and chest as my glistening companion sauntered up, eyes wide. I picked up a towel and tossed it playfully to her.

Looks like I’ve got more shoes to sell, darling. It’s been fun. The keys to the car are under my towel.

She smiled, shaking her head as I took one final glance back out over the water at the sun dipping and melting into its own reflection in the ocean. It had certainly been a swell reprieve, but I knew with Alex’s impromptu airlift, it all had come to an abrupt end. Perhaps just in time, as well…. Like a shark must constantly move forward in order to survive, I was starting to feel the crush of inactivity and lack of stimulation weighing down on me, like I was taking on water and trudging through quicksand a bit more as each day blurred by. In spite of not knowing what the course ahead had in store, at the very least, suddenly being thrust back into the stream of forward momentum certainly felt better than stagnation, even if uncertainty and peril might be the final destination. The choice had been made.

As I approached the chopper, the gleaming blades began to spin back up to a blurring speed overhead, and I noticed a single, small silver insignia to the rear of the cockpit door. TF inside a coat of arms-style shield, the icon recognized worldwide as the crest of the TerraForma Corporation. TerraForma had become a global, multibillion-dollar enterprise in the last decade, rivaling Google, IBM, Apple, and other tech giants for its innovations in all areas techno-centric.

The TerraForma company insignia, recognized globally.

Alternative energy development, search engine advancements, robotics, data transfer and storage, and most recently, artificial intelligence. These achievements made way for the entity’s stock to challenge its competitors for many years. At the helm of the enterprise, and the originator for most of the early tech and IP conceptualization and development that launched the company, was both the enigmatic and charming playboy type, Eldon Trask.

Trask was a household name, having graced the headlines and cover pages of not only technology and science magazines in the last decade for his innovations and unprecedented rise to fame and power at such a young age, but also the celebrity tabloids, as well. His well-groomed, dapper persona, and unwavering purposeful gaze could be witnessed peering at you from both the covers of People Magazine and American Journal of Science side by side at any airport newsstand at any given time. If he wasn’t unveiling a new alternative energy solution at a global summit for high-ranking politicians at a posh locale deep within the Alps, he could be seen gallivanting through the paparazzis’ telephoto lenses in swim trunks onboard one of his alternatively fueled carbon-footprint-less yachts with scantily clad runway models and other tech giants off the shore of Cala Llenya, Ibiza. It was easy to understand why the public was infatuated with the guy. Trask made the development of technology and science cool, and inclusive for the masses. His bold and fearless approach to denouncing the status quo openly and loudly when it came to what he brazenly dubbed, The Old Guards or global corporate figureheads, was well documented. He seemed to almost take offense to those who employed elitist practices in order to maintain profitable operations while disregarding any responsibility to the planet or future generations. This brazen attitude was given weight by his regularly brilliant counter solutions and strategies for undoing the old and unsustainable ways.

This spotlight certainly stirred the pot on a global level, especially for those with stakes to lose in the perpetuation of the old paradigm. When it came to envisioning a brighter tomorrow and putting theory into practice, Trask and his confederates at TerraForma wasted no time. Gaining backing by other Silicon Valley types who shared his vision early on from within the budding tech sector of the early 90s, and who more recently had been in dire need of a poster boy since Steve Jobs’s passing, found a new, shining white knight for the cause in Trask. His boisterous, renegade spirit resonated on a deeper level with the younger generation that had been entangled within and entranced by technology’s tentacled embrace straight out of the womb. He was a rebel with a cause and he now had the financial clout to propose and execute whatever path forward he so deemed just. For the younger generation entering adulthood, which had become increasingly skeptical, analytical, and occupied with sifting through information overload as their new norm, he provided a brilliant mind, a clear voice, and a calculated mission for them to subscribe to, serving as a guiding light and opinion leader, fulfilling their need for a deeply desired sense of purpose and belonging to a unified and just cause. And now, he had seemingly called upon me.

I took my seat and buckled up inside the chopper next to Alex. We each put on our thick padded headsets and turned on the microphones. Amazingly, the noise canceling technology dissipated the rotors drastically.

TerraForma…is this your new outfit? I asked Alex, already knowing the answer.

Yes, sir. They have acquired this asset, he replied with a grin. Enjoy the ride, take in the view. I will give you the full debrief on the big bird. Much more comfortable and quieter. Alex relaxed into his seat and peered out the oval window next to his seat as the last rays of sunshine ignited the horizon line as we lifted off.

Chapter Three

Duty Calls

The thumping of chopper blades whirring overhead, muffled by the high-tech, noise-canceling, flight headset I now wore provided an almost hypnotic vacuum within the helicopter. The last few minutes of the sun setting over the ocean as we had ascended had been nothing short of stunning, with the golden inferno melting into the crashing waves below. Now, a complete and pure black abyss was our view beyond the glass. Aside from the regular strobe of the aviation lights mounted on the helicopter’s tail, a purely unknown horizon lay ahead.

Alex had his hands folded behind his head as he lounged across from me in the expensive, high-backed leather chair. He had seemingly drifted off to sleep, although it was hard to tell if his eyes were open behind the dark lenses of his sunglasses. In the trance of the flight, I couldn’t help but wonder what the details were regarding this urgent business that had required my immediate attention and physical presence this time around.

The tarmac of multicolored lights at the Cape Town International Airport appeared in the far distance below like glittering gems strewn across the darkness. We began our descent as they grew in size and brightness and the pilot came over our flight headsets.

Ten minutes to touchdown, gentlemen.

Copy that. Alex instantly and alertly replied, not having been asleep after all.

The jet should be juiced and ready for immediate takeoff. I’ll debrief you and then we’ll grab some R&R on deck, Scott. We have a long flight ahead of us, he said coolly.

Where are we headed? I asked.

Vegas, my friend, he replied without missing a beat as the chopper descended for touch down.

Las Vegas? What in the world could be in Sin City, I pondered?

As the bird touched down, Alex quickly unbuckled his belt, grabbed a duffel bag from his overhead compartment, and slapped me on my knee.

We’re Oscar Mike, Scotty my boy, he said jovially.

I hadn’t been called by that name in damn near a decade, and as far as I could remember, it was probably Alex who last called me by it. He wasted no time opening the chopper door and ducking out onto the runway. A rush of warm salty air gushed into the cabin replacing the air-conditioned comfort we had been lounging in for the last forty minutes, and I knelt and leaned out to follow suit.

The runway was absent of activity within our general vicinity, which was out of the ordinary for such a routinely active international airport. I had no doubt in my mind this must have been by design, but couldn’t fathom the cost and logistics of such a move. Fifty meters off stood an impressive aircraft with its staircase extended and waiting for its passengers—presumably us—to board. The interior lights from the plane glowed softly from its doorway and windows. Against an equally dark night sky, these features were virtually all that gave away the presence of the matte-black, Bombardier Global 8000, long-range private jet, a must-have for ultra-wealthy, global elitists that fetched a price tag nearing the seventy-million-dollar range.

Of course, the silver TF logo was branded on the tail fin, which made me laugh to myself as it struck me that it was basically one of the

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