“Nothing to see here, folks, just a man carrying parts for an air car.”

Sparr strode through the throng of sailors, merchants, and laborers crowding the Santi docks. Girls running errands and foremen bellowing at teams of porters fought for the same patch of rock as those hoping to sell them food, drink, or companionship. None of them found Sparr, carrying the fragment of an air car chassis, worthy of notice. A man lugging salvage on Kaybe was hardly a novel sight.

“Thaaaaat’s right,” he continued, grinning stupidly as he wove through the crowd, “just a futuristic car that will soar overhead like a giant, victorious bird!”

Sparr had woken up in an almost giddy mood. The simple act of snapping together two parts for the air car had felt deliciously tangible. He was no longer just collecting blueprints, he was building something. The money laundering was slowly draining his funds, and would almost certainly take weeks or months more, but it was working.

But where to assemble the thing? Sparr wasn’t even certain he could fit the largest of the parts through the eroded opening to the fabrication building. The fully assembled air car would need a large, secure space with an opening wide enough to fly the vehicle out. Ost’s warehouse would have been perfect, but there were too many eyes there. He knew where he might find a more private location.

“Still playing with toy boats?” Sparr asked. He found Captain Jance at the water’s edge, pants rolled up, nudging a model ship through the lapping waves.

Jance’s eyes lit with recognition, but he was too absorbed with the model to step from the water. “I want my tokens back on that ship design you sold me,” he said.

Sold you?”

“I’m sure of it,” Jance replied, but not without a telltale grin. “It doesn’t do what you said, look.” The mariner blew a lungful of air at the model’s tiny sail. The little ship responded by heeling over almost horizontally before drifting away at a crazy angle.

“Get out of the water and bring that thing,” Sparr said, laughing. “If you pour me a cup of tea I’ll give it a look.”

Jance muttered something about ‘pouring good tea after bad,’ but obligingly fetched the model and waded back to shore. He seemed to notice the air car fragment for the first time. “Going into the scrap business, Alain?”

“Sort of. I have a favor to ask, but let’s get a look at your model first.”

The Captain kept a small office at the base of the nearest dock. The dusty room might once have felt spacious but was now littered with boxes of fittings, coils of fine rope, and rolled charts. Jance laid the model on his desk, and, while Sparr examined it, put on the kettle.

“I wasn’t sure how interested you really were in the design I showed you.”

Jance rummaged through a stack of tiny boxes until he found the tea. “Well, I told you I’m thinking to build a new ship.”

“And you thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try the design the crazy guy who jumped ship at Horn Island showed me’?”

“The beast followed you willingly,” Jance said, referring to Bogg. “I trusted his judgment, anyway.”

Sparr turned the model around, examining it from several angles. Jance wasn’t the skilled craftsman that Ost was, but he had carved a respectable model. “The little model I carved for you on the Shai wasn’t very detailed,” Sparr said. “I think you just need to make a few tweaks.”

“Tweaks, huh?” Jance settled into a chair with a sigh.

“Yes. Do you have any parchment?”

“I just sat down, Alain, and I’m an old man. The parchment is over there.”

Sparr retrieved a sheet of the coarse parchment, and located a charcoal. He nudged the model to the side. “You got the keel right,” he said, “but it starts too close to the front of the ship, and doesn’t go far enough aft.” Using the charcoal, he drew an outline of the current keel, then another, heavier outline of what he proposed.

“What’s that?” Jance asked, jabbing his finger at the stern of the outline.

“That’s your new tiller. I didn’t have time to make one for the model I made on the Shai.”

Jance gave him a skeptical, sideways glance. “That won’t work. Where’s the handle? Where do I turn it?”

“Here.” Sparr drew a line from the rudder, straight up, then a horizontal handle. “Bring the handle right up through the hull. With the rudder, I mean tiller, closer to the keel you’ll have better control. Just a small adjustment will make a big difference. Can you see how the keel and tiller work together?”

“I see,” Jance said, slowly. For a time his eyes switched between the model and Sparr’s drawing. He sat back. “That’s okay, but it’ll still flop over when the wind hits it. You saw.” Jance was referring to how severely the model had leaned over when he blew on it.

“Yeah,” Sparr agreed. “Look, it’s tough with models this small. You just need to weight the keel.” He looked about the office before his eyes landed on a box of heavy nails. He held one up. “Glue this on the keel. Maybe two of them.”

