the smuggler’s bible

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.

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.

Hammer Claw

The gatlings shear off one of the glider’s wings on its second pass. The craft wobbles, then falls into a spin. Smoke billows out of the crevice where it lands and Hammer Claw can feel heat from the fire when his crawler pulls up a short distance down the hillside. The rocks flicker orange-red.

“No prisoners,” he says. His men fan out among the trees and scrub. “And keep your eyes peeled for scrap. We’ve gotta salvage our ammo cost at least.”

Hammer Claw watches the wavering plume of smoke glide west. Shanktown’s close now, he thinks. It must be.

Hammer Claw

Hammer Claw’s convoy screams down the pass, scattering pebbles and small trees. They round a corner at speed and one of the crawlers skids sideways and nearly topples before its treads catch and it shoots off after the others in a plume of dust.

“Can you see it?” Hammer Claw shouts over the engine racket.

“Clear skies,” the lieutenant calls forward. He’s got a hand shading his eyes, scanning. “Wait, no, there! 4 o’clock, coming in low.”

A straight stretch opens up before them and Hammer Claw nudges the semaphore man to send the word along the line.

“Open fire.”