Happy Friday, everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending. Last week Len reflected on the implications and the dangers of staying with an amnesiac SNT ship. This week Ascent steals a glimpse into Len’s past and makes a decision that will change everything for both of them. For the next couple of weeks, I will be posting slightly longer episodes of Dragon because I feel it will be better for the flow and enhance your reading pleasure by allowing these posts the extra length necessary to complete the scene. 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 Ships 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 25: We Could Go Together
I was resolved that I must find a way to return to my slumber. Lenore asked too many questions, and I felt each of those questions like the reopening of critical wounds I wished not to feel again. If I allowed her to stay, her very presence would force those wounds open again and again. Had it not been the longing for, the hoping for my companion that had awoken me to Lenore’s presence to begin with? She was no substitute for the one, which I would never have again, and that I had allowed her to entice me from my slumber was a mistake.
Still I could not send her away until I could safely return her to Sandstorm Outpost. It was as I dwelt upon these thoughts that I heard her cry out in her dreams, crying out for her mother in such pain that I felt it in my own heart, a pain I wished not to feel, but I could not separate myself from it, I could not leave her in such agony. It was then that I violated her. Oh not intentionally, and not in the way that the beasts from the Dart had, but it was the connection forged by my blood that now lay open and unprotected between us that revealed her dreams to me as clearly as if they had been my own.
There was ice and snow everywhere and Lenore hid half suffocating half freezing in the recesses or a tiny ice shelter. I saw through her eyes, her thoughts were my own, even as I recovered the data that would have allowed me to close the connection between us enough for her to maintain her privacy, I did not.
Helplessly she watched the man from the ship shove her mother into the snow. “Mama!” I felt the wind freeze the words to ice in her throat, her cry swallowed up by the howl. “Mama!” She cried out bursting from the drift of snow, sounding so much the child that she must have been on Taklamakan Minor. Her pain, her pain! It was not physical, but it was a pain I understood to be so very much worse. I felt it with no shield, I felt as though this moment I lived it, as though this moment I lived it for her. But her pain was nothing to her fear, cold terror in the pit of her stomach, my stomach, clenching her heart, my heart. I was cold, I was terrified and I could not get to my mother. I was not fast enough. I was not fast enough! Pain! Cold, icy cold! Fear beyond what a child should endure, beyond what anyone should endure as I tried to run to my mother. Then the dreamscape slowed to an agonizing pace, like the dragging quick sands my sensors told me had limited the growth of my salvage dump to the south. I did not want the moments to drag out, I wanted only to wake up. I did not want to hear my mother yell for me to run, to hide. I did not want to see the knife brighter, than the cold sun slip up into my mother’s heart. And the man turned away without looking back, leaving me to die. Leaving me alone in this horrible place, for I knew beyond knowing that my mama was dead, and no one would come for me.
It was then that Lenore burst up out of sleep sat up in her bed and sobbed into her hands, and I … I left her to suffer alone, severing the connection, but not before the wave of her own anguish broke over me to join with my own.
Len had no desire to sleep after the dream. Instead she wondered the limited space that was lit for her access. There were tantalizing passageways that disappeared into deep darkness, there were ladders that disappeared up into rising tunnels. The lift took her to multiple floors, but all of them were darkened, all of them were frightening, forbidding, leading who knew where into the inner recesses of an SNT ship whose mental stability she was unsure of. Had Ascent killed his own compliment? So little was known about what had actually happened during the SNT Uprising, what was truth and what was rumor. All she could really do was speculate. What she did know for certain, deep in her gut, was that whatever had happened to the SNTs, the Authority had been to blame, as they had with her mother’s death. She wrapped her arms around herself and fought back the memories she didn’t want to revisit. It had been a long time since she dreamed that dream. She hated it above all the nightmares that had visited her since her mother and she arrived on Tak Minor. It was the one she could never escape, the one that she had actually lived in the waking world, and she could no more stop the dream when it happened than she’d been able to stop the events in the real world.
