With the New Year approaching, Mr. Grace and I wish you love, light, peace and joy in 2023! I’m We’ll be toasting in the new year in Pisa and looking to new beginnings.
Once again it’s time for another episode of Dragon Ascending. Last week onboard the Compass, Kresho was informed of Ori’s dangerous plan. This week Len returns from Sandstorm to Ascent’s cold shoulder. 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 48: Don’t Trust Him
Len was trembling all over when Fury ‘tranned her onto Ascent’s bridge, and she nearly fell on her ass before she could stumble to the captain’s chair and dropped into it. “I’m all right,” she managed. “I’m just not used to being transported.”
“It does take a little getting used to,” Mac said, “but you look like you’ve seen a ghost. It’s more than the transport, isn’t it?”
“Don’t trust Kresho Ivanovic,” she blurted out before anyone could say anything else.
For a moment there was confused silence and then Fury spoke. “Of course not. He is working with the Fallons, which I don’t understand. My research tells me he’s a man to be trusted. Very strange.”
Len waved a dismissive hand. “He’s a slime wad, who deserves to be Shimmered, and that’s too fucking good for him.” She wrapped her arms tightly around her and swallowed back tears, not wanting to cry, but remembering the last time she saw her mother’s face.
“Lenore,” Fury’s voice was gentle, nearly an embrace, while Ascent’s rage felt nearly like Shimmer heat coursing over the bridge. “What has happened?”
“He said he’d return for us as soon as he could. He said we would be safe on Tak Minor at the science station, that no one would find us there. But he didn’t. He didn’t come back.” She closed her eyes and fought back the memories that came slamming in on her after seeing Van again. “And then they killed my mother, and no one came. No one came for me.”
“Jesu Vaticanus,” Manning’s voice was a harsh whisper.
“Tell us,” Fury said gently.
“His name was Keith Vanderbilt, well he went by Van. He was a scientist working on the SNT project alongside my mother. They became lovers. He was good, really good. He and my mother worked closely with Professor Keen. When everything happened, when my Uncle Matt and Quetzal disappeared, they knew we’d be saddled with the debt and all three of us would get the shackle, so Van got us on a tramp freighter heading to the Taklamakan System with the scientist who was to take over at Tak Minor Station. Enroute, he found out who we were and betrayed us to the Authority. The Fidelio’s captain didn’t take kindly to that kind of betrayal, and after we’d survived our first run-in with the Jaegers by hiding out in a nebula, he dispensed deep-space justice and blew the man out the airlock. Then Captain Martin and Van devised a plan for my mother to take up the position on Tak Minor under the scientist’s name. The station was intended to support two scientists, and we fudged the documents to make it look like Professor Devon had a colleague. No one knew or cared who was there. We were left at the station and Van went to find a friend on Hammer Fell who owed him a favor and could get us off Tak Minor and safely beyond the Rim. We waited, but he never came. He never came.”
“That does not sound like the man I researched,” Fury said.
“The man you researched is betraying all of us to work with the Fallons,” Mac said.
“Did you not say he was a top scientist for the SNT projects?”
“Yes.” Len said, taking the cup of traditional English tea Ascent had replicated for her and inhaling the clean, crisp scent.
“I remember Van, and your mother,” Fury said.
“You knew my mother?” She nearly spilled the tea on herself.
“Not very well, for Professor Keen worked almost exclusively with me, while they worked with my brothers and sisters, but they came to me from time to time, ran tests occasionally, assisted Professor Keen when he needed it. In truth, Ascent would have known them better than I.”
“If the man has betrayed you and your mother, Lenore, then he will pay for it. I promise you.” She was surprised at Ascent’s bloodthirstiness, but then she shouldn’t have been, as she recalled what he did to the Dart.
“Perhaps he already has paid for it,” Fury said. Before anyone could respond he continued. “I think that we now understand why Tenad Fallon wants his help, for if anyone can find a way to infiltrate an SNT, it is someone who worked so closely on the project that brought us into existence. I would guess that Tenad Fallon is holding that information over the man’s head, on which there is still a price and the guarantee of a shackle.”
“Arji told me that the Fallons know Fury is here and that they also know about Ascent.”
There was stunned silence, and then Fury spoke softly. “I do not suppose it would be too difficult to figure out what might bring an SNT ship to this desolate system, and while my brothers and I have tried to keep low profiles, it was inevitable that we should be discovered.”
“At the moment they’re stymied by Fury’s cloak and by the de-mole.” She sipped her tea thoughtfully. “Is it possible, Fury, that your brothers can help?”
