Happy Friday everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending. Last week the search intensified for Mac and Manning, and our heroes discover things could get much worse. This week, Mac and Manning find out just how bad things can get. 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. This one is particularly long in order not to break the flow of events. 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 61: Fire and Ice
“Where the hell are we?” Mac’s words came out in a cloud of condensation and settled a thin layer of frost on the survival bag she’d been stuffed into. She tried to sit up, but the room tilted and spun around, so she snapped her eyes shut and lay back down breathing deeply until her stomach settled and the room stop moving.
“I’m guessing it ain’t Kansas.” Manning’s words were slurred even between the chattering of his teeth.
“What? Where’s Kansas?”
“Hell if I know. Somewhere in ancient Terra, I think.” Manning was a master of old Terran slang and colloquialisms. “Fuck, my head feels like I had way too much of Arji’s ale.”
“My mouth tastes like I’ve been drinking it, that’s for sure,” Mac said. Her tongue felt like it would barely fit in her mouth, making her own words come out lopsided and distorted. She managed a look around for the first time, realizing what she had mistaken for dust was a thin rime of frost coating everything.
With a groan and a curse, Manning shoved himself up onto one elbow and looked around. “We’re in the shit, Mac.”
She nodded, feeling like her brain was sloshing in her head. “I figured. When the last face you see is a Fallon’s that’s never a good sign.”
Both of their PDs pinged an incoming message. It was from Tenad Fallon, and it was pre-recorded, obviously keyed to their waking brain waves.
“Speaking of the bitch,” Manning said with a growl.
“Glad to see that you’re awake, Manning and McAllister, and no worse for the wear, other than perhaps a little chilly and hung over. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to be a good hostess and offer you tea, you know, pick your brains and learn a little more about SNT1, and I do apologize for the unkempt state of your accommodations, but it’s hard to get good help these days.” She gave them a sad quirk of a smile and sighed. “Never mind. Needs must, and since we’re on quite a tight timetable, I had to forgo the niceties. But I compensated by putting some powdered hot cocoa mix in your care package I’m told is rather tasty.
“Now then,” she rubbed her palms together in anticipation, “I need you to listen very carefully. You’re at the science station on Taklamakan Minor, though I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now. Don’t waste your time trying to contact SNT1. I’ve placed a very effective dampening field around the station. Oh, I don’t want you dead, so relax. I’ve even had my people go out of their way to make sure your stay there is as pleasant as it can be under the circumstances. All I want is you out of the picture long enough that SNT1 will give me what I want. Once that’s done, I’ll see you safely to somewhere more hospitable.”
“Fucking piece of shit Fallon,” Manning said chafing his arms.
“Now before you waste your energy cursing me, I would suggest you get into the parkas and cold weather gear that you’ll find in the anteroom by the door. The energy cell and the oxygen supply on the environmental suit is well, inadequate, so I would suggest you make no attempt to go out after dark unless you want your lungs frozen solid.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Oh you’ll be safe enough inside, so don’t worry. Accommodations have been made. You’ll find adequate supplies in the storage room behind the enviro-shelter. You’ll need to sleep in the shelter at night, by the way, as the generator goes into low power mode until morning, and the rest of the station gets, well, a little unpleasant. And speaking of generator, it’ll be needing power. You’ll find a Tri-axe cell in the supplies. The generator in the shed around the side of the building. You can’t miss it. Get the cell plugged in and the generator will kick right off. I would suggest you don’t dawdle. Seriously, once it’s dark you’d better be inside and safe in the enviro-shelter. Have fun kids. I’ll be in touch.” The message ended and the PDs went disturbingly blank.
The moment the PD message was finished, they both climbed awkwardly to their feet, still a little unsteady and retrieved the Tri-axe cell. In the anteroom, which was a simplified airlock, they suited up in silence. At the moment, getting the generator running was everything. “What are you doing,” Mac asked, as Manning disappeared in the depths of a closet in one corner, where she could hear him shuffling through whatever was back there.
