About Me

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Writer, soldier, thinker, and science fiction lover. I just can't seem to find a way to divide my adventurous self of constant outdoor activity and exercise from my nerdy self playing games and going to conventions. So why not just be both?

 I am a young professional living out of Tallahassee, Florida for the past five years. I have been on a deployment with the United States Army and continue to work outside of my other occupations to better myself mentally and physically. My passion for writing is driven by my passion for everything I find entertaining in life, and of course by my friends and family.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A New Kind of War (Contact)

Randal knelt on the peak, a large rectangular device in hand. A long whip antenna curved up. It was the XPRC-152 radio. The "X" standing for experimental, then portable radio communication. Revolutionary compared to the massive packs their conventional forces carry. The radio was decades ahead of its time, and of course is one of their classified pieces of equipment to be destroyed at all cost if they can not avoid capture.
 Yet, Clark remained cynical. Despite their high elevation, despite Randal's extreme expertise, despite the new experimental technology, the storm was on them, they were miles from the next line of friendly forces. He couldn't imagine getting a signal to anyone.
 "I got a signal." Randal chimed. He handed the headset to Clark. Randal smiled through the frost, the look of surprise gave Clark away.
 With the headset seated firmly on his head he began his transmission.
"Hound 6, this is Dog 2-6."
 "Dog 2-6, this is Hound 6, send your traffic." Clark took in a deep chilling breath. The smooth response back was calm and chilling his blood to ice. The urgency of everything seemed, inconsequential somehow.
  "Hound 6 we took hostile fire en route. Two birds down, 12 unconfirmed casualties. Break." He took a deep breath. At least 7 of his soldiers, possibly 8, and two pilots each. Gone in a flash. "Request immediate extraction at following coordinates. Break."
 "Break. Break. Break!" The voice came back interrupting Clark as he was about to send his coordinates. "Request denied." There was a long pause.
 "Hound 6 be advised, I am reporting 85 percent casualties. I am mission incapable."
 "Roger Dog 2-6, we copy your transmission. Your request is denied. Are you on a personal system?"  There had only been one other time in his career where that question had been asked. Specifically, General Giacchino, who he was communicating with, wanted to know if anyone else could hear the transmission.
 "Rodger."
 "Listen Captain," and froze him more, even on a classified net, no one used name or rank. "you are cut off, you are too far behind enemy lines, and we aren't even sure who the enemy is.  Right now you are my eyes and ears. You will have support, but it is taking awhile due to complications. Do you understand?"
 "I copy you Hound 6." Clark looked at Randal. Randal didn't give a return look. Clark saw the slight shake in Randal's head. He knew without hearing.
 "Proceed to recon NAI 2, report any and all activity." Clark recalled the named area of interest 2 was a landing pad for the facility. It was then, that Clark has the sudden urge to ask a sporadic question. Something in him said it was right, to do it.
 "Roger, Wilco, be advised, will communication deteriorate as we proceed?" It was almost a childish question, and he knew it.
 "Understand it's always a possibility, however; receivers at Pate Facility are still responding. Hound 6 Out."
 Clark looked off at the large facility before him in the low lands. He never considered that he was bouncing his communication off of transponders in the facility, and that being why they had crystal clear communication. First he would have assumed that considering communication with the facility had gone dark that the enemy had cut off the communication. Next. even if it was an option, it didn't seem advisable to use equipment in enemy hands to relay a signal. Could the equipment be tapped? Nevertheless, for the time being, they had strong communication, and they would follow orders.
 "No one's coming huh?"
 "They want us to continue mission." Clark shook his body, snow from a dying flurry had taken hold onto him.
 "They, you mean him, the arm chair guy. Right, nice and safe in an office."
 "They're coming for us, they can't get a bird close enough. We're cut off."
 "So why not sit tight, wait for the cavalry, evade the enemy?" He knew Randal's question wasn't meant to be answered. It was just what they both had been thinking.
 "Because we're the best source of intelligence. Let's move."
 Clark lead the way down.  The pines and evergreens grew thick once more as their trek lead them off the rocks and into the fields. The large cover created by the large trees lessened the snow on the ground, throwing massive dark shadows onto the ground. Even surrounded by snow and the chill in the air, and the snow on the ground, the canopy under the trees had caught the little heat. They both stepped down into the lower parts, coddled together under the heavy trees.
 Both stopped shy of coming out from under the cover provided by the womb of trees. A growing noise grew from behind and above them, and whup-whup-whup sound of blades beating the air into submission. The heavy craft passed invisibly overhead.
 "Ours?"
 "I can't tell." Clark responded. It sounded as if the helicopter was about to touch down somewhere near by ahead of them. "I doubt it though." He said as he tried to trace the route of the craft through the trees with his eyes.
 "Sounds like she's touching down." He was right the noise seemed to stagnate, and he could imagine through the trees, a helicopter coming and touching down.
 "Let's go get a look."
 The two descended farther and appeared out into a snowfield separating them from Pate facility. There was a tall chain-link fence which surrounded the landing zone for the helicopter. They had arrived just in time to see the last wind of the helicopter dye down. A large man was standing near by speaking to the pilot outside of the helicopter. The large bearded man addressed the think pilot before both started towards the facility, safe knowing there were several more of the unusual soldiers patrolling around them near the helicopter.
 The fog had dissipated, and Clark could see helicopter fine from their distance. That's a Goddamn Russian attack helicopter.
 "That's not one of ours, is it?" Randal asked, but once more, knew. Clark keyed up on his radio to speak.
 "Hound 6, this is Dog 2-6."
 "Go ahead Dog 6."
 "We have observations of NAI 2, there is a Russian attack helicopter landed there."
 "That's right, and if you take a close look, it's missing two rockets, it is likely the culprit who shot you down." Clark recoiled.
 "Hound 6, do you have other eyes in my area?"
 "Negative Dog 6, weather is clearing up, satellite footage is coming in clear. Break." There was a pause between transmissions. "Be advised, the Hind-D helicopter you're seeing will be a deadly foe if it goes airborne again. Recommend you move to close with the facility. Hound out."
 "So what's the word?"
 "We get in closer." Just as he was about to continue his radio crackled. "Stand by, someone's on the net."
 "Dog 6, confirm location." It was a husky voice, not the general. Static and interference came and went with the transmission.
 "Last caller, identify yourself."
 "Dog 6, this is Gunslinger 2-1." An involuntary bony smile slipped across Clark's face.
 "Gunslinger 2-1 I am South of NAI 2. What is your location?"
 "Roger..." There was a drop in transmission before it came back, "I see you. My position is north of NAI 2." Gunslinger was the call sign for Johnny Park, or Birdman as the team more affectionately knew him as. He had been a SEAL and then sniper for his team before being selected to try out for the unit. He joined the Hound unit over three years ago. It was through these three years the entire team caught onto his obsession with a particular television show, and received his nickname after the title of the show.
 "Gunslinger, this is a secure net, how the hell did you wind up out there?"

