Authors: Lindsay Buroker
Tags: #fantasy, #steampunk, #fantasy adventure, #historical fantasy, #ya fantasy, #fantasy novella, #ya steampunk, #ya historical fantasy, #flash gold
(The Flash Gold Chronicles
By Lindsay Buroker
Copyright © 2012 Lindsay
Before you start in on the next story,
please allow me to thank chemist, writer, and all-around cool lady
Becca Andre for tirelessly beta reading everything I send her (and
for interrogating her co-workers for information on how to build
steam-age flame-throwers and the like). More thanks go to Shelley
Holloway for editing services, and to Glendon Haddix for the cover
art. Lastly, thank you, good reader, for trying the Flash Gold
Chronicles, leaving reviews online, and telling friends about the
series. I wouldn't have continued writing Kali and Cedar's
adventures if not for your support.
In a cave on a hillside
above Dawson, whale-oil lamps spat and guttered, creating dancing
shadows against the wooden frame of a ship, an
. Still in the earliest
stages of construction, it was perched on a row of wooden braces
stretching the length of the earthen chamber.
Kali McAlister bent over a sawhorse, sweat
dribbling from her temples as she concentrated on cutting the
lumber she had laboriously ported from town on a sledge dragged
behind her self-automated bicycle. When she had first imagined
building an airship, she had dreamed of designing the engine,
crafting clever weapons systems, and—of course!—flying the finished
craft. Dreams of hours upon hours of measuring and cutting wood
hadn’t come a-calling in her mind. As the bandages on her fingers
attested, she didn’t have an aptitude for carpentry.
Kali froze midway through a cut and stared
at the row of bells laid on the muddy cave floor near the exit. A
tiny hammer flicked against the third bell, resulting in a second
Another curious wolf or fox had probably
tripped it, but Kali couldn’t assume that, not with the number of
people after her these days. Thanks to her late father’s invention,
an alchemical power source called flash gold, a number of conniving
gangsters had set bounties for her capture.
Kali set the saw aside and reset the alarm.
She grabbed her 1873 Winchester and a pair of smoke nuts,
pocket-sized shrapnel-flinging grenades that she’d invented. Ready
for trouble, she jogged outside, heading down the slope toward
Booby Trap Number Three.
She followed a game trail that meandered
through the undergrowth. Rain pattered onto ferns, spruce trees,
and moss, creating plenty of mud to squish beneath her boots. From
a lookout point above her cave, one had a view down to the marshy
lowlands where Dawson sprawled, but here, in the thick of the
woods, she could see little more than trees.
As Kali drew closer to the trap location,
she veered off the trail so she could approach under cover. She
picked her way through damp fireweed and ferns, and soon soaked the
cuffs of her overalls. The calendar said late June and there were
only three hours between sunset and sunrise, but so far the
mosquitoes and flies were the only ones who thought summer had
Movement stirred the branches ahead, and
Kali hunkered behind a stump for a long look. Twenty meters away, a
man dangled ten feet above the ground, one ankle caught in her
trap. So. Not a fox this time.
He was big and broad, and for a moment she
thought it might be her bounty-hunting business partner Cedar, but
he knew where her traps were, and this fellow’s hat had come off,
revealing hair a few shades lighter than Cedar’s tousled black.
As Kali watched, the man swung himself up
and grabbed the rope, trying to free himself. That would take him a
while. Kali had used rope threaded with steel and made a knot that
would only grow tighter if someone fiddled with it.
The man’s bowler hat lay in the mud beneath
him, along with a Colt Peacemaker. There was also a rectangular
case with the lid flung open and round ivory chips scattered all
about. The revolver drew more of Kali’s attention. Nearly every
man—and more than a few women—carried firearms in these parts, so
the Colt didn’t necessarily mean this fellow had villainous
intentions, but it was a good reason to be careful.
Kali nestled the butt of her rifle into her
shoulder and crept closer. “Looking for someone, mister?”
The man let go of the rope and, dangling
upside down again, craned his neck to see her. “Looking for a girl
that’s supposed to be the best tinkerer in Dawson.”
, not a girl.” Kali
figured she could, at eighteen, make that claim legitimately,
though the man had a few gray flecks in his hair and might not
agree. “And she’s got a shop in town. If you asked about
folks would have sent you.”
The man hung silently for a moment before
saying, “Does that mean you’re not she?”
That’s right.” Kali
glanced over her shoulder to make sure the cave—and her future
airship—weren’t in sight. It might be hard to deny she had
tinkering tendencies when she was building such a craft.
But you must know her,”
the stranger said. “Someone modified your rifle.”
Kali frowned at him. She had indeed altered
the Winchester to reload automatically without her needing to
manually chamber the rounds, but most people wouldn’t notice the
subtle changes from a distance. “You’re powerful observant for a
man hanging upside down.”
Yes, ma’am.” He touched
his head where the brim of his hat would have rested if it were not
in the mud below. “I’m a gambling man. Having a keen eye pays in my
So those were poker chips on the ground, and
the box likely contained cards, dice, and other gaming gear. The
gun made sense too then. For obvious reasons, knives and firearms
were part of many a gambler’s kit.
Kali lowered her rifle, though she kept both
hands on it. “Why’re you looking for a tinkerer?”
Got in a fracas a spell
back, and somebody busted my pistol ring. I’m looking for someone
to fix it.”
