Read Hunted [The Flash Gold Chronicles] Online

Authors: Lindsay Buroker

Tags: #fantasy, #short story, #young adult, #steampunk, #ya, #fantasy adventure, #historical fantasy, #bounty hunters, #yukon, #novellas, #ya fantasy, #young adult fantasy, #fantasy novella

Hunted [The Flash Gold Chronicles]

BOOK: Hunted [The Flash Gold Chronicles]
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HUNTED

The Flash Gold Chronicles

 

by Lindsay Buroker

 

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2011 Lindsay Buroker

 

PART I

 

A tiny brazier burned on the deck of a
foot-long model ship, sending hot air into an oblong patchwork of
kerchiefs sealed with a custom paraffin concoction. The balloon
expanded until it bulged like an overstuffed sausage casing. The
miniature ship rocked on the workbench twice, then rose. Inch by
inch, it levitated into the air.

A spool on the deck played out telephone wire
that attached to a small control box. Kali McAlister wore a grin
brighter than the Northern Lights as she picked it up.

She glanced toward the windows at the front
of the workshop. The door was locked and the shutters pulled, but
someone wondering why her tinkery was closed might press a nose
against a crack....

“Don’t be paranoid,” she told herself. Dawson
might have a bustling population compared to Moose Hollow, but she
had not been open for business long, and she was lucky to get a
customer a day.

Kali flicked one of the four tiny levers on
the control box.

A signal pulsed through the telephone wire,
and a click sounded inside the hull of the ship. Powered by a flake
of flash gold, the miniature engine thrummed to life. Delight
coursed through Kali, but anxiety as well. Lots of people
suspected
she had flash gold, her dead father’s alchemical
masterpiece, but only her former beau, Sebastian, and her business
partner, Cedar, knew for sure. If anyone caught a glimpse...

“This is necessary,” she told herself. “You
can’t build the real thing without constructing a working model
first.”

Right. That sounded like a plausible excuse.
Anyway, the hull of the ship hid the telltale flash of the vibrant
energy source.

With the engine purring like a kitten fat on
milk, the model floated higher. Kali flicked another lever. The
rudder turned, and the ship changed direction, veering away from
the wall and out over her collection of disassembled boilers,
half-built projects, and crates of brass, steel, and iron parts. It
lofted toward the back corner of the building, skimming beneath
ceiling beams decorated with cobwebs and owl pellets. The
ex-fur-storage warehouse wasn’t posh, but at least the rent was
cheap.

The shop door creaked open, and nippy spring
air swirled in, smelling of wood smoke, melting snow, and yeast
from the brewery next door.

“Tarnation,” Kali cursed under her
breath.

She turned, hoping it was Cedar. It was
not.

When she identified the well-dressed man who
stepped through the doorway, her hand clenched the control box so
tightly she nearly broke one of the levers.

The clean-shaven man wore a tailored black
suit, a green silk vest, and a creamy button-down shirt with fancy
stitching about the collar. A sleek, beaver-fur top hat perched
above a mane of thick blond hair that fell straight to his
shoulders. His clear green eyes and easy smile could dazzle a
lady...until that lady wised up and realized he was a con man. A
con man who could make love to a woman and promise to help her
escape the frozen North, all the while scheming to get at her most
prized possession.

Kali forced her grip on the control box to
loosen so she could turn off the engine. No need to flaunt that
prized possession.

“Sebastian,” she growled through clenched
teeth. “How’d you get in? I
locked
that door.”

“Did you?” He slipped something that might
have been lock picks or a skeleton key into a pocket, then swept
the hat from his head and bowed deeply. “Kali, dear, how are
you?”

“How am I?” She gaped at him. “How
am
I?”

Though she had turned off the model’s engine,
the fire still burned, and the unattended airship smacked into a
wall. Cursing, Kali raced to the corner and caught it before it
fell to the floor. As it was, the wire tangled, creating a mess she
would have to unravel later. She dumped out the coals in the
brazier and laid the model on her workbench.

