By Scott Harper Editions: ebook, paperback Published November 10th 2012 by Umbral Press Genre: Action/Adventure
Rikki Breitenberg is an archeologist in charge of the first team of American documenters allowed by the Mexican government to explore newly discovered Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. However, shortly after their arrival in Mexico, things go awry. Treacherous jungle, inclement weather and dangerous wildlife are only the beginning.
When Rikki and her team run afoul of members of an ancient cult devoted to the worship of a bloodthirsty god, things take a terrifying turn for the worse. During their struggle for survival, the team makes a startling discovery that may rewrite the whole of human history. Will they survive to bring their amazing find back to civilization?
“ Rikki Breitenberg roughly swiped her left arm across her face, blinking to remove perspiration from her eyes. Clearing the last micro-droplets of sweat away, her vision returned to normal and the green blur she previously saw sharpened into layers upon layers of leaves, fronds, vines and ferns once again.
Her right arm ached with deep fatigue as she hefted the machete and hacked at the crisp foliage. She had done it so many times, Rikki now barely even noticed how easily the well-honed edge of the blade scythed through the stems, branches and woody creepers.
She needed to stop and rest, but refused to give in to her exhaustion in front of her team, Sean especially. She knew any outward indication of her own unease would only serve to trigger another of his seemingly endless rounds of complaints.
Quickly glancing around, she took stock of the others, and tried to gauge how tired each of them was against how she herself was feeling.
Constance Tharpe plodded along, looking as bad as Rikki felt. She slowly lifted her blade and let gravity do most of the work to bring it back down. Like Rikki’s, sweat soaked Constance’s light tan clothing dark. Perspiration ran in steady rivulets down her slim face, and dripped constantly from her jaw and chin. Her long, dark ponytail was plastered down and matted. Constance’s mouth opened slightly as she tried to get more of the supersaturated, humidity-laden air into her lungs.
Rikki knew that her own light brown hair was as tangled and matted as Constance’s. Though excited to be there, as much as she wanted this, part of her couldn’t wait to get back to civilization, take a long, cool shower and then just relax in air conditioned comfort.
Sweat equally drenched Sean Rowden. His short, wiry frame moved very slowly as his brown eyes squinted and blinked against the steady dripping of perspiration into them from his furrowed brow. By the set of his jaw and the frown tugging at the corners of his mouth, Rikki suspected that the man was on the verge of another bout of griping.
Hank Keesee, though as sodden as any of them, still hammered away at the jungle growth with such vigor that Rikki did a double-take. She had to forcibly tear her gaze away from the extremely well-defined musculature that his clothing revealed. Even dripping with sweat, his short, wavy black hair looked perfect to her.
No. Now is not the time. It’s too soon after Walton.
Forcing her focus to Oscar Wiltshire, Rikki saw the tall, thin man’s orange-red hair, tinted dark with moisture. He gasped for breath in the steamy air, even more than Constance. Yet he swung his machete almost as hard as Hank.
Peter Stokely, the final member of the team, looked almost happy as he hacked through the incredibly dense vegetation. Although short, Peter was stocky and in good physical shape; his fitness served him well in the adverse conditions.
Looking beyond her team, Rikki saw Alamar Vargas, their Mexican guide, and his large group of porters, strung out behind them. The Mexicans currently enjoyed respite from the arduous strain of clearing their path while Rikki and her teammates took over the job for a while.
Despite the humidity, heat, buzzing insects and hard labor, the Mexicans appeared to enjoy the excursion.
Turning her attention back to the matted barrier of lush green and rough, woody brown before her, Rikki resumed attacking it with her blade. A whining buzz by her ear reminded her to reapply her insect repellent. With no way of telling what diseases the mosquitoes might be carrying, being bitten by them was high on her list of things to avoid.
Sean eased closer to her side, barely lifting his own machete, as he said, “I can’t believe we’re no further along than this!”
