Lost Colony Ch. 13-1

Author’s note:

This is chapter thirteen 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!

There are two more things you might want to know:

  1. 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!
  2. To those of you not in love with the flashbacks, there isn’t one in this chapter!

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It would have been beautiful if he wasn’t a prisoner.

The slavers had dragged Sparr from the valley strapped to the litter, every rock sending a jolt of pain into his lacerated shoulder. The first hour was a grim trial. The second hour, as the men hauling him began to tire, felt an eternity. The little group transitioned from a relatively flat trail following the canyon to one which turned sharply uphill. His captors sweated and swore, dropping him more than once with excruciating results. The wagon, when at last they reached it, seemed like a haven, no matter the implication of the bars enclosing the back.

The rest of the day was hardly an improvement. Left with little to do but rock uncomfortably in the back of the wagon, Sparr’s thoughts turned once again inward. His grief over the loss of Bogg came pouring back, a suffocating blanket of shame which he couldn’t throw off. The feeling was more powerful even than the sting of his wounds. Those he might recover from, but he doubted he would ever forgive himself for flying Bogg to his death.

The scenery, when Sparr could focus on it, provided a distraction. The wagon was heading toward the mountains along a barren road whose serpentine route echoed an energetic stream. The water was milky with silt, a sure sign that its origin was glacial. The more Sparr thought about it, the more he realized how much of the planet showed signs of glacial activity. The parallel mountain ridges near where he had landed in the escape pod an eternity ago had obviously been carved by glaciers. The southern ice was heavily gouged by glaciers both active and dormant. And the mountains on the eastern continent of Yurr were scarred by millennia of ice. The planet’s story was written in the advance and retreat of glaciers.

At day’s end they made camp in a glen as seductive as a maiden’s smile. Well above Neeva, with a view over the town and surrounding plain, the woodland scene called to mind an impressionist landscape. The same milky stream gurgled to one side, its banks overflowing with wildflowers in more hues than Sparr could name. A clearing of silky grasses and moss called out to cradle bare skin, while gently bowing trees offered protection from the wind. The western sky offered a luxurious sunset.

The routine his first full day as a captive, and those that followed, was the same. Sparr was allowed out of the wagon in the morning only to stretch his legs and relieve himself. The second day he asked to bathe in the stream.

“Wagon!” his captor grunted, gesturing toward Sparr’s mobile prison.

Sparr had his reply ready. “If I die from these wounds, the demon machine will know who allowed it.” Though the slavers knew the drone was controlled by Kevin, their fear of the machines was strong.

Five minutes later Sparr plunged into the numbingly cold water. For as long as he could bear, then a touch longer, he washed away trail dust, sweat, and the worst of the caked blood. Sparr examined his wounds carefully. His shoulder and upper arm would bear a map of new scars, but the cuts didn’t show signs of infection. He would heal. If he lived that long.

Exactly how long he had was a mystery Sparr wasn’t eager to consider. He hadn’t kept track of the days during the blur of his first weeks and months on Kaybe, and he had only known peace for short stretches since. Was it almost a year already? Tracee had guessed that she had been held by her own captors almost six months, and that was after having lived in the Odysseus camp for months prior. The timeline might add up. Or it might not matter. Once he was no longer more useful alive than dead, he would be killed.

The scheme, now that Sparr had time to consider it, was quite simple. Calista and Kevin had set off a false alarm, and in the confusion, had stuffed him into the escape pod bound for the surface. As soon as the pair had joined the Odysseus camp, they had set to work collecting as many DNA samples as they could. That would explain the sub that K2 Mineral had paid a fortune to lug to Kaybe. With it, they would have been able to move covertly, collect samples from seawater, and bring drones to distant shores for the same purpose. They must already have cataloged an enormous slice of the planet’s species. As soon as one year had passed, they would be able to send the DNA sequences back for K2 Mineral to exploit. The payout, if they succeeded, would be enormous.

