Happy Friday, everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending. Last week week Fury and his crew tried to help Ascent get his memories back only to discover company is coming. This week no one is happy about Len’s solution to a major problem. 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 41: Solution Unacceptable
“The Fallons? What the hell are they doing here?” Len asked, her heart going into overdrive.
“They want their inheritance back,” Manning said.
Before Len could question further, Fury said, “They will be able to pick up our transmissions in one minute. “We will cloak and speak only on our sub-processers, Ascent. The Authority cannot tap in.” Instantly his words became almost subliminal.
“We have to find out what exactly they’re planning,” Mac said.
“There’s a pub in Sandstorm,” Manning said.
“The Dust Bowl, yes.” Len replied. “That’s Arji’s bar. It’s the only place in Sandstorm to drink and blow off a little steam. Some of the locals are happy to whore a little if they can wring a few extra water credits out of off-worlders.”
“Fury could easily ‘tran us in, but the problem is,” Mac said, “half of Sandstorm, both the Fallon brats and probably all of their crew know what Manning and I look like. We were there already when we were trying to find you, Lenore.”
“If you could get me ‘tranned straight into the bar,” Manning said, “I might be able to pull off my famous New Vaticana monk disguise.”
“That would definitely draw the attention to you,” Len said. “No way in hell a monk would visit here. There are not nearly enough souls for them to give a shit about and worse yet, none of them have any real credits to aid the church. That would be suspicious to the locals and the Fallons. Let me go.”
“No!” Everyone said at the same time.
“Look,” she said, jumping to her feet. “I’m the only one who is a local. Arji is my friend.”
“Who wants to be a lot more than your friend,” Manning said. To which Ascent tensed, and she could feel his scrutiny.
“Don’t be ridiculous. We’re friends, just friends, and anyway that’s not the point. The point is, I can waltz right in there. Besides you can bet everyone in Sandstorm will be doing their best to find out just what the fuck two bloody damned Fallons are doing here with half an army.”
“They’re fucking Fallons,” Manning said. “Don’t you think they’ll happily pay to get someone to betray you, to betray us, someone who would do anything to get off world? It’s nothing to them, and if they’re not feeling generous, they’ll just kill the snitch when they’re done with him.”
“Of course there are people who would do anything to get out of Sandstorm, including being stupid enough to trust a Fallon. But I know who I can trust, and if there’s anyone on this sand heap that knows how to stay hidden it’s me. I know who I can trust, and Arji is one of them, plus he runs the damn pub, he hears everything, sees everything. If there’s information to be had, he’ll have it.”
“I do not want you to go, especially if this man, Arji wishes to copulate with you,” Ascent said.
“Fuck, Ascent! Whatever the hell Arji might wish, he’s a good man and a gentleman. He would never hurt me, and besides, it’s none of your damn business.”
“Your safety and well-being is my business, Lenore. I will not let someone unworthy paw over you.”
“I do not like the idea either, Ascent,” Fury broke in before the argument could heat up. “Lenore Falish is far more vulnerable that my compliments would be, and certainly I do not want to put them at risk.”
“Well Ascent is indisposed at the moment, and no matter how good you are at disguising yourself, Fury,” Mac said, “I’m pretty damn sure you can’t disguise yourself as a local and saunter right on in to Arji’s pub.”
“Couple of goddamn mother hens,” Manning muttered. “Look, we have to do something.”
“For the moment there is nothing we can do,” Fury said. “It will be several hours at least before shuttles will be allowed to disembark, and then a little longer before the locals can glean any information. Perhaps in that time we may think of another plan.”
But Len knew there wasn’t one. She was their only hope of getting in unnoticed. “They know that you’re here, don’t they Fury?”
“I suspect that is the only reason they would come to this place in force. But they will not easily be able to find me”
“Perhaps it is better that you leave then,” Ascent said. “To protect your compliment and my Lenore.”
“And if they find you?” Lenore said. “Ascent, you can’t move. You don’t even know who you are. But they are Fallons. They could hurt you, they could do horrible things. They could force you to do horrible things. I can’t even think about that.”
“Lenore Falish is right,” Fury said. “We must stick together. There is far more at stake than just the two of us. In the meantime let us hope that Dubrovnik swiftly receives our message and Professor Keen contacts us. If anyone will know what to do, it is he and the science team at his disposal. Even so, my family has been destroyed by the Fallons and the conglomerates once, we will not let that happen again now that we are only beginning to reunite. We must stick together.”
Fury had barely ‘tranned Manning back to the ship when Ascent said. “I will not allow you to go back to Sandstorm, to go back to this Arji, who wants you.”
“First of all, Manning is full of shit,” she said. “And second of all I’m not yours to boss around like some fucking kid.”
“Then perhaps you should stop behaving like one.”
“Ascent, don’t be ridiculous. I’m the only one who can safely do this task and not get caught, and we need the information. We need it badly.”
