Chapter One

Their ears had been popping for the past hour. Over the chugging of the engines, Robert tried to stay focused on his book as their train labored toward the pass. Beside him, Sophie pressed her face against the glass, watching the mountain scrubland.

"It's taking forever," she said.

To Robert's way of thinking, that wasn't such a bad thing. Although there was nothing involuntary about this journey, it was more a choice among several bad options than any true longing for home that had caused him to uproot his daughter from the only life she had ever known and bring her to a place of uncertainty.

"How will we know when we've reached the top?"

"The train will level off and then start going down."

Sophie gave him a look. It was her mother's look— wide brown eyes that refused to be fooled. She had little patience for the pat, patronizing answers typically offered to children.

"I read that there used to be a sign," Robert said. "But that was before the Resource Wars."

The girl nodded wisely. "Someone probably stole it by now."

"We'll pick up speed on the other side. That's how we'll know we've crossed."

"And then we'll be in the USS."

"Yes." Robert bent his head over his book. It hadn't been called the United States of the Southwest when he left fifteen years ago, although the unoriginal name had been proposed. The civil war was still going on then. Had he stayed, he would have likely had some influence on the final name and constitution of his homeland. United States of the Southwest, indeed.

Sophie returned to gazing out the window, her body tense with curiosity and anticipation. Everything about this country would be new for her: the deserts so different from the green hills of Kentucky, the people with their remnants of ancient Spanish language and culture, and the spicy food that compared to nothing in what was left of the United States.

Robert would be glad to have some proper food, at least. The bland fare of Kentucky hadn't suited his Southwestern tastes, and although his wife would sometimes get a care package of chiles from home, they never lasted long. Right now, a bowl of posole would hit the spot.

"I think this is it," Sophie said.

He looked out the window indulgently. "Yes, we're up pretty high, even though it doesn't look like it."

"How much longer before we're in Mouse?"

Robert smiled. He had been teaching Sophie Spanish during this trip, in preparation for the bilingual culture she would soon be a part of. She had translated the town name of Raton and now refused to call it anything but Mouse. "Half an hour at the most. Probably less than that."

"Good. I want to check on Bandera."

"I don't know if we'll have enough time for you to go through customs, eat, and check on your horse," he cautioned.

"I don't need to eat. I've still got half a sandwich in my bag," Sophie pointed out.

"You must be hungrier than that. You hardly ate at all in Trinidad."

The girl shrugged. "It's more important to see Bandera. She needs to know she's safe."

Robert suppressed a sigh. All ten year old girls were horse-crazy, but Sophie was a particularly hopeless case. In that regard she was just like Diana, her mother. Although he had never doubted Diana's love for him after the day he set foot on Northwind Farm, horses had always come first with her.

He wouldn't have had it any other way.

"Stay close when we get there. I don't know how they'll have things set up, but it shouldn't take long to go through customs, since we're citizens."

"What was it like last time?"

"I don't know. I was leaving, not coming. I went through customs in the United States, in Trinidad."

"Oh. Right."  Sophie turned her attention back to the landscape outside her window as the train picked up speed. "I just hope they're fast, and that they let me see Bandera."

"Priorities," Robert said, and he didn't mean a child's priorities, but the priorities that Diana would've had, now spoken by their daughter as she saw her homeland for the first time.


  1. My mother was the same kind of horse crazy. I think she's just being practical. Horses do need a bit of reassurance now and then.

    I'm looking forward to this one.

    1. At least at the beginning I'll be posting Sundays and Wednesdays. Once I have enough posts to get carried by a serial website, I'll probably drop back to once a week. Then again, this really isn't the sort of novel that would speak to anyone who doesn't already know the original characters or story. It's very much about father-daughter relationships and about Robert's journey. And Robert is a pretty unlikely hero.

  2. Don't you specialize in unlikely heroes?