It was here somewhere.

Santi lay spread out before and below him, a crescent of chaotic human occupation pressed against the craggy peak at its center. From his vantage point partway up the mountain, Sparr could make out docks, warehouses, squares, and the tangled knot of streets and alleys that made up most of the town’s residential zones.

The map he studied on Horn Island had been clear. Somewhere on the northern side of Santi was a fabrication site. Someone onboard the Odysseus had detected it either from orbit or from a drone flyover. To find the site would allow him to tug on yet another thread of the Kaybe mystery. To fail could mean a dead end.

Sparr seated himself alongside Bogg, both of them fatigued. He had spent most of the day crisscrossing the town, checking with his communicator as often as discretion would permit. There had been no sign of radio signals or Alliance activity. Soon Kaybe’s setting star would put an end to his search. It wouldn’t be safe to be on the mountain after dark.

Suddenly, a glimmer of light caught his eye, the low angle of the star glinting off of a reflective surface. Nothing in Santi should be so shiny. Sparr stood quickly, scanning for landmarks. The shimmer was near the center of a triangle formed by the main docks, a cluster of fine homes, and a massive warehouse. Energized, he scampered down the slope, a spray of rocks fleeing before him.

Unlike Shong, Santi wasn’t, had never been, a city of spires. There were still unmistakable signs of the original architecture, but they took the form of low, contour-hugging structures that never thought to challenge the sky. Moreover, the buildings themselves were in better condition than their sisters in Shong. Most were occupied, and though the glass windows had been scavenged, they were otherwise largely intact.

Sparr dashed through the maze of streets, hoping to find the source of the reflection. He caught one more glimpse of it before the light faded, then he was back among the suffocating alleys. He must be close. The peaked roofs of the fine homes he had seen from his earlier vantage were still visible to the west, their tips silhouetted against the pink, early evening sky. To the north he caught occasional glimpses of the docks. Whatever he had seen, it could be no more than a few blocks away.

But what, exactly, had he seen? To catch the setting sun as it had, the surface must be roughly horizontal. The most likely explanation was some sort of flat roof, but Sparr couldn’t rule out an open courtyard. He might simply have seen the reflection from a glass scavenger’s warehouse. A first circuit of the area revealed nothing promising, but as he began to consider giving up his search for the evening, something caught his eye.

On Earth, the place would have been considered a retail courtyard, most likely with some pretentious name such as Artisan’s Square. Sparr had ruled it out at first. There was little possibility that such a fragmented and cluttered plot of land could contain anything large enough to reflect so much light. Then he noticed that the courtyard occupied only a fraction of the lot. He wandered in.

The merchants ignored Sparr, either already packing up their stalls for the day, or dulled with boredom and fatigue. Most of the stalls were modest in size, built along the sides, but a few larger ones occupied the back wall. Sparr recognized the wall as belonging to one of the original colonist-era structures, a featureless two-level slab. He craned his neck. The building had a flat roof.

Sparr studied the wall. The merchant on the left was selling bundles of tanned leather, but the merchant on the right had laid out a series of identical pipes for sale. Each was bent at a ninety degree angle at one end, and each was precisely threaded. They bore no sign of forcible removal. The pipes weren’t scavenged, they were fabricated.

“It doesn’t look like anyone is buying your pipes,” Sparr said, addressing the shopkeeper.

“Sold one last week,” the man said, barely raising his eyes. “Two tokens.”

“Mind if I ask who makes them for you?”

The shopkeeper stood, eyeing Sparr suspiciously. He was no more than forty, but, with sallow skin and drooping eyes, looked older. A nasty scar marked his ear and neck. “I do,” he said, glaring at Sparr. “Two tokens.”

Sparr noticed that the stall was just wider than the building itself, creating a gap around the side. The shopkeeper must have access to the building. “I’m just looking,” Sparr said, before stepping back. The man stared after him.

The land sloped upward from where he stood. The fabrication site, if that’s what it was, must have been built into the side of the hill. Sparr circled the block. A row of decrepit houses lined the next street over, but there was a gap between two of them just wide enough to accommodate him. He wriggled through, and was rewarded with the view he had been seeking for the past half hour. The roof of the building was lined with solar panels. He had found the fabrication site.

