There remained the question of rest. As Sparr would later learn, the creatures which had pursued him were known as Dusk Hounds. If their hunt was to be a nightly occurrence, he would need to protect himself. A fire might help, but a solo traveler would have little hope of avoiding the pack long-term.

Before the meal could slow him, Sparr once again took to his feet. The stream where the hound had taken its final drink led along a bluff. Sparr followed it upstream through a series of small waterfalls and pools. As the morning progressed he climbed higher still, the wood giving way to a steppe. Alien lichen, thorny and red, clung to grey rock, while some variety of barely glimpsed rodent skittered for safety. There was no cover. If something or someone set upon him here he would have no choice but to face it.

Sparr was just over thirty, trained, fit, and well suited for exertion. Still, there were limits. His lungs burned with the effort, and his legs begged for rest. Knowing he couldn’t stop, he pressed forward.

Mid-day brought Sparr to a vantage point. Here the terrain dropped away gradually at first, then with abruptness. Below stretched forest. Enormous trees with limbs of dusty green bent menacingly over their neighbors of more modest stature. Sunlight glinted off what surely must be pools or streams. He came to understand that the steppe he had been traversing in fact was only the first of the ridges he had spotted from the pod. In order to reach the city he would have to descend into the forest, then upon reaching the far side, climb yet again. How many of the ridges had there been? He looked to the south. By taking a detour of at least one full day’s travel he might reach beyond the ridges, completing his journey solely through the wood. The wood surely would offer better cover.

Groaning with fatigue, Sparr began his descent. As the ridge tilted downward it broke apart in a splintering of cracks. The cracks, at first narrow enough easily to step over, widened as they turned downward, merging into fissures which Sparr had to navigate with care. Some contained fresh water. It was when stopped for a drink that he first heard the other inhabitants. The sound was distant, but unmistakable. Human voices on a planet hundreds of light years from Earth.

The sound shot a pang of hope through Sparr, followed by an equally potent stab of fear. Colony ships had been sent to Kaybe 400 years prior. Whatever similarity the planet’s current inhabitants had to the original colonists would depend on how warmly the planet had embraced them. Based on the lack of communications traffic and infrastructure, it seemed unlikely the colonization had gone as planned.

As quickly as possible, Sparr scrambled down the fissure. When he was close enough to the forest floor to make out individual trees he slowed to listen. A flock of small, nervous birds shot by him in a tight cluster, flashes of white and yellow marking their flight. Sparr could hear their calls for another minute, but nothing else. Whoever he had heard earlier must have moved on. He cursed softly.

Late afternoon was upon him. The fissure, Sparr realized, would be an adequate resting place. Nearby was a shelf of rock just large enough for the spacefarer to recline upon. He was high enough from the forest floor to escape the attention of most predators, and would be less exposed than if he camped atop the ridge. Sagging with exhaustion, Sparr at last allowed himself to rest.


“Dep dep, now. Ni mayn.”

For the second time in less than two days Sparr was pulled unceremoniously from sleep. This time he didn’t wake to find himself in the protective embrace of an escape pod. He had been captured.

Sparr twisted, trying to orient himself. His wrists had been bound and was now being half carried, half dragged down the fissure by a team of squat, pale men. Each wore simple vests of rough cloth decorated with shells and stones. Their loose pants were fastened at the cuffs and waist with colorful twine. One or two wore plain leather sandals, but the rest went barefoot, seemingly without difficulty. As they labored to move Sparr, the team carried on in an alien tongue.

“Teneer hombo. Shee.”

“What is this?” Sparr complained. “Untie me at once!”

One of the men, the one assigned the job of holding Sparr’s legs, stared at him quizzically, but the team otherwise demonstrated no interest. Instead they hustled their captive down the fissure to the forest floor. The men threw Sparr to the ground, panting with exertion. One of them approached him brandishing a blade. The man pointed to Sparr’s bound ankles.

“Yo koopay now. Marshay bu marshay?” With eyes fixed intently on Sparr, the man used two fingers to pantomime walking.

Sparr understood. They would cut the bonds from his ankles, with some expectation that he would walk willingly. Sparr doubted that a refusal would be to his benefit.

“Yes, yes,” he said, nodding.

