Posted in My Ebooks | Posted on 04-03-2012|
For those awaiting the third installment in the Flash Gold Chronicles, Peacemaker is officially out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords (it’ll be available in other e-bookstores in a couple of weeks, but you can download any ebook format at Smashwords if you don’t want to wait).
I listened to those who asked for longer stories, and while Peacemaker isn’t a novel, at 40,000 words, the adventure is almost as long as the previous two combined.
For new steampunk readers who might amble by, the first adventure, Flash Gold, is free at Smashwords for a limited time.
Half-breed tinkerer Kali McAlister doesn’t care that the gold rush has stormed into Dawson and prospectors are flooding the north—all she wants is to finish construction of her airship, so she can escape the Yukon and see the world.
Unfortunately, the world keeps chucking wrenches into her machinery: a mysterious gambler is pumping her for information on her bounty-hunting business partner Cedar; the notorious gangster Cudgel Conrad is after Kali’s knowledge of flash gold; and a series of gruesome murders is plaguing Dawson. Someone—or something—is ruthlessly slaying tribal women, and, if Kali and Cedar can’t find the killer, she might be the next target.
I posted a short excerpt the other day, but I’ll give you another one just in case you’re on the fence.
Low clouds hung over the Yukon River as Kali’s self-automated bicycle—SAB for short—rumbled along the muddy road, heading toward Moosehide. The fat, reinforced wheels navigated over and around roots, puddles, and horse droppings littering the trail. Kali curled a lip at the latter, not wanting excrement smashed into her treads.
Cedar sat behind her, and behind him smoke from the stack rose into the air, mingling with a morning fog that hugged the banks. Summer was still in hiding, but at least it had stopped raining. That meant a lot of prospectors were boating along the river, to and from Dawson. All of those people gaped at the strange bicycle when it passed.
Kali barely noticed. Her mind was focused inward, dwelling on the upcoming meeting with people she hadn’t talked to in eight years. Though she didn’t expect a physical confrontation at the camp, she’d brought a vial with a couple of her precious flash gold flakes anyway. They had proven useful to have on hand in the past, when she’d made numerous tools and gadgets, using the alchemical ore as an easy energy source.
Cedar touched her shoulder and pointed to a rowboat aground ahead of them. A few shards of wood floated nearby in the river. Nobody stood near the boat, but the grass and foliage along the riverbank obscured the view.
“Problem?” Kali peered up and down the river. At the moment, no other boats were visible.
“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
Figuring he wanted to investigate, Kali slowed the bicycle. Cedar hopped off and jogged through the undergrowth to the boat. He stared down at something inside for a moment and then slung his Winchester off his back.
“Problem,” Kali confirmed.
She veered off the trail and set her machine to idle. Over its rumble, she almost missed the fact that Cedar was talking to someone. She jogged over to join him and found him crouching to help an older man lying in the bottom of the boat. Blood streaked his weathered face, and a bulbous lump rose from the crown of his bald head.
“Don’t need no help!” The man pushed Cedar away when he tried to help and clambered out of the boat by himself. “That boodle of mother-kissing lickfinger pirates got all my cussed gold. Shot my partner and knocked him into the river. Lowdown, thieving cutthroats.” The man clenched a fist and snatched a shotgun out of his boat. “Let them come back out of the clouds, and I’ll fix them. Pirates!” He spat, barely missing Cedar’s boot. “Got me wrathier than a treed coon.”
The old man took a step and tilted sideways, like he might topple back into the boat. When Cedar reached out a hand to steady him, he growled, “Don’t need no help,” again.
“Out of the clouds?” Kali asked.
“Air pirates,” Cedar said. “Must be a new ship. The Mounties said they shot down the last outfit preying on successful miners.”
This was the first Kali had heard about it, but it was hardly surprising. Not all of Dawson’s swelling population could strike it rich legitimately. She gazed skyward. Though pirates might know about the reward for her capture, and could be a lot of trouble, she found herself wishing to glimpse the airship. A completed, working airship. They were so rare in the Yukon. The last one Kali had seen, she and Cedar had been forced to destroy, and she’d never gotten a chance to view the engines up close.
“It’s not appropriate to look wistful right now,” Cedar murmured to her.
Kali blushed. The old man was still stomping about, cursing over his losses. The missing gold seemed to be upsetting him more than the dead partner.
“I’m not wistful,” she said. “I’m just being observant…checking to see if it’s still out there. That’s all.”
“Uh huh.” Cedar raised his voice for the old man’s sake. “Are you sure there’s nothing we can do to help you, sir?”
