As I come to the end of my first revision, I figured I’d share a bit more of Topaz. I can’t deny that I’ve devoted all of my free time to moving it to the next phase since finishing with the first draft, obviously taking away from my contributions to this blog. The need to get this book into the hands of those who will give me my final content review is all I can think about. I don’t think I’ve had a night away from it in over a month.
The following excerpt follows Jake and Vicky out of The City of Topaz to the ruins that lay beyond in search of the elusive engineers who designed and built the city.
The creepy silence that pervaded the village had them more on edge than they likely would have been if a bustle of people had been walking around. Although at first glance the placed appeared abandoned, neither of them could accept that as the truth. For starters, the clearing it was built within wasn’t even close to being as overgrown as the dirt road outside. Far from it, these roads actually appeared freshly-walked. The palm fronds that thatched the roofs of the dozen or so stone huts that lined the dirt avenue were very well maintained, and going by the vases of freshly-picked flowers that appeared in a few of the single windows that had been built into the front of the huts, there was no denying that the place was settled.
So where was everyone?
They’re hiding from us, Jake thought. An ambush could be coming at any second.
“Hello?!” Jake yelled, catching Vicky off guard and startling her mildly. He mouthed a sorry to her before continuing. “Please, we aren’t a threat to you. We were shipwrecked here and just want to get home!”
Silence. Not a single verbal response or snapping of a twig in the surrounding bushes.
“Perhaps they’re out,” Vicky suggested. She had intended it as a joke, but the more she thought about it, the more it sounded like a logical explanation. That, or they were waiting to jump out and gun them down with electric-green bullets.
“Either that or they’re trying to get a good read on us before making the decision to pull the trigger,” he said.
They moved beyond the opening in the wall and into the village. To their left and right the trees thinned out, revealing many more dwellings than they had initially been able to see. Interspersed throughout the palms and other tropical plants were larger buildings, some two stories tall and sporting multiple open windows. As far as they could tell, none of the windows provided any kind of real barrier from the outside (there was no glass), but rather acted as a portal for natural light and fresh air.
Though the majority of the larger buildings were far more impressive than the smaller ones that dotted the roadside, they were still built of the same stone blocks and were either rectangular or square in shape. Not quite the architectural wonder that Topaz was, but it was obvious that this place had been built by the honest hands of actual human beings and not the automated slaves of a computer system.
Jake squinted against the sun, which was now climbing high into the sky. Bringing his hand up to shade his eyes, he gauged just how deep the ruins went into the forest to their right. Buildings of varying size, some appearing to be dwellings and others intended for broader, common use, popped up here and there for what he gauged to be at least half a mile, enshrouded by the palm forest that they had been built within. They were all built from stone and thatched with palm fronds, reminding Jake of the structures he had seen in pictures of Aztec and Mayan ruins and conceptual recreations of such societies at their peak. They weren’t exactly the same, but the tropical locale lent a lot to the impression.
“Maybe they have moved on as Edna speculated,” Jake said, “but if they did, it happened recently.” He half expected to look around and see pies cooling beside the fresh flowers he had observed on the windowsills.
“That’s bad for us in more ways than one,” Vicky responded. “No way home.”
A finger came up to Jake’s lips as he silently shushed her. She understood what he was getting at even before the gesture was made. Even as she was finishing her sentence. There was no telling whether or not anyone was eavesdropping on their conversation. Just because they were surrounded by stone buildings that may as well have been occupied by loincloth-clad natives, didn’t necessarily mean that the area wasn’t rife with similar tech to that found in the neighboring city.
“Let’s move deeper in,” Jake suggested, “just to be absolutely certain.”
Vicky nodded, watching as he once again tightened the straps on his backpack before turning right and leading them off of the road and into the forest. They moved deliberately slow, with a great deal of caution. Not once did they allow themselves to relinquish their guarded approach, no matter how obvious it seemed that the area had been left behind.
Deeper and deeper into the forest they moved. There was no road system of any kind linking the various buildings they passed around and between, just a series of narrow dirt pathways that ran up to one open doorway and then on to the next. Jake allowed himself a peek through the window of one of the smaller dwellings, finding nothing more than a fireplace, two person table with chairs, and a simple feather mattress with pillows laid upon a dirt floor. None of it looked as though it had been used any less than a day or so prior. Fresh black coal surrounded by gray ash sat in the fireplace. The bedding was fresh and unstained. On top of the table were two plates, one on each side, set with matching silverware and ready for that day’s lunch or dinner.
