Now that you know why Edmund has fallen into the grasp of Rolstein (Sorry for the last name usage but 20 years in the army kind of made that a permanent fixing) we can get to the heart of the story. So strap in and get on the chopper for the Canadian wilderness. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Anyone?
A Matter of Life and Death V
The ancient Bell UH-1 Huey transport helicopter sped over the Canadian wilderness with alarming speed. Fast enough for Edmund to grow relatively certain it was going to fall apart long before they reached the landing zone. Knowing nothing he did would guarantee any sort of landing, Edmund focused on his new teammates. The two with their weapon barrels on the floor were overly comfortable, a sensation that could only stem from having conducted numerous similar missions before. Military. Everything about them screamed danger.
Their medic busied himself with re-inspecting his field kit. Edmund was no expert, but the slightly rotund man had enough first responder equipment to treat a full company of infantry. Based on what he recalled from his own experiences in the tundra, Edmund prayed they wouldn’t have need of it. He still wasn’t sure what come for him the night he discovered the lotus. All he knew was the bone jarring fear that permeated his very soul. Edmund had no desire to relive that experience, even while knowing that he was on an inevitable collision course. Destiny was most wicked at times.
It was the botanist that intrigued him, though not for obvious reasons. She was slight of build, yet carried poise that came from surety. There was a hard look lingering in her eyes; eyes so pale blue they appeared grey. As interesting as that was, it was her knuckles that drew his attention. She clutched at the metal bar holding up the webbing of her seat so tightly her knuckles bled white. He wondered what promises or illusions could have been so persuasive as to bring her out of whatever lab she’d been squirreled away in. Then again, who was he to judge? They all had their reasons.
“First time in a chopper?” he asked through the headset each had been provided.
Despite what Hollywood wanted people to believe, it was next to impossible for anyone to hear each other over the combination of engine noise and the heavy thump of the rotors. One of the mercenaries glanced his way with a look of raw disdain.
Startled, she nodded. “I’m not used to this sort of life, Mr. Sorenson.”
Damn, how do I get out of this without seeming the fool? He fumbled, his tongue suddenly far too big to fit in his mouth, as he tried to recall her name.
She gave him a knowing smile before bursting his already collapsing bubble. “You don’t remember my name, do you?”
His cheeks burned. “I…”
“Idiot,” came a man’s voice.
Edmund bit back an angry retort. He didn’t feel like getting shot en route to their destination. “How about you mind your own business?”
“Or what?” the mercenary glared at him, malicious intent blazing in his eyes.
“Ignore them, Edmund. Men with small minds hide behind their big guns,” she admonished. “I’m Mara.”
“Nice to meet you, again,” he replied with a voice akin to a middle schooler confronted with his first crush.
The mercenary sneered. “Ain’t love grand?”
“I told you…”
“And I told you to do something. This isn’t a game. Our lives are on the line over your imaginary monster. Listen to me now, I don’t care what you think you saw or how many you thought there were. You don’t get us straight to this flower and out again and I’ll ghost you myself and leave your corpse for bears. Got it?”
Edmund’s glare burned down into his cheeks. He had no doubt the mercenary meant every word. The man screamed killer. Edmund vaguely recalled a story his father once told him about watching a prisoner thrown out of the helicopter in Vietnam. Visions of screaming down toward the spear-like trees turned his stomach.
The poor fool. He has no idea what we’re getting into. Fleeting images of the nightmare he’d witnessed during his first trip taunted him. Ash grey flesh. Bones protruding obscenely against taut skin. The stench was one of decay. Of corruption. Much taller than a human, the creature moved fast. Edmund had no desire to repeat the experience. Yet here he was, on a collision course to relive the past with people he didn’t know or care for. Not to mention a man extremely interested in killing me.
“Hold tight. The landing zone is one minute out,” the pilot’s voice interrupted.
The five adventurers set aside their differences and readied to exit the aircraft. Each had different ideations about what was to come. Only one was afraid.