Like the mornings, evenings at the camp were predictable in their routine. Sparr would be escorted from the wagon, given a simple meal, and allowed to stretch his legs. Shackled and under close guard, he was allowed a few limping circuits of the clearing before being prodded back into his cell. After, he would listen as the men drank and quarreled. Like him, the days of idleness pressed upon them, too many men with too little to do. Only the threat of the drone kept them in line. It floated through the camp one evening, a whining menace, clicking and turning. As the men crouched in fear, it circled Sparr’s wagon, the camp perimeter, and the slavers themselves. Kevin didn’t speak through it this time. He didn’t need to. The threat was unmistakable.

Every day, escape seemed more like a fantasy. He was always shackled when out of the wagon, and followed by at least two of the men. The pins which secured the wagon door were simple, but out of his reach. Nor had attempting to befriend the men worked. They were a humorless bunch who met any greeting with derision. They didn’t even seem to like each other, a situation which flared dangerously one evening.

“The round goes to me!” cackled one of the younger slavers, an already balding man who went by Yomi. Sparr had watched as the men drank and played at gambling. Now, grinning a broken smile, the man swept a pile of tokens his way.

The other men only grumbled, but the leader, Denn, grew suspicious. “Lots of rounds have gone to you.”

The younger man wasn’t easily cowed. He smiled at Denn, making a show of counting and pocketing the tokens. When the leader abruptly stood, Yomi stood with him, still smiling, hand at his blade. Sparr had seen similar confrontations half a dozen times. Violence was rarely distant on Kaybe, but neither was a desire for self preservation. Denn spat, but looked around for something more pressing. His eyes found Sparr.

“You!” he shouted. The slaver strode toward him, chest swelling with confidence at facing an unarmed man. “How’s your luck?”

Peril hung thick in the air, but Sparr ignored it. “Oh, it’s great,” he said, gesturing at the barred wagon which had been his home for a week. “Two delicious meals a day, scintillating conversation, I get to take a shit wearing chains…”

If his comment bothered Denn, it didn’t show. The man leaned against the bars, his breath fetid with liquor. “How about,” he said, leering, “we throw one round. You win, you go free. I win, I finally get to cut your fucking throat?”

Sparr said nothing, but the men behind Denn shifted nervously. Surely to kill Sparr early would mean not getting paid, or worse. They tried to distract him.

“Hey,” said Yomi. “Isn’t it about time to change the perimeter guard?”

“Yeah,” said another slaver, an awkward man almost as tall as Sparr. “Where are those guys, anyway?”

“Find them, then!” Denn snapped before returning his eyes to Sparr. With exaggerated menace he dragged his blade across the bars, the rasp of metal on metal. “What do you say, foreigner?”

Was he crazy, Sparr wondered, for considering it? In another week, perhaps two, he would be dragged to a secluded area and let go. A drone would dart in, photograph him, then transmit the images back to the Odysseus camp. Shortly after, the drone, or one of the slavers, would kill him. Why not take his chance now? The men would never let him go, but they might drop their guard long enough for him to sprint away. If he could reach the stream…

Before Sparr could respond, the commotion among the other men escalated. “Yomi, what the fuck?” The tall man was standing on his own now, staring into the shadows at camp’s edge. “Stop dickin’ around!”

“You feel like taking your chances, foreigner? You…” Denn carried on, but he was becoming increasingly distracted. “Goddammit!” he bellowed, turning away from Sparr. He was poised to continue his tirade, when he abruptly stopped.

Yomi lurched into the clearing, his eyes wide. He looked toward his companions, then back behind him. The young man’s arms were wrapped tightly around his midsection as if he was cold. He took another step, opening his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Instead, he took another halting step forward, then pulled his arms free. A gout of blood poured from his belly, soaking his arms, his shirt, and running in ghastly channels to his legs. He gave a final, pleading look, then collapsed.

“What the hell?” Denn gasped. With a speed that belied his years, the slaver snatched the blade from his waist and stepped toward the commotion. Just as quickly he dropped to the ground, screaming.

Mute with incomprehension, Sparr could only watch as the clearing erupted in violence. Not a meter away, Denn dragged himself along the ground, his face tight with pain, trailing blood from a cut hamstring. A moment later a compact figure flung itself from under the wagon. Denn waved his blade frantically but the figure slashed each of the man’s legs before rolling to safety.