 On the North side of NAI 2 Johnny 'Birdman' Park laid prone under the dark cover from the pines and snow. Only the barrel of his sniper rifle protruded out ever so slightly from his hide position. His cross-hairs were near the Captain and Randal a little more than a kilometer away. The L98's white stock allowed him to blend in perfectly with the snow with little effort in trying to conceal the rifle itself.
 Birdman keyed up on his headset.
 "I jumped right as you gave the order to. Deployed the chute too soon. I landed in some field, started getting hunted pretty quick. Wound up here, saw you poke your head out as I watched the helicopter through my scope. What's the situation? I can't raise shit."
 "We were assigned to continue mission regardless of casualties. You're coming in broken, you may have radio issues after the jump. The facility is being used as a relay station."
 Birdman thought about that for a moment. He didn't understand radios all that well. He could do basic troubleshooting sure, but relaying off the facility seemed, fundamentally wrong.
 "I'll take your word for it skipper." Skipper was his own way or endearment to their officer. Having been Navy, skipper was reserved only for those who were deemed as fighters, and Captain Duncan was a hell of a fighter. "Listen, I have good fields of observations. I could cover your approach in from here better than moving with you."
 "Roger that, we'll begin our move."
 Johnny 'Birdman' Park adjusted his sight picture. Using both open eyes, his rifle became his spotting scope.   He watched the two small dark figures stumbled awkwardly down hill towards the fence.
 "You can tell Randal he still moves goofy as fuck." Birdman spoke into his headset as the journey continued. "Stop." Birdman called. The two figures in the distances stopped, low on a cusp, just shy of the fence line, both laying down in the snow.
 "What is it?"
 "Two sentries, moving along the fence. About 50 meters to your 12'o clock." Birdman had shifted ever so slightly, his sights on the two unusual imposture of soldiers. Birdman wanted to squeeze a revenge round, he could taste it, a single shot, he bet he could have the next round chambered and in the second soldier before he ever heard the shot. But, loyalty and mission accomplishment overruled his thirst for revenge.
 He watched the two soldiers conduct a slow patrol along the fence line. The extreme cold didn't slow or hurry the soldiers. They walked their line like fresh soldiers, eager to do a good job. Experience of how long Birdman knew these soldiers were in the area and conducting work told him they were professionals. Birdman recalled the crap-tastic times he had spent in third world countries. Their soldiers were generally undisciplined, occasionally he would encountered well trained segments, or even more rarely, mercenaries. The behaviors of the soldiers he now observed, they had to be either American or Russian. The few brushes he got with Soviet forces showed, that despite the perception, the Soviets had a formidable special forces organization to match their western counter parts.
 "Alright, they've passed, you're clear." Birdman returned to watch the Captain and Randal move up along the fence. They knelt and began to remove tools from their kits to cut the chain links in the fence.
 "Birdman, watch us, we're exposed."
 "You can say that again." He didn't transmit that, but he was right. They were in the open, next to the fence with no immediate cover or concealment. The patrols were frequent, and varied in time gaps. With both eyes open, Birdman watched. He put his scope on anything he could not make out. He tensed as he waited to see movement. Even with the weather, and the ever decreasing sunlight, there was too much light outside. Someone outside of Birdman's vision could spot them, this all suddenly seemed extremely stupid, orders or not, they were exposed to unnecessary risk with no means of assistance or avenue of evasion.
 "Alright, we're through." Birdman went back to the Captain. They were lowering the wiring of the fence back into place. It would be discovered, but not as easily. The two operators moved across the field and onto the cleared concrete to a stack of shipping crates and boxes leading up to the helicopter's landing pad. The two took a coving position behind shipping containers.
 "Man, Randal's really slowing you down today." Birdman grinned at his own words.
 "Randal asks when you're going to surpass his run time."
 "When he can keep up with my obstacle course time." Birdman saw Randal flip him a defiant middle finger. Birdman grinned a sly boney grin and scanned over towards the helicopter and the first wing of the Pate installation.