“Don’t need no help,” the man repeated.
Cedar shrugged and waved for Kali to lead the way back to the SAB. As they walked back, she gave the skies one last glance—and, yes, maybe it was a wistful glance. She didn’t expect to see anything, but a dark shape stirred the clouds. Kali froze, mid-step. She blinked and the disturbance was gone. Her imagination? Or simply an unusually shaped storm cloud? No, it had been too angular to be a natural part of the sky.
“I saw it,” Cedar said with another nudge for her back. “Let’s get out of here before they decide your contraption is something they’d like to steal.”
“Good idea,” Kali murmured, hopping on. Though she and Cedar had taken down a ship before, it had been luck that they’d had the right supplies. She hadn’t brought any kerosene for the trip to the Hän camp, although she did have her weapons, including a couple of—
“Go,” Cedar urged. He pointed toward the clouds.
The craft had come into view again, its shape distinguishable this time. Like a marine vessel, it had an open deck, but instead of having sails above that deck, a vast oblong balloon hovered overhead, dwarfing the ship with its size. At either end of the deck, enclosed weapons platforms rose like castle turrets poised over a moat. Open cannon ports ran along the wooden sides of the ship. Its size promised room for a crew of thirty or forty with plenty of room to spare for cargo—or stolen goods.
“Going is good,” Kali said. She shoved the lever that controlled acceleration, and the SAB surged forward. Cedar hung onto her with one arm around her waist, while he held his Winchester with his free hand, his torso twisted to watch the sky.
The airship was heading downriver, while Kali and Cedar were heading upriver. If it didn’t change its course, they had nothing to worry about.
“It’s coming about,” Cedar said.
“Figures.” Kali yanked her driving goggles over her eyes and pushed the engine to full speed, with a vague notion that they’d be safe if they reached the tents and cabins of Moosehide. At the least, the Hän would have weapons to help fight off intruders.
The wheels churned, slinging mud in every direction. She could get twenty miles an hour out of the engine on flat, even ground, but the Yukon River shoreline rose and fell, with the glacial rock beneath the dirt making navigation a challenge. The trail never ran more than ten meters without turning around a boulder or tree. Fog still hovering over the hallows added to the challenge.
“Are they after us?” Kali called over the breeze whistling past.
A boom cracked the air, and something slammed into the earth five meters ahead of them. Dirt and rock flew, and Kali jammed her heel against the brake lever to keep from careening into a newly formed crater.
“Yes,” Cedar said.
“Thanks, I got that.”
He fired a shot, though Kali was focused on steering the SAB around the ditch and did not see if it did any good. The river flowed past fifteen feet below, and they tilted and wobbled as she maneuvered past the crater. A big, black cannonball lay in the bottom.
“The artillery man is protected inside the turret,” Cedar yelled, “and I can’t see anybody else up there from this angle.”
Kali increased the speed again. It was only two more miles to Moosehide. Maybe they could—
Another boom sounded. This time the cannonball tore a hole in the riverbank, and the trail ahead of them disappeared in a rock slide. Dirt and stone sloughed into the river, and Kali had to brake again. They’d be lucky if they could climb past that. Driving was out of the question.
She stopped the bicycle and jumped off.
The airship had descended from the clouds, and Kali could see people in the turrets now, though the window slits protected them while allowing them to fire out. A few pirates scurried across the deck, though they were careful not to remain in sight for long. From the ground, the angle was poor for shooting at anyone up there. That didn’t keep Cedar from trying to keep them busy. He fired his Winchester, aiming for a slit in the closest turret.
Kali considered the wooden hull of the ship, wondering if she could find a weakness. The engines were protected, but twin ducted fans on the bottom propelled and steered the craft. Scenarios for disabling them ran through her mind, but she didn’t see how she could do anything from the ground.
Cedar fired another shot, but it only chipped at the wood on the turret.
Kali laid a hand on his arm. “That’s not going to do anything.”
“You have a plan?”
“I have some grenades.”
“Even better.” Cedar shouldered the rifle and held out his hand.
While Kali dug into her saddlebag, she kept an eye toward the ship. The gunner had to have them in his sights, but he did not fire again. A few men appeared at the railing, and one peered down with a spyglass held to his eye. Cedar promptly readied the Winchester again and fired.
The man ducked out of sight, and Kali imagined she could hear his cursing. A heartbeat later, he popped up again, this time with a rifle of his own. It cracked, and shards of rock sheared away from a towering boulder behind Cedar.
