With exquisite care, Sparr peered around the corner. Only the female assassin remained. Eyes wide with fear, but staff raised, she faced the drone.

But it wasn’t her the drone was interested in. Instead, it floated along the alley until it hovered just over the male assassin. It clicked and hummed, spinning slowly as it glided back and forth across the unconscious man. A spark flashed at the base of the drone, as suddenly the man stiffened, his back arching while his arms contorted into unnatural angles. He twitched, then collapsed. The drone hovered for another twenty seconds, then began to float toward the female assassin.

Yielding to better judgment, the woman fled, racing down the alley and out into the street. The drone, too, left the scene, gradually climbing until Sparr no longer heard its thrusters. Already suspecting what he would find, Sparr crept forward to inspect the man. The assassin was dead, his body stiff from whatever electrical convulsion the drone had induced. Sparr left the alley before he could be cornered again.

Sparr thought he knew what had happened. The injector which the assassin had been carrying had contained two substances, with two different functions. One was a powerful sedative, meant to leave the victim helpless. The other allowed an Alliance drone to locate the victim, scan him or her, and then administer a shock to which the substance no doubt left the victim particularly vulnerable. He was sure that Calista and Kevin had given instructions to use the injector even if one of the assassins had killed Sparr outright. The drone would confirm the kill.

There were still three assassins hunting him, although the woman with the staff might be too terrified to be an immediate danger. Whatever their briefing had been, no one had told the assassins they were being shadowed by a drone. She had seen it kill one of her companions. For all she knew, it might be defending Sparr.

Taking a wide path back to the plaza, Sparr formulated a new plan. He’d sneak back to Cee’s cottage and wait for her to return. If he could identify the other two assassins he could follow them and hope for another chance to isolate one. If not, at least he could hide out there until after dark.

Except he never got there. As Sparr approached the plaza, he kept the waterfront on his left. Once close enough, Bogg, who never got enough crabs, ambled off to dig in the surf. Sparr watched him for a second, but when he turned back something caught his eye. A man one street over turned quickly away, but he had been looking directly at Sparr. He was wearing one of the same thigh pouches as the earlier assassin.

“Fuck,” Sparr whispered to himself. He pretended to stumble, looking back in feigned confusion as if seeking what had caught his foot. Just as he feared, a woman was following at a safe distance, armed and alert. He was caught, and almost certainly by skilled and experienced fighters. If he was to have any chance, he would have to separate them.

Sparr sauntered toward the plaza, pretending that he didn’t know he was being shadowed. The man, a bald and tattooed figure, closed steadily as his partner fell back. He carried a pair of long knives at his waist, but wasn’t brandishing them. Sparr guessed at the strategy. If he could get close enough to Sparr, the assassin would jab him with the injector, then leave the drone to complete the job. No one in the plaza would connect them to the subsequent arrival of the ‘demon machine’. Sparr had other ideas.

Just before the tattooed man was close enough to attack him, Sparr sprinted left onto the nearest dock. Leaping over a stack of crates, he dashed toward the end, where a fat ship was moored. He heard the assassin curse behind him before taking up the chase. For a fleeting moment, the chase was just the two men.

Sparr leapt to the ship, startling several deckhands who had been busy unloading barrels. As soon as he gained his footing he spun, ready to face his pursuer. Like Sparr, the assassin jumped from the dock to the deck of the ship, and right into the path of his quarry’s saber. Sparr slashed the man’s wrist, laying open a deep wound. The man howled in pain, dropping one of his knives. Sparr struck again, a blow intended to bring the assassin down, but the man avoided the worst of it, escaping with a bloody cut to his thigh. Incredibly, the assassin lunged forward, unleashing a primal scream.

The two traded blows. The assassin roared forward, fueled by adrenaline and rage, his body bleeding heavily from the two cuts. Unprepared for such ferocity, Sparr fell back, able to defend himself with the longer saber, but unable to mount a counterattack. Finally, just as he was pushed to the far edge of the ship’s deck, Sparr stood his ground. He landed a flailing cut which dug deep into the assassin’s remaining good arm. The man dropped the second knife, but his momentum carried him into Sparr. The two plunged over the deck into the waiting sea.

Frigid water jolted him, and knocked the saber from his grasp. For a desperate moment, his opponent’s flailing arms tangled with Sparr, threatening to drown him. He dove, escaping the assassin, found the ship’s hull, and resurfaced, gasping. Two meters away, the assassin struggled helplessly. He evidently couldn’t swim, and had lost too much blood. As Sparr watched with a mixture of pity and relief, the man clawed at the ship’s hull, flailed uselessly against the waves, and gulped sea water. He sank.