“I will,” Jance agreed. The man’s inquisitive mind wouldn’t turn readily from a challenge, but neither would it rest until he had his questions answered. “But how would I weight the keel of an actual ship?”

Sparr had given this some thought. “Ost gave you some eepay wood, right?”

“Yes.” Jance rose to attend to the tea. “Strong wood, and beautiful,” he said, “but too heavy to build a ship from.”

“But perfect for a keel.”

Jance stared at him. “I knew Bogg had good judgment.”

The two chatted for a bit longer over the model, Sparr’s drawing, and the joys and dangers of the sea. Jance inquired about Sparr’s mission to Horn Island, but didn’t press for details. Before the tea grew cold, he changed the topic.

“You mentioned a favor.”

“Yes. You saw the scrap I brought.”


“I found some parts for a machine, but I need a place to build it.”

“From scrap? What kind of machine?”

“A vehicle, if I can find all of the pieces.” The word for vehicle in the local language was quite ambiguous.

“Hmmph,” Jance grumbled. “Maybe.” He led Sparr back outside. Set just back from the road which served the docks was a row of modest sheds. Jance opened one. “I mostly keep supplies for repairs in here.”

Sparr eyed the space skeptically. Like his office, Jance’s shed was large enough, but strewn with stacks of planks, jumbles of rope, barrels, pulleys, and other nautical debris.

“If I tidy it up for you…”

“Sure,” Jance said with a shrug. “So long as I can reach what I need, and only if you take another look at the model once I’ve made the changes.”

“Happy to!” Sparr enjoyed Jance’s company. His interactions with patrons at his shop tended to be brief and shallow. He had come to value more substantial conversations with Ost, Aine, and Jance. “I’ll drop by again tomorrow morning.”

Sparr happily dropped the air car parts and parted ways with Jance. He was one step farther along in his plan than he had been just an hour earlier.


The days fell into a predictable routine. Each morning Sparr lugged parts to Jance’s warehouse, covering them with a heavy leather tarp. He arranged the scattered lumber vertically, stacked barrels and chests, and stashed coils of rope on hooks, a constant battle to secure more space for the car. After, if Jance wasn’t at sea, the two would chat or sit in silence as Bogg dug in the sand for crabs.

In the afternoons he manned his shop. It was then that customers for the brown liquor would drop by, beginning their day early, or preparing for the night to come. In the evenings he closed shop, took a walk with Bogg, then returned to the fabricator to feed it the day’s tokens. Gradually, he collected more and more of the necessary part designs. One in particular caught his eye.

Warning plates – high litigation pack

Curious, Sparr fabricated the part, which turned out to be a sheet of labels which could be attached at various points in the air car’s cabin. He read them with growing amusement.

“Safety harness mandatory. Extenders available for passengers over 115kg”

“Operate in accordance with local ordinance”

“Thrusters may disturb wildlife”

“Always use restraining web for loose cargo”

And Sparr’s favorite:

“Do not exit the vehicle during flight”

He laughed, but fabricating the sheet of warning labels made clear a truth Sparr hadn’t previously given much thought to: he didn’t need every part for the car. If he hadn’t stumbled upon the labels the car would still run perfectly well. The same would almost certainly be true for other comfort and decorative components. Once the car could safely fly, he would be on his way.

The same night he fabbed the warning labels, Sparr discovered a design he had long wondered about.

Dueling saber – non-blunted

He had used just such a blade during his battle with Efreem months earlier in the Vonde arena. Balanced and supple, the blade had felt natural and responsive in his hand. Sparr was tempted. He had been holding off from fabbing anything that wasn’t an air car part. Most of the hoppers seemed full of ingots, but the fear of running out of resources prior to completing the car haunted him.

On the other hand, the saber could save his life. In a fight it would give him an advantage over an opponent armed with one of the shorter blades that were so common. What’s more, merely displaying the blade would be a deterrent. Impulsively, he fabbed it.

Few possessions had ever brought Sparr such immediate joy. Just as he remembered, the blade felt like an extension of his arm. The grip was sure, the blade just heavy enough, and the pommel sturdy. It would serve him well.

“En garde!” he shouted, grinning. Sparr lunged, parried an imaginary blade, and riposted. “Ah, ha!” He advanced and retreated as if facing a challenging foe, while Bogg watched, perplexed.

Sparr practiced well into the night.