He grabbed Kali around the waist and pulled her behind the rock. Fortunately, she had what she needed in hand when he did it.
“What are those?” Cedar asked when she held up the fist-sized bronze balls.
“They don’t look like military issue.”
“No, they’re Kali issue. You press this, and it creates a spark, like with a flintlock and—”
Something clinked to the ground on the other side of the boulder. Kali leaned out, intending to check it out, but Cedar pushed her back. He was closer to whatever it was and had a better view.
“Smoke,” he said. “Up the hill.”
Though she debated on the wisdom of leaving cover, Kali figured he had more experience with being attacked, so she scrambled in the direction he pointed. The steep slope made it hard to keep her footing, and she had to stuff the grenades into her pockets. They clinked against tools, and she hoped she had made the triggers hard enough to pull that they couldn’t bump against something and go off.
“Faster,” Cedar urged, a hand on her back.
“I’d be faster if I knew where we were going,” Kali shot over her shoulder. The airship hovered in her periphery, no more than ten meters above them. Its engines thrummed, reverberating through the earth, and the fans stirred the ferns and grass on the hillside. “And if we weren’t leaving my bicycle behind,” she added under her breath.
“Just get away from—” Cedar coughed and pulled his shirt over his nose. He paused to loose another rifle shot at the airship, though it thudded harmlessly off a turret.
A sweet stench like burned honey trailed them up the hill. Not trusting it, Kali held her breath.
A copse of evergreens rose at the crest of the hill, and it seemed like as good a place as any to make a stand. The airship wouldn’t be able to maneuver through the trees, and Kali could throw a grenade at anyone who tried to steal the SAB.
A giant metal claw on a chain clanked onto the rocks to the left.
“Uh?” Kali said, for lack of anything more intelligent.
A second claw landed to her right, then a third one struck down a few feet ahead. As one, the devices swung toward her.
“Uh!” she blurted and scrambled backward.
Kali bumped into Cedar and was surprised he wasn’t moving more quickly. A glaze dulled his eyes, and confusion crinkled his brow.
“Move!” Kali tried to shove him out of the path of the claws, but he was heavy and didn’t help her at all. She didn’t seem to have her usual strength either. A strange heaviness filled her limbs, and numbness made her fingers tingle.
That honey smell. It had to be some kind of sedative.
The nearest claw scraped closer. It swung in, angling for Kali’s torso. She ducked and dove beneath it, but the lethargy in her limbs stole her agility, and she landed in an ungainly pile and skidded down the slope. Mud spattered her, and rocks dug at her through her clothing.
Something landed on her. Rope?
Kali tried to bat it away, but it was everywhere. Not just rope, she realized. A net.
Before she could reach for a folding knife in her pocket, the ropes tightened about her, scooping her up like a fish in the river.
“Kali!” Cedar shouted.
Now, he woke up. Great.
The net constricted movement, and Kali couldn’t get an arm free to dig into her pockets. It swung her into the air. In fits and jerks, a rope slowly pulled her up. Clanks sounded above her—someone winding a winch.
Kali snarled and thrashed without any strategy, aside from an overriding desire to damage something. She was angry at herself for running up the hill without a plan, and for being captured like some dumb animal. Her thrashes did nothing; the net merely tightened.
Then something rammed into her from behind.
“Tarnation! What now?” Kali demanded.
“Sorry,” Cedar said from behind her ear.
Kali twisted her neck—even that was an effort in the suffocating rope cocoon. Cedar clung to the outside like a spider. His eyes still had a glazed cast to them, but his jaw was clenched with determination.
He drew a knife and started sawing at her ropes. “I thought you might like to get down.”
“Yes, thank you.” Kali could be calm and polite when someone was working to set her free. So long as he finished before whoever was working the winch got them on board. Already, they were nearly twenty feet from the ground. The fall would not be pleasant.
“Get him off!” a man yelled from somewhere above. “Shoot him!”
“I believe someone is making plans for you,” Kali said.
Cedar’s swift cuts were opening up her prison, and she gripped the ropes above her head with both hands so she wouldn’t fall free when the support disappeared.
“Not plans I’m partial to,” Cedar said. “I’ll have you down in a second.”
Wood creaked above them, and Kali looked up, fearing they might weigh too much for whatever winch was operating up there. She wanted freedom, yes, but she didn’t fancy the idea of a long drop while still entangled in the ropes. A man wearing a black bandana around his head and holding a shiny steel six-shooter leaned out through a trapdoor…
* * *