 Clark looked at the stationary Hind-D. Snow had begun to accumulate along its edges and rotors. The concrete and tarmac along the entire facility was heated to keep away the massive collection of snow that was common in the area. The helicopter, despite it's Russian weapons, had no markings or indication of where it came from. Clark definitely recognized the Soviet aircraft from the vehicle identification courses they did every six months. The lack of markings or wing numbers lead Clark to believe the helicopter much have come from a Soviet bloc outlier, not the Motherland herself.
 "Hound 6 this is Dog 6, come in, over."
 "Go ahead Dog 6." The crisp voice of the general came back immediately.
 "Probing of NAI 2 reveal no markings on the helicopter."
 "Understood, is this still a private communication?"
 "Roger." Clark almost scoffed, anything at this point was valuable not only to him but to the rest of his team. It made executing orders easier if there wasn't any information being withheld at any level.
 "What is about to be said is need to know basis, and you are the only one with cleared for this information. There is an outsider player involved, but it's not the Russians. A newer terrorist organization by the name Sons of Arms is believed to have worked with splinter groups inside of Pate Facility to orchestrate the insurrection. Demands have been made."
 "What are the demands?"
 "Sons of Arms is demanding several things, it all revolves allowing them to annex the entire island, to include Pate Facility and be given sovereign rights as a nation."
 "What leads them to think the United States won't just put troops here?"
 "Pate Facility isn't just a disposal facility that doubles as a research facility. It houses a live nuclear weapon." Clark looked at Randal, who despite looking busy being vigilant was perked and trying to hear the conversation. He moved away some and whispered.
 "This place is a gad-damn missile silo?"
 "Not exactly. The subterranean level of the facility has what looks like a submarine launch facility. In actuality it is a rail to push out what is known as the first generation railgun."
 "A what? Is this some sort of science fiction tale you're pushing?"
 "Captain I will remind you this is a military operation." There was a pause and he expected to outed after that. But the General remained, and he remained calm and monotone as ever. "A railgun fires a slug using magnetic force. We have been developing the idea for years, primarily for naval use. This one is unique. The slug is a nuclear slug fired from a cannon made to hunt and kill satellites if the war with Russia ever goes hot. In today's battlefield and the future, satellites will become more and more vital to the role of command and control."
 "Doesn't this violate some agreement?"
 "I'm not here to explain this to you Captain. But if it helps you, technically no, but that doesn't undermine the importance of this weapon. Regardless, as of right now there is no reason to believe the terrorists can operate the weapon. But we do not know for how long. This weapon can be used to blackout the United States, making us blind to anything moving in towards our borders for months relying on old outdated technology."
 "Jesus Christ. Where do these guys come from?"
 "SoA isn't backed formally by any state. Their ranks come from prior military, many special forces, a majority of them Russian special forces who felt betrayed by treatment during the occupation and operations in Afghanistan. But disgruntled soldiers from around the globe seek refuge with them. Funding is funneled in by both legitimate and illegitimate means. Someone inside of Pate Facility must have had contact with the organization."
 "When the helicopter touched down, we observed a larger man, beard, not wearing the same uniform as the others. Looked Caucasian, and seemed to be in charge one way or the other."
 "Interesting." There was a long pause. Longer still. Clark thought he lost the General. "If you see this individual again, consider him extremely dangerous, and a high value target to be eliminated at once."
 "The description would fit Major Zane Lumbard. He is the commander for a special unit assigned for experimental training at Pate Facility. We had suspected he may be involved in the situation, your observation confirms this."