The men exchanged glances, cutting him free, but leaving his wrists bound. While two of the men brandished blades, two more jerked Sparr to his feet and gave him a shove. Thus escorted, the party resumed their journey.

“Translate mode,” Sparr said, as softly as he could manage. His implant could learn new languages with sufficient exposure, gradually building a library of words and phrases. If, as Sparr suspected, the alien tongue was mashed together from Earth languages, the process should proceed quickly.

The mismatched party didn’t have far to go. After no more than a few minutes they reached a clearing, an intersection between the path and a more well-traveled road. Here a wagon stood, covered and protected with bars. From within, half a score of faces, dim with the dawn’s pallid light peered at Sparr. Male and female, the prisoners gazed at the new arrival with as much interest as he eyed them.

The two groups could hardly have been less alike. His captors were compact and pale, with thick, strong limbs. They moved purposefully now, prodding Sparr forward. The prisoners by contrast were taller and brown of skin. Fine boned and restrained in their movements, they watched without expression as Sparr was shoved toward them. One of the pale men, which Sparr later learned were known as the Urst, cut Sparr’s wrists free. Waving his blade, the man motioned toward the wagon.

“Ohs ont,” the man said. Another man opened a gate at the rear of the wagon, scattering the prisoners.

Sparr carefully weighed the situation. With his wrists free, he easily could flee or fight. The nearest of the Urst stood too close. With his hand-combat training, Sparr was sure he could disarm the man, take his weapon and improve the odds. Even then his prospects weren’t good. He would be outnumbered ten to one. The Urst presumably knew the territory. They would catch and kill him at once.

Sparr let them prod him into the wagon. The latch closed with a hollow finality.

The wagon, the Urst, and the prisoners headed north. Sparr half watched his fellow prisoners, while also marking their course. He had hoped to go south, toward the city he had viewed from space. Without access to advanced technology he would have no hope of contacting the Odysseus.

“Nee zee ont tu?” One of the wagon’s male occupants spoke to Sparr. His implant translated it as “… … are you?”

Sparr regarded his fellow prisoner. The man was handsome, slim of build, but not without strength. If Kaybe years passed as swiftly as those on Earth, the man was probably a few years younger than himself.

“Ah… Earth?” Sparr guessed at the man’s intent.

“Ahurth” the man repeated, nodding. The two shared a common predicament, but not a common language.

“Alain,” Sparr said, pointing to his chest.

The man nodded again. “Efreem,” he said, touching his own.

Sparr reached forward. In a gesture as old as mankind itself, the men pressed their hands together in a clasp.

The day grew long, then longer still. Outside, the forest changed slowly, from mature wood to scrub, compact and hardy. Glimpses from either side of the wagon suggested that the party was reaching the narrow part of the wood, where two of the rocky ridges came together. They must surely soon reach the end of the pocked road.

Haltingly, and with considerable pantomime, Sparr came to know his fellow prisoners. They were a people named the Olm, though from different tribes. Efreem seemed close to two others, a man and a woman who might be husband and wife. Four more, three women and one man, were more reserved. To divine how they had come to be prisoners would require more language than Sparr yet had grasped.

Sparr found them appealing, if understandably shy. The men were soft spoken and thoughtful, while the women rarely spoke but were attentive and open. One of the women offered him something to eat, seemingly a thick cracker. Sparr found it impossible to chew, but after more pantomime came to understand that he was to hold it in his cheek first, to soften it. Afterward Sparr made light of his difficulties, briefly lifting the mood of the captives.

Of their captors he learned less. They were led by a dour male and and his relatively more animated female companion. Sparr couldn’t tell if the two were a couple, or merely shared authority. They would confer, tipping their heads toward one another in private conversation, after which one or the other would bark commands to the rest of their company.

It was after one such conference that the little caravan halted for the night. The road here drew near to the ridge. From one of the fissures issued a waterfall which in turn fed a small pool. The foliage was flattened, and there were signs of fires lit by previous travelers. From the body language and behavior of the company, Sparr gathered that some wanted to press forward, while others wished to camp at the clearing. Sparr’s implant translated the words for waternowdreamssun, and wash. After a time, the band began to make camp. Those wishing to pass the night at the clearing appeared to have won.

