Happy Friday everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending. Last week, with little choice, Len returned to Tak Minor. This week Mac and Manning realize just how bad their situation really is. 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 66: Worst Than We Thought
Kresho, if you would listen to me –”
“Don’t fucking talk to me, Ori,” he cut her off. “You got us into this mess and now innocent people are at risk. Fury’s compliments, for fuck sake! Fury’s compliments and for what?”
“You know for what. Innocent people are always at risk, Kresho and … compliments die. That will always be the case as long as the Authority is in control.”
“You think I don’t know that?” He snapped. “I figured it out a long time ago, Ori, the hard way, remember?”
“And you think I don’t know that?” She startled him out of his anger, shocked that she actually sounded angry at him! “So did I, in case you’ve forgotten.”
How the hell did she always manage to make him feel bad?
She continued. “If you want this shit storm to end then you’ve got to trust me, trust I know what I’m doing.”
“And Len and Camille and Arji and all the others, Gert, Dyrg, they’re all expendable.”
She offered a heavy sigh that surprised him. She actually sounded tired. “We’re all expendable, Kresho, and if we want this to end, we have to be willing to do what we don’t really want to do.”
“Don’t fucking lecture me, Ori. I know the speech. Hell I could quote it back to you verbatim.”
He did something he hadn’t done in a very long time, let his thoughts flowed down the sub processor, and just like that all the connections clicked into position and Ori sighed as though a flood of relief had just eased great pain, a sigh that was in tandem with his own. “Fury, we need to talk now.”
“What do you want Kresho Ivanovic,” came the response almost before he had finished the thought.
“Listen to me very carefully, both planetoids are booby trapped and if the dampening field is breached, as it already has been, Tenad Fallon has given orders for the Virago and the Dreadnaught to move into position. They’re both equipped with planet killers, and we have at best guess twenty-four hours to stop them or get our people off.”
The silence that coursed through the sub processor felt colder than the air on Tak Minor. But the response was not from Fury.
“You are the man who left my Lenore on Taklamakan Minor to die.” It was not a question, and it was definitely not Fury.
“Who are you bonded to, Kresho Ivanovic?” Fury asked, not giving him a chance to defend himself against the charges laid at his door. “Is your SNT still infected with the virus that they would bond with you and orchestrate such a thing as this?”
Kresho’s laugh was nearly hysterical. “Granted I question her sanity at times but not as often as I question my own. “
“Gentlemen, enough! We do not have time for this!” Ori’s voice boomed down the sub processor into the stunned silence that followed.
And then the voice, which Kresho assumed came from the SNT in the Sea of Death said, “SNT 3? Ouroboros?”
“Well that was nearly embarrassing.” Manning forced a laugh through chattering teeth as Mac steadied the warm cup of tea he’d nearly lost control of in his trembling hands.
“Drink, or I’ll dump the whole damn thing right on that package you’re so fond of.” She said, hoping that she sounded a little less worried than she felt.
“Mac, that threat has no teeth when I know for a fact you’re as fond of that package as I am.”
“Then shut up and drink. I don’t want it frozen off either.”
He offered her a wicked smile. “There are better ways of warming it up, you know.”
“Are you kidding?” She replied. “The way you’re shivering, that’s a good way to get it bitten, and besides you could never hit the hole like you are now.”
“If you helped me though, it’d be almost like a vibrator, think about it, Mac this could be good for both of us.” He actually managed to reach around and pat her ass.
“Drink you damn tea, Manning and then if you’re up for a game of bury the sausage, I’ll help you find the hole.” God, she wished that he actually felt up for a little sex. She felt like shit, and she could only imagine how he felt. He sipped the tea with some effort, but she held the cup until he’d taken several good sized drinks, then he lay back in the bedding exhausted closing his eyes and drifting into a fitful sleep.
