Gearheart - Excerpt

by Maia Strong

 

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Caleb couldn't blame the mayor for wanting the blasted airway station. The woman had been running this near-ghost town for a long time. The logical part of him understood that without something to liven the place up, to bring in new folks and new business, the town would eventually turn to dust and blow away. Or more likely around here, get washed into mud by an extra-wet winter. He'd just hoped that any such pick-me-up wouldn't happen while he was still among living. He snorted softly. Barring an accident, illness, or very bad luck, he'd live another thirty years, at least. Decades which he'd hoped to pass in peace and solitude where no one from before would ever find him. This slow-dying mining town had seemed like a godsend when he'd rolled in eight years ago.

So caught up was he in his dark thoughts that when a strange noise began to grow in the distance, he did not immediately register it for what it was. When he did finally recognize the sound, he went stock still until he could identify where it came from.

It wasn't a sound he'd heard more than twice in the past eight years. It had terrified him both times before, and it surely wasn't one he wanted to hear again now. Quick as a flash, he leapt up onto the deserted boardwalk between Rudy's Merc and Johnny Liang's barber shop and slipped into its shade. One hand wrapped around a support post, he leaned out just far enough to look overhead. His heart raced, fear gripping his guts and urging him to run while he still had a chance. Good sense kept him as still as one of his own copper figurines after its gears had wound down. Running only got you chased, and until he knew what was coming, he wasn't haring off so fast.

There, overhead and approaching from the southeast, was a small-flyer. Locals called them hill-hoppers due to the limits on the distances and heights at which they could fly. As he watched, the little craft began to descend, falling behind the buildings on the eastern side of the road, and out of sight. There was a field there perfect for just such a purpose. Not that it got used much. It was an ordinary plot of uncultivated open ground where the occasional medicine show or carnival would set up on its way to somewhere more interesting.

He had to be spry. Any moment now the mayor and the clot of townsfolk would be out of their meeting and either someone from town would spot the small-flyer or someone from the craft would be off it and making their presence known. Brandt needed to know more about the new arrival before that happened. He jumped back down to the road and set off at a lope around the back of Rudy's Mercantile. From there, he would be able see where the hopper set down, and if he kept to the corner under the back stairs, he could stay out of sight.

He slipped into the shadows under Rudy's back staircase, flipped his dark lenses back up, and waited. If someone was coming for him after all this time, he intended to be ready.

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