What Sparr had seen so far from the planet’s occupants didn’t fill him with hope. There was no sign of technology. Even the blades the Urst wielded were less like forged weapons and more like sharpened scrap metal lashed to wood or bone handles. The colony ships had been outfitted with gear to mine, refine, and fabricate the tools necessary to establish a modern society. Their transport should have been a mechanized platform resting on a mesh suspension, not a wagon of rough planks pulled by obstinate beasts. What had happened, Sparr wondered? How had things gone so wrong?

There was little time for further reflection. The Urst made camp, gathering wood, starting a fire, and preparing a simple meal. Once settled in, they released the prisoners two at a time to relieve themselves. Under the guard of three armed Urst, Sparr and Efreem were allowed no farther from the camp than necessary. The others, especially the women, were loosely guarded. Sparr guessed that they had earned the trust of the captors. Later, the captives were fed, their meal consisting of more of the hard crackers and a small serving of soup.

While several of the Urst kept guard over the prisoners, the others shared a skin of what Sparr took to be spirits. In turn, each took a drink from the bottle then tried to master their expressions of discomfort. When eventually they swallowed the liquor with a gasp, the others would laugh as a group, sometimes punching or slapping the drinker. The skin would be passed and the next would take his or her turn. It must be foul stuff, thought Sparr, though he noticed that the Urst women handled it with no more difficulty than the men.

The captives fell into a soft conversation, while Sparr mostly observed. His implant began to recognize a few more words. A fragment of conversation might sound like “home … child … wash … hurt … now.” Sparr practiced, adding one or two words at a time to his vocabulary, his efforts earning either surprise or confusion. From what he could gather, the seven of them had been together long enough to have formed a bond, even though from different tribes. Or was it villages? Any subtlety of the alien tongue was far from his grasp.

Sparr noticed the Urst leaders conversing, just outside the fire. Shortly, the male organized several of the party who in turn prodded the captives to their feet. As a group, they were herded toward the pool. Terse instructions issued from the chief. It appeared they were to bathe.

The men went first. Efreem and the two others tugged off the simple shifts they wore, revealing lean bodies with only modest amounts of body hair. Under the direction of the guards, the three waded to the waterfall. One of the Urst brought something which Sparr took to be soap. The men bathed, and after what the guards deemed a suitable period of time, were encouraged to rinse and exit the pool.

Sparr wasn’t certain what to expect. The guards hadn’t included him with the other men, and continued to ignore him. Instead, they encouraged the women. “wet … good … now … yes,” Sparr’s implant dutifully translated. Some of the other Urst, women included, wandered over to watch. A few showed the signs of the strong drink they were sharing.

Kaybe had two moons. The first of these, jokingly dubbed Feta by the crew of the Odysseus, now rose. Its pale light crept over the ridge, playing upon the women as they undressed. With considerably greater reserve than the men, the four women turned their backs to the assembly. As a group they wriggled free of their shifts and tossed them to the bank. Wading to the falls, they began to bathe, trying uselessly to preserve their modesty.

Sparr couldn’t help but look. Like the Olm men, the women had unblemished, dusky skin. And although pleasingly different from one another, as a whole they tended toward slimness. Their hair, kept long in simple braids, was dark brown, with red undertones. Watching the women bathe was immediately arousing. His organ woke.

Someone shoved Sparr forward. He spun, ready for a fight, then stopped abruptly. Before him stood the female leader of the Urst band, blade extended. She gestured toward the pool. “You … wash now … same.” Only Sparr could hear the implant’s translation. The compact woman jabbed at him with her blade.

Sparr undressed. He was still wearing the two-piece sleep suit worn during cryo. As the woman watched, Sparr tugged off the top. He flexed and stretched, the cool evening breeze a welcome change from the snug suit. Another of the women walked over, saying something softly to her companion. Ignoring them, Sparr slipped out of his boots and pulled off his pants.

At once, the atmosphere in the clearing changed. The woman with the blade drew in a sharp breath. Her friend said something sharp and untranslatable. Both stared at Sparr’s cock. Even a little cluster of Urst men, only recently ogling their captives, fell silent.

