Happy Friday, everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending. Last week we saw Len’s homecoming to Sandstorm. This week Arji fills her in on the situation with the Fallons, and Len gets a severe shock. 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 Felish, 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 45: A Face from the Past
Once they were safe away from prying eyes, Arji didn’t wait for formalities. “They’re looking for SNT1, if you can believe it.” He turned to her, looked her up and down and said, “I’m guessing you can believe it, new clothes, a little flesh on yer bones, and you sure as hell don’t look like you’ve travelled six days across the worst of the Taklamakan.”
“Arji, the less I tell you, the safer you’ll be. I can only say that there’s one helluva lot at stake here, and if we all play our cards right, the galaxy might be a happier place.
He offered a toothy grin. “One with two less Fallons in it, I’m hoping.
When she only gave him a raised eyebrow, the smile got bigger still. “You know me, Girlie-Girl. I’m all ears. If they say it in my bar, I’ll find out, don’t you worry. They say it outside my bar,” he gave a one shouldered shrug, “I’ll hear it anyway.”
“I knew I could count on you, Arj,” she said, but when he took a step closer and pushed the hair away from her cheek, she began to pace, not wanting to know where it might lead if she didn’t, and not wanting to lose a good friend. “Do you know why Kresho Ivanovic is drooling down Tenad Fallon’s tits?” She asked.
“Ain’t had a chance to talk to him yet. I ‘spect he’ll be poking his head in the old back room first chance he gets though. If he’s drooling down that bitch’s tits, then he’s got something up his sleeve, if I know Ivanovic. He ain’t doing this for the love of the conglomerates, you can trust me on that. ‘Sides, from what I hear, getting between that woman’s legs ain’t good for a man’s health.”
“If Ivanovic wants to bang that bitch, well that’s his problem, not mine. And anyway, an extra pair of trustworthy eyes and ears on the inside can’t hurt. Now tell me, Arji, what have you heard so far?”
Jax stuck her head in the door and handed them each a pint, “Glad you’re back Girlie. Arji’s been beside himself,” she said with barely a face quirk.
“Mum’s the word, Jax, ‘bout her being here.” He laid his finger to the side of his nose, and the barmaid gave a jerk of her head that passed as an affirmative and left. She’d been in Sandstorm long enough to roll with the punches.
Len took a sip and grimaced. She’d forgotten how vile the stuff really was. “This sauce’ll have you pissing sand, Arji. You working to improve the brewing technique, I see.”
“My goddamned one goal in life is to become a meister brewer, don’t you know?” He downed half of his and licked his cracked lip. “‘Sides, it’s better than not pissing an all.” He polished it off in a couple of quick gulps and sat the glass aside on a battered table, where he kept several smokes he made up in advance for a quick fix when the place was busy. “They came in around High Shimmer yesterday, the Fallons did, but I’m betting you knew that.”
She nodded and took another tentative sip before setting the glass aside next to his. “And they know about Fury?”
“Fuck me!” He ran a hand through his thinning hair. “Are you telling me you and SNT1 are on a first name basis?” When she only blushed, he said, “Fuck me double time. Seriously, Girlie-Girl, if we get through this shit storm alive and Fallon free, ain’t a person on this sand heap that won’t want to hear that story.”
“If we get through this shit storm alive and Fallon Free, I’ll bore the piss out of all of you at the going away party I’ll be throwing before I fuck off for the Rim.”
He chuckled. “We skin these bastards out of enough credits, we might be on the next ship out ourselves, and leave the whole goddamn place to the glass vipers and the sand infestations.” He scratched his stubbled chin and huffed out a stale breath. “Here’s the thing that’s interesting to me, Girlie-girl, not more than a couple of Shimmers before the Fallons show up, there’s a man and a woman, off-worlders, show up here asking around about you. We was all worried so when they said they wanted to help find you, we told them a little bit, ‘specially when they said the damn Dart and its crew weren’t gonna be bothering anyone again.” His face reddened the way it always did when Arji was anger, and then he offered a sympathetic smile. “Hell, ain’t a one of us that wouldn’t like to take that lot out and leave ‘em in the Shimmer after what they did.” He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, then looked up, forcing a smile. “Anyway, we thought we could trust those two was trying to help you, and ifn they had a ship, then if anyone could find you still alive and bring you back, they could. By that time, though, you’d been gone long enough most people figured you was infestation fodder.”
“That would have been Fury’s compliment,” she said.
His mouth fell open and his eyes got even rounder than they usually were. “You’re shittin’ me! SNT1 has two compliments?”
“In the flesh,” she said.
He chortled and stroked his chin. “Well, I suppose an SNT ship would be … insatiable. Hell, an SNT ship could have a whole harem. At once.” He glanced up at her and shot her a wicked grin. “You wouldn’t know anything about that would you, Girlie? You sure look mighty pleased with yourself.”
When she blushed only harder, he let out a long low whistle. “What? He does his compliments and has a little bit on the side to boot? Lucky sonovabitch. Ifn he’s looking for an old fart with thinning hair and a paunch, I’m available. If his tastes run toward the eclectic, if you know what I mean. Hell, everyone in Sandstorm would happily volunteer, I’m pretty sure. Ifn his tastes run that way.”
She giggled and he raised an eyebrow, watching her pace. “So how was it?” He said stepping closer. I hear SNTs don’t care about your sex and they can make you feel like you’re in a right proper orgy, all attention on you. Is SNT1 that good?”