Sparr tried to fight back a surge of hope. The shopkeeper must have found a way in, but there was little other sign of damage. If all the man had done was loot the pipes, the facility could still be in workable condition. The back of the roof was less than two meters below him. Sparr looked over his shoulder at Bogg, who appeared too wide to fit through the gap. “Back in a minute, buddy,” he said, before dropping over the edge.

The panels covered almost the entire roof, but left just enough room at the edges for Sparr to land safely. He crouched, walking awkwardly to the same side of the building that bordered the shop. Here, years of erosion had washed away the soil, exposing the building’s side. He scrambled down. The hole he knew he would find was less than ten meters from the front of the building.

He had to crawl to get through, discovering a sprawling room that wasn’t as dark as he expected. Sparr realized that the solar panels doubled as skylights. He would have roughly half an hour before it became too dark to navigate. The main entrance, he realized, had been on the opposite side. Decades, if not centuries, earlier, the adjacent building had blocked it. Only the recent discovery of the erosion-exposed hole allowed entry. Along the far wall sat several massive hoppers, each feeding into a bundle of pipes running along the floor to what could only be the replicator itself. A nearby panel sat dark.

“Scan,” Sparr said, speaking to his implant.

Archaic terminal, the implant replied. Access locked with ten twenty-four-bit key.


Unlocked, the implant replied. Before him, the panel clicked on.

Component replication mode.

 Component library

 Manual key

It was just like the replicator in Shong. Sparr touched the first option, ‘Component library’. The screen displayed a list of parts:

– 1m x 5cm pipe, standard threading

– 1m x 5cm pipe, 90-degree bend, standard threading

– 1m x 5cm pipe, 45-degree bend, standard threading

– …

Sparr scanned the list. It contained only pipes and valves, nothing of use. He cursed, then tried ‘Manual key’.

Enter manual key.

He fed the machine a token. Sparr had both spent and acquired numerous tokens since Shong. His collection by now must include several new designs.

Worm screw for tiller axle assembly. Another useless piece of farming equipment, Sparr realized. He fed it another token.

Window molding, warm environments, 25m strip.

Groaning in frustration, Sparr fed the machine several more tokens, receiving nothing back that seemed remotely useful. How many different part designs had the original colonists brought with them? A simple automated tiller would require hundreds, as would a building climate system. He had fewer than twenty tokens. Even if one of them was a part for a long-range radio, how would he get the others? His spirits sagging, he fed the last few tokens into the slot.

Air car lift control plate, small.

Sparr stared at the screen, mouth agape. An air car. He thought about it, struggling to pull himself in a new direction. He had been so focused on contacting the Odysseus that discovering or building a long-range radio had seemed like the only option. An air car would be even better, he realized. A fast flyer, capable of traveling over land and sea, could shave months off of a journey, keep him from routine harm, and might possibly put him at a tactical advantage in a conflict. It would be a game-changer. He chose the ‘fabricate now’ option.

This replicator, he realized, was considerably more powerful than the one in Shong. From somewhere buried in the floor, a deep, pneumatic hum swelled. Sparr could make out a distinct clicking sound from one of the hoppers. After roughly a minute, the fabricator’s door slid open to reveal a perforated metal plate, hinged at its center. After waiting several minutes for the plate to cool, Sparr picked it up.

“Well, that’s a new trick.”

The voice came from behind him. Sparr turned to see a woman and two men standing less than ten meters away. They must have wriggled into the building while his attention was focused on the panel.

It was the woman who had spoken. She might have been attractive once, might still have been, if her life had gone differently. Of above average height, she had an athletic build and close-cut sandy blonde hair. It was her eyes that were cruel. “What are you doing in here?”

Sparr scrambled for an explanation. “I heard something,” he said. “A grinding sound or something like that. Wanted to check it out.”

“Huh,” the woman said, her voice heavy with menace. She pulled a blade from her belt. “A grinding sound.”

“He’s the one I told you about, Nesee.”

Sparr recognized the man who had spoken. He was the shopkeeper trying to unload the looted pipes. He carried one of the pipes in his hand now, tapping it against his palm. The third man, little more than a youth, also had a blade. They spread to flank him.

“Hey,” said Sparr. He dropped the plate and opened his hands in a placating gesture. “I didn’t know this was your spot. I can just move on. It’s cool.”