“Where have you been sleeping?”

On the days when Sparr had no parts to carry to the shed, or when Jance was at sea, he would sometimes visit Ost at his warehouse. Today he found both Ost and Aine taking an inventory. It was the latter who, after looking Sparr up and down, posed the question.

She wasn’t wrong to ask. Sparr’s clothes were filthy after weeks of crawling through the hole in the side of the fabrication building, sleeping on the floor, and using Bogg as a backrest. “Life is inherently dirty,” he replied, “especially for a man of daring and adventure.”

“And a swordsman, I see.”

Sparr spun dramatically, the blade glittering even in the filtered light of the warehouse. He was still just a bit pleased with himself.

“That’s a fine blade,” Aine said. “Mind if I give it a look?”

Pulling the blade from his waist with a flourish, Sparr presented it with two hands.

Aine ran her fingers along the side, slipped them around the grip, and dropped into a stance. Like Sparr had the night before, she waved the blade cautiously, then leapt forward slashing the air as if launching an attack. Several of the warehouse workers stopped to watch. Not for the first time, the raven haired beauty had surprised him. Her confidence with the blade and in the bedroom were well matched. Almost reluctantly, she returned the saber, shifting her attention once again to his appearance.

“We need a spa day.”


“Will they launder those?” Sparr watched as a maiden left the bath, holding his discarded clothes at arm’s length.

“No, Alain,” Aine said, laughing, “they’ll need to be burned.”

The spa day had started with a trip to the Santi temple of the Origin, no less indulgent a place to bathe than its sister in Vonde, a sanctuary where pursuing one’s sexual appetites was in no way at odds with Origin teachings. The two were soaking in a stone tub overflowing with bubbles. Legs entwined, they faced each other, both warm, clean, and relaxed. Sparr’s face dripped with foam where Aine had flicked soap at him. Aine’s breasts were frustratingly obscured by the froth.

“So, what… I’ll just go naked?”

“Well, I’d like that,” Aine said. She slid her hands along his calves and back. “But, sadly, we’re going to have to dress you at some point. For now, just enjoy.”

Two maidens entered the bath, pretty blondes that might have been sisters. Both smiled at Aine, but settled themselves at Sparr’s side of the tub. One held a cup of thick foam, the other a razor.

“You look like a hermit,” Aine said.

The blondes got to work. One lay Sparr’s head back, cradling it against her thigh, and tugging his hair out of the way. The other soaped his beard and began to draw the blade against it. Weeks worth of growth dropped into the tub.

“Can I be a part-time hermit?” Sparr asked. “Free to pursue my own goals, reflect upon the harshness and rewards of a solitary life. Then, when I’ve at last found enlightenment, come fuck you wildly?”

“You can be a clean-shaven hermit,” Aine replied. “Only clean-shaven hermits can fuck me wildly.”

“Aine,” the first blonde said, trying to suppress a laugh, “I like him. You two are funny together.”

“You have no idea,” the brunette said, her eyes fixed on Sparr. “When you’re done there, clean him up below.”

Thus encouraged, the pair resumed shaving Sparr’s unruly beard. A few drops of scented oil had been added to the water, giving the cozy bath chamber an exotic atmosphere. Steam rose and swirled around them, dampening the almost sheer robes the maidens wore, highlighting their slim, youthful bodies. He sunk as low into the suds as allowed by the ritual of shaving.

“Up,” the second blonde said. The pair had finished cutting and rinsing his beard. “It’s time for the rest of your treatment.” Sparr obliged, pulling his toned, dripping body from the water. He sat on the edge of the tub.

“Oh my!” the first blonde said, eyeing Sparr’s soft cock. “Have you two already-“

“Yes. Yes we have. Several times.” Aine smiled wickedly at Sparr before turning her gaze to the maidens. “Shave him nice and close there, too.”

The first blonde carefully cradled Sparr’s organ while the second spread a thick layer of shaving foam on and around his balls. A surge of arousal intruded into his relaxed state.

“Stroke him,” Aine suggested. “Makes it easier, right?”

“You don’t mind?” the second maiden asked, shooting Aine a surprised look.

“Please,” Aine said indulgently.

Sparr was just as surprised as the maiden, but equally aroused. The blonde lifted his cock, squeezing and stroking it as the warmth of lust woke in him. As he began to swell and stiffen, the maiden with the razor got to work, carefully scraping away the hair on his balls.

