Lost Colony Ch. 12-1

Author’s note:

This is chapter twelve of my series Lost Colony. Most readers should start with chapter one, but if you want to scroll down to the steamy parts, be my guest!

This is a work of (science) fiction. All characters are over age eighteen. Thanks for reading!

BTW, I published a summary of the first eight chapters, so if you’re just joining the story and want to catch up without reading those chapters, you can read the summary. Naturally, it’s full of spoilers; as the author I’d rather you read the entire thing!

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“Stop! Alain, just slow down for a minute. Let me see if I’ve got this straight.” Tracee was propped up in the modest room’s bed, sipping on an oversized goblet of water while nibbling at a fruit that on Earth might have passed for a plum.

“Okay,” Sparr said, allowing himself a smile. A day of rest and enough to eat had helped revive Tracee. It would take a while for her to fully recover, but her energy was returning. So was her appetite for teasing Sparr.

Tracee continued. “So, during your time on this garden spot of a planet, you’ve held the following jobs.” She held up both hands and began counting off, raising one finger at a time. “Gladiator, some kind of sex slave at a church, a caravan guard, drone killer-for-hire, ship designer, timber marketing consultant, and hunter. Did I miss anything?”

“I also helped out in the temple kitchen and fetched supplies.”

“That falls under ‘other duties as assigned’.” Tracee flung the pit in the general direction of Bogg, who gingerly nibbled at the remaining flesh. “And you got a dog. I can smell him.”

“He’s part bear, part dog, I told you.”

“I wish I could see him.”

“Yeah, let’s check on that.” Sparr was still trying to piece together Tracee’s story, but one thing was clear. She had been separated from the Odysseus camp for so long that her lenses had run out of power. She was, as she had first said to Sparr, blind.

The same survival blanket that Sparr had been using to keep his communicator charged also worked for the power cells in Tracee’s lenses. He disconnected the cells from the blanket, slotted them into the lenses, and watched as Tracee activated them. Five seconds later the lenses lit up.

Tracee jerked forward, her mouth opening in surprise. “I had forgotten… Oh, Alain, I… honestly, I didn’t know if I’d ever see again.” Tears dripped from tiny ports built into the lenses for just that purpose. “He’s adorable!” she continued, her lenses fixing on Bogg. She beckoned the creature over and spent half a minute scratching his greying muzzle while the beast groaned with pleasure.

“I’m just glad the only problem was the battery,” Sparr said. “And I told you he wasn’t a dog.”

“He’s totally a dog. Aren’t you, Bogg? Aren’t you, good boy?” When Tracee had her share of bonding with Bogg, she finally turned her attention to Sparr. “You, on the other hand,” her eyes swept over him, “have put on a lot of mileage.”

“Hey,” Sparr objected, “being a sex-slave gladiator is a difficult life.” He had, over the months, picked up several scars, along with a bit of muscle. “And anyway, speaking of what’s a dog and what isn’t, that’s been driving me crazy. I see a plant or an animal that I’m curious about and I can’t do any analysis.”

“Yeah, I feel bad about losing that.”

“Losing what?”

“The gene sequencer. I had one with me when I was captured.”

“You had one?” Sparr was stunned. His portable gene sequencer was the single piece of equipment he most missed. “That slaver took it?”

“Yes. I have no idea what happened to it.”

Sparr did. On Kaybe, he had learned, it was common for slavers to carry the personal effects of those they had captured. Sparr’s pack had been passed on to the temple of the Origin in Vonde when they bought him from the Governor. The slaver hadn’t offered anything of Tracee’s when Sparr had bought her freedom, but that was hardly surprising. It hadn’t been a friendly transaction.

“Do you have any idea where they were going, the slavers?”

“Mmm? Oh.” Tracee was getting tired again, leaning back against the cushions as if on the brink of sleep. It would be at least another day before she could safely travel. “I’m not sure, but I think this was as far south as they planned to go.”

Sparr was eager to recover the gene sequencer. He didn’t need it in order to reach the Odysseus, but from what he was beginning to suspect about the reason behind Calista’s betrayal, it might help. Just as importantly, his entire purpose on Kaybe was to catalog species. Things had gone terribly awry, but Sparr could hardly forget why he came in the first place. Acquiring the sequencer would be a start at reclaiming his mission.

“I’m going to see if I can get that sequencer. I should be back later tonight, but in case something happens, I’m leaving you some tokens.” Bogg seemed reluctant to leave Tracee’s side, so Sparr left him to guard her, and also placed the light pistol and a pouch of tokens on the bedside table. “This should be enough for you to catch a caravan back to the Odysseus camp if you need to,” he said.

