Happy Friday everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending in which our heroes race to the rescue before it’s too late. 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 70: Into Safety
“I will not lose my Lenore!” Dragon’s bellow was nearly deafening, filled with rage. “It is your fault she is back here! All your fault! Ouroboros, you are my sister! How could you put my compliment at risk when you know what is like to lose a beloved? You know what it is like!”
“I will explain, but not right now,” Ori yelled to be heard. “You don’t understand, and–”
“We don’t have time for this right now,” Kresho shouted into the roar. “We have to find her now!”
“Hey! Hey! Shut the fuck up all of you and listen to me,” came Camille’s normally soft voice suddenly full of command and urgency. “The top of Mount Orion isn’t under the dampening field. We discovered when we flew over. That’s where she’s at, climbing to get out. If she can reach a high enough –”
The roar of the launch blocked out all sound and tossed the compass as though it were a scrap of paper caught in a strong wind. It took everything both Kresho and Ori could do to right the ship, all the while yelling down the sub-processor, “Camille! Camille, are you all right?” The Andromeda would have literally been blown away by the blast. When the atmosphere settled around them again, a single rocket, launched from the Dreadnaught.
“They launched early!” Came Camille’s breathless voice in the sub processer. “The motherfuckers launched early!”
Two days before the drone arrived, with no triaxe cells to keep it running, the generator began to run down, and in the final twenty-four hours, Len was forced to remain in the environmental suit overnight even inside the station. It would be depleted by the time she could get the drone reprogrammed to Tak Major. In order to have enough fuel to make the trip to Sandstorm, everything in the drone had to be off-loaded. That would drain the suit’s life support systems even faster. Even with her working through the daylight hours in her normal bad weather gear, she would still deplete her suite. Her mother’s, which was fully charged, she would need for the trip to Tak Major, and only that with the help of the Juliet drug.
When the drone arrived on the landing pad right on schedule, Len nearly cried with relief, taking time only to open several survival bars and eat them while she began unloading. The last two days there had been only thin soup made from some dried seaweed shoved to the back of the storage room. It was vile, but warm, and it filled her stomach, even if only barely.
At first, she unloaded only enough space so that she could slip inside to reprogram the guidance system. That was the critical path; that was what she needed to be fresh and focused for. The rest was grunt work. She didn’t need to see the schematics nor the calculations for the journey to Sandstorm. Those she had committed to memory long ago and gone over and over in her head every night like a mantra to fill the loneliness.
When the internal computer had been reprogrammed with the emergency landing details for Sandstorm landing pad, she reprogrammed the speed. She programmed it for as fast as a Mayfly 7 could go, dangerously fast for the distance, but any slower and she would be dead before she got there. After that she went about the frantic task of unloading, not bothering to dolly everything into the station. Up until now every little item aboard a drone was precious and carefully sorted and inventoried. It was sometimes two days before the hatch was sealed and the launch sequence set for the drone’s return journey. Now it was only dead weight, and she couldn’t survive another night in the station. She hurried through the task shoving emergency rations bars into her mouth to give her the energy she needed to keep on schedule. The way she saw it, she would either eat again when she arrived on Tak Major, or not at all. She was okay with that. If she didn’t take this chance, she would be dead anyway.
Once she was finished, and the landing pad was all but buried in the tossed bundles and boxes that would have been treasures such a short time ago, she went one last time to the ice cave to say her final good-by to her mother. “I’m on my way, Mama. I promise I’ll be back. You just lie here and rest. It won’t be long.” Once again, she touched the frozen cheek, then she left.
In the freezing, dark station, she carefully donned her mother’s environmental suit, going through all the safety checks her mother had taught her, that they had gone through together a thousand times, always checking each other’s suit too just in case. The Juliet drug was already inserted into the internal first aid system, carefully replacing the broad-spectrum emergency cocktail that every suit was equipped with. In an emergency the suit internals were programmed to inject the cocktail directly into the vein, but this suit she had reprogrammed to inject the Juliet drug at just the right time when hypoxia had reached just the right level and the suit still had the power for the task. If it failed, she would die. The odds were not in her favor, but they were the best odds she would get on this ice ball, so she left the station and climbed into the drone. Once she was safely strapped in where cargo would have normally been, she started the launch sequence, with just enough time to escape the atmosphere before the winds picked up again.