The tall man looked about desperately, but before he could flee, another figure burst from the edge of the clearing, not far from where Yomi had fallen. As compact as Denn’s attacker, the figure leapt forward, knife in hand. The man fell back, still in shock, but then rallied, using his reach to first defend himself, then press his attack. The smaller warrior gave ground, fine black hair tossing wildly in the light of the campfire. Before the slaver could press his advantage he stopped suddenly, dropping his blade. He let out a gurgled sound, spit blood, then sagged to his knees. A woman Sparr hadn’t noticed earlier yanked her spear from the man’s back.

Seconds later another slaver, one of the men who had been on perimeter duty, raced into the clearing, blade in hand, and a wild look in his eyes. His expression grew wilder yet when he spotted the warriors. The man changed course, heading for the stream, but was too slow. One of the warriors caught him before he could escape, delivering a vicious wound to the man’s side. He collapsed, adding to the dead and dying men already littering the clearing.

“You!” the woman with the spear said, jabbing a finger toward Sparr. “You’re Alain.” From her bearing, he took her to be the leader.

“Yes, yes! How did you-“

“Come with us,” she said, cutting him off. “Quickly. One of them got away.”

While the woman busied herself with the wagon door, Sparr got a good look at her. Like the others in her party, she had black hair and Asian features. He lifted his gaze, taking in the rest of the party. All shared the same heritage.

“You’re Klee,” Sparr said, remembering the matriarchal hunters he had encountered on the southern tundra. His rescuers weren’t from the same clan, but shared other similarities.

“Yes.” The hunter freed the door. “We need to go.”

It dawned on Sparr that he was being rescued. “Wait,” he said, hopping from the wagon which had been his prison for almost a week. While the Klee pilfered the slavers’ bodies for tokens, Sparr upended a supply chest for a warm shirt, pants that weren’t shredded and bloody, and, most importantly, a pair of sandals. He changed in the middle of the clearing, uncaring of the stares he drew.

“I didn’t catch your name,” he said to the lead hunter as the group filed out of the clearing.

She gave him a cool look. Too late, Sparr remembered how dismissive the Klee could be to those without status. He considered falling back, perhaps taking up the rear as might be considered appropriate, but she surprised him. “Waii,” she answered. “You will show my hunters respect for the chance they took in rescuing you.”

“They fought well,” Sparr said solemnly. The path they were following quickly narrowed, little more than a deer trail. He fell in behind Waii, struggling to keep up while ducking a hundred branches which to reached for him. The bright moon Feta offered their only light. “Why did you rescue me? Tracee?”

“Who?” Waii didn’t break stride, dodging snags and roots with an ease that defied Sparr.

“I thought maybe my friend Tracee sent you.”

She shook her head. “They sent us.”

Sparr waited, but no clarification of who ‘they’ were was coming. It had to be the Precipice. Sparr had given Tracee a message to take to them if he hadn’t returned. He had thought it a long shot, but a week might have been enough time to arrange a rescue. Plus, on the southern tundra at least, the Precipice had a relationship with the Klee. It would be natural to turn to the hunters for anything that might end in violence.

“You said one got away?”

“Yes,” Waii said, her face tight with concern, “one of the slavers fled, the coward. He may bring others.”

The band forged ahead, climbing along the stream-carved valley, sometimes next to the bank, sometimes veering away where the trail dodged loose soil or avoided an obstruction. Night was fully upon them now. Cool air slipped from higher slopes to gather and pool, forming unexpected, chilly pockets. Mist from the stream was colder yet, dampening Sparr’s skin. An owl signaled its dissatisfaction with their presence.

“They were your people?”

It took Sparr a moment to realize Waii was addressing him. “The slavers? No, I-“

“No, no,” she said, cutting him off. “The ones that sent them. You’re from the same tribe?”

The admission, he realized, was difficult, traced with shame. “Yes,” he said with a sigh, “although I have been on my own for almost a year.”

“If one of our tribe fails to obey the code she is exiled. She may not return.”

“It’s more like I was stranded,” Sparr said, dodging a low-hanging vine. “And those that stranded me want me to stay that way.”

Waii nodded. “That is without honor.”

“I kinda thought so.” Sparr was beginning to tire. The week spent mostly stuffed into the wagon had left him stiff. “Where are we going?”

“You are aware the old machines are awakening?” Waii jumped a small stream, its banks slick with moss.