Tracee peered back, her eyes lit equally with concern and acceptance. A twinge of regret shot through Sparr. He had just reunited with his friend. After months of only having to think about himself it was going to be difficult to account for another person. Still, his instincts told him to act quickly. With a conflicted look back, Sparr darted out of the room.

The air car made it easy to get ahead of the slavers. There was only one road north from Seille, a rutted track through a mix of marsh and deciduous forest. Sparr paralleled it to the east, flying out of sight of the road and dodging the occasional settlement. After an hour he hid the car at the edge of a grove and hustled to the road.

The wait was longer than he expected. It had been months since Sparr had traveled by wagon, and he had either underestimated the speed of the air car or forgotten how slow the draybeasts were. He made himself comfortable, nibbling at a Kaybe apple and waving at the few other travelers with what he hoped was a harmless smile. Impatience ate at him. Although he and Tracee had spoken briefly, he had a thousand questions for her. What had happened with the Odysseus mission? Was there anything suspicious? How had she ended up a slave?

He heard them before he saw them. The snorting of the draybeasts, the clink of their yokes, and the bored curses of the driver announced the arrival of the wagon before it turned the corner into view. Sparr made out the slaver, slumped into the seat, somehow sweating despite the cool afternoon. Next to him sat a youth who so closely resembled the slaver that he must be the man’s son. The wagon, to Sparr’s surprise, wasn’t empty. A woman of middle years peered through the bars, taking in the passing sights with considerably more interest than either of the men.

Sparr wriggled back out of view, waited for the wagon to lumber past, then made a show of approaching from behind. He wanted the slavers to think that he had been trying to catch up with them.

“Hey there, hi!” Sparr said, faking a heavy breath as if he had been running. “I’m glad I found you.”

The slaver stared at him with a dull expression. Sparr thought the wagon might simply roll past. Then recognition dawned in the man’s face. “You!” He spoke the word like an accusation.

“Yes, yes, I know.” Sparr tried to speak quickly before matters could escalate. “Yesterday I had only forty-two tokens. I apologize. I’m sure you could have got more-“

“Told you I didn’t want to see you again.”

“Yes,” Sparr said. He was walking sideways, trying to keep up with the wagon. “But I’m not a cheat. This is for you.” He tossed a pouch of tokens to the youth, who passed it on to his father.

If the gesture placated the man, he gave no sign. He peered into the pouch, grunted ambiguously, and pocketed the tokens. The wagon continued to roll, turning up a cloud of dust and insects.

“The girl would have had a few possessions,” Sparr continued hopefully. “Now that I’ve paid her full value, I’d like to get them.”

The youth looked behind the seat where several bundles were stored. A spark of hope shot through Sparr, but was just as quickly extinguished.

“No,” the slaver said sharply, both to his son and Sparr. It was obvious he had Tracee’s possessions, but through obstinacy or spite had no intention of turning them over. His son, despite their outward similarity, seemed almost embarrassed by the scene.

Regardless, Sparr had little choice but to back off. He was tired of fighting, of killing. As much as he wanted the gene sequencer, he wouldn’t resort to violence for it. With a defeated sigh, he stepped back. The wagon rolled past as the single occupant of the back stared at him.

“They sleep soundly,” she whispered.

By the time Sparr returned to the air car, he had already made his decision. Again paralleling the road, he flew for several minutes north before landing. After an hour he took another short flight to locate the slaver wagon. The second time he repeated the move two more hours had gone by. The wagon had pulled off of the road for the evening.

Sparr ate a lonely meal, waiting for the night to deepen. He hadn’t realized how much comfort he took from Bogg’s presence. By now the beast would have finished foraging for dinner and would either already be asleep, or sniffing hopefully for Sparr’s leftovers. Plus the creature was a deterrent to the night hounds. On the other hand, for what Sparr was about to do, one less set of footsteps would be an advantage.

With only the light of the swiftly-moving moon Feta to guide him, Sparr picked his way to the road. He had landed just ahead of the slaver camp and now had to creep a kilometer back toward it. With navigational infrastructure in place, satellites and ground stations, it would have been easy to pinpoint the location of the camp. The Odysseus might have launched satellites, but Sparr dared not activate the navigation feature on his communicator. Kevin, as part of the security team, would certainly be waiting for just such a mistake.