“I don’t know about SNT1. I’ve never had sex with him.”
He studied her for a moment, then grabbed up a smoke from the table, lit it up, inhaling deeply. “Then it is true, what they’ve been saying. They’re saying that SNT1’s here looking for another SNT, one somewhere in the Sea of Death.”
She only blinked, but in Sandstorm, a blink could speak volumes.
“We all told them they was full of shit. What the hell would an SNT ship be doing buried beneath the sand in Tak Major? Makes no goddamned sense at all. But then what does these days when here the fuck we are hosting two bloody Fallon brats and their goon squad.” He took another puff and blew it out. “The son is no chip off the old block. He’s a bloody Mist addict. Pretty damned useless. I wonder how he managed to find the toilet with his own ass when he has a shit. First thing his sister did when she got here was make sure we could supply his habit. ‘Course we couldn’t. That stuff’ll dry up your piss faster than a couple hours in a Shimmer Wind. Turns out Ivanovic sorted him. Oh it’s not sisterly love on Daddy little girl’s part. She wants him out of the way. You can damn near feel the hate rolling off those two like heat in the Shimmer. But Tenad, now she’s one dangerous bitch. She scares the piss right out of me. They say she’s nothing like her old man. She doesn’t have a petty bone in her body. She’s all business, they say, all fairness, maybe even more than fair. Don’t argue over the price of things. Just pays the credits with a smile. Hell, she acts like one of those navel gazers on High Mount, so fucking serene and peaceful that her shit don’t stink. But when she sets a plan in motion well, hell hath no fury, and forget the woman scorned. Just hell hath no fury. I’ve heard things that put me right off my rations and give me nightmares, sure enough. Still waters run deep and fucking dangerous with that one. I hope ole Ivanovic knows what he’s doing. He might end up with his dick in a knot.”
He puffed on his smoke for a second, ruminating on that scary fact, and then he continued. “Apparently they can’t find SNT1 because he has one helluva cloaking device, and they can’t get into the Sea of Death Yard because it has a de-mole fence around the whole goddamn thing. Around the whole goddamn thing. Now who in the hell would have the tech and the credits to do that sort of thing if it weren’t a Fallon?”
“A good question,” she said.
“Anyway, they’re stymied by the de-mole and by SNT1’s cloak. That means they could be here awhile. If they have a plan, I haven’t heard anything, and no one has questioned me. I think if I went about it just right I could probably get little Camille to fill me in on some things. Oh I know most of them that’s got indentureds aren’t afraid to tell all their secrets around them. Their poor indentureds would never speak out when they know the consequences. Dig’s trying to get his hands on someone who can deactivate a shackle, but there are so many quacks out there, you know. She’s a good girl, quiet, but not cowed.”
It was standard beyond Authority territory, if you brought an indentured into non-Authority space, any effort that could possibly be made to free that indentured would be made. There was still far too little of the cure for the SNT virus that kept indentureds from trying to escape, but that would gradually change. Still, an indentured making an escape was rare enough even beyond the Rim, that it didn’t keep Authority ships from bringing their indentureds right on over with relatively little fear.
“Would do my heart good though, to rob a Fallon of an indentured,” Arji said. Len couldn’t help thinking the same.
“Bitch is got a lot of nerve bringing in indentured into my bar.” He shook his head as though he suddenly remembered the task at hand. “So, there really is another SNT? Well fuck me! Which one is it, and how did it get here?”
“He has no memory of who he is or what he’s doing way out here,” she said. “That’s why Fury’s here, trying to help him.”
“And he likes you, this mysterious SNT?”
This was not a conversation she wanted to have. “He doesn’t hate me, at least not most of the time. Look Arji, please don’t ask me any more questions. Answers may only put you at risk. All I need is for you to keep your ears open and,” she fumbled in her jacket and pulled out the small leather case with the subdural device. “I need you to wear this. You can communicate with me, with us, if there’s anything we need to know. Just rub your hand over it. You know, like you’re rubbing your neck. That’ll activate it and we’ll hear what you’re saying and I’ll come if there’s something important you need to let us know.”
He held her gaze until she blinked. “He ‘tranned you here, didn’t he, SNT1 Fury.”
She only blinked at him and loaded the subdural into the syringe. He pulled his hair away from the spot behind his ear and gave a little hiss as she inserted it. “What’s that like, being ‘tranned? Weren’t you afraid it’d scramble your brain?”
“Arji, how goddamn long does it take you to shoot you’re wad? Vaticana Jesu. Finish the fuck up already. I don’t need to see this,” Ivanovic said, but he didn’t look away.
As Ivanovic burst in, Arji grabbed Len, pulling up her hood as he did so and then kissed the hell out of her just like they had been fucking, then he pulled away and nodded her toward the back door, but even in the recess of her hood, she got her first look at Kresho Invnovic, and she froze. He hadn’t gone by that name when she knew him. He was Van, they called him. Keith Vanderbilt, and he had betrayed her and her mother, left them to rot on Tak Minor.
She barely heard Arji tell the man he was a cocksucker, as he turned her toward the door with a little shove. She glared back one last time at Van from under her hood, then fled out the back door to a litany of Ascent’s growls and grumbles about Arji’s lying, filthy, disrespectful mouth. Once she was safely back in the blind spot and she could calm down enough to stop shaking, she told Fury she was ready to ‘tran up.