“You lied to me, tried to steal my father’s
life’s work, and then, when I wouldn’t give it to you, you ratted
me out to Soapy Smith and the Scar of Skagway.” Kali slid a hand
into a cubby beside the workstation. “Now I’m being hunted more
fiercely than the beaver that died for your idiotic hat. And you
want to know how I
am
?” Her fingers closed about cold steel,
and she pulled out her favorite weapon.

“Yes, dear, I’m terribly sorry about that.”
Sebastian flipped those blond locks out of his eyes and replaced
the top hat. “I was a tad angry at the time. After all, you threw
one of those smoking shrapnel gewgaws and nearly unmanned me. Can
you imagine the egregious horror it would be to my family—and
mankind as a whole—if I were not able to one day have chil...” His
rambling nonsense came to a halt when he noticed what Kali
held.

She stood ramrod straight with her modified
Winchester 1873 aimed at his chest. “I reckon I can still make sure
you don’t have any children.”

“Ah, Kali, dear.”

“Don’t call me dear.”

“Ah, yes, Kali, then.”

“Ms. McAlister,” she said. “Or ma’am will do.
Though you needn’t use either, since I’m inviting you to see
yourself out and not bother me again. Ever.”

“Now, now.” He patted the air with his hands.
Between the kerosene lamps burning indoors and the daylight seeping
through the clouds outdoors, she had no trouble seeing his
perfectly manicured nails with not a hint of dirt crusting the
beds. “I made a mistake, and I can admit to that. I apologize. I
was in my cups and, like I said, recovering from the wounds you
inflicted upon me. It really isn’t right to target a man down in
that region, you know.”

Her finger tightened on the trigger of the
rifle.

He was close enough to see it. “Er, like I
was saying, I came to apologize. You must know I didn’t mean for
those gangsters to hear about you. I didn’t
go
to them, I
assure you. I was just expressing my displeasure over how things
ended.”

“In a crowded bit house with dozens of ears
perked your direction,” Kali said.

“Well, that was a tad unwise, for certain,
but it’s all a misunderstanding. There’s no reason we can’t get on
together again.” He dared to eye her up and down. “You’re still
looking mighty fine.”

Kali gaped at him. She wore baggy,
grease-stained overalls with tools bristling from every pocket and
more gear dangling from her belt. A screwdriver was stuck through
the end of her long braid, and sawdust sprinkled her hair, thanks
to the final planing she had given the deck of the airship
earlier.

“Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”
Kali asked. “I’m not the naive girl who fell for your glacier-slick
tongue before. I’m older now. Wiser. Mature.”

“Mature? You’re eighteen, and it’s only been
four months since I left you.”

“I left
you
. And nearly blew up your
nuts.” She jerked the rifle toward the door. “Now go away.”

“What? You just invited me to tell you what I
want.”

“That was a rhetorical question, not an
invitation.” Kali sighted down the rifle’s barrel.

“You’re not going to shoot me. You’re a good
person.”

She fired.

Sebastian squawked, hurled himself backward,
and landed in the muddy quagmire of thawing permafrost outside the
door. In an ungainly combination of roll and sideways scramble, he
dodged behind the protective cover of the wall.

With the rifle raised, another round
automatically chambered, Kali waited for the inevitable return.

A couple of heartbeats passed—she imagined
him patting himself down for bullet wounds, despite the lack of
pain he had to have noticed—and then another distressed squawk
competed with the distant buzz of a sawmill.

“My hat?” Sebastian leaned around the
doorframe. Mud spattered his suit, his hair, and smudged his jaw.
He thrust his top hat aloft, displaying the daylight now visible
through a bullet hole. “That was a little reckless, don’t you
think?” Though he tried for nonchalance, the way he kept most of
his body out of sight meant he was no longer positive she wouldn’t
shoot him. Good.

“You’re right.” Kali lowered the rifle. “When
the bullet passed through the hat, it might have hit an innocent
passerby.”

“I meant reckless for
me
! If you’d
missed by a half an inch, you could have shot me in the brain.”

