This Power cut scene comes from the second half of the book. It occurs well after the first cut scene. In this one, Zita and friends are traveling. It’s not going as smoothly as they might hope.
Pieces of it appear elsewhere. Be gentle; it’s a first draft, so my editor has never seen it.
Power will be available May 5, 2018.
One day later, Zita stared out the back of a tiny Jeep, a piece of military surplus based on the poorly repaired bullet hole near her padding-free seat. She watched terrain inch by, one hand gripping a roll bar as the battered old vehicle bumped and shuddered and whined its way toward a higher elevation. Andy sat very still beside her, masked and silent, his hands clasped tight in his lap and backpacks pinning both his and Zita’s legs. Up front, Wyn laughed, balanced a GPS in her lap, and told jokes with Jerome, who drove.
So slowly that Zita had been fighting the urge for several miles to jump out of the car and jog on ahead. Little more than a one-lane pitted track in the mud, the road wound sluggishly up the base of the tepui. The high straight walls of the tepui rose overhead, reddish sandstone striations peeking out where the dark discoloration of wear and horizontal streaks of green clung grimly to the heights. Drifting mists of thick white and cranky gray clouds hid everything above a certain point, teasing her, and never delivering on a solid view of the top it crowned.
That’d be one sweet climb, she thought, though I doubt any of the others would be up for it, even if we had the time.
Even now, she angled her head out of the side of the Jeep so that the moist wind could caress her face and confirm that they actually crept forward. It also helped her avoid overdosing on the scents in the Jeep: sweat, frustration, DEET, exhaust, and the overpowering eucalyptus of Wyn’s homemade mosquito repellent.
Everywhere the side of the mountain permitted, the tropical rainforest was a brilliant spill of a million shades of color. Tall trees shot upward, supported by thick buttresses of roots, the bark covered by layers of smaller plants. Mosses, lichens, and other epiphytes hid the original colors of the trunks beneath their fuzzy green blanket. Brown leafy detritus on the ground only peeked through gaps in ferns, and flowers and fungi interrupted the endless green with splashes of brilliant red, purple, and yellow. Her mouth watered as she caught a whiff of the chocolate and pineapple of a cupuaçu. Animals peeked out, some shyer than others as they passed, and the distant songs of birds and screeching belches of howler monkeys reminded her that they weren’t alone.
“Hey, do you think that’s worth stopping at?” asked Jerome, pointing at a small wooden sign with neatly printed letters. He slowed the vehicle from a crawl to a pace that would have made most snails sneer in disdain.
“If I understand this GPS right, that’s the right direction for the coordinates that were on the professor’s grant application.” Wyn lifted the GPS and poked at a button with a dainty finger.
Jerome steered the tiny rental that direction. “Hope we’re getting close, that last gas station gave us the runaround, and this isn’t nearly as much fun as the movies made it seem.” He grumbled under his breath again about the car.
Having told him once that his aspirations of renting a Hummer with all the options was unrealistic, Zita forbore from mentioning that they were lucky to have found a rental at all, given how far from the cities they were. To be honest, she was thrilled to spend time in the wilds of Brazil, but the others had been less enthused when they had looked up the coordinates. Based on the hand-lettered wood, she mused, the clinic lacks either government or criminal support. In either case, the sign would have been metal, official or otherwise. A medical clinic in the middle of nowhere would have been closed and looted shortly after opening without someone supporting it. “They might know. A medical clinic around here should be plugged into the community since it’s the only care for miles. worse comes to worst, we’ll find an empty building, probably overrun with plants, insects, or squatters. Who knows?” Hope bloomed at another thought. “We should check it out. Even if they’re gone, it’d be a good time for us to switch drivers. I’ll take over. You must be tired, and I’m familiar with driving in South America.” Plus I can actually read any signage, if any appears, and we’ll arrive before we all die of old age and boredom. I can practically hear arthritis creeping in. She flexed her shoulders and hands and squirmed in her seat.
“No. Anyone other than you can drive,” Wyn said. She didn’t even glance up from the GPS.
Jerome declared, “My rental, I drive. I don’t need a rest, though it’d be nice to take a short break from trying to keep on these deer trails.”
