Murdered by Gods - PROLOGUE by Charles G. Irion

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 climbers standards, the combination of the slight incline, 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 it now. There was no other option though. In order to maintain the element of surprise, it had been determined as 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 comes 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 worry was worrisome in and of itself. He had been cheerfully offering blessings to Pachamama, his beloved “Mother Earth” all along the way. The pom-poms 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 lied ahead. 

A step behind the Shaman, leading the team of TeraForma 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-billionaires 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 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 only seemed only to add to Franks 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 TeraForma Guardsmen that Trask had escorting us on this trip was night and day. The TeraForma security guards were 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 TeraForma hi-tech body armor comprised 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 guerillas whom had embedded themselves deep within the Andes Range after abducting the TeraForma research team. They routinely ambushed foreign nationals and posted ransoms for their safe return as a lucrative source of income and the TeraForma logo must have been a glimmering dollar sign to them.  

“We’re close Scotty. Safety off.” Alex said as he glanced the GPS display strapped to his wrist. 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 TeraForma 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. After a beat, I peered around cautiously, lifting my digital binoculars and scanned the area. 

I saw what had caused Frank to halt, about a hundred meters ahead - 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, I saw it. A twenty meter tall stone structure, carved with Incan symbols and the fierce faces of long deceased God’s recently cut clean of jungle brush and vines, surrounded at its base by TeraForma 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 and Pachamama had heard none of our Shamans prayers…