There was silverware. Real silverware.
They continued further along, following a path that lead up to what appeared to be the largest of the stone buildings in the village. It was two stories tall, and its façade looked to be about sixty or seventy feet in length. Rectangular windows had been built into it on both stories, spaced every four or five feet. In all there were ten of them on each floor. There was a single open doorway without a door of any kind built into it. Given how thick the woods seemed to grow in behind and around it, it was likely that it marked the edge of the village.
“We should at least check out one of these larger buildings before we turn back,” Jake said as they grew to within twenty feet or so of the dwelling and reached a split in the dirt path they had been following. One side of the fork led directly up to the doorway of the building while the other extended off to the left and through the thick woods to what he imagined to be another, intentionally isolated part of the village.
“About ready to give up, huh?” Vicky asked playfully. Truth be told, unless they were going to investigate the similar grouping of buildings that extended out to the left of the dirt avenue they had followed in, she really didn’t see much else they could do either.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said with a smile, “I was just teasing you.”
He nodded and took a step toward the building when the sound of what appeared to be a cow mooing reached their ears. They stopped dead in their tracks and looked around the canopied clearing for the origin of the noise. From the left of the large building, emanating from the wooded trail that branched off from it, a series of additional moos sounded off almost simultaneously.
Jake looked to Vicky, who shrugged and motioned for him to move down the trail for a look. He looked back to the large building and made a mental note to return for further investigation, then he turned and began to make his way down the pathway to the forest trail. Vicky followed closely behind.
The path through the dense vegetation was cut like a perfect tunnel. Jake had to stop a couple of times just to appreciate the dome-like curvature that the hanging branches had been cut into. It only worked at certain head-on angles, but it brought pause with each glimpse. The sides of the pathway were cut vertically, straight down from the curved top to the dirt path below. No more than seventy feet ahead, bright sunlight could be seen like the light at the end of some ethereal tunnel.
When they reached the end and stepped out into the wide open, grassy pasture that the pathway opened upon, the moos heard by their ears were confirmed to be exactly that. At least three dozen brown and white cows grazed about. By Jake’s estimation, at least a third of them had calves walking close by, foraging off of the grass beneath them.
“Wild cows?” Vicky asked.
Jake’s eyes moved to the half shack that stood at the left side of the pasture about two hundred feet from where they had emerged. From what he could see it was built of three walls, all made of thick, crudely-cut wood, with the one facing the grassland wide open. A palm-thatched roof ran down at an angle from the open front to the rear wall. Inside, a whole manner of reflective equipment could be seen glistening back at them in the sun.
“I don’t think so,” Jake said, immediately leading her through the herd and over to the small building. As they passed by the grazing animals they were barely regarded. Only a few curious calves took notice of them, a couple offering their own high-pitched moos as a greeting.
The closer they grew to the shack, the more obvious it became that Jake’s initial assessment of it was correct. Hanging from a thick beam that ran along the very edge of the roof was an entire side of cut, skinned beef so fresh that it was still blood-red and dripping into the soil below. Behind it, along the wall, were the pieces of equipment he had seen reflecting in the sun: hooks, knives and cleavers all used for one purpose.
“There are people here,” Jake said, turning away from the shack and back toward the herd of cows.
“Damn right,” Vicky responded. She eyed the massive cut of meat, ribs and all, hanging from the beam.
“They knew we were coming,” he mused as he thought over in his mind how they might have been tipped off. “There could be cameras or something. Or sensors in the ground.”
“Well, whatever it was, they seem pretty intent on staying hidden as opposed to killing us off. Not quite the picture painted by Edna and her crew,” Vicky said. She gasped as the nose of a stray cow, obviously looking to be fed (or feeling suicidal), brushed up against her back. Side-stepping her way over to where Jake stood, she sighed and shook her head at the large creature.
Jake nodded, walking over to the cow and rubbing it between the eyes. “It would certainly seem that way. I’d still like to get a look at that building back at the edge of the woods.”
“Well, let’s get moving then. These things are making me nervous.”