As the Earth readies itself for war with the invading Albegensi, Navajo Andrea Talltrees travels to the Thieves Quarter to hire halfbreed smuggler Sinbad sh'en Singh to find her fugitive-from-justice husband. When they meet, however, it's an immediate clash of cultures as well as personalities--plus a heavy dose of instant attraction! Refusing to admit that he has fallen in love with a hated Terran, Sinbad reluctantly takes Andi on a journey that will carry them halfway across the galaxy, where the part-feline smuggler will call on some old friends for help and face one deadly enemy with an old score to settle. In their search for Andi's husband, they'll uncover a secret invasion that threatens to destroy the war-torn Terran Federation, and will learn that it doesn't matter how long a person loves but simply that he does love.
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Double Dragon Publishing
September 30, 2008
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Excerpt from Sinbad's Last Voyage by Toni V Sweeney
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."
She sat at the table while he put the kettle on to boil. Luckily, Cash had stoked the cast-iron stove earlier, and it was still hot. George added another log and turned to look at Andi. She was pale, as dazed as someone abandoned, and he didn't like it. The Andi he knew was a feisty little thing, who could lick all of her 110 pounds in wildcats, and took no guff from anyone. This docile, apathetic creature was totally unlike her. She was in shock, he decided. Turning back to the table, he pulled out a chair and sat down.
"What will you do, Andi?" he asked, thinking frantically of something to say, anything to get her talking and take that lost look from her face.
"Do? I..." She looked across the table at him. "George, I don't know. What can I do?" She made a vague gesture with one hand. "If I knew where Tran was taken, maybe I could petition the local headquarters, get affidavits from our neighbors saying he's no spy, somehow get him released, but I don't even know where he is."
George had a good idea where Tran was, but he hated to tell her. He also knew she had little chance of freeing her husband on the strength of some names written on a paper, even if she was lucky enough to find anyone unafraid of signing it. Only two times in the past 300 years had the United Terran Federation relinquished a prisoner because of public demand.
"He's probably been taken to an intern camp, and if that's so, you may never see him again. Those places are deadly, Andi."
"An intern camp? Oh, George, I never thought that something like that existed, not on Earth." Her voice rose, becoming shrill. "Things like this just don't happen, not here, not now! This isn't the twenty-first century. They can't just come in and take a man away like..."
One hand went to her mouth, stifling whatever she had been going to say. She shook her head and closed her eyes. George didn't argue. He just nodded in sad agreement, and they both sat in silence for a long time.
Even after four world wars and two interplanetary ones, many people had no idea what happened to alien nationals during wartime, and many didn't want to know. There were four internment camps, and only the Federation Marshals knew where they were. George had had the misfortune to be a guard at a camp during an earlier war. The memory of the things he had seen made him take refuge in the Valley when his enlistment was over. It had been years before he ventured from its safety again.
How could he help Tran? He was just an old Navajo. Though chosen hataalii to his people, to those Outside, he was simply an anachronism...like the Naturals themselves. What could he possibly do?
With sudden surprise, he knew. It had been hovering in his mind since he heard of Tran's arrest, but would Andi accept it? Did he want her to accept it? He looked over at her.
"Andi, if Tran is in one of those camps, I...may...know someone who can help you. He could find out which one so you'd know who to get in touch with."
He tried to sound optimistic, and failed, his own doubt preventing him. It didn't matter who she wrote or went to see. The UTF didn't give up political prisoners, but at least it would keep her from feeling so helpless.
"Who?" She looked up eagerly.
"S-Sinbad?" An uncertain smile hovered at the corners of her mouth, as if he'd made a joke she didn't quite understand. She stared at him. "But that's just a fairytale. A story you used to tell me when I was little. Sinbad isn't a real person."
"Oh, this one's real enough," George assured her. "He's Felidan, a smuggler--has his headquarters in Old Town."
"George! Where did you meet a smuggler?" Her smile was real this time. "Is there a side to you we don't know about?"
He shook his head and returned her smile. "Some of the natives of Felida have the Eyes-that-Seek-the-Spirit. When I heard there was a Felidan in Old Town, I went to see if he had the gift. It would've been a great help to me in ministering to our people."
"No." He shook his head again. "He's a half-breed. His genetic heritage had diluted what little ability there was, but we kept in touch. I patched him up a couple of times when he got too close to the Coast Guard and needed a medic who'd keep quiet." At Andi's disapproving reaction to this statement, he shrugged and tried to look nonchalant. "In a way, he's a friend."
She was thoroughly attentive now. "And you think this...Sinbad...could help me? Why would he?"
"He was in a prison camp once. If he can do anything to thwart the UTF, he will. He..."
The teakettle's high, shrill whistle was a welcome interruption. George stood up and quickly poured water into two cups, adding spoonfuls of herb tea and sweetener. Then, he brought the cups to the table with a flourish.
"Here you are, blackberry tea with honey. Just the way you like it."
Andi took the cup, sipping slowly, savoring the taste. When she was small and something went wrong-whether it was a skinned knee or bad grades in school-George always made it better with blackberry tea.
"You're so good to me, George. I think you're the best friend I have."
He looked down at his cup. Praise always discomfited George. He stirred his tea with great attention. Andi took another sip. She looked better, he thought. There was more life in her eyes...and hope, too, but he was sorry his words had put it there. Abruptly, she set down her cup.
"Where can I find this Sinbad?"
George continued to stir his tea. Now, he was having second thoughts. It was dangerous to seek out a known criminal, especially for the purposes of obtaining classified information. He was urging Andi toward treason, and if she were caught--
"I heard you. Uh--just forget what I said."
"Forget it?" She looked surprised. "But, George, if he can help...I mean, you said he doesn't like the Federation..."
Her voice trailed away at the look of concern he turned toward her.
"He doesn't. But he dislikes Terrans even more." He reached across the table and placed a hand over hers. "He's dangerous, Andi. He's a criminal, and...I-I'm sorry I mentioned it. I don't want you to have anything to do with Sinbad sh'en Singh."
Gently, she withdrew her hand from beneath his. He knew by the stubborn tilt of her chin that she'd made up her mind, and nothing he could say or do would change it. George's heart sank.
"Where can I find him, George?" she asked quietly.