Rather than endure their stares, Sparr waded into the pool and began to bathe. After more than two days of exertion the water felt heavenly. He stretched his tightly muscled frame under the waterfall, turning to soap then rinse every corner. He washed his cock. Sparr knew he was well endowed. Even for a man of his height, his organ was above average. But it was the arousal from watching the Olm women bathe that had urged his cock to put on a show. Only after his arousal subsided did Sparr wade from the pool.

A tense scene awaited him. The co-leaders, whom Sparr would later learn were named Tawn and Gret, confronted each other, a rare moment of visible discord. Gret waved her blade recklessly, while behind her hovered the three other women of the party. Their glances flickered between the confrontation between the two leaders, and Sparr’s dripping wet body. For his part, Tawn stood unmoved, speaking quietly while periodically pointing over his shoulder toward the captives. Farther back, the men of the party half guarded the prisoners while warily assessing the conflict.

Suddenly, things eased. Gret seemed to make some subtle concession, after which Tawn nodded and stepped aside. One of the Urst women said something harsh, shot an angry glance at Sparr, then stormed off. Gret sheathed her blade.

The men hooted gleefully, passing the skin quickly now. Each took a long pull, no longer struggling to down the strong spirit. At a sign from Tawn, two of them dragged forward one of the Olm women.

Kess had drawn little notice when Sparr first had been shoved into the wagon. Shy and quiet, with large eyes, she had mostly remained behind her companions. Later, as the captives had shared the meal, Sparr caught her eyeing him more than once. Each time, she had looked away nervously. It wasn’t until Sparr had watched her bathing that he began to fully appreciate her charms. The young woman’s breasts were of average size, but perky, with areolas just darker than her dusky skin. Water still still dripped from her shoulders and hair, running down the fine hairs on her arms and belly. She was lovely.

“Fare gahn, yo,” said Gret, her voice becoming excited. She gestured at Kess while the others pressed closer in. “Nee fare now!”

Tawn seemed to be backing her up now. “Shae gahn, gahn!” He was grinning.

One of the Urst pulled a pallet forward, laying it near the fire. “Akee, gahn shode.”

Even with his translator struggling, Sparr understood. The Urst wanted him and Kess to fuck.

A half-circle swiftly formed around the pallet. Kess, bewildered and scared, was guided forward. She cast about frantically, seeking either her companions or escape. Less gently, Gret goaded Sparr along, her knife pressed against his spine. The pallet awaited them.

Sparr’s mind raced. He would happily fuck Kess. She was attractive enough, and her slim, sweet body was beguiling in every way. In almost any other situation he would have sought her out, looking intently for any sign of shared attraction. But their current circumstances didn’t lend him ease. Kess was frightened, clearly more interested in flight than coupling with a stranger in front of an audience. Even his organ was uncertain, retreating from its earlier arousal. He wouldn’t force himself on the poor woman.

Gret, though sensing the couple’s reluctance, still urged them forward. She spoke sharply to Kess, pointing at the pallet. “Sooshay nee! Sooshay!” She turned to Sparr. “There!”

Obediently, Kess knelt, flipped her braid out of the way, and turned her gaze toward Sparr. The woman’s eyes were wide, sparkling in the firelight. Her expression was one of worry, not outright fear. As the crowd let out a restless murmur, Kess opened her mouth.

Soft, wet tongue caressed the tip of Sparr’s cock, sending a shudder of pleasure through him. Kess repeated the motion, this time closing her lips over the head before slowly pulling back. The pretty Olm woman again met Sparr’s eyes, holding him in her gaze as she took more of his cock into her mouth. He groaned.

The crowd shifted as the remaining Urst pushed forward. Ignoring them, Kess took the rest of Sparr’s still soft cock into her mouth. Her eyes didn’t leave him. Sparr’s organ began to swell. Only after his shaft started to stiffen did she slowly retreat, her lips revealing the extent of his growing arousal. When his cock dropped from her mouth, she cradled it in her hands, mouth agape. Kess shook her head, muttered something quietly, then resumed. Licking from the base she slid her slick tongue along his entire length, circled the tip, then licked back down again. By the time she repeated the motion twice more, Sparr’s initial reluctance had vanished. He was rock hard in her hands.

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