Clementine - Cherie Priest

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    ementine Copyright 2010 by Cherie Priest.

    rights reserved.

    st jacket Copyright 2010 by Jon Foster.

    rights reserved.

    erior design Copyright 2010 by Desert Isle Design, LLC.

    rights reserved.

    ectronic Edition

    BN8-1-59606-366-1

    bterranean Press

    Box 190106

    rton, MI 48519

    ww.subterraneanpress.com

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    Table of Contents

    Chapter 1

    Chapter 2

    Chapter 3

    Chapter 4

    Chapter 5Chapter 6

    Chapter 7

    Chapter 8

    Chapter 9

    Chapter 10

    Chapter 11

    Chapter 12

    Chapter 13

    Chapter 14

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    CAPTAIN CROGGON BEAUREGARD HA

    r six days, Croggon Hainey watched the Rockies scroll beneath the borrowed, nameless dirigible

    ally the last of the jagged ridges and snow-dusted plateaus slipped behind the ship on the far si

    nver. Hed made this run a dozen times before, in fair weather and foul, with contraband carg

    ssengers alike; and on this particular trip a tailwind gently urged the ship forward.

    But the speed that took him from the Pacific Northwest, over the mountains and down to the flatl

    not improve the captains mood.

    With his hands balled into fists and jammed atop his knees, he groused, We shouldve caught the

    w. We ought to be right on top of them.

    The breeze moves us both, the first mate said, and he shrugged. He adjusted his goggles to

    ainst the glare of the sun on the clouds and added, But well catch them. Any minute now.

    Hainey shifted in the captains seat, which had been built with a smaller man in mind. He remove

    and squeezed at his forehead as if he could massage it into greater wakefulness or concentr

    heyll have to dock soon. They didnt even get a full tank of hydrogen back in Grand Jun

    meon? he asked the first mate, who was likewise crammed into a seat beside him.

    Yessir?

    They have to set down in Topeka, dont they? Theres no place else you know thatll take them

    No place I know of. But I aint been through this way in awhile. Brink may know something I d

    said, but he didnt sound very worried. Over his shoulder he asked, Whats our fuel situation

    e?

    Lamar adjusted a lip full of tobacco and said, Doing all right. Well make it past Topeka, if t

    at you want to hear. The engineer glanced at the doorway to the engine room, though he couldnt

    the tanks from where he was sitting. Maybe even into Missouri.

    The captain didnt precisely brighten, but for a moment he sounded less unhappy. We might

    nsas City?

    We might, but I wouldnt bet the boat on it. Lamar squeezed his lip to adjust his chew.

    Simeon reached for a thruster lever and knocked his elbow on a big glass knob. He said, Well, I m

    this boat. But he didnt push his complaint. Everybody already knew that the nameless craft, fitt

    all men and light cargo, was not anyones preferred vessel; and no one wanted to imply, even in

    t everything was not being done to retrieve the captains ship of choice.

    Hainey unfurled himself from the captains chair. His knees popped when he stood and he crouch

    ep from hitting his head on the glass shield that separated him from the sky. He put one hand out ag

    nd leaned that way, staring as far into the distance, and as far along the ground, and as far up in

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    avens as his eyes could reach, but the view told him nothing he did not already know.

    His shiphis true ship, the one hed stolen fair and square eight years beforewas nowhere

    n.

    He asked everyone, and no one in particular, Where do you think theyre taking her? But since

    ked that question a dozen times a day for the last week, he already knew he could expect no u

    wer. He could speculate easily enough, but none of his speculation warmed him with hope.

    The red-haired thief Felton Brink had taken Haineys ship, the Free Crow, and he was flying eas

    That much was apparent.

    The chase had brought Croggon Hainey from the Pacific port city of Seattle down through Idahowin Falls and into Wyoming where hed almost nabbed Brink in Rock Springs. Then the course

    fted south and a bit west, to Salt Lake City and then east, through Colorado and now the trai

    ing them both through Kansas.

    East. Except for that one brief detour, always east.

    And it didnt much matter whether theFree Crow would veer to the north or south on the far side

    ssissippi River. Either way, the captain was in for trouble and he knew it.