Sparr’s lone remaining pursuer shrieked on the deck above him, followed by the indignant bellow of sailors. Surely she had seen them go over the edge, but the curve of the ship’s hull prevented her from locating Sparr.

Cold was soaking into his bones. Sparr wanted nothing more than to swim to shore, but he was unarmed. Resigning himself to the task, he dove. The sea floor was alternately seeping mud and the sharp edge of shell and rock. No light penetrated the water. He scratched and tore at the muck, surfaced to catch his breath, and dove again. On the fourth try he found the assassin’s limp body. On the fifth he found his saber. At last, shaking uncontrollably from the chill, he paddled under the dock to the welcoming sand.

Overhead the commotion hadn’t abated. Sparr could still hear agitated sailors, but not the assassin. He had to find somewhere to rest, to warm back up, but not Cee’s cottage; he refused to endanger her. Instead, Sparr headed toward the shed where he kept the partially-assembled air car.

He almost made it. Just as Sparr reached the shed, he heard an angry screech of recognition behind him. He ducked quickly inside, still shivering. He was furious, and he was tired. He was tired of being hunted, furious at Calista, and exhausted by the entire mess that Kaybe had become.

Sparr threw down the object that he had retrieved from the drowned assassin. The injector, one half filled with a thick, yellow fluid, the other half with a glittering, silver gel, lay on the floor of the shed, taunting him. With a sudden, perverse anger, he grabbed a chunk of wood, striking one side of the injector. The synthetic casing spiderwebbed. He struck it again, and a third time. At last the casing shattered, spilling the yellow fluid onto the sawdust-strewn floor. Only the silver gel remained. Sparr lifted the thing.

The female assassin was approaching, cursing under her breath as she approached the shed. “You’re here, fucker! I know it. I saw you. Just come out. Just come die.” She tried the door, pushing it open carefully. He could just see the tip of her blade glinting in the dim light.

“Yes, I’m here!” All of Sparr’s tension, anger, and frustration boiled over. He tore open the door, grabbed the assassin’s wrist, and yanked her half into the shed. He plunged the injector into her neck, watching with satisfaction as the device emitted its flash of light. “It’s your turn!” he said triumphantly, kicking her back into the street. “Run! Run, you murderous bitch!”

The assassin stumbled backwards, her blade falling to the dirt. She snatched it back and threw herself against the door, grunting and cursing. It was no use. Sparr held it closed from the inside.

“Run, I said! Run while you still can.”

The door thumped once more as the assassin crashed against it. “No one’s running!” she said, her voice rough with exertion, with rage. “Stay there, then. Stay there in your little hole. We’re going to dig you out, dig you out like a bug, then we’ll…” Her voice trailed off for a moment. “Then we’ll…”

Sparr heard it too, the distant whine of the drone’s thrusters. “I told you to run.”

From outside the door came the crunch of gravel as the assassin scrambled back. “What in Omm’s name?” she gasped. Cries of alarm were also rising from the plaza as more of the town’s citizens began to notice the drone, but no one’s voice was more desperate than the assassin’s. “Help me!” she cried out to no one in particular, before racing away along the waterfront.

Sparr peered through the door in time to see the drone float by, fewer than five meters above the ground. It pursued the assassin almost lazily, turning periodically as it tracked her first with one sensor, then another. Then with a sudden burst of speed the drone shot forward and dropped in front of her. The assassin scrambled to a halt and lunged to her right, back toward town. The effort was futile. The drone emitted the same spark of energy that Sparr had witnessed earlier.

He looked away before she fell.


Sparr rose early, walking with Bogg through the pre-dawn light. With only a few other early risers, Santi was like a different city. The low-slung colonist buildings seemed almost intact, as if whatever mishap had befallen their original occupants had unfolded recently. Around them, the chaotic sprawl of sheds, shanties, patchwork houses, and shops, looked more quirky than desperate. The town didn’t lack character.

He found her propped against a tree near the dock-side of the plaza. The sole-remaining assassin was half asleep, no doubt waiting for the ship which would take her back across the sea. Sparr kicked her staff away then quickly crouched, his blade against her neck. She blinked slowly, recognition, but not surprise, coloring her expression. There was scant life in the woman’s eyes.

“What are you?” she asked.

Sparr ignored the question. “You know what I can do,” he began. The previous day’s fury had abated, replaced by an iron resolve. “Now, I want you to tell your masters, the ones holding your leash, tell them they don’t need to send more assassins.” He kept the blade pushed against her neck, just short of drawing blood. “Tell them, they don’t need to track me, or hunt me. Tell them,” he said, looming over her, “that I’m hunting them now.”

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