A pistol ring? Kali had
heard of the tiny weapons, but she’d never seen one. They were
specialty items, custom-made by a few European masters. She sure
wouldn’t mind taking a look at one, but she was not yet ready to
believe his story. How had he known to come up
looking for her? Only Cedar
knew about her cave, and she had not seen him in days.
I checked,” the man went
on when Kali said nothing, “and the best smiths in town have closed
shop and taken to the river to work their claims.”
That part of his story rang true. The two
smiths that shared a street with her tinkery had been closed for
weeks. It seemed like everyone had gold fever and was out mucking
about, which was why she hadn’t been able to find a carpenter, or
anyone halfway decent with a hammer, to help with her ship.
Pistol ring, eh?” Kali
said. “Five, six shots? Five millimeter custom bullets or
Yes, ma’am. Won it in a
game of five-card stud poker down in San Francisco. I reckon I
could show it to you if you’d cut me down.”
I reckon you could do a
lot of things if I cut you down.”
Less than you’d think.
Thanks to that rather tight knot up there, my leg has gone quite
numb, so I’m not aspiring to do more than stand again today.” He
Kali gave him the squinty eye. He seemed
amiable enough—most men would be cursing and swearing at her to cut
them down—but the fact that nobody was supposed to know she was up
here continued to make her suspicious. Maybe he had been watching
her shop and had followed her out of town that morning. If his
intentions were honest, why hadn’t he simply asked for her help in
Grab that rope with both
hands.” Kali pointed above his ankle.
The man did so, which lifted his head and
hands high enough that Kali was sure he couldn’t grab her.
Now what?” he
Before he finished the question, she slipped
beneath him and grabbed the Colt. She left the rest of the kit,
though she glanced at the velvet inlay of the open case. A plaque
read, “Preston Somerset.”
I didn’t think you had
the look of a thief,” the man said, his voice cooler.
I hope I have the look of
a cautious woman.” Kali stuffed the revolver into her overalls
before pushing aside a stack of rocks and fiddling with the
mechanism hidden behind them. She cranked a wheel, and the ankle
The stranger twisted in the air and landed
feet first in a crouch. It was the sort of move Cedar could make
look easy, but not many others could. Kali pointed her rifle in the
man’s direction again.
I suppose caution is wise
around here.” He—Somerset—flicked his gaze toward her Winchester
and held his hands out, but his stance was relaxed, his face calm.
“Do you think you could talk to your tinkerer friend to see if she
might work on my piece?”
He tapped a buttoned shirt pocket, and Kali
had to admit she was itching to see the miniature gun. It might be
smartest to send this fellow on his way, but Cedar had a saying
about the wisdom of keeping one’s enemies close. That way one could
see what they were fixing to do. If she shooed Somerset away, he
might simply spy on her from afar. Better to pretend he’d won her
over, so she could find out what he was up to. And—a smile curved
her lips—maybe she could persuade him to saw a few boards while she
was at it.
I might be able to talk
to her, a favor if you like, but you’d need to do a favor for me,”
That could probably
Quick to agree, wasn’t he? He hadn’t even
asked what she had in mind. “How’re your carpentry skills?”
I can manage tools,”
Somerset said. “What’re you—”
A woman’s scream tore through the trees.
The stranger’s head whipped around. The cry
had come from down the slope, somewhere close to town. Another
scream followed, a sound of sheer pain, before it was cut short in
Kali was about to ask the man what he knew
about it, but he spoke first.
Someone’s in trouble.” He
took a determined step toward her, his hand reaching toward the
Colt, but caught himself and asked, “May I have my piece,
Kali hesitated a moment, then tossed him the
Without another word, he sprinted down the
trail in the direction of the screams. He disappeared into the
trees, leaving his gambling kit behind.
Kali wasn’t certain it was the smart thing
to do—she had a briar patch of her own troubles without getting
tangled up in someone else’s—but she headed downhill anyway,
following Somerset’s prints in the mud. Because he had been running
and not trying to hide his trail, she could track him without
trouble. He had seemed to know where he was going. She wondered if
she should find that suspicious or simply figure that he was
someone like Cedar who knew how to locate people. A professional
gambler might have been a soldier or scout before turning to games
The buzz of a sawmill drifted to Kali’s
ears, and she thought she might end up in town, but Somerset’s
tracks turned off the trail instead of angling toward the main
road. They veered through the undergrowth and led to a muddy horse
path running between houses outside of Dawson proper. The numerous
tracks made it harder to distinguish newer prints from old, and
Kali started to doubt whether she was still on the trail.
She paused, head cocked, to look and listen.
Though the noises from town floated up the hill, no birds chirped
in the nearby trees. Smoke rose from the chimney of a log cabin
ahead, and Kali jogged in that direction. It was a one-room
structure with a single window, its “pane” made from glass bottles.
Someone knelt among the stumps in the clearing out
Kali grimaced when she realized what he was
examining. A woman was sprawled on the ground, her yellow dress
saturated with blood. She had the bronze skin and black hair of a
native, maybe Hän, Kali’s mother’s people. Though Kali was
half-white and had left the tribe as a child to live with her
father, she couldn’t help but feel a kinship toward the woman,
stranger or not. Here was someone else who had left her people to
try out a different life.
Kali walked closer, though she had a feeling
she shouldn’t. What was that old saying? You can’t keep trouble
from visiting, but you don’t need to offer it a chair.