The next thing she remembered was Arji breaking her ribs in his efforts to revive her and cursing at her not to die as she gasped in her first incredibly painful, incredibly delicious breath of air. And there was heat, more heat than she had ever felt in her life.
But she wasn’t hot now. She was so cold, so cold, and there was so far left to go. So very far. She must have lost consciousness for a moment from the lack of oxygen. She came back to herself sitting on her ass in the middle of a snowdrift.
“Len, honey. Get up. You have to get up. You’re almost there. You’re almost home. You have to keep moving.” The hand that reached out to her was bare and feminine. She looked up to find her mother standing over her dressed in only her under-thermals, her hair loose and barely lifting on a breeze, and yet the wind hadn’t calmed. If anything it was worse. “Come on, sweetheart. You’re not finished yet. Your whole life is ahead of you, and it’ll be a wonderful life. Get up.” She smiled down at her. “Dragon is coming for you, for both of us, don’t worry. Please don’t worry. Get up, my beautiful girl.”
She took the offered hand and clung to it as she shoved up to her feet. “I’m sorry mama. I’m so sorry,” she gasped the words out loud, in spite of not being able to spare the oxygen. And then she sobbed.”
“My darling girl, you have nothing to be sorry for. You’ve done everything right and so very much more. I am so proud of you. Now get up, hurry. Dragon is waiting.”
Suddenly the sky lit up with a network so bright that sunshield lowered itself into position in the visor of her helmet. She figured she must be hallucinating. She’d never seen anything like that before. She should turn up the oxygen a bit she supposed because hallucinations weren’t a good sign, but there was not enough to turn up any way. “I love you mama,” she said to no one there. And then she heard it. Loud and clear, she heard it.
“I love you, I need you, I am here, my Lenore. I have come.” For a second, the world flashed bright and then vanished and then she vanished with it.
They all watched helplessly as the rocket raced away toward the planetoid and exploded in low orbit bursting into a blinding net, multiplying and spreading to surround the whole surface of Tak Minor. They had seconds before the net would go critical, flash bright and implode onto the planetoid. The implosion would then continue right on through to the planetoid’s core, collapsing the whole of Tak Minor in on itself. Kresho hammered an impotent fist against the control panel seeing the flash through a red mist of rage and pain. Ori’s own pain dwarfed his own. Camille sobbed openly. “We have failed her! We have failed our Lenore,” Ori sounded almost as though she sobbed as well.
But then something happened. There was another flash of light, a sharp point that slipped through the net like a needle, and it was impossible to see what happened next, it was far too bright for humanoid eyes. Even with his eyes closed, the flash across the dark inside of Kresho’s eyelids was blinding. He cried out and threw his arm over his face, bracing for the aftershock. He waited, holding his breath, but nothing happened. When he ventured a peek, it was as though everything froze as it was. The planet-killer’s lethal net was still in place, the ships hadn’t been tossed. Nothing moved at all. But something was missing. Someone.
“Dragon? Where’s Dragon?” Kresho said when he could manage to speak again. Oh God, to lose an SNT as well as a compliment and the little girl he’d thought of as a daughter was more than he could bear.
Into the silence, Ori replied, “my brother is below the net.” The words were barely spoken before the planet-killer’s net sparked once as though someone had set fireworks off all across its surface. Then it grew duller and duller before it simply crumbled and drifted away like so much space dust revealing beneath an iridescent dome around the curve of the whole planetoid not unlike a giant soap bubble. It caught the twinkle of the distant sun only for a moment then vanished and Dragon rose brighter than the sun from above Mount Orion. For another moment there was stunned silence and then the ship said, “I have her. I have my Lenore. She is safe.”
For a long time no one spoke. The relief on both smaller ships felt like a living thing wrapping itself around them and holding them just for a second. And then Fury’s voice came through sub space. “Taklamakan Major is safe.”
“And Tenad Fallon?” Ori asked.
“She is about to be neutralized.”
“You’re going to kill her?” Camille’s voice down the sub processor link sounded viciously pleased.
It was Ori who responded. “Much worse than that, Camille Ingraham. He is going to give her what she wants.”
Before the discussion could go further, Fury said. “Please hurry home with my beloveds.”
“We’ll be there in a flash,” Ori said. Kresho could almost hear a smile in her voice.