She walked the confines of the space Ascent had lit for her again and again until she was tired, but she still didn’t want to return to her quarters and risk more dreams. She found a place at the edge of the light where the passage disappeared into the black and settled on the floor against the wall. She was angry at Ascent for having left her vulnerable to the dream after all these years. It had always been her ambition to get off Tak Major and find out what happened to her uncle and Quetzalcoatl, she had never been able to manage it, always barely surviving, always on step ahead of dehydration and hunger. It had never entered her mind that she’d connect with another SNT, and in this way, nor had she thought what might happen when she did, what memories and nightmares would resurface. And now what? Would she spend the rest of her life here, effectively a prisoner, walking on eggshells just in case an enraged Ascent turned violent? Well, she’d lived her whole life on eggshells anyway, hadn’t she? Every ship that visited Tak Major caused her to hide in the salvage dumps until she knew for certain it wasn’t a rogue Authority ship. No one on Tak Major was fond of the rare Authority visitor, and ultimately everyone feared the shackle, but no on had reason to fear like she did. Even with Abriad Fallon’s strange death, indentureds were inherited wealth, so the indentureds would never be free. And she would never be out of the shadow of the shackle until she could get off this rock and safely out beyond the Rim. Tak Major was all the shackle she wanted. It certainly felt like she was indentured to it.
It was the smell of breakfast that woke her from a doze. A table spread with bacon and eggs and scones had been placed next to her. The growl of her stomach was a reminder that she had not finished her dinner last night. After Ascent’s unintentional revelation, and his abrupt exit, she had lost what little was left of her appetite.
“You were not in your room. Is it not satisfactory?” Once again Ascent sounded more like a ship’s computer.
“It’s fine. I just couldn’t sleep,” she lied, rubbing her eyes. Then she shoved to her feet and settled at the table. “I would have come back for breakfast if you had called me. I didn’t mean to cause you extra trouble.”
“It was no more trouble than any other meal I have set before you. Sustenance for humanoids is a part of my programming.”
SNTs were not programmed, she nearly let slip, but instead she buttered a scone and said politely, “thank you.”
She ate a few bites in silence, enjoying the flavor of some blend of black tea, something she’d not had since her early childhood. All the while she sensed him waiting expectantly. She swallowed and set aside her cutlery. “What is it, Ascent? What is it you want to say?”
“I wish to return to my slumber,” he all but blurted. This he most definitely did not sound like a ship’s computer.
“I understand,” she said, around the hammering of her heart. This was no surprise, and perhaps it was best this way when she didn’t know if she could trust him. “You know I can’t go back to Sandstorm without your help.”
“Of course I know. I have begun plans for a mode of transport that will return you to your home.”
She nearly blurted that she had no home, only a series of differing prisons, but she said. “Thank you.”
“I do not know how long it will take me, but I shall work as swiftly as I can, and I shall be too busy to socialize with you unless I am in need of your input.”
“I understand. I won’t disturb you.”
“All your needs shall be met, as always, and if I have overlooked anything you only need ask.”
“I can’t sit around my little space and do nothing during that time.”
“I understand,” came the reply. “You shall have supplies and access to the salvage yard. I only ask that you do not go beyond your supply and that you do not ration your water, as there is no need.”
“I won’t. And inside?”
“I shall open up a little more of myself so that you may have more space and comfort. You may access my library of literature and science. That I do know how to access, and I shall make it available to you. What I can open to you I shall, but I ask that you do not go into the areas that remain unlit, for it may be very dangerous in the darkness.”
“Thank you. I won’t.” Once again, she found her appetite lacking, but she forced herself to eat anyway, knowing that she would most definitely need her strength for the return journey to Sandstorm. “I would like to explore as much as possible outside. That’s why I risked coming in the first place. Perhaps I may find something of value that will help me buy space on a ship going to the Outer Rim.”
For a moment the corridor filled with the crackling static of Ascent’s silence and she froze. Finally he spoke, and she realized she had been holding her breath. “That is a very long way from here,” he commented.
“Not far enough.” The bitterness bled through in her voice as she recalled her escape from Authority space with her mother, and then … and then she slammed the door of unwanted memories shut.
The static of silence returned. This time her own bitterness made her less fearful. Maybe he’d just kill her and get it over with. Anything was better than living this half life.
“Lenore,” this time he did not sound like a ship at all, but like the Ascent who had held her close in the darkness. “I will not hurt you. You do not need to fear me.” There was pain in his voice that felt like a strange lump in her chest.
She let out a tight breath and looked down at her hands clenched on the table. “I know.”
“It is only that I believe it is best for both of us if you return to Sandstorm Outpost and I to my slumber. But I will do what I may to help you find salvage of enough value that you may buy your passage away from here.”
“You could take me,” she blurted out without thinking. “This place can’t be good for you either. We could go together.”
It was almost as though the whole of the corridor drew in a sharp breath. “I cannot,” he said. And then he was gone.