Happy Friday, everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending. Last week Len was pulled into Ascent’s nightmare in a very violent way. This week she must find his heart if she hopes to awaken him. As I mentioned, I am now attempting to post episodes at lengths that will be better suited for the flow of the story and enhance your reading pleasure. Some will be slightly shorter, some will be longer. I hope you find this switch-up helpful. 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 31: In the Heart
“I know what it’s like, Ascent. I have bad dreams myself. Had one the other night, she said loping down the hall to the service ladder not really trusting the lift when Ascent’s dreams seemed to be in control of more than just an SNT’s dangerous version of nightmares. “Nothing’s put you off your sleep faster than a skin crawling nightmare and yours are doozies.” She continued to yammer on breathlessly as she shimmied up the ladder. There was no other direction to go. As far as she could tell her living quarters were in what might have once been the cargo hold. Hoping her voice would eventually wake him up, or at least sooth him back to dreaming about something more peaceful, she kept talking. Without schematics, she had no way of knowing how to get to his core, to his heart. All she had to go on was the one and only trip she’d made to Quetzalcoatl’s core with her uncle. Her uncle had taken her there not long before he left. The route was convoluted and confusing for the protection of the ship, but she had an eidetic memory where that sort of thing was concerned, spaces, distances, schematics, once she had seen them or puzzled them out, she remembered. It had surprised her that Quetzalcoatl had welcomed her, treated her as though she had been his niece, but her uncle told her blood relatives of a bonded compliment were often considered family to the SNT as well. Still being family and being allowed to approach the heart of a sentient ship were two different things entirely.
Ascent shuddered again, this time more violently, and she cried out, clinging to the ladder for all she was worth. She was glad she had used the head strap for the lamp. Surely she would have lost it otherwise. Without it she would have to find her way in total darkness. Ascent had shut off all essentials that did not involve her care and comfort. It took all she had to keep from falling to her death. “Goddamn it Ascent! Wake up! Your fucking dreams are not nice for either of us!” Her raised voice echoed around her in the service tube.
When the tremors calmed again, she continued on, sweat dripping down her forehead and stinging her eyes. There was no need for environmental controls in the tube and with each ascending step it grew hotter and hotter. Her hands slipped on the rungs twice before the all too recent memories of her fall in the salvage yard caused her to stop and, hanging with one leg wrapped around the rung below, she dug through the pack for a pair of thin climbing gloves, an item she had never been able to afford or salvage in Sandstorm, but one that would give her a firm grip on the rungs as the heat rose. Then she continued on, the heat and her narrow beam of light making the passage seem even more claustrophobic that it was. Still, she reminded herself, she had dealt with worse. Though nothing that had ever involved making an uninvited visit to an SNT’s heart, one she desperately hoped had not gone literally mad from his grief and loss.
He had not spoken to her since their last unhappy encounter, though he had aided her in the two forays she’d made into the salvage yard and she was pretty sure he had helped her to find several items that would fetch a good price back at Sandstorm. In the meantime she’d had free run of the places he had lit for her. Those passages he did not want her to find simply vanished into impenetrable darkness. If she couldn’t find her way to his core, she was at his mercy and he would continue to suffer. On the other hand, she was going there against his express wishes, an SNT maddened by his grief. Another agonized groan, this one she felt deep in her own chest, agony, pain, loss. She knew all three, and it was that shared suffering more than anything that drove her on, that made her willing to take the risk.
If Ascent’s schematics were the same as Quetzalcoatl’s, then the next bit would be the hardest. Best not think of that. An SNT’s heart was no easier to get to than a humanoid’s, and far more dangerous, though no less vulnerable, she thought as the world shuddered around her again in the throes of his nightmare. She continued on, not daring to think about what she might actually do or say if she made it to that broken heart. She could just make out the top of the tube barely visible in the beam of her torch.
“I’m coming, Ascent! Just hold on,” she called out as she crawled from the service tube, and another tremor nearly sent her tumbling back down. He had withdrawn from her, she knew, or she would have been able to wake him. For a second she lay on the deck far enough away from the hatch not to risk a fall if he shook again and caught her breath, but another groan sent her scrambling to her feet, where she stopped abruptly, teetering on the edge of the catwalk, the same type of catwalk that had her uncle had led her across to Quetzalcoatl’s heart. There was no rail. Her uncle had told her there never needed to be a rail for a compliment because an SNT would never let his compliment fall.
And now here was Lenore, a piss poor substitute for the woman who must have been magnificent to partner an SNT across the galaxy, to win his heart and his love the way she clearly had won Ascent’s.
“Ascent, I’m sorry that it’s me and not her. I would give anything if I could give her back to you. I’ve never known that love, but my uncle did, I felt it when he took me to Quetzalcoatl’s core, so full of hope, bursting with love. No room for pain or despair. Pain and despair, is that all there’s room for in a heart once it’s bereft of the things that matter most? I sometimes wonder.” The sadness she felt was no longer his, they were her own memories she was now unable to force back so close to a heart in pain that spilled over affecting her own suffering. Perhaps it was only that a heart in pain understood. She took a slow even breath and stepped out onto the narrow metal catwalk, forcing herself not to look to the right or to the left where there was nothing but what she knew would appear to be an endless drop. Instead she focused on the spiral at every SNT’s core, a spiral of perpetual energy that flexed and writhed and climbed, and trembled in the throes of the nightmare.
“Ascent, please wake up. I can’t stand to see you in so much pain. You’ve been so kind to me.” She forced a laugh inching forward on the thin plate of metal. “I don’t have many friends. I’m like you in that, I guess. I never allowed them in because friends can hurt you, people you love can hurt you.”
The whole catwalk shook and buckled and she screamed as she went over the side reaching, stretching, arching, but her fingers only brushed the very edge and she fell. Was this her death than for real? Would he even bother to save her now that she had done nothing more than remind him of what he had lost? Did it matter anyway? “I’m sorry, Ascent, I’m so, so sorry.” Then she relaxed and let herself fall.
It was the wind whistling around her and ripping the words from her mouth that made her aware that she actually was speaking, and she was falling. But she was speaking calmly enough, like falling to her death didn’t matter. It took her a little longer to make out her own words. “Please Ascent, it’s all right, I’m here. I’m here. I won’t leave you. Please wake up. I won’t leave you.” It took her even longer to realize that she wasn’t actually going to fall to her death, she was in free fall of a sort, slowly being pulled in toward the spiral of Ascent’s heart. “Please Ascent, please wake up. It’s a dream. It’s done. It’s past. You don’t have to live it again. Please.” And then she was pulled deep inside the pulsing spiral and lowered gently to the bottom, the deepest part of the heart of an SNT, who barely knew her. And then Ascent woke up.