“It’s not a deer trail. It was probably originally a road to an illegal mining camp. And I’m an excellent driver. Don’t you remember how well I did when those men were chasing us?” Zita clucked her tongue at Wyn, careful not to inhale too deeply and get another lungful of the choking cloud of eucalyptus scent.
Wyn’s shudder was visible even from the back seat, and her tone was dry when she replied. “That would be why you will not be allowed a turn behind the wheel.”
Jerome snorted. “I’m not letting anyone else drive, especially someone who’s channeling their inner hound dog. Girl, if your tongue comes out and starts flapping in the breeze, I’m going to buy you a collar with a dog tags and engrave Fluffy on it.” He and Wyn both chuckled.
Beside Zita, a small smile touched Andy’s lips before it faded.
“Haters, all of you,” Zita said, though she did not pull her head back in, instead just making a face at the side view mirrors.
“I saw that,” Jerome said.
She rolled her eyes. “I meant you to. Seriously, though, we should go to the medical clinic. If they’re still there, they should know at least a little about everyone in the area. The next town isn’t for miles and any villages not on the map might be no-contact ones and not have the right immunizations to mingle with outsiders.”
Her comments seem to wake Andy from his sulky self-absorption. “Why not?”
Zita sighed. “We’re in—or at least started out in—Roraima, one of the northern Brazilian states. Probably half of that area is national park or indigenous reserves, like the reservations in Arizona in the US. Any temple somebody wanted an archeological expedition to find would probably be in or near those untouched areas since I doubt they’d be digging in a city.”
That got Andy’s attention, and he frowned. “We’re trespassing on someone’s res?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, but it’s possible. This mountain’s not on the map. Wherever we are, it isn’t Monte Roraima, but it’s close enough that we may have gone over a boundary without knowing it into a reserve or park or even another country. If the clinic can point us where we need to go, we can get off their lands faster.”
The old vehicle groaned as Jerome turned it to struggle up another forgotten road. “Right, then,” Jerome said, “Stick your head back in, Arca, and let’s go see some doctors.”
Wyn nodded. “Maybe we’ll get the GPS working again there.”
Zita snorted and kept her head where it was. “Pray for a miracle, but don’t count on it.”
“You know what would be a miracle? These mosquitoes leaving me alone.” Wyn slapped her arm and scratched. “My spray isn’t as effective as I hoped. I’ll have to make it stronger.”
“It cleared my sinuses for the next year. Any stronger and we’ll all be dropping like flies,” Zita muttered.
Her friend twisted around to glare at her, eyes narrowed. “What was that?”
Eyes wide, Zita plastered on a smile. “Nothing, nothing at all.” She tried to think of a distraction.
The guys were suspiciously silent.
Clacking sounded from the vehicle, followed by a rhythmic click, then a loud hiss filled the air. The Jeep jerked sideways, veering off the road and stopping only when it slammed into a sapling. Thanks to their low speed, however, the impact with the tree barely jolted the occupants.
Unfastening her seat belt, Zita jumped from the now-tilted vehicle and surveyed it. “Everyone okay? Blew the tire,” she announced, stretching her arms while she had the chance. .
Jerome lowered his head to the steering wheel.
“AAA doesn’t come out here, does it?” Wyn fretted.
Zita shrugged. “No big, we push it back onto the road, change the tire, and keep going. Pull out the tree, and black nail polish should hide the scratches in the grill just fine. Might have to have someone hold it still, though, so it doesn’t slide back down while we’re doing it.” When she went around to the back and pulled off the cover on the spare, she stared at a wooden circle, cut in the shape of a tire.
“That’s not a happy face,” Jerome said, frowning at her.
Dismounting from his side of the car, Andy came to Zita’s side and stopped. “Spare’s missing,” he said.
Jerome’s head thudded as he hit it on the steering wheel.
Wyn made an unhappy sound, her eyes on the muddy gravel road twisting upward. “It’s been hours since we passed anything else. We have to walk to the medical clinic now and wait for a tow truck?”
“Or, someone could push the Jeep there.” Zita looked at Andy.
He groaned. “I hate my life.”