the smuggler’s bible

consisting of short fiction by hontzlake


On the day of the main event—predicted by intense computational scrutiny of dormancy cycles and weeks of probing attack waves—Grazny wearily dismisses the final meeting of the response committee, files the minutes with Zvonomir’s aide and pours herself a cup of burnt coffee.

The mainspring is wound, holding tension, ready to drive hundreds of gears, some so small they appear as rounded decimals on a list of figures in the committee’s weekly report. But they’ll spin, and the whole goddamn contraption will keep tempo.

Grazny activates her comms deck and addresses a message for general distribution. It’s showtime.


Alcide is leading the pack. He knows this because the bureaucrats are genuinely surprised to hear of his errand. He has a sense for these things. Traveling in another’s wake gets you more annoyed huffing as the ground (please, be thorough, pretend I know nothing) is run over for a second or even third time.

Some people skip all that, preferring to bushwhack the front runner. He sees it coming. There’s a team. The man in front turns down an empty corridor. The one behind, a woman, begins to close in. Alcide pretends not to notice. And cocks his gun.


Sixteenth shelf, fourth alcove from the wall. Fruzsina runs her finger along the spines, imagining what it will look like when she finds it. Tall? Slim? Perhaps the width of three fingers, thick pages with a feathered deckle edge.

The shop clerk has informed her, gently, that organization of the second-hand stock is accomplished by zone. The item in question might be anywhere within a certain volume of shelving, shuffled by other hands.

If he intended to check her hopes, he has failed. For a first edition Poppogarde, the hunt is not incidental. It’s how you prove you are worthy.


The odds, assessed objectively, are aggressively dismal, but this somehow serves only to make the affair more enticing. Horos drops his quarter into the slot. The machine makes a few small mechanical noises, then a string of lights illuminates—four yellow, one green.

Aha, he thinks, I have nearly found the trick already. He breathes deeply and pays forth again.

Nine hours later he is plucking the buttons from his shirt front (the machine, he discovers, shows very little discrimination regarding inputs). But three lights are green and the jackpot so close he can feel the static on his skin.