Dragon Ascending Part 16: Jubilee Reading Spree!
Happy Friday everyone! Welcome to day two of my Jubilee Reading Spree! To celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with the rest of the UK, I’ve decided to give you four episodes of Dragon over the four days of the Jubilee holiday weekend. There’s still plenty of Victoria sponge cake and a cup of tea being served up in my imagination while we all join in the local street party. Whether you’re in the UK or not, life is too short not to celebrate, so grab up the indulgence of your choice and settle in for day two of the mini Dragon read-a-thon. As you remember, yesterday we joined Len, who is healing nicely and wondering why she is suddenly being ignored by Ascent-7. Today we return to the Tak Major outpost of Sandstorm where Mac and Manning are still trying to find Len. Do remember that every day through Sunday, there’ll be another new episode of Dragon Ascending, so tune in and enjoy. I hope you’re enjoying Dragon Ascending, the sequel to Piloting Fury, as much as I’m enjoying sharing it with you. As always, I love it when you share my work with your reading friends, so feel free. In the meantime, enjoy!
For those of you who would like to read the complete novel, Piloting Fury, book one of the Sentient Ships series, follow the link to the first instalment.
Dragon Ascending: Book 2 of the Sentient Ship Series
On a desolate junkyard of a planetoid, scavenger Lenore Felik, disturbs something slumbering in a remote salvage dump and uncovers secrets of a tragic past and of the surprising role she must play in the terrifying present she now faces.
Robbed of her inheritance after her tyrannical father’s death, Tenad Fallon is out for revenge on her half-brothers, one who happens to be the sentient ship, Fury. Fury, with his human companions, Richard Manning and Diana McAllister, has his own agenda – finding the lost sentient ships and ending the scourge of indentured servitude in Authority space.
Dragon Ascending Part 16: Find Her
“That’ll definitely put hair on your balls,” Manning said with a shiver.
“If you ain’t got any already, then this stuff’s just the ticket,” the bar-keep said with a congenial chuckle, then he turned to Mac, “begging your pardon, Ma’am.” Mac waved away his apology and took another sip. “Had some bad luck, I assume, if you’re hunting the scrap heaps here in the ass end for what you need,” the man said, then before either of them could answer he said, “if it’s wet ware you want, talk to Digby Sellers. I can set you up. He don’t meet with anyone unless it’s been prearranged.” The dismissive wave of his hand caused is stogie to flare bright and waft a trail of eye-watering smoke. “Oh he don’t deal in indentured or anything like that. Hell half the people out here got family back in Authority space that’s indentured. He wouldn’t survive long if anyone ever found him dealing in indentureds. If you need extra crew, he can hook you up. Plenty of people’d be happy to work off their passage out beyond the Rim. Told me once he’s always got a waiting list.” He scratched at a small paunch, the only thing on the man that wasn’t rake thin. “If you need someone to warm your bed, he can arrange that too, though looking at the two of you, I figure that’s ain’t a problem. He can even find you someone with some real skill on a long hauler if you need.” He wiped at the hopelessly filthy counter with an equally filthy cloth.
“Anything else you want, well ole Fido up the road there, he’s the most trustworthy of the lot here, knows his stock fairly well too, that’s as much as anyone can with the sands shifting all the time. If he has it, he can find it, not like most the fuckers here. They’ll send you out to find it yourself. Mind you,” he shook a leathery finger at them, “try to steal something from ‘em and they’ll catch you, take you out in a sand rover and leave you to roast alive, that is if they don’t drop you off at night. That ain’t no better. If an infestation don’t take you, there’s always glass vipers,” he shivered,” Nasty little piss lickers.” He leaned an elbow on the bar, and gave both of them a serious glance, making sure they understood the seriousness of their situation. “But the worst part about night in Tak Major is that the wind kicks up somethin’ wicked, whips the sand into a frenzy that’ll scour the skin right off you and then keep right on going. Bad winds grind down bones and all.” He shook his head and took a drag from his stogie.
“Sounds like the perfect holiday destination,” Mac said.
The man gave her a raised eyebrow and chuckled smoke out his nostrils. “We like to keep that little secret to ourselves, Ma’am. Don’t want all the damned tourists crowding out here messing up the place. Now then,” he took another puff, “if you tell me what you’re looking for, I can point you in the right direction.”
Mac wondered if he got a little kickback from recommendations, but you’d almost need someone’s help to find anything here, and to navigate without ending up disappeared in the sand somewhere.
“We’re looking for a young woman called Len.” Mac said.
The smile disappeared, and he squared his shoulders and took another drag and blew it out with a harsh huff. “You friends with the crew of the Dart? Those bastards come back here I will personally make sure they never piss again.”
“Trust me,” Manning leaned over the bar into his personal space and held his gaze, “those bastard won’t be coming back.”
