the smuggler’s bible

White Ratchet

The salt flats sizzle and pop as the crawlers chew up rocks and scrub brush, dispersing it all into a spreading cloud behind the treads. Smaller vehicles churn through the wake. They rotate in formation around the main column and each of them signals in turn to White Ratchet in the lead position.

For miles and miles the semaphores flash all clear.

The column crosses the river late and snakes upward into the valley another twenty miles before stopping to bivouac. They bury the dead by firelight—those whose bodies they could retrieve. The others they simply swear to remember.

Hammer Claw

They keep the tanks full and the crawlers’ big hood intakes clear of leaves. They find a quiet place among the trees where a few of the boys can sit and watch the high mountain passes leading toward Shanktown.

Otherwise, they try to stay busy.

Hammer Claw gets along with some of the established players and is surprised at the smooth polish of their grifts. Soon, he’s making runs into the lowlands. It’s hardly a job at all, he figures, if a man simply has to sit behind a rumbling engine and let his gun barrels gleam in the sun.

White Ratchet

White Ratchet makes a sally to stall for time while a crew jury rigs parts for the busted crawler. He leads a short wedge of open-top 4×4s out of the ravine at dawn.

“Head right at them,” he says to the driver, then starts shooting over the stubby windscreen, grinning as the rifle thumps against his shoulder.

The first line of tribesmen scatters as the formation starts a slow turn. White Ratchet cheers with the others over the growling hum of the engines. There isn’t a cloud in the sky, and he can see mountains shining white on the horizon.

Hammer Claw

Shanktown waits nestled among the foothills below the pass. Hammer Claw parks the convoy beside a wide sweep of river running against the city’s flank and sends men after coolant and fuel. He tells them, also, to bring back news.

They return with the supplies and nothing else.

“Forget that nobody’s seen him coming,” Hammer Claw says. “He should already be here.”

They spread the maps out across the hood of a truck, and somebody holds a light while Hammer Claw traces routes. It’s almost a straight shot from where they separated. Just miles and miles of nothing in between.