 "Why were we not brief on this before the mission?"
 "What Major Zane Lumbard and his unit does is classified out of your level of clearance. If he and his unit was not involved, there was no reason to breach security for your benefit. Your next mission to find a researcher, Gregory F. Joseph. He is the head director for the research personnel for Pate Facility. Satellite images show several hostages were moved from the center dome to the south east wing. Those two areas should be investigated first. Hound 6 out."
 "What's the word?"
 "We're conducting a hostage rescue, target name is Gregory F. Joseph." Clark spoke both to Randal and Johnny by keying up on Birdman's net at the same time.
 "Sir, we aren't really in the position for hostage extraction, is someone moving in to support us?"
 "No word, but orders are orders."
 "Yeah let's really strain the unit that took seventy percent casualties." Johnny Birdman Park crackled across the radio.
 Yeah, they were right, but orders were orders, and they put the mission first. Impossibles were made possible, that's why they did what they did, or so they were told. Clark looked at Randal, Randal looked away off to the side, feigning pulling security, he was sure he saw an eye roll.
 "Let's move." Clark and Randal banked off the cargo, they each pied around opposite corners from each other.
 "Hold up!" The radio popped. Clark went down to his knees behind palletized gas barrels. Randal took note and came to cover behind a shipping container by the corner.
 "What is it Birdman?"
 "You may have been made."
 "Speak to me Birdman, what's going on?"
 "Standby."
 Clark did so, his legs creaking under him. His heart fluttered, he listened. He didn't dare try and look over his cover, if he had been 'made' he could give away his current position.
 "Alright, they don't see you, two snipers just took position on roof of the Pate Facility. You two can't move with them there, too much open ground."
 "Where?"
 "South corner, your 12 o'clock, and the East corner, to your 2 o'clock." Clark peaked from his left and zipped back. He'd seen it. A single shooter on the nearest corner. He didn't dare try and reveal himself again to see the other shooter.
 "Can you take them?"
 "That's a hell of a shot skipper, almost two-thousand yards. I can get one, but readjusting and getting my follow on shot is the hard part."
 "What do you think?"
 "Your call skipper."
 "No, it's yours, your ability, if you can do it, do it."
 "Standby." Clark went prone. He edged himself up to the corner of the barrels. He took a deep breath in through his nostrils and let it out his mouth, it came out sticky and wet like blood. He peered around the corner. The sniper was closer than he remembered, he estimated it was just short of a three hundred meter shot for him. But if he didn't get it or Randal missed his, they would both be dead. Clark held his breath, there was a silence, his blood pulse so heavily in his ears there came a high pitched buzz that began to pound in his head.
 The sniper shifted, and then a sudden convulsion ran through his body follow quickly by the snap of the shot trying to keep up. The sniper lay awkwardly, the last of the death twitches gone. Clark waited. There had been two snaps he heard, but still he waited.
 "Yeah, they're down."
 "Out fucking standing Birdman." Clark looked down the row at Randal. Randal was giving a questioning thumbs up. Clark gave a reaffirming thumbs up. They moved curved and started to move towards the helicopter.
 Thunder clapped. Clark's animal instinct drove him to the ground. He found himself prone behind another pallet. He heard a call out in pain. Clark looked towards Randal. He was on the ground in front of the helicopter, clutching his hip.
 "Where the hell did the shot come from?!" Clark called into the radio.
 "I'm looking." Another booming shot came out. Clark looked back to Randal, Randal still rolled and grunted in pain.
 "Talk to me Birdman. He shot again."
 Clark caught himself breathing hard. Johnny didn't respond. All Clark could see was Randal curled up on the ground through his foggy breath.
 "Birdman?" He keyed up again. Nothing. The ice ran through his veins again. Johnny had been the target.
 The shooter didn't fire a third shot. He was waiting. Baiting Clark with Randal's suffering. 