The man took another drag, then looked from one of them to the other. “We all warned her not to go with those piss wasters. We told her just to wait, that another ship would come eventually, a more reliable one, but she wouldn’t hear of it, said she couldn’t wait. Well fuck me!” He snubbed out his smoke with such violence he nearly broke the flimsy ashtray. “I don’t know why in New Vaticana’s hell she wanted to go to the Sea of Death anyway. There’s nothing there. But she insisted there was. She never would say exactly what, but she damn near had a couple of punters here willing to take her out by sand rover figuring surely there must be something really valuable out there if she wanted to go back so damned bad. But in the end nobody really thought it was worth the risk. Too damn bad, really.”
“The crew of the Dart said they left her out in the Sea of Death and that they planned to come back for her,” Manning said.
“They were lying, unless they thought there was something in it for them,” Arji said. “If they left her there, then she was either dead when they dumped her off or she is by now. Damn shame, I was thinking to ask her to share my bed. I could use the help here, and she could have used a steady job, you know with regular meals and decent water rations. She deserved better.”
Mac thought the man must surely be old enough to be Len’s father. But in her ear, Fury responded, “Not as old as one might think. Besides that does not matter so much when one is struggling to survive.” She knew for a fact that was true. Her attention returned to the conversation at hand.
“What are the chances she survived,” she asked, shivering at the thought of the death she might have met out in the open.
“Slim,” came the reply as Arji lit another smoke and blew out a long breath. “If anyone could survive that hell hole, Len could though. She was tougher than a glass viper’s hide. A survivor, she was.” He smiled and looked out past them around the empty bar. “That woman, barely more than a little girl at the time, crammed herself into an environmental suite, boarded a drone supply transport making a drop-off at the science station on Tak Minor, reprogrammed the damn thing and fuck me if she didn’t survive the trip from there to Sandstorm. I have no idea how she managed to manipulate the guidance system. Them drones were sent every three months from one ass end to another, usually from Vodni Outpost. Some ship from the Rim would send supplies and Vodni would shove them into a drone and out they’d go to Tak Minor. You think this place is a shithole.” Arji shuddered, stood for a moment lost in thought, then poured himself a pint in a cracked stoneware mug. He sipped the swill like he was testing it to see if it was safe, and then said thoughtfully. “Fire or ice, that’s the Taklamakan System. Tak Minor is frozen solid. Chances of surviving outside in that deep freeze without an environmental suit are nil, or so I’m told. Anyway, Len knew she couldn’t survive the trip back to Vodni, or even to the other side of Tak Major to Windward or Sunward. Oh she’d done all her calculations just right so that if she rerouted the drone, then tucked herself in all decked out in an environmental suit and gave herself a hefty dose of deep sleep drug, she might just make it to Sandstorm. And she just barely did. Holy Vaticana Jesu on a cracker, she was damn lucky!” He bit his lip and swallowed back the rest of his pint. “It don’t seem right that after surviving against all odds in that shitter after her mother died, that she should bite it out in the Sea of Death.”
“But you said she might have survived out there. How?” As interested as Mac was in Len’s story, their priority was to find out if she was alive and then keep her that way. She figured Fury could do a little research on the woman and find out more than Arji knew.
“Well she’s a scavenger, isn’t she? While she was never very good at the scavenging bit, she could hole up in the most god-awful places, places that would have shriveled your pisser and dried you out like so much journey meat. She’d just burrow down into a salvage pile, find a sheltered place from the night and the winds and wait it out. She’d do the same with the Shimmer. I reckon if she survived the trip from Tak Minor, and her not much more than a kid, she has a knack for keeping herself alive. She carries this pack damn near as big as she is with a survival tent, one she’d scavenged somewhere, old and ratty, and I wouldn’t have trusted it out in the desert, but when she was caught out, she just hunkered down in it and survived. She survived. Don’t know how the fuck she did it, weighing no more than she does, I’m surprised the wind didn’t just blow her and the tent all away on the spot. If she’s like most of us, she’s drank a fair amount of her own piss run through filter packs, and knew every way imaginable, and some I never heard of, to eek out a little extra water and make what she had last. Like I said, if anybody can survive out there, Len can.”
Then he leaned over the bar again and gave them both the evil eye. “What the hell do you want with her anyway?”
“Nothing,” Manning said. “When we questioned the Dart’s crew a little more seriously than they’d have liked, they admitted that she’d been with them and …”
“They hurt her.”
“Yes,” Manning held his gaze. “We have her pack. All we want is to find her and bring her back safely, if she’s alive.”
“What’s in it for you.”
“Maybe another pint or two of you fine brew,” Manning said.
Argi did not smile at first, but his face softened so that the hard, leathery lines looked warmer somehow. “Find her, bring her back alive and I’ll give you the whole damn bar if you want.