the smuggler’s bible

Pluto Vespasianus

When they call back, he bluffs. They are inclined, they assure him, not only to entertain his arguments, but to see things from his point of view. Up to a point.

He realizes that something has changed while his attention was elsewhere. They, also, are bluffing—and paying little attention to his own efforts. He ceases to exert himself.

As things wind down, the comms tablet pips gently. A marquee scrolls across the screen. One shot and they wasted it on small-timers like us. That’s factions for you. And then: Come get me. I think I landed in a tree.

Pluto Vespasianus

He shades his eyes and strains to see anything, even just the reflected glimmer of chrome. He is afraid to blink.

It comes in two parts. First, a spark zagging across an inch of deep blue sky. The afterimage hangs in his vision for a moment, then is obliterated, washed out by a second spark that flares quickly into pink-tinged flame. The clouds ripple and rush outwards, sculpted into concentric rings by the concussion.

Ten minutes later, snow begins to fall over the bunker. Pluto Vespasianus touches it gently. It smears under his hand—greasy flakes of fine grey ash.

Aoi

On her way out, she touches him very gently on the shoulder. Soft pressure exerted with two fingertips. His chair tips backward, spilling him into the corner.

“Just hold on,” he says, but the door shuts as he struggles upright. He is there is a moment, stumbling into the corridor. “Hold on one goddamn second.”

Light shines from the top of the stairs. Pluto Vespasianus races outside, still off balance. He feels a breeze created by displaced air, looks up to see a contrail ascending with a gleaming blue flame at its apex.

And, finally, even that begins to fade.

Aoi

The terminal flickers twice, bright green, then fades to static.

“They cut the line.”

“You were extremely vulgar.”

“It’s how the game is played. They’ll talk. Say, that’s new.” Pluto Vespasianus points to a blinking light. “What is it?”

Aoi examines the screen. “An atmospheric disturbance. High altitude. Likely ballistic.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s ridiculous. It’s unsportsmanlike.”

“They will, of course, already have slit the referee’s throat,” Aoi says. She opens the door.

“Wait. Where are—”

“This bunker will not withstand impact,” she says. “But there is, I believe, time to effect an interception. The trajectory is very simple.”