She could be referring either to the mines or to the drones. “I’ve seen them, yes,” Sparr said, then added, “and fought them.”

“They follow your tribe.”

The moment was fraught. “As you said, not everyone in my tribe is honorable.”

Waii grunted, either in assent, or with the effort of the climb. She was about to speak again when one of the younger hunters scrambled to catch them.

“Three of them,” she panted. “Gaining on us.”

Waii cursed. “Can you run?” she asked, her eyes on Sparr.

“No.” Sparr wasn’t just stiff from his imprisonment. He had been fed poorly, and for a week, given little opportunity to keep limber. “I can fight, though,” Sparr said.

By now the rest of the band had caught up with them. Here the trail was hemmed in closely by unscalable rock on one side and the stream on the other. Even in the dim light it was a poor place to set an ambush. Waii considered the situation for a heartbeat, then whispered her instructions.

There were five of them in total. Two hunters went ahead until they were swallowed by the mist and dark. The swiftest of the party, a young woman named Sianna, doubled back toward their pursuers.

“Clothes off,” Waii said, before beginning to tug off her own garments. “Quickly!”

Confused, but sensing Waii’s urgency, Sparr hastened to comply. He tugged off the shirt and ill-fitting trousers he had scavenged from the slaver camp, while stealing a glance at Waii’s compact, but womanly form. Together, they tightly rolled and hid their clothes before crouching by the stream.

“I hope you’re as strong as you look,” Waii said, her eyes traveling over Sparr’s scarred, muscular body. “This will be a test.”

Sparr would have felt more confident if he had his saber, but the slavers had stripped him of his weapons, his pack, and everything else he had been carrying. Instead, Waii had given him only a plain staff that the band had stripped from one of his captors. Perhaps it was for the best. With his right arm still recovering from the wounds he took during the crash, a two-handed weapon would be more reliable. “You only have to keep them at a distance,” Waii had assured him.

The two waited not half a meter from the tumbling, glacial stream. The winds weren’t strong, but the frigid mist was already settling on his skin. Beside Sparr, Waii’s skin was pale and inviting. Like the others, she was petite, but fit and toned. However, unlike the Klee Sparr had met on the tundra, Waii and her hunters weren’t windburned. Their range must extend to more moderate climates.

“Remind me again why we need to be naked for this?”

“If we live,” she said, “you’ll be happy for warm clothes afterward.”

“I’m already wishing for warm-“

Waii cut him short with a gesture. Sianna was running up the trail toward them. When the young hunter passed Sparr and Waii, she let out an exaggerated scream, but didn’t break stride.

“Now,” Waii hissed. Wincing at the cold, she slipped into the stream, surrendering her body to the icy water.

Sparr joined her, gasping at the shock as his legs pushed into the current, then almost crying out when his balls went under. The stream tore at him, turning his body half sideways. Like Waii, he clung to a rock, only his arms and head visible. The cold was unimaginable, a jolt which nearly stopped Sparr’s breath, followed by a relentless void draining his strength. He wondered how long he could hold onto the rock before numb hands simply slipped free. For what surely less than two minutes, but felt like ten, he shivered in the merciless stream, mist spraying his eyes.

Finally he heard footsteps. Mastering his discomfort, Sparr slid as far into the water as he could, twisting to keep his eyes and nose free. Three men approached, moving quickly while remaining watchful. The lead man peered intently ahead, while his companions swept their eyes to either side. They seemed more disciplined than Sparr’s previous captors. One of them looked directly at Waii, but her concealment must have been sufficient. The men passed them by.

Shivering and numb, Sparr and Waii dragged themselves from the stream. After the icy dip they had taken, even the chill night air felt like a sauna. Both retrieved their weapons from where they had hidden them beside the stream, then took a moment to dress. The two went in the direction the other hunters, and their pursuers, had taken. Water dripped from their bodies to the leafy trail.

“Carefully,” Waii cautioned, “we don’t want to catch them too soon.” The plan, as she had hastily explained to the band, was for her and Sparr to attack from behind while the other hunters closed in from the front. The problem was that in their haste there had been no opportunity to plan exactly where they would converge. “Run ahead and wait for us,” was all Waii had time to say before the two groups had split.

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