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cosplay piece for "Aliens"

One of the most memorable pieces to the motion picture film Aliens (the sequel to the scifi master piece Alien from 1979) is the M41A1 Pulse rifle. So of course no cosplay is complete without it. And any dedicated fan will tell you, one of the best parts is making the piece 'yours' so that it is you and unique to how you want to fit into the universe.

 Below is my airsoft conversion of a Thompson sub machinegun into the iconic weapon. The first piece of customization is the serial number base plate. While not movie accurate, is a more realistic touch to the weapon and a piece that allows it to stand out among others.

 I chose realism over convention by placing the plate on the left side of the weapon similar to how modern weapons are serialized. 




The next piece is completely non-canon. It is based off the idea of the M41A1 Pulse Rifle from the movie. It's what I refer to as the Pulse Carbine. There have been video game adaptations of this idea but nothing canon.

My starting base was a Nerf CS-18 with the 18 round count magazine. 

Step 1 was to grind off the Nerf logo on the sides. I used a dremel with a sanding wheel. I then touched up by hand sanding it smooth. Once this was complete I blasted the back of the butt-stock with rubberizing paint for cars. 
Step 2 was to add a metallic coat of paint for the base of the gun. In all honesty I thought this looked cool enough alone, but I had a goal. The reason I chose this color is because as I use the gun at conventions if wear and tear happens, it'll look more natural as if real wear is happening to a real weapon. 
Step 3 and 4, I painted the small parts which in the picture are covered in paint. I used a flat matt black model paint except for the "jam cover" which again was the rubberizing paint for cars. I then covered these parts with painter tape.


Step 5 was to cover the main body with a green paint. I used a spray paint marked as camouflage foliage paint. It was much lighter than I expected.

Step 6 was to begin to add some custom wear and tear to the weapon. This was done by simply sanding it with a fine sand paper on the the edges. This is where the the metallic base was important. But, this is also when I decided I'd put a different color of green on the body.

Step 7 was to add the first pieces of customization which I did with an engraving tool. I did a dead smiling face, and "Bug Hunter" on one side, a direct nod to the phrases and little details from the movie.

Step 7 (part 2) On the other side the face returns, but I also added a kill count with tally marks.

Step 8 I added a darker green from a model building kit. The Oliver Drab (OD) green matches better to the "Brown Bess" color used in the film (see M41A1 Pulse Rifle for reference). I left the light green on the padded parts where face and forward hands would touch. Once the paint was dry I went over the engravings again with the engraving tool to make them more pronounced. You can also see the magazine here (which was clear) painted black with the rubberized car paint again. 

Step 9 was to add fine detail. I covered all the black parts with another coat. Then the safety and magazine release got a red coat to stand out.

Step 10 was to go over the engravings one last time to stand out again.

Step 11 was to add more fine details. I never ground off the Nerf warning sign, so I took a red sharpie to the warning exclamation mark. I think it looks nice with the rest of the gun.