He came out with a coiled high tensile rope. Then he tossed her a belt with a large carabineer attached. “Put that on and clip in to the rope. I’ve been on ice ball planets before, in fact Plague 1 was one of them. You never go outside in the weather unattached.” He buckled his own belt on and snapped the carabineer onto the end of the rope now coiled over his shoulder. By the door was a metal hitch onto which he secured the end of the rope. “Between the white-out conditions and the wind, people can be lost and freeze to death only meters from their door. If we stay hooked in, we’ll stay safe.”
He slipped the power cell into a combination rucksack and tool bag he’d also found in the bowels of the closet. When she stared at him he shrugged. “I’ve been around, and I know what to do with a tri-axe cell. The tri-axe mine I was shackled to was on an ice planet. We never went anywhere without clipping on and we never went anywhere without our basic packs. Survival’s pretty much the same on any ball of ice. Don’t get lost and don’t freeze to death.” From the closet they’d also taken two tight fitting balaclavas equipped with headlamps, which they donned. “Probably not much light in the generator shed. Stay close. We’ll finish this off sweet and be back in time for canapés and cocktails.”
“I’ll certainly be ready for a Margarita or three.” She slipped into the goggles and heavy gloves Manning had tossed her and squared her shoulders.
It was only a standard double airlock with no security. After all, who the hell was going to break in on Tak Minor? But it held back a nightmare world that howled like a pack of madden beasts and spun clouds of snow and ice around them so that the visibility really was nearly non-existent. Manning pulled the safety line taut and felt along the wall where he found a clip for the line and they moved out into the weather, one hand pressed against the wall as much to keep them upright in the wind as to keep their bearings. Along the route, he clipped the line into several more hitches on the side of the building, keeping them close. Even with the heavy layers of clothing, Mac could never remember such cold. She guessed the only way they could really tell it wasn’t night was that their lungs hadn’t frozen solid. Best not think about that.
What seemed like an eternity later, they came to the airlock of the generator room. It took them a good fifteen minutes to dig it out of the snowdrift, but at least that warmed them up. In spite of being buried for ten years, the mechanism worked fine, and the door slid open to another blinding swirl of snow, which funneled around them and left them breathless until it settled as the air equalized to reveal the dark maw veiled in thin mist. Manning nodded to the generator set near the back wall. “Looks like a standard cold weather set-up. That’s good to know, nothing Gerry-rigged, nothing fancy, nothing new,” he said moving toward it with his head cocked to one side. “And if I’m not mistaken,” he moved slowly around the perimeter of the generator hunched forward at the waist, “the tri-axe cell should just slip right in about … right…” His words were swallowed back in a grunt of surprise as he backpedaled, fell on his ass and crab walked away. “Shit!”
“What? What is it, Manning what the…” Mac froze in her tracks, holding her breath as though by doing so she could keep her hammering heart from escaping her throat. In the halo of their headlamps was a body, only the face visible out of the drifted snow near the back of the generator, eyes closed, mouth set in restful sleep.”
“Jesu Vati,” Manning cursed. “Has to be Janesha Felish. Len’s mother.”
“Holy fuck,” Mac moved to kneel beside him as together they carefully brushed aside a drift of snow to find the woman’s body laid out as though she were just taking a little nap, arms folded low on her abdomen. A little more snow cleared away revealed a dark stain below her sternum. “Stabbed or shot through the heart. It’s hard to tell in this light and with the ice,” Mac whispered into the silence. “Bloody hell, how did poor Len manage it? She couldn’t have been more than thirteen if that.”
“She managed the same way you did, the same way we all did,” Manning replied. “She did what she had to do to survive.”
“If I didn’t already respect the hell out of the woman, I certainly do now.”
“Come on, let’s get this cell plugged in and get inside before we freeze our asses off. There’s nothing we can do for her now.” With that Manning stood, turned his attention back to the generator and immediately found the matrix. The cell plugged in effortlessly and the generator grumbled a little from ten years of idleness and then buzzed to life with a steady, reassuring hum. With a gloved hand, he wiped aside a display.