She studied him while his eyes were closed, knowing how grumpy it made him when she was mother-henning him. But she didn’t care, not now. There was no way in fuck she was going to lose him if she had to shoot him full of sedatives and drag his ass to the cryo-pod. His lips were tinged blue and he’d lost weight. She could tell, just like Fury could have told if he were there. She felt the ache of his absence so badly low in her center that it nearly doubled her over. The tether had held secure for way longer than it would have before they had all bonded. But in the sub-freezing temperatures, on rations that were barely enough calories for normal maintenance let alone on an ice planet, it wasn’t surprising that eventually the tether began to fray.
“Don’t look at me like that, Mac,” he said without opening his eyes. “It’s embarrassing enough anyway.”
“I’ll look at you any way I want, Manning. You should know that by now.”
“I hate it, you seeing me this way.”
“It’s just your delicate little male ego,” she said. “Hell, you’ve seen me puking my guts and blubbering like a baby. You can’t really believe it’ll make me or Fury think any less of you? I know for a fact he’s seen you worse.”
He smiled, still not opening his eyes. “You’re probably right. It’s probably just my fragile male ego.” Then his face was wracked with pain that she knew wasn’t physical. “I bawled like a baby when Fury told me what he’d had to do. He was so afraid I would be angry, that I wouldn’t forgive him, when there was nothing to forgive. I loved him by then, and I couldn’t believe that he’d cared enough to save my sorry ass.”
“You know he’ll find us, he, and those crazy brothers of his. They’ll find us. We just have to hang on.” She nodded to the back room. “And we have a way to do it.”
His arm shot out from under the covers with surprising speed, and he grabbed her hand in a white-knuckled grip. “Not without you, Mac. Do you understand me? Not without you. I know enough about ice planets to know that you would never make it up to the top of that mountain and back in the environmental suit we’ve been left with, and it’s been here ten years. We don’t know how safe it is. And trust me, even if it was safe and fully charged, you’ve got no experience of this kind of weather. Hell, you nearly froze the little while we were on Pandora Base. Please Mac, please trust me. Promise me. Promise me that you’ll come with me, and I’ll go into the pod right now, right this minute if I know you’ll be in the one right next to me. Fury will come for us. We both know it. Promise me Mac. Promise me.”
Her shoulders slumped and she fought back a sob. He was right. She knew he was right. Fury would come, or he would find a way to send someone else, but he would get them back to him safe and no worse for the wear. “All right. All right. Then let me make you one more cup of tea to warm your ass and we’ll go into the deep freeze together. I’ve checked out the freezers. They’re both fully functional. Those things are built to last almost indefinitely anyway. We’ll just go to sleep in this shithole and then wake up in Fury’s warm embrace, right exactly where we both belong.”
She managed to get another half cup of tea down him before he pushed the cup away. “I’m ready. Let’s do it now while I still can hogtie you if you try to renege on your promise.”
She glared at him. “It was a promise, Manning. My hands were in front of me. No crossed fingers and my toes are too damn numb from cold to cross anyway. Trust me,” she said, helping him to his feet, “I know when I’m out of my element. All I want to do is go to sleep and wake up with Fury and you all snuggled down in our bed.” She couldn’t help it, with the last word, she bit back a little sob.
Manning, though he was leaning heavily on her, pulled her into his arms and held her against his chest. He smelled of the cold, of suffering, of the tea he had just drank, but underneath all that, he smelled of the man she had loved long before she’d realized it. His fingers curled in her hair, and he kissed her upturned face. He offered her that wicked chuckle that she loved so much and whispered against her ear. “I have a feeling when that happens, none of us is gonna want to get out of that bed for, oh, at least a week.” He shrugged. “Make that two. Now come on, let’s check out our new rooms at the Ritz. I hear the beds are a bit chilly.”
They were just turning toward the storage room where the cryo-pods were when the pressure door all but exploded open and a phantom appeared clad in an environmental suit and engulfed in the mist between the doors, silent, looking from one of them to the other.
With more male bravado than strength, Manning shoved Mac behind him and growled, “Who the hell are you?” And then he all but toppled back on top of her.
The helmet came off and clattered to the ground, and Len rushed toward them, helping Mac support Manning. “How bad is it?” Those were the first words out of her mouth as they eased Manning back into one of the control room chairs.