He caught a whiff of a cook fire. Moving with painstaking care, Sparr half walked, half crawled another hundred meters. The camp emerged from shadow before him, a trodden circle of grass with the wagon on one side, the embers of a fire, and a crude tent. The draybeasts stood tethered, seemingly asleep. He sat for long moments, listening for any sign of movement, but heard only the calls of night birds and the dry rustling of branches in the wind.

Moving as cautiously as his frame would allow, Sparr crept around the perimeter of the camp until he reached the wagon. More than once he snapped a twig, but the sound must have seemed dangerously loud only to him. No one stirred. When at last he reached the bars that enclosed the back of the wagon he wasn’t surprised to find the female captive awake. She peered at him, her eyes expressionless in the dim light. She beckoned Sparr closer.

“You must really want that pack,” she whispered. Like Tracee, the captive showed signs of poor nutrition.

“I can free you,” Sparr said. “Let me look at the lock.”

The woman shook her head. “You could probably twist the lock off with your hands, but please…” She didn’t look nervous or fearful, just resigned. “I’ve been a slave for longer than I can remember. If I flee now what would I do?”

Sparr’s instinct was to argue, but he fought back the urge. He had already witnessed the disturbing degree of acceptance demonstrated by those bought and sold on Kaybe. And the woman was almost certainly right. Even if Sparr led her away, somehow convinced her to fly with him in the air car, and escorted her to Seille, she would have nowhere to go. She would almost certainly become a prisoner again.

“Take this then.” Sparr explored his pack gingerly until he located several strips of cured meat. “You’re starving.”

The captive’s eyes widened. She accepted the gift and began furtively to nibble at one. “Thank you,” she said, her teeth tearing into the meat with increasing eagerness. “Tracee is a sweet girl. Her pack is the middle one, just behind the seat.”

It was time to move. Even at a whisper, the brief conversation made Sparr nervous. His senses were on high alert, eyes probing the shadows, ears catching every blowing leaf. He crept to the front of the wagon, where he could just make out a row of small bundles. The wagon punished him with a raspy creak when he stepped up. Sparr froze. The tent with the slaver and his son was no more than four meters away. The wind tugged at the flap. If either of the men were to wake they easily could see him silhouetted in the moonlight. Sparr reached behind the seat, found the middle bundle, and cradled it like a baby. He drew back, stepped down from the wagon, and turned to leave.

He was face to face with the younger slaver. The man seemed just as surprised to find a stranger in the campsite as Sparr was to see him. He took half a step back, but made no move to attack or cry out. His eyes swept over Sparr until they landed on the bundle he was carrying.

“I just want what is mine,” Sparr said evenly. His heart raced. The younger man was just as intimidating as his father, with a solidity that suggested he would be difficult to stop in a fight. If he chose to tackle Sparr, it wouldn’t go well.

For several heartbeats neither man moved. The slaver’s gaze switched between Sparr and the bundle he was holding. He had the same embarrassed, almost apologetic look he had shown earlier when his father had refused to give the bundle to Sparr.

A new sound emerged behind Sparr, the slaver grunting with confusion. “Boy?”

Panic surged in Sparr before, unexpectedly, the younger man spoke. “Over here, dad,” he called out loudly, “I had to take a piss.”

“Uhh,” the man said before again going quiet.

“Thank you,” Sparr said as softly as possible. He turned to go, but the youth had one more surprise.

“Wait,” he said, stepping toward the wagon. He returned almost immediately holding a small box. “She also had these.”

Sparr thanked the youth a final time then, before his luck could turn, slipped back into the night.

***

“You’re going to buy me a pony?” Tracee squealed in mock delight. “I’m the happiest little girl in the world!”

“I’m not even going to buy you an ice cream if you don’t behave, little lady.” Tracee and Sparr had, for one night before the mission launched, been lovers. He had forgotten how playful she had been, both in bed and out.

Sparr and Tracee stepped into the livestock market, careful to avoid the piles of dung and over-eager salespeople. Even in his increasingly dingy clothing, he felt out of place among the mud spattered ranchers and blood stained butchers who made up most of the visitors to the weekly market.

“Seriously, why are we here?” Tracee asked, wrinkling her nose in distaste. It was the first time she had felt strong enough to accompany him outside the inn.

“Watch,” Sparr said. Feigning interest in a draybeast, he approached the pen and brushed his hand over the animal’s greasy pelt. The handler rushed over.

