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Indian George kicked the big sorrel into a grudging gallop. The animal was old and fat and didn't like to run, much less travel along a mud-rutted dirt road. A slow, drag-hoofed amble was its preferred speed. He should have taken the Jeep . It was rusty and antiquated, but it would have gotten him to his destination quicker. Like most Naturals, however, George never used the vehicle if he could keep from doing so.
The Jeep was for long distances and emergencies, and while this was an emergency, the Talltrees' farm was next door to his and the sorrel could take the road much easier than an ancient contraption like George's automobile, with its primitive internal combustion engine. Its wheels-that actually touched the ground-would hit every pothole and dip in sight.
He gave the sorrel's withers a slap with his hand. "Git, you nag! Or it's the processing plant for you."
The sorrel didn't move a bit faster, as if aware that horses were an Endangered Domestic Species and knew it was totally safe.
Only an hour earlier, George had heard of Tran's arrest. In the three days since an Albegensian warship had fired upon a Terran deep-space freighter, blasting it to micro-particles with all hands on board, all Albegensi in Earth residence were being taken into custody and detained for questioning in accordance with Standard Procedure in times of Global Martial Emergency . Tran had been one of the unfortunates.
George was old enough to have lived through two wars between Earth and its neighbors and he was aware of what might happen to Tran now, and he knew none of it would be pleasant. At the moment,however, his concern was for the welfare of Tran's wife and son who were alone at the farm.
He turned the sorrel's head, guiding it through the gate, and pulled it to a stiff-legged and grateful halt in front of the house. The animal snorted and stretched its neck against the reins, attempting to reach the short grass growing in the front yard, to make up for the meal it had been forced to miss by taking its owner on this sudden trip.
The Talltrees' home was a small wooden building, every plank and nail placed by hand over 100 years before by Ramon Talltrees, great-grandfather of Tran's wife, Andrea. Like the other inhabitants of the Valley, Ramon had been a Natural, choosing to live as his ancestors had centuries before, with as few contemporary conveniences-and their accompanying pollution-as possible.
On the top step of the porch sat a boy, arms resting against his knees. He was slim and dark. At first glance, he might have been mistaken for one of George's people, but the blue-black sheen to his braided hair as well as the slight slant to his brown eyes marked him as Albegensi-Tran's 14-year-old son, Acashi, suddenly finding himself head of the house and in charge of the farm. He didn't look up as George scrambled off the sorrel's back and dropped the reins, but stared listlessly across the field beyond the fence.
Leaving the sorrel munching on Andrea's daisies, George looked up at the boy. "Cash?"
He had to call twice before Cash turned from his contemplation of the field. There was a hopelessness in the young face that made the old man want to cry.
"Where's your mother?"
"She's inside," the boy said, gesturing behind him. As George started up the steps, he reached out and caught the old man's arm. "I'm worried about her. She hasn't eaten since they took Dad away." He was holding an oak leaf, and began to shred it into strips as he spoke. "She just sits there. I practically had to carry her upstairs to sleep." He threw the pieces of leaf to the ground and looked across the field again, tears in the voice but they wouldn't show in the eyes. Tran's son wouldn't allow that. "I-I'm scared. I've lost Dad--I don't want to lose her, too."
The old man patted the boy's shoulder and went through the front door. Though the Naturals' teachings allowed the use of electricity, it was not the solar power utilized by the rest of the world, but the hydroelectric kind supplied by a small generating plant set on the falls of the river that wandered through the Valley. Fuel lamps were the usual mode of illumination, although no one had turned on the lights. It was so dim inside George thought the room was empty. Then, he saw Andi, sitting beside the fireplace.
The room was cold for an April day, but no fire had been laid. She was in the old rocker-handmade, like the rest of the furniture-staring into the emptiness of the hearth. She didn't look up as George came in, didn't even acknowledge his presence. Huddled in the rocker, hands clutched against her chest, she sat blank-eyed, like someone's ancient grandmother. Only one hand moved, twisting her wedding ring around her finger. She was wearing a sweater, a long skirt, and knee-high suede boots-all handmade, all products of the farm. Her hair, thick and honey-yellow, hung in a single braid over one shoulder.
Seeing her tear-stained blondness, George once again marveled that she was mother to the dark-haired, dark-eyed child who sat on the front steps. She looks so young , he thought. Like Cash's older sister, not his mother.
She didn't move, but when he got nearer, she spoke in a low monotone.
"They took him away, George. Arrested him on 'suspicion'-what does that mean? Suspicion of what ?" When she looked at the old Navajo, her eyes were bleak with despair, lashes wet with the tears that Cash wouldn't shed. "How could they think Tran's a spy? It's preposterous!" She shook her head and turned to stare at the hearth again.
"Come on." George put his arms around her, pulling her to her feet.
"Where are we going?" she asked, mildly protesting being moved, and clutched at his hands for support.
"To the kitchen." He steered her through the open doorway at the back of the room and pushed her toward the trestle table. "Cash says you haven't eaten. That isn't going to do anyone any good."
Copyright © 2007 Toni V. Sweeney.