“The tether held a lot longer than we could have hoped for,” Mac answered, knowing that each breath was becoming harder and harder for Manning. But it’s just too damn cold and the generator isn’t going to last us much longer. Did Ascent bring you?” She asked.
Len shook her head. “He’ll come as soon as he can. He’s Dragon by the way.” The pride in her voice made it clear to Mac that they had bonded.
“Didn’t see that coming,” Manning managed.
“Look, we can’t ‘tran from in here, something in the way the station is designed, and it’s also double shielded. Get dressed and as soon as we’re outside at the ‘tran site, Camille will ‘tran us up.”
“Camille?” Mac said.
“Long story. One we don’t have time for just yet.” Hurry now.”
They managed to force a cup of warm soup down Manning’s gullet to warm him and give him enough energy to suit up, but even then, they both had to do most of the work of getting him into the bad weather gear. “It’s not far, the ‘tran site,” Len said, sensing Mac’s worry.
“No worries. If we have to we’ll drag his ass,” she replied. To which he offered a feeble raised middle finger, which she slapped a heavy glove over.
When the outer door slid open and they stepped out into the blizzard that was the best weather Tak Minor had to offer, Len was glad the ‘tran site wasn’t far. She had forgotten how cold it was, how horrible. It had never seemed so bad when she and her mother were there together. Sadly, most of those good memories had been swallowed up in the horror of the last three months of survival after her mother’s murder. She wasn’t worried about herself, she could handle it, besides she had the environmental suit, as much as anything for the internal telemetry, otherwise she’d never be able to find the drop site with the lack of visibility. It was Manning who worried her. He’d nearly doubled over from the impact of the storm when the outer door had slid open. With more grit and courage than strength, he forced himself upright and leaned into the wind. There was no speaking. There was not enough energy to waste on words, and while Manning was in bad shape, Mac wasn’t a whole lot better. Len recognized too well the effects of the horrible cold and a starvation diet. They needed heat and food and rest. Knowing that, she forced a hard pace, and when Manning stumbled, she shoved in under his arm and with Mac on the other side they kept going. They had to keep going. As for her, well she couldn’t get off this deep freeze fast enough. The wind howled, and she ignored the heavy weight of the man leaning hard against her and forced a pace that made her heart hammer, but well within acceptable parameters, the telemetry told her. They were almost to the site when just like that the telemetry went offline. The suites own telemetry worked just fine monitoring her vitals, giving oxygen levels, location in relation to the station, but everything from the Andromeda simply went blank.
She tapped the com several times. “Camille? Camille, can you hear me? Camille, we’re ready to ‘tran.” But she knew there was no use. Camille was not responding. Panic rose in her throat. She wanted to scream, she wanted to run away. She couldn’t stay here. She had to get out of here. She had to get off this freezer. She couldn’t be trapped here again. She couldn’t fail Mac and Manning. She couldn’t fail Fury, and dear god, she couldn’t bare what this would do to Dragon. But he wouldn’t give up. He’d come for her. He’d come for them all. He would. Oh god, she had to get out of here!
It was Mac squeezing her shoulder that pulled her back to herself. “What is it? What’s wrong?” Mac yelled into the wind; a sound Len barely heard.
Len stood very still, struggling to ignore the black spots now filling her vision. It was only panic. She had beat this world before when she’d been totally alone. Well, she wasn’t now. She wasn’t alone, and she would never be again. “Dragon, I love you, and I need you. I need you, I need you,” she chanted down the sub processor that no longer worked, but somehow it made her feel better. She took a deep breath and motioned them around and headed back toward the station. They couldn’t stand out here waiting. She would be okay, but Manning and Mac would not. Manning was already too far out of it to notice. Len leaned close to Mac and spoke into her external speaker. “We’ve lost contact. We can’t wait out here.”
Mac only nodded as they both shoved in still closer to Manning, and they all three turned back toward the shelter of the station. All the while in her head, down the subspace processor, Len repeated the mantra, “Dragon, I need you, I love you, I need you.” No, she was no longer alone.