“Oh, she’s a strong one, I assure you!” the man said. “Few years in her. Would you like to see the teeth?”

“No thank you,” Sparr said, pulling back. “I can tell everything I need to know from the pelt.” Leaving the disappointed handler behind, he moved on.

“Okay, what was that all about?” Tracee asked.

In answer, Sparr turned his palm to her, revealing a rectangular strip now thick with draybeast hair. Tracee’s eyes lit in recognition.

“A DNA strip? I grabbed a bunch of those when I took the sequencer.”

“Yep,” Sparr said. “The best birthday gift you could have brought me.”

“I’m sure it isn’t your birthday, Alain,” Tracee said, gracefully sidestepping a girl chasing several poultry.

Sparr grabbed a feather, and rubbed it against a new strip. “Neither of us knows what day it is anymore,” he said. “It might be my birthday.”

“So for your birthday, we’re cataloging chickens? When I was a kid, on my birthday we’d go to a Mexican restaurant. They’d put this big sombrero on you and sing Happy Birthday.”

“Those weren’t chickens,” Sparr explained. “I mean, it’s chicken-like I admit, but did you see the coloring? These fellas are adapted to Kaybe flora.”

“Yeah, fine. Catalog your Kaybe faux chicken, then. And speaking of which, I’m hungry.”

“Just a few more and we’ll find you a faux drumstick.” Sparr continued the charade, approaching each pen, rubbing a DNA strip against the animal, then moving on. A tusked, porcine animal he had never seen, but had undoubtedly eaten, contributed its DNA to his growing collection, as did a hooved animal with impressive horns. A boy solemnly watching over a tank of eels let Sparr reach his hand into the water, while the cage holding a group of fat grey birds didn’t prevent him from grabbing another feather. He was a biologist once again.

Later, Tracee gnawed on a leg of unnamed poultry while Bogg waited patiently to catch the bone. Sparr ate a smoked fish and tinkered with the gene sequencer.

“So how’s this thing work?” Tracee asked. “I mean, I used one in school, but I’m sure a dashing adventurer such as yourself can explain it to this poor, shy little creature.”

Sparr happily took the bait, thrilled to once again immerse himself in his work. “Each of these strips,” he explained, “absorbs a complete DNA sequence. It takes just seconds.” He spread the strips out in a row. “The strips are extremely stable. They’ll preserve their contents for months, sometimes longer. But the real magic,” he explained, “starts when you read them into the sequencer.”

Tracee leaned on her hands as if entranced, her lenses emulating wide, captivated eyes. “Oh, do tell,” she whispered.

The two were seated in a corner of the town square where they couldn’t easily be observed, while Bogg sat below waiting for scraps. Sparr slid one of the strips into the slot at the base of the sequencer. The device illuminated, then clicked as a spinning meter showed its progress. When, after less than thirty seconds, it indicated sequence complete, the small screen clicked off.

“DNA sample analyzed and recorded,” Sparr said proudly. “My first Kaybe species!”

“That’s it?” Tracee asked. Her look of disappointment wasn’t faked. “Doesn’t it tell you what the thing is?”

“It would for an Earth species,” Sparr explained, “Their sequences are already stored in the device. But for new species it won’t be able to. Analyzing, creating new taxonomies… that will take a lifetime.”

“So show me what it does tell you then.”

Sparr shrugged. “Okay, look.” He activated the screen, clicked on the only entry in the list, and selected display.

Gallus gallus domesticus: 99.5% match.

“Okay, so what’s gallus gallus mean?” Tracee asked, peering over his shoulder. “Unknown?”

Sparr barely heard her. He sat in shock, staring at the screen. It felt as if his brain had slowed to a crawl, unable to process a simple piece of information.

“Alain? What’s wrong?”

He turned to her, half in a daze. “It’s…” he stammered. “It’s a chicken.”

“Yeah, no shit it’s a chicken,” Tracee laughed. “I mean, I’m eating one. Tastes like chicken!” She nibbled the last of the flesh off of her drumstick and slipped the bone to Bogg.

“No,” Sparr continued, shaking his head in disbelief. “It’s an Earth chicken. It can’t be here.”

“Tell that to the chicken.”

It had to be a mistake. Sparr took another strip from his pouch and fed it into the sequencer. When the device finished its analysis he was no less surprised.

Sus Scrofa: 99.4% match.

“Let me guess,” Tracee said, reading Sparr’s stunned expression, “a sus scrofa is an Earth turkey.”

“A boar,” he said softly. “A wild pig.”

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