The woman, Nesee, said nothing, merely watching as her companions closed in on Sparr. There would be no reasoning with them, he realized. He would have to devise a strategy quickly. Worse, he had stuffed his weapons into the pack before wriggling through the cramped hole.

“Wait, wait,” he pleaded. “I know how to work the machine.” Sparr turned to the youth. “I can make something better than that,” he said, pointing to the nicked blade the man carried, “a man’s weapon!”

Sparr thought he noticed the youth’s eyes light up at the mention of a weapon. He turned to his companions for approval. Before the others could object, Sparr returned to the panel. He quickly selected Component library, found Worm screw for tiller assembly, and pressed Fabricate now. Once again, the building thrummed with purpose.

Both the blonde leader and the shopkeeper stepped back, but the youth pressed forward, fascinated. Shortly the fabricator door opened, revealing the worm screw, a heavy, half-meter long cylinder threaded on the outside like an enormous bolt. Sparr made a show of reaching for the freshly-fabricated part. Just as he had hoped, the youth darted in front of Sparr to snatch at the screw.

“Fuuuuuuuuck!” He pulled back in agony, his hands seared by the still glowing-hot screw. The knife slipped from his scorched fingers.

Sparr was ready. As the youth stumbled back screaming, Sparr launched himself forward. He slammed into the man, snatched up the dropped knife, and scrambled away.

“Bastard!” Nesee shrieked. She lunged at Sparr, her hand a dizzying blur of slashes.

Sparr fell back, barely able to defend himself. His longer reach gave him an edge, but the blonde’s lightning speed more than compensated for it. Only by yielding a bit of ground with each attack could Sparr avoid the wicked blade. Relentlessly she drove him back, first to the outer wall of the building, then along it. The shopkeeper, pipe in hand, flanked the duo. The man grinned. Once the blonde drove Sparr to the far corner he would be trapped.

She cut him, pain flashing through Sparr’s forearm. He had never faced such a swift opponent in the arena, or so much as sparred with one. Only a desperate move could save him, and it would need to be soon. He was running out of room and out of time. With no more than ten meters left to yield, he prepared for an all or nothing lunge.

The shopkeeper’s face gave it away first. As Sparr steadily yielded, he checked the man’s position once again, only to see his attacker’s eyes open in a confused stare. Sparr flicked his gaze quickly back toward the blonde, thinking that perhaps she was on the cusp of her final attack. Instead, she shrieked, staring down before stumbling forward clumsily. Sparr flung himself out of her way, striking quickly as she passed. His blade pierced her side, leaving a deep and bloody gash.

“Uhhhhhhh,” she groaned, staggering against the wall. She glared at Sparr, confusion and pain written on her face. Blood seeped between her fingers as she pressed them against her wound.

The entire texture of the fight had changed in an instant. Sparr spun swiftly, locating both the shopkeeper and the injured youth. The former had a wide-eyed look, retreating swiftly. The latter still crouched, tending to his burns. Sparr didn’t hesitate. Preserving his advantage, he closed in on the shopkeeper. The man swung his pipe frantically in one sweeping arc after another, looking to his comrades for help. Sparr feinted and lunged, pressing his attack and driving the man backward. His opponent was tiring quickly, his energy drained from wielding the heavy pipe. Finally, just before Sparr would have cornered him, the man lunged, committing fully to a powerful blow. Sparr waited for the blow to swing wide, stepped in, and planted his blade in the man’s neck. The sallow man collapsed, his mouth opening and closing soundlessly, as a spurt of blood soaked the floor.

Surely it was almost over. Sparr gulped air, trying to assess the situation in the building’s rapidly dimming light. The blonde had sagged against the wall, her hands clutching futilely at the wound in her side. She was no longer a threat. Only the youth remained.

“Please,” the young man said, hauling himself to his feet. “I never-“

“Out!” Sparr bellowed, but the youth didn’t move. His eyes were fixed on the opening to the outside.

Sparr looked, and at last, understood why his fate so swiftly had changed. Bogg, his eyes fixed on Sparr, filled the opening entirely. His claws were bloody. The beast, possibly sensing Sparr’s distress, had somehow dragged his thick haunches between the shacks, dropped to the building’s roof, and lodged himself in the cramped opening. It was Bogg that had tripped up the blonde.