Step 12 I thought something was missing and since it is not as cool as the Pulse Rifle since it lacks the electronic ammo counter, I added a metal skull and cross bones to it. Once it was all dry, I blasted the whole gun with two coats of clear protector.

Close of skull and engravings.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A New Kind of War (It Begins)

"ETA, 10 mikes."
 Clark Duncan sat as still as he could as the helicopter bumped in the turbulence. It had not even been six hours earlier that his team had been alerted to a rapidly growing crisis at a military research installation. Several things set this operation apart from previous operations. They were activated directly from a general, General Michael D. Giacchino, the same man who they would report directly to through the rest of the operation. The operation order they had sat through was short, and to the point with far too many areas left to question. But so was the nature of their work.
Situation: A remote military research installation has stopped their hourly reports. Suspect possible compromise, and insider cooperation.
  Friendly Forces: Department of Defense contractors and military personnel.
  Enemy Forces: Unknown.
Mission: Task Force Dog conducts reconnaissance around and within Pate Installation no later than 2300 hrs to confirm or deny hostile presence at Pate Installation.
 That was the first difficult part. An American installation, on American soil was possibly compromised. But it could not be by a major faction, the Soviets, as Clark saw it, wouldn't start a major hot conflict by initiating on a small installation that, until yesterday, Clark didn't even know existed. No other viable option seemed right. The Chinese may attempt covert operations, but to knock out a facility on American soil was an incident they wouldn't want, especially with another nuclear power. 
 So that left rogue or terrorist groups conducting the act. The group would have to have some level of extreme intelligence. After all, only a few knew of the Pate Installation, and they would need inside knowledge to make the facility go dark so quickly. That eliminated 90 percent of possible candidates, there was no way the Japanese Red Army could gather that sort of coordination, or event the Red Army Faction unless it was heavily supported by Soviet special operations. No major operators from South America were known to have operational capabilities beyond their areas of interest, so there was not an option from that region. That would leave only the possibility of a new group rising, likely an accumulation of special operations from the Soviets, if not directly backed by them, maybe with resources within the United States.
 The Huey bumped again as it pushed its way through the blizzard outside.
Execution: Commander's intent is positive identification of any and all threats to Pate Installation. 
 Task Force Dog will be deployed in two chalks of 10 men. Utilizing the approaching blizzard, Task Force Dog will conduct a low altitude jump in two locations three klicks apart. The northern most team will begin reconnaissance of the outside perimeter with a focus on Named Areas of Interest 1, 3, and 5. The southern most team will move in and infiltrate Pate Installation to continue mission and conduct reconnaissance of Named Areas of Interest 2 and 4. 
 Reports will be conducted every half hour. 
 The extreme trust and dedication to the men and training, even the advanced technology they had at their hands did not change how unusual it was to deploy with only ten soldiers.  A Task Force, no matter how elite wasn't able to secure such a large compound alone. Now there was a caveat for follow on forces, but it never stated who, when, or where, and most importantly how they would come in. They were suppose to just entrust the General had that worked out.
 Clark tapped his headset, he could still hear the electronic wine inside, there just hadn't been any traffic. Clark swung open the fuselage door. Crisp freezing air blasted in, snow clambered in escaping the free fall from above. The weather would have never permitted flying if it wasn't for an actual operation. Even then the hazards of flying were too great unless in the most critical situations. How could this be such a situation?
 There was a cloud break. The other helicopter was visible through a grey blast from the snow. There came a swift streak from afar. The far helicopter lit up in a bright ball of bright white and orange light. A small star under the cover of the storm.
"Where'd that come from?!" A voice screamed over the net. A burning wreckage dropped into the clouds below.
"Go, jump, go!" Clark screamed into his headset as he jumped from the helicopter himself. The freezing cold air whipped at his face. He tried to read the altimeter on his vest. Fog had covered the dial. He looked up. There came a boom. And falling from the sky above him came another flaming wreckage. Clark no longer felt the whip of the air the sting from the cold. He just felt his mouth, open, in a silent scream as he continued to fall.