Heaving an annoyed sigh, Rikki barely glanced at him. “None of us expected the delays. That’s why they’re called delays.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t even make it out of Vigia Chico on time,” he reminded her. “We no more than got off the plane when those armed soldiers stopped us and made us unpack everything.”
“I know, Sean. I was there, too.”
She kept trying to forget about the mass of soldiers, with assault rifles, stopping her and her team. They had—as Sean refused to allow her to forget—made them unpack everything they had brought—clothing, survival gear, all of their archeological excavation equipment—and had dogs check over the whole of everything.
They used the excuse “It’s simply a routine check due to the amount of illicit drugs into and out of Mexico.” However, Rikki knew that such trained dogs were fully capable of sniffing out contraband without the need of opening every single packing crate, backpack and duffle bag. She strongly suspected the local authorities conducted the search solely as a show of power.
“They shouldn’t have put us through that,” Sean griped.
“But they did,” Rikki told him. “Can we move past it already and just concentrate on getting to the ruins?”
He took a more powerful swing at a thick vine, but Rikki speculated the attack was driven more by annoyance than any real desire to reach their destination.
“Why did I let you talk me into coming along on this expedition?” he asked her. “Mexico is not turning out like I’d imagined it.”
Constance drew even with Rikki, on Sean’s other side, swinging her long knife into the green mass before them.
“You knew we were going to be trekking into the jungle,” Constance told Sean. “You knew why we were coming down here. You knew we’d be working, not lounging on a beach in Cancun, drinking margaritas.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, sounding almost as if he were about to begin pouting. “But if we keep this up we’ll be half-dead from exhaustion by the time we get there. We’ll be too tired to explore the ruins.”
Peter jabbed Sean in the back with an index finger. “If you don’t shut up, you won’t have to worry about it.”
“Why not?” Sean asked, glancing at the other man.
“Because,” Peter declared, “you’ll be all dead, by my hand, long before we ever reach the site.”
“Both of you please just stop arguing and keep cutting,” Oscar said.
Rikki silently agreed but didn’t want to say anything and risk spurring Sean on. She regretted including Sean as part of the team before they even left the airport in America. Upon landing in Vigia Chico and being confronted by the soldiers and their dogs, Sean’s complaining and nagging went on seemingly non-stop. Now, with no choice but to put up with him, Rikki hoped he ran out of steam soon.
“I trust all the trouble we’re going to will turn out to be worth it,” Hank said.
“It will be,” Rikki quickly told him, eager to latch onto a different subject. “Remember, these ruins were only discovered a few weeks ago by a local farmer. We’re the first American archeologists given permission to check the site. From what I understand, there’s only been a very cursory examination done to the site by Mexican archeologists. We’re really the first team able to actually explore the ruins.”
Her growing excitement at the prospect mirrored in her voice. Not wanting to seem like a little girl on her birthday, she reined herself in, and went quiet.
“I have seen these ruins we are taking you to, señorita,” Alamar, their guide, said from behind them. “They are very…what is the word? Spectacular? You will be pleased when we get there.”
“If we get there, you mean,” Sean grumbled.
Ignoring him, Rikki peeked back at Alamar as the short, muscular man flicked droplets of sweat from his thick black moustache.
“It is a hard trek,” Alamar told Sean, “but well worth it. You will see. As I said, the ruins are spectacular.”
As everyone, Sean included, blessedly, fell silent, Rikki and her team simply concentrated on cutting, clearing the path. “
About the Author & Links:
Scott Harper is the author of more than 30 published short stories and several novels. There has been talk, from several fronts, about turning his fourth novel, “Predators or Prey?”, the first book in his Wendy Markland series, into a live-action project.
Harper graduated from Marysville High School in 1993 and began screenwriting in 2007, after the publication of several short stories and novels, and has worked on projects for James Tucker Productions and 11th Dimension Films. He is currently involved with several projects, covering literature, film and comic books.