“Nonsense. Your brain isn’t that large. I
wasn’t even close. Besides, I’m a better shot than I used to be.
I’ve been the beneficiary of lessons.” She wondered if mentioning
her business partner was a talented bounty hunter would intimidate
him—or make him more likely to stay and ask questions. The latter
would be intolerable.

“Look.” Sebastian eased inside again, hands
spread wide. “Just give me two minutes to explain why I’m here. If
you’re not interested in my offer, I’ll leave you alone
forever.”

“Without tipping off flash-gold-hunting
pirates and thieves on your way out of town?”

He winced. “Kali, I never meant to get those
men on your trail. I was just mad and—”

“That dog won’t hunt. Say your piece and
absquatulate.”

“I just filed for a claim on Sixty Mile,”
Sebastian said. “I want you to help me work it. We’ll split
whatever we find.”

Kali stared at him, both because the idea of
him “working” was ludicrous and because... “Panning for gold?
That’s for fools who don’t understand statistics.”

“Don’t you know how much gold is being found
out there right now? Once word gets south, people will be swarming
to Dawson. Thousands, maybe
tens
of thousands. Those who
file now will get rich, while those who arrive too late will be
lucky to work for bread and salt, mining somebody else’s
claim.”

“Prospecting is hard work,” Kali said. “I
don’t believe you’ll be out there getting your hands dirty.”

“I’ll be out there. Directing others to get
their hands dirty. I’ve already hired a team.”

“Then why do you need me?” she asked.

“To be my engineer. You think I’m going to go
at this like some rube straight off the steamer from San Francisco?
Panning in the shallows? I’ve got boilers on the way. We’re going
to build steam shovels and pumps so we can dig down to hunt for
veins. Word around Dawson is you’re the best mechanic around.”

“I see,” Kali said. “You spent three months
courting me, and presumably time before that researching me to
learn how to get at my father’s secrets, and yet you had to hear
from strangers that I’m good with my hands.” The urge to shoot the
man spilled into her again.

Sebastian’s lips twitched, as if they were
trying to form a scowl, but he forced a smile back into place. “Are
you interested or not? Half the gold we pull out of the claim is
yours.”

She doubted that would prove true, but even
if he was not lying, the answer was the same: “No.”

“I thought you wanted to get out of the
Yukon. Here’s a chance. Besides, you’ll be safer in the wilderness
if bounty hunters come looking for you. As long as you’re here,
anyone in town can direct them to you.”

“A predicament I’m in only because of you.”
Kali hefted the rifle again. “Now get out. As you can see, I’m not
defenseless. And I already have a plan for getting out of the
Yukon. One that’s far more likely to pan out than your gold
claim.”

Sebastian scratched his head. “How could you
possibly earn the money to go anywhere? Are you joining the girls
of the line? You aren’t pretty enough to charge big money.”

Her grip tightened on the rifle. Maybe
missing had been a mistake. She wasn’t sure if she was more
insulted that he thought the only way a woman could earn money was
by whoring or that he didn’t think her bright enough to find
another way out of the north.

“Honey, don’t look so shocked. You clean up
all right when you get out of those man-clothes, but nobody’s
paying more than pennies for half breeds. Ruse or not, you should
thank me for spending time with you because no man with teeth,
hair, and halfway decent prospects would look twice at someone like
you.”

Kali stood so still she forgot to breathe.
How was it that he still had the power to make her feel like the
sludge in the bottom of a sluice box?

“Problem?” a familiar voice came from
outside.

Cedar stepped across the threshold, ducking
his head to keep from clunking it on the frame. His broad shoulders
filled the doorway, and Sebastian eased back a few steps. Cedar
wore clothing practical to the rough-around-the-edges town:
deerskin trousers, work shirt, oilskin duster, and a black slouch
hat that threw his face into shadows. Kali knew his features by
heart, though, and hoped Sebastian felt intimidated when he took in
Cedar’s strong square jaw, cool blue eyes, and the scar on his
cheek that proclaimed him a survivor of at least one knife battle.
Both a rifle barrel and a sword hilt were visible over his
shoulder.

BOOK: Hunted [The Flash Gold Chronicles]
13.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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