“Good boy!” Sparr said. He gave Bogg a muzzle scratch and shooed him away from the opening. He turned to the youth. “You have thirty seconds to follow me out. If you don’t, you have another thirty before I come back in. If either of us sees you again, Bogg gets to eat your liver.” He wriggled through the hole.

It didn’t take the youth fifteen seconds to extract himself.


“Well, your little scratch hasn’t slowed you down too much.”

Sparr lay blissfully on his back, happily pinned by the brunette who rode him. “Aine, please,” he said. “You know I’m happy to-“

“Hush, hush,” she said. The caramel-skinned beauty grinned at him wickedly. “You just let Aine take care of you.” She bounced and ground against him, her voluptuous body driving him ever nearer release.

In fact, the entire morning had been one of rejuvenation. After burying the bodies and passing an uncomfortable night at the fabrication site, Sparr had woken groggily, the cut on his arm barely scabbed over. At that hour, only firewood vendors and fishermen were about. After a few cautious inquiries, he had been directed to the house of Ost.

“You’re lucky Father isn’t here,” Sylva had said, her gaze taking in Sparr’s abused body. “I’ll find Aine.”

The next half hour had been a whirlwind of attention. After rushing to him, Aine had tended to Sparr’s arm, stoked the fire for a bath, and undressed him. He almost drifted to sleep in the luxuriously hot water, but when Aine at last took him to bed, Sparr had rallied. Now the pair neared the end of a sweet and languorous lovemaking session.

“I liked it aboard the Shai,” Aine said softly. She ground against Sparr slowly, working his near-bursting cock into her slick depths. “The unpredictable pitching of the ship, the rolling with the waves.”

“Unhh,” Sparr groaned back. “I… ahhh, I like it here in your soft bed, you can be the waves.”

“I can’t be the waves,” Aine chided. Her breasts pressed and slid along his chest. “I’m of Stone, remember?”

“I thought I was of Stone?”

“You are right now,” she purred.

Sparr was awash in bliss. Aine’s warm, soft skin, wet pussy, and lingering kisses had completely eroded his staying power. He would turn the corner in just seconds.

“Tease me with your hair,” Sparr groaned.

“Oh, yes,” Aine said. She trembled sweetly against him, a sure sign her own release was approaching. “I know you like it.” She leaned forward, shaking her untamed, gleaming hair around Sparr’s chest, neck, and face. She kissed him, then pulled back just a few inches to admire him, her smile smug. Aine savored the control she had over Sparr, her mastery of his needs and desires.

Every part of him was in contact with his lover, every nerve ending. Sparr began to slip into the abyss. “Oh Aine,” he groaned. “Oh, oh fuck.”

“Yessssss,” she moaned, pressing her lips against his ear. “Cum with me Alain, cum with me now.” Her fingers dug into him, tensing as her own orgasm loomed.

“Fuhhhhhhhhhh!” Sparr cried out. Orgasm caught him, demanding he surrender to it. He obeyed, shooting a blast of hot cum into Aine as dizzying pleasure swept over him.

“Yesss,” Aine repeated. “Oooh fuh, fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” Her tremble turned into a near convulsion, her pussy tightening again and again as she came.

Sparr gasped, releasing another pulse of cum into Aine’s welcoming slit. “Yeahhh!” He bucked his hips, driving his cock as deep as possible. The pair gasped and came together, their bodies a tangle of trembling, ecstatic flesh.

Aine, at last, collapsed on top of him, her body heaving. Her hair fell in a delicious spill across his face, the aroma matching that of her skin, exotic and sweet. Sparr embraced Aine, holding her fiercely against him, sharing his orgasm with her, and hers with him. Eventually, both lay still, only their labored breathing revealing the earlier exertions.

“I heard that!” Sylva shouted from the next room.


“Where’s Thani?”

Sparr was tidying up the stall previously operated by the pipe merchant. He couldn’t risk someone else claiming the spot and discovering the entrance to the fabrication site. Unsurprisingly, the neighboring shopkeeper was curious.

“I’m operating the stall for him while he’s away,” Sparr replied.

“I’ve never seen you here before,” the man said.

“I’m an old friend,” Sparr said. “Anyway, I saw him leaving with Nesee. You know her? If I see her should I say you were asking?”

The bluff worked. “No, no,” the man said, pulling back. He suddenly had bundles of leather to sort. “You don’t have to do that.”

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