“What is it?” Mac squinted over his shoulder.
“Hours left before true night. We have one and a little change. Fucking Fallon cut it a little too close for my taste.”
Back inside, they organized their supplies as best they could and set about making a warm dinner, some strange stew, which was supposedly a Polyphemian recipe. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t Fury’s cuisine, which neither of them could bare to think about at the moment. No doubt he was beside himself.
“Fallon, she said once Fury’d done what she asked, she’d have us taken someplace more pleasant. Manning, she’s not planning on taking us back to Fury.”
Manning’s spoon clanked in the bottom of his bowl, and he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “That makes sense if you think about it. She has to keep us alive or Fury will destroy her and her ships and her brother’s and anything else that might be Fallon friendly.”
“But if we’re reunited with him, she has to know she won’t survive it, and neither will any of her ships. Surely she can’t be stupid enough to think that the rest of Fury’s family won’t be gunning for her too. But if we’re not reunited with him, if he doesn’t know where we are, but knows we’re alive,” Mac said, “then Fury will be hers to do with whatever she wants.”
He studied her for a minute, sipping from the cup of tea they’d made from snow melt. “Then we better hope he and Ascent come up with a working plan.”
Mac nodded. “And maybe a little help from his powerful new brothers.”
“They will find us, you know,” he said taking Mac’s hand.
She looked up at him from the dark thoughts threatening to overwhelm her and held his gaze. They were together, and they were SNT compliments, not without their resources. He was her Rick Manning, and she belonged to him and Fury, none of them was alone now. They had allies. They had each other. “They will. I know.” She stood, gave a serious glance around the facilities. There were cups left on a countertop. Whatever was in the bottom still frozen there. Near the cleanup station sat an unwashed bowl, a spoon still standing in it. The bedding in the enviro-tent looked as though someone had just gotten out of it. “Fuck, Manning, I don’t think anyone has actually been here since Len left.”
“I was thinking the same thing. The place is really creepy. Surely someone would have come to clear the place out, and they’d have found Janesha for sure. Why has the place simply been left derelict? And everything was shut down. I thought the place was supposed to go automated, unless there’s another simpler, more compact facility we didn’t see.”
“Still, there should have been at least another manned ship. From what I understand, there was one annually. Let’s see if we can’t retrieve some information.” Wiping her hands on her trousers Mac went to the main computer, which had automatically rebooted when the generator kicked in. “It looks like everything is working, help me check the two tablets to make sure they work. They probably belonged to Len and her mother.”
He came to her side wiping a thin layer of condensation off the screen of one and swiping it. It instantly blinked to life. “Memory’s been wiped.”
Next to him Mac did the same. “That’s to be expected. Wouldn’t Len have taken them with her?”
“Not if the weight allowance on the drone to get it back to Sandstorm and keep her alive were as tight as it had to be for her to make it and have any chance of surviving. She would have already been thin and half starved, but still there was the weight of the environmental suit, and even as thin as she probably was it would have been a gamble. She has an eidetic memory too. I imagine she committed to memory what bits she wanted to keep. I suppose she might have taken everything on a micro-drive.”
They both went to work on the tablets. They were SNT compliments, part tech themselves. There were things they could manage that no ordinary humanoid could, including retrieving data. “There we go,” Mac said after a couple minutes. “Ah. Looks like this must have been Len’s,” she said. “Fuck, Manning, she kept a journal, a detailed account of what happened, how she managed to escape. Listen to this”
That’s all then. This is my last entry. I’ve said good-bye to Mom. I’ve done all the final checks on the environmental suit. The Juliet drug is ready to be injected when the time is right. The drone is programmed and ready to go when I give the order. If I make it, the next time I wake up will be on Tak Major and I’ll be warm for the first time in five years. If I don’t, at least I’ll die in my sleep.