“Physically, I do not think so. They are too far away. But it is possible that Professor Keen and his team’s help may be able to help us get Ascent’s memories back. I am certain from our diagnostics that physically, there is nothing stopping Ascent from rising up, and then we could leave together.”
When Ascent made no response to this, Fury continued. “You are vulnerable now, my brother, and if I am not able to protect both of us, I do not know what might happen.”
“I am willing to do all that is required of me,” Ascent finally said.
“I think they will not easily find a way through the de-mole, nor will they be able to find my exact location, but the longer we linger here, the longer you are unable to move from the Sea of Death, Ascent, the more at risk we all become.”
“The fact that Ivanovic was one of the top scientists on the SNT project in hiding, and that he’s now hanging out with the Fallons worries me a lot,” Mac said.
“They definitely have him by the short hairs, Manning observed.
“Fury, how soon do you expect to hear from Professor Keen,” Len asked.
“I cannot say for certain. But I do know that he will contact us as soon as he possibly can.”
“It occurs to me that maybe we also need to be talking with Gerando Fallon,” Len said. “He knows the Fallon brats better than anyone, I suppose, and he may be able to point out anything we can use against them.”
Gerando Fallon is even farther away than Professor Keen,” Fury commented, “but I have already thought of that and have put in a message.
“Is there anything else your friend, Arji, could tell us about the situation?” Fury asked. Len could feel Ascent bristle at the mention of Arji’s name.
“Apparently Jessup Fallon is a Mist addict,” she said. “Everyone at Sandstorm seems to think that his big sister keeps him happily doped up so that he won’t get in her way. So far it’s working, but he’s pretty unpredictable. Arji is the ears in Sandstorm, owning the Dust Bowl. People talk, and they gossip. Not much else to do there. A lot of both gets done in the Dust Bowl, since it’s the only watering hole. Add to that the fact that the only thing people in Sandstorm hate worse than the Authority sticking its nose in their business, is a Fallon or two showing up on their doorstep. I suppose a few people might happily snitch if they thought it would get them a ride off this sand heap, but they also know if word got back, and it would, they’d get their asses shimmered before their next piss.”
When everyone waited in silence, she finished her tea and said, “That’s all I know, only that I did put the implant in Arji’s neck, and he’ll get in touch if he finds out anything. If he says he’ll do it, he’ll do it. Oh, and there is one more thing. I’m not entirely sure, but I think Ivanovic recognized me.”
“Well shit! You can’t very easily go back then, can you?” Manning said.
“I would just as soon you did not go back to that place anyway,” Ascent commented with what damn near sounded like a growl.
“Do you think he’d betray you to the Fallons?” Mac asked.
“I don’t know why he would. I’m a nobody, and I’ve been a resident of Sandstorm for ten years. There’s nothing to be gained by telling them about me. Anyway, I’m not sure he saw me, and I wasn’t going to hang around to ask. Besides, you lot heard everything that went on, didn’t you?” She tapped the device in her own neck.
“But we do not know Sandstorm and its people, Lenore Falish,” Fury said. “You do. You know what would be normal and what would not.”
“The indentured, Fury,” Len said, remembering Camille. “Can you deactivate her shackle?”
“Of course I can, but in order to do so, I must ‘tran her onboard. I certainly would if there is any way to make that happen without betraying our efforts any more than they are already compromised. Let us hope that as the situation unfolds, we may be presented with an opportunity. I shall certainly be watchful for one.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“And now then, you must rest after your ordeal,” Fury said, “and I will try again to contact Professor Keen and Gerando Fallon. Tomorrow we shall make another attempt to help Ascent regain his memories.”
In the silence that followed the end of the conversation, Len sighed and pulled herself to her feet. “I need a shower, Ascent. I’d almost forgotten just how filthy Sandstorm is.”
When he gave no response, she shrugged and made her way down to her suite. It sometimes amazed her how sensitive she had become to Ascent’s presence and his mood. She could feel him just beyond her bathroom. It felt like he was pacing, waiting for her. She could also feel the static of his less than stellar mood. She heaved a sigh and turned her back to the door, deciding to linger and avoid the inevitable as long as possible. Right now all she wanted was to wash Sandstorm off her, to wash off the sight of Van carousing with the Fallons, the man who had left her to die. Those memories were not so easy to wash away. Instead, she concentrated her energy on what they might do tomorrow to stimulate the return of Ascent’s memories further. Without them, without the knowledge of his own functionality, he could not escape if he were taken, and there was a very good chance that Van would know exactly what to do to fix him and to force him into bondage to the goddamned Fallons. Well, she wasn’t about to let Van do that. She’d happily slit his throat, or stab him in the heart, the way her mom had been stabbed. He deserved no better.