 Looking back at his own descent he was washed by the sudden fear that the ground may look as the clouds and his fall would end in a sudden dramatic stop. He could go crashing into the ground and never even know he was looking at the ground. He took a chance, he pulled his rip cord. There was a moment of shock and he was yanked up violently. His parachute deployed, the white canopy above whistled with air as it fully opened. He looked back down between his feet and saw green fins growing rapidly larger.
 "Shit..." Clark yanked hard on the steering toggle, pulling right too late, he slapped the top of the first tree, then slammed into the next trunk. He felt the tugs at his cords as his chute began to make contact as well. Snow and pine clattered down on him. Bark sank into his white snow uniform. Branches scratched at Clark's face, tugged at his body, banged his knees, and elbows. He began to free fall now, his chute tattered, and hung up. He swung around. Slammed a trunk. Something fell. He was pulled back by the cords. More pine in his face. His back smacked a branch. Something above snapped. He was sliding down through pines again, faster. He flailed his hands down in front of him, kicking his legs out away from under him.
 He plummeted into a sudden cold stop.
 There was coldness, a chill that worsened and numbed. The darkness felt warm, and enticing. Clark found himself thinking back to being a child.
 He had grown up with a single mother. His father had been alive when he was too young to remember. Men in uniform always came to talk to him and his mother. But it was his alone time with his mother he loved. She was an older mother compared to others, not that there were many for him to compare her to. But the grey took its time touching her hair, it remained a lively black that accented her eyes well. The smell of wet dew on the morning grass as his mother brewed more ice tea for the hot afternoons. The way she would pat his shoulder in love and appreciation. A pat at the baseball game. A pat after school. A pat for good grades.
A pat.
Pat.
 Clark's eyes fluttered open. Snow obscured most of his vision. A chill had sank to his bones. A numbness had settled across the right sight of his face. Snow had rallied across his face and body.
"Captain, you alright?" Another pat came to his shoulder. Clark pressed himself up, first to his knees where he waited for a second, and then up to his feet.
"Yeah, yeah just took a hard fall."
"That's the understatement of the year, you took a nose dive off the ugly tree and hit every tree on the way down."
"Yeah? How do I look?"
"As ugly as before." Randal Sparrow's bearded face was coated with snow and ice already with his pure teeth almost blending in.  Clark couldn't stop from smiling which he tried to hide back as he began to push up to his feet. Randal was Clark's communication expert, a sergeant, but invaluable for his experience with various different equipment and ensuring constant communication with headquarters, more so than the rest of the squad was.
"Were there any others?"
 There was a pause with Randal that Clark disliked more than he should have. "I don't know. I only saw one other chute. I couldn't see much in the weather though."
 Clark looked off through the snow fall that was becoming more aggressive.
 "They'll be coming for us, we need to move." Clark unclasped his M4 from his side. Randal kept his at the low ready. Both were fit with large suppressors, despite being specialized soldiers, their optics were basic, 2x zoom optics with the iron sights still accessible due to the extreme environment. It was fortunate that Randal had made it, and Clark almost found it to be cosmic luck that the communication and signal expert had made it. "Have you tried to raise higher yet?"
 "No, I didn't want to risk my signal being picked up too close to the crash site. I'll try once we are in the clear."
 "Agreed, let's move." Clark took the first step. His body was sore from the thrashing he had taken on his way down. Randal didn't keep a space between them as they moved.
 "Doesn't that missile bother you?"
 "That they had to have known we were coming?"
 "That it came out of the sky, it was air to air."
 "You can't be sure of that, the weather concealed it's origins."
 "I know I saw a flash, that was air to air."  
 Clark's hand flew up in a fist. Solid, stationary, it stayed there, and both stayed motionless. The hand signal to freeze, something had caught Clark's eye. The heavy ice fog swirled clumsily between the heavy trees. The thick outline of a soldier broke the fog. The figure moved cautiously, sweeping left and right, scanning the area. There came another stepping out from the blind of fog. Both Clark and Randal went down into the snow.
 The two crawled up, edging up to see the intruders. There were four they could count. Moving, slowly, scanning the area and terrain. Heavy military arctic uniforms created bulky outlines that blended easily with the environment.
 "They look American." Randal said in such a hushed whisper, Clark mistook it for his own thoughts Their gear was American, at least it appeared to be. The only random part to the soldiers they observed was their weaponry was not American, it wasn't anything they had seen. It was thick, boxy, it looked like it fitted better in a child's sci-fi comic than in the hands of an actual soldier.
