the smuggler’s bible

Principium Hiemis

The redshift from Ver’s fleet is dimming into the background radiation. He made it out with the flagship and enough of a stake to start over somewhere farther along the spiral arm.

“Same old story,” Principium Hiemis says to the famulus that brings him the report. “He won’t bet it all in case he loses, but he can’t win unless he plays the hand. How far along was he?”

The famulus beeps.

“Really? Well, maybe Ver is learning after all. Better get to work. Find a stable orbit and shut the engines down. I suppose we’ll be here a while.”

Principium Hiemis

Principium Hiemis pours a drink. He loosens his tie and unfastens the top button of his shirt.

“Music,” he says, sinking back into a low-slung chair. “And open the window.”

A section of bulkhead dissolves like smoke in front of him. The room glows with the stutter-strobe lights of the bombardment.

“Opacity reduced to thirty percent. Request specification regarding initial query.”

“Oh, anything will do, really,” Principium Hiemis says. He takes a sip and watches a cloud of drones surround one of Ver’s battleships. It flares white, spitting gouts of flame and plasma. “As long as it’s got a beat.”

Ver

Up late, examining his work—dirt, water and clear air. It is all very good. Far above, constellations. He’s named six of them so far. He pauses, looks again. Something new flickers. Looks like a star at this distance.

But that color.

He turns, breeze on his face. Sharp hiss of the airlock. He senses the commotion before it washes over him. Voices, tight with panic. Somebody hands him the comms handset.

“Time to go, Ver.”

Goddamnit.  “Hiemis. I’ve got a whole fleet here.”

He waits. A delay, even at lightspeed.

“Well, I sort of figured they’d leave with you.”

Principium Hiemis

The famulus scuttles into the dining chamber and sounds its alert chime, high and clear, a perfect middle F. Principium Hiemis carefully sets down his fork and knife, takes a sip of wine and clears his throat.

“Confirm arrival.”

“Affirmative.”

“Good. Report now, navigational accuracy rating.”

“Execution rated triple-check. Course fulfilled to within 0.00001 percent deviation.”

“Hm.” Principium Hiemis folds his napkin and pushes back his chair. He walks over to the famulus and snatches it up, reaching in to pop open the maintenance panel among its many legs.

“Report again,” he says, placing it back on the ground.

“Bullseye.”