“Is he of Wave or of Stone?” the first maiden asked, her eyes locked on to Sparr’s now hard shaft.

Aine appraised Sparr, her eyes brazenly traveling his body. “I’m not sure he’s decided quite yet. His cock is of Stone, but he wavers on his path.”

“Mmm,” the maiden said. “Well, if he disappoints you, bring him to me.”

“Nooo,” the other maiden objected. “No, to me!” She was almost done with the skilled, patient work of shaving Sparr’s most sensitive flesh. “Wave, Stone… bird, cloud,” she laughed, “I’ll take your discards any time, Aine.”

“I’m not discarding anything,” Aine chided. “Rinse him.”

The maidens obliged. Giggling at their naughty talk, the two poured warm water over his manhood. Sparr’s cock stood proudly, veins popping along its full, fat length, the head swollen and eager.

The first maiden gawked. “Are you taking him to the ceremony?”

“Yes,” Aine said, clearly enjoying the maidens’ reaction. “We’ll need the clothes, though?”

“Oh yes,” the second maiden said. She darted out with the shaving supplies, only to return a moment later with two stacks of clothes. The first she held up: two pairs of utilitarian trousers sewn from rugged, ocher-colored material. They weren’t beautiful, but had been double-stitched for durability, had simple pockets, and featured ties at the knees in the local style.

“These,” Aine said, noting the earthy color, “won’t look quite as filthy from your life of daring and adventure. And there are shirts to match.”

Sparr reached for them, but the maiden turned away, placing both sets on a stool.

“Oh no, not this afternoon, Alain. You’ll be wearing the other.”

The maiden unfolded the second set. The trousers were finely-sewn from a softer material of a neutral hue, reminiscent of linen. Sparr pulled them on, carefully tucking his still engorged cock away while the maiden pretended not to look. The shirt was striking, cut from a silky burgundy fabric. He wriggled into it, pleased with the way it caressed his skin. He didn’t need a mirror to know that both the shirt and trousers were perfectly sized.

“I’m especially proud of the vest,” Aine said. She opened the garment, helping Sparr into it. “It’s perfect for a man who has yet to choose his path.” She buttoned it up.

Sparr ran his fingers over the vest, admiring the skilled tailoring. Like the vests and jackets favored by Ost and others who followed the way of the Wave, it was pieced together from half a hundred fragments of fabric of different sizes and shapes. Unlike the other frantically colorful garments, however, the palette was considerably more restrained, as would suit a follower of Stone. Only a few slivers of burgundy found a home among the cream, mahogany, and sepia.

“These are amazing,” Sparr said. With the new clothes and his gleaming saber he felt like a different man. He paused, uncertain of the significance of the gift, but Aine brushed the moment aside.

“Please,” she said. “I can’t have you looking like a brute in the temple now, can I?”

Aine toweled, dressed, and led Sparr to the temple’s ceremonial hall. A swirl of different emotions competed for his attention as they entered. He had been a slave at the temple in Vonde, his sole purpose to boost Liette’s ego, warm her bed, and serve as a taunt aimed at the Governor. On the other hand, he had made friends, been kept safe, and bedded other women as well. His place in the Origin, eventually, had led to his journey to Shong, and freedom. Sparr bit back his misgivings and accompanied Aine to the hall.

“Hear and know!” Like ceremonies at the Vonde temple, the Santi priest opened with a call to the faithful. “Omm cast down the machines. He who had everything saw the corruption the makers wrought.”

“I didn’t take you for a believer,” Sparr whispered.

Aine smiled but kept her eyes on the ceremony unfolding before them. “What I believe is, being seen here creates opportunity. Half the people in this room we either do business with, or would like to. Plus,” she said, this time sending him a sly glance, “it’s not a bad place to hang out if you’re looking for a good time.”

“Who will sacrifice?” the priest called out.

The supplicants shuffled restlessly, jostling for attention. The priest called upon a finely-attired woman of middle years, who offered a stack of tokens. A prince accompanied her to the wheel, which they spun together.

“Wisdom!” the priest called out. “Omm has taken your burden.” The prince led the woman to an alcove where a maiden brought her one of the drugged scrolls.

The ceremony played out much as it had in Vonde, with supplicants, single or in pairs, placing stacks of tokens into a shallow bowl, then spinning the wheel. Aine made no move to participate.

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