 "I think we should assume they're hostile."
 "That'd be smart." Came Randal's response, an all too common 'Randal' response to whatever he saw as obvious.
 Clark began to scoot back when Randal's hand stopped him. He looked back out at the soldiers. There were more spread out.
 "There has to be at least a platoon out there."
 "Likely more, we need to start moving."
 They both back up, sliding gently along a crest to put crest between them and soldiers. Clark looked up, there fog had made it impossible to see past the half way mark of the trees. That would be useful, but the fresh snow on the ground created a straight line to wherever they went. They needed to get onto solid ground, lose their trail.
 "We need to get higher, onto to rock. Near the compound I recall there being steep inclines on the south east." He hoped the combination of the terrain and vegetation would be advantageous. He hoped. "We need to head North to reach the southern side."
 They both were already moving. A path, perhaps a game trail during summer allowed quick descent along the trees. More figures appeared, cutting out their evasion route. They both darted off to the right, tumbling down  and sliding in the snow. The soldiers had appeared along the trail out of the snow's fog like ghosts just materializing into solid matter.
 Clark hated giving up the high ground, but they were forced with going down a draw further to avoid the two enveloping patrols.
 Thick brushes, barren from the cold closed in on them as they followed their ever steepening path. The brush pulled and yanked at their clothing, catching at their gear, and snapping under their movement. The foot of the hill leveled off, and there stood a patrol heading straight up towards them. They both crouched down behind the thick wiry shrubbery.
 "Where the hell are they coming from?" Randal hissed. The ice fog did play with their eyes, the soldiers seemed to just materialize before them each time.
 "The weather gave them concealment to move in on the crash sites." Clark and Randal both leaned forward to observe the soldiers below.  They now had two patrols closing in on their backs, and third coming up directly in front of them. Clark couldn't help but feel it was far too coordinated.
 Movement caught Clark's eye. Is that a goddamn wolf? his mind spun. Just within eye sight was a dog along the ridge to his left. The pattern and mannerism made him think wolf, but it was far too small to be a wolf, big, but not a wolf. It looked right at him before turning and skirting around the ridge.  Looking over, Randal had not seen the dog. He nudged at Randal.
 "We'll follow that ridge." Randal literally chewed his cheek as he chewed the thought.
 "That'd be smart."  Clark wondered if Randal would think that if he knew he had based the route off seeing the dog take it. But the animal had clearly been skittish, and also trying to escape, there had to be a way to evade the patrols.
 The incline was steep, but they hurried along the ridge anyways. The snow became thinner as they rounded the ridge. Moving fast, Clark tried to see where the dog had gone with the prints, but the snow was getting thinner and thinner. The ridge became rocky, and ice lined the rocks. The dog had gone north, and up back on top of an adjacent hill. Clark followed the suspected path of the dog, and in turn Randal followed Clark close by.
 The prints were becoming harder and harder to follow as the rocks took over and the trees grew thicker where they went.
 Randal yanked on Clark's arm. He hadn't noticed, too concerned about following trails to see along the far ridge was another, smaller patrol. Three moved along the top ridge, moving away from them, but had he kept moving, they would have been spotted immediately.
 "Damn ghost army moving around us." Randal said giving Clark a firm pat on his back to begin moving again.
 Clark looked up the incline and caught the tail end movement of the dog again, slinking between the rocks and over the top of the hill under the cover of the trees. Clark followed the evasive animal's trail.
 As they came to the top, Clark went to a crawl trying to prevent silhouetting himself as he came to the top. The dog had take a sharp right along the rocks behind the patrol they had just seen. Another patrol moved along the ridge to their left, an entire fireteam.
 Clark scrambled up, going higher. The trees dispersed around them, becoming more distant between each interval. The dog was no where to be seen now. The patrols grew farther away. Clark and Randal reached the cusp of a peak, the rocks were jagged, and n trees gathered here. The ice fog had cleared in the valley opposite. Below, they could see the Pate Installation.
 Randal's breath was heavy, and ragged from the steep climb up. Large plumes of breath came from him.
 "What exactly what this place again?"
 "Research and disposal facility."
 "That's a big-ass disposal facility." Clark thought so too, too big.
 "Try and reach higher."
 "That'd be smart."