“Perhaps that is true, but perhaps you are just anxious to get back to this Arji of yours.”
“Seriously? You can’t seriously believe that? Arji is my friend, nothing more. He’s never touched me except to revive me when the drone landed on Tak Major. Then he turned me over to Tula and Vaness to nurse back to health.” She shivered, “I’m not anxious to go back there at all. I don’t ever want to go back there, but I’m happy to do my part to rid the world of a couple of Fallons and bloody the Authority’s nose one more time. I can’t think of a better place for Abriad Fallon’s obscene fortune than put to use to find your brothers and sisters and make an end to indentured servitude.”
For a moment, Ascent made no response, and then he simply said. “No. I will not let you go. Now if you will please return to your room, it is time for your noon meal.”
“Last time I checked, Ascent, I was a full partner in this situation with a vote and a choice, and you can’t keep me from going. I don’t belong to you. What the hell, do compliments on SNTs get ordered around like this? I bet -”
“You are not my compliment,” he cut her off, “you could never be.”
The feel of cold static crawled over her skin from his anger. That she barely felt, but his words, his words gutted her on the spot.
“And you never miss a goddamned chance to remind me of it, do you? You even house me in the cargo bay. I get it all ready.” She turned and fled his heart chamber, taking the ladder down to her suite. There she found lunch set out before her, another exotic, and no doubt pleasing, meal. She ignored it, grabbed up her bag and went to explore the only space open to her, Ascent’s fucking corridors. He did not come after her, nor had she expected him to. He might just tell Fury to ‘tran her to Sandstorm base and be done with her. But she had options now, didn’t she? She paced the hallway. Surely Fury would be kind enough to help her get to the Rim. She would be happy to work for her keep. Well, she would allow Fury to ‘tran her to Sandstorm with or without Ascent’s permission, and then when she had gathered what information she could, she’d simply not come back to Ascent. Clearly he didn’t want her here. She was so far inferior to his dead compliment that he could only see her as an ignorant child in need of his care and protection. Hell, he had no idea, no idea. She stopped being a child when she and her mother fled the SNT docks with the Authority in hot pursuit. She paced the halls setting a plan in motion that would give her options when Ascent refused to take her back. Her enthusiasm for it waned as her anger cooled and as Ascent’s silence stretched on.
In the evening, she returned to her suite to find the lunch meal cleared away and dinner set before her, one she was sure was designed to tempt her, like one would tempt a child with candy. Her stomach clenched in anger at the thought, a thought that was followed too closely by the painful memory of his words. No, she was not his compliment, and she could never be. She didn’t look the meal. For the first time since Ascent brought her here, she wasn’t hungry, but she figured that had little to do with appetite. She had wandered the space he lit for her over and over until she felt like she could scream. She had only returned to her suite for her pack. She put on her headlamp and shouldered the rucksack.
Her memory had allowed her to memorize the schematics she had seen Richard Manning studying while he was onboard. They were now laid out in her head as clearly as they had been on the charts he had pulled up on his computer pad. With that information, she made her way up the maintenance shaft on hands and knees until she found Ascent’s bridge. It was very different from Fury’s, smaller though not by much, a little more stylized, more ornate. A woman’s touch, she thought settling into the captain’s chair, the only chair on deck. Ascent’s woman, his bonded compliment, his love. The feel of the chair that did not quite fit her body, the chair Ascent had shaped lovingly for someone with more curves, for someone less starved, more of a woman, more of a pilot, trained to be his true companion. She, on the other hand, was little more than a temporary fix, whose only value was to keep the pain at bay for a little while. For a moment jealousy burned through her chest so bad it hurt. For a moment she hated the woman for giving to Ascent what she could never give him, what he would never allow her to even if she could. But that was the way it was supposed to be with SNTs and their companions. It took years for them to train, to prepare, to take the immune suppressants so that they could be fully integrated. She rested her hand against the control panel. With a soft glow, the view screen came to life. She gave a little yelp of surprise, pulling her fingers back and glancing around, half expecting him to come raging, telling her to get out.
When that didn’t happen, she wiped sweating fingers on her trousers and, remembering the layout of Fury’s control panel, tried to piece together the function. The pilot’s controls were worthless right now, since Ascent couldn’t remember how to fly, and she was not actually a trained pilot. Apparently Diana Mac was. Apparently she was the best in the galaxy. Worthy compliments, she was bloody surrounded by them, while her proper education had come to an end at Tak Minor when her mother died. After her escape to Tak Major, it was never more than just survival. How could Ascent possibly look at her as anything more than just the filthy little urchin girl grown up in the dust and sand?
She had dreamed of one day training to become a compliment to an SNT. Hadn’t even Quetzalcoatl said she was a natural? Born to it, he had said, but not now, not with no training, with not preparation, and not with a grieving, uncooperative ship, who could not even remember his own name.