    The Mason-Dixon meant only a little to him. Either side meant capture and probably a firing squa

    ose, though all things being equal, he wouldve preferred to take his lumps from the Union

    uthern states in general (and Georgia in particular) had given him plenty already. The raised,pes on his back and the puckered brand on his shoulder were souvenirs enough from a life sp

    very, and hed accept no addition to that tally.

    So as much as he mightve said aloud, I dont care where theyre taking my ship, I plan to t

    ck, he privately prayed for a northern course. In the Union he was only a pirate and only to be sh

    ht. In the Confederate states he was all that and fugitive property, too.

    It wasnt fair. Hed had no intention of coming back past the river again, not for several yearso

    il the war had played itself out, anyway; and it wasnt fair that some underhanded thief

    nniving boy nearly young enough to be his sonhad absconded with his rightfully pilfered

    tomized ship.

    Whatever Felton Brink was getting paid, Hainey hoped it was worth it. Because when Hainey caug

    him, there wouldnt be enough left of the red-headed thief to bury.

    The tailwind gusted and the nameless ship swayed in its course. A corresponding, correcting gust

    appropriate thruster kept the craft on track, and sitting on the straight, unbroken line of the p

    rizon a tiny black dot flicked at the corner of Croggon Haineys vision.

    He stood up straight, too quickly. He rapped his bald, dark head on the underside of the cabins

    ort roof and swore, then pointed. Men, he said. He never called them boys. On the ground

    re. You see it? That what I think it is?

    Simeon leaned forward, languid as always. He squinted through the goggles and said, Its a ship

    unded.

    I can see its a ship. What I cant see is if its my ship or not. Give me the glass, he demande

    d out his hand to Simeon but Lamar brought the instrument forward, and stayed to stand by the win

    Hainey extended the telescoping tube and held it up to his right eye. From habit, he rested his thum

    scar that bisected that side of his face from the corner of his mouth to his ear. He closed his left

    scanned and aimed, and pointed the scope at the distant dot, and he declared in his low, loud, rum

    ce, There she is.

    Lamar held his hands over his eyes like an awning. You sure?

    Of course Im sure.

    How far out? Simeon asked. He adjusted his position so that he could reach the important lever

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    rtinent buttons, readying himself for the surge of speed that Hainey was mere moments away

    dering.

    Couple of miles? the captain guessed. And open sky, no weather to account for. He snappe

    pe back to its smaller size and jammed it into his front breast pocket.

    Lamar shook his head, not arguing but wondering. Theyve been moving so slow. No wonder the

    set down out here.

    Simeon removed his goggles and set them atop his head, where their strap strained against the

    cks of his roughly braided hair. Theyve never gotten any speed beneath them, he said, the i

    wl stretching his words into an accusation.Hainey knew, and it worried him, but this was his chance to gain real ground. The Free Crow, w

    nk had renamed the Clementine, had once been a Confederate war dirigible and she was capab

    mendous speed when piloted properly. But shed been flying as if she were crippled and it mean

    two things: Either she was critically damaged, or she was so heavily laden that she could b

    intain a good cruising altitude.

    Her true and proper captain hoped for the latter, but he knew that her theft had been a violent even

    didnt have the faintest clue what she carried. It was difficult not to fear the worst.

    Only a significant head start had prevented Hainey from retrieving her so far, and here she w

    ving dragged herself across the sky, limping more than sailing, and now she was stopped witoverbial spitting distance.

    Simeon, he said, and he didnt need to finish.

    The Jamaican was already pulling the fuel release valves and flipping the switches to power u

    osters. Fifteen seconds to fire, he said, meaning that the three men had that long to secure thems

    fore the jolt of the steam-driven back-up tanks would shoot the dirigible forward.

    Lamar buckled his skinny brown body into a slot against the wall, within easy reach of the engine r

    iney sat back down in the captains seat and pulled his harness tight across his chest; Simeon use

    t five seconds to light one of the hand-rolled cigarettes he kept in a tin that was bolted onto the s

    nsole.

    At the end of the prescribed time, the unnamed airship lurched forward, snapping against the hyd

    k that held it aloft and leaping in a back-and-forth motion until the tank and the