Happy Friday everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending in which much reunions and revelations are the order of the day. 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 72: Reunions and Revelations
Len rematerialized in the double spiral of Dragon’s heart with his words still filling her head. “I have you my love. You’re safe with me where you belong. I have you now” He was already ripping the environmental suit away. He kissed her face over and over again, and his lips were so warm against her icy skin.
“I knew you’d come.” That was all she could manage around the strange little hiccups of sobs convulsing her dry throat. They only made her gasp harder to fill her oxygen-starved lungs with the sweet, sweet air in Dragon’s heart space.
“Of course I came. Nothing could keep me from you, my love. And now, we must remain here in this place only for a little longer until I have destroyed the planet killer.” There was a brief flash through her head of a glowing network over Tak Minor. It sparked bright and then dissolved into dust followed by a satisfied sigh in her ear. “Ah there, that is done. And now my dearest Lenore, I have one more very quick errand, and we shall leave this place forever. I am bringing your mother away at last to rest in peace. I wish to honor the one who carried you in her womb so that you would one day belong to me.” Another pause. “And now we may go and meet with the rest of our family. Your mother will rest in a place I have prepared for her until we are able to honor her properly as she deserves.”
She barely felt it as they made the jump, cradled in his arms as she was, and when all that remained was to rendezvous with their family, she truly dissolved into wracking sobs. She wailed and keened and howled out her pain and loss. There cradled close to his heart, she mourned all she had lost, releasing all she had held inside. He mourned with her, mourned his own loss, mourned what he had gone to sleep to forget so many years ago. They both mourned their loss until the sobs quieted, and their pain gave way to quiet, tender lovemaking. Neither of them spoke. They didn’t need words. They just needed each other. She had questions, so many questions, but at the moment she couldn’t think of any of them. At the moment all she could think was that she was home, and she slept then, there close to his heart with his warmth wrapped around her.
The Compass barely settled into orbit above Tak Major next to Fury before Diana McAllister and Richard Manning were throwing off their harnesses from where they sat on the bridge. “They’re all yours, Fury, safe and sound.” The words were barely out of Kresho’s mouth before the two dematerialized from his bridge and he heard the war whoops and the laughter onboard SNT1, no doubt coming straight from Fury’s heart. Where else would an SNT be reunited with his compliment? He sighed. Well at least most SNTs and most compliments. He forced a smile at the joyful sounds coming down the sub-processor’s open channel.
“I thank you for returning my Diana Mac and Richard Manning safely to me, Kresho Ivanovic, and Ouroboros,” Fury said. “When we have all rested, I will hear your story. We all will hear your story.”
“We will gladly share it and hear yours, when everyone is rested,” she responded. Kresho was startled to feel a gentle hand on his shoulder, and that only made the ache for the reunion he knew the others would have even sharper.
When she sensed the tension, she pulled away. He could feel her confusion, but he ignored it. Now was not the time, but it would come. For the first time in their years together he was sure it would come soon. After a moment she said, “Camille has just now dropped out of hyperspace some distance from our designated rendezvous. The Andromeda has sustained damage, and she can get no closer. She will need our help.”
It was several hours later they returned to Tak Major with the Andromeda in tow. The damage was substantial from the blast of the planet killer, and he was surprised Camille had made it as far as she had before she was forced to drop out of hyperspace. It had been a huge risk. The Dreadnaught had returned to Tak Major, along with the Jaegers, to await the judgment of the SNTs. Its crew had already been told they were no longer under Authority command. None of them seemed too upset about that. Once Camille had been ‘tranned over to the Compass, the Adromeda had been set on an automated course for Vodni Station. It would take a good month for it to get there, but Kresho couldn’t think the little ship could be easily repaired anyplace but a space dock. Fury had promised him Tenad Fallon would have no use for it. To Kresho’s surprise, when they got back to Tak Major, Camille had asked to be ‘tranned down to Sandstorm, as close to the Dustbowl as possible. Both she and Kresho had managed a few hours sleep enroute. Well, Kresho had tried, but he couldn’t keep his mind of what he knew would happen next.
He was quietly pacing his quarters when Ori spoke. “Dragon is now waiting for us to board. He was able to retrieve Janesha Felish’s body from the station.”
“That’s good. That’s good. I’m glad. It’ll make it a little easier for Len to mourn her.”
“And for you,” she said quietly.
When he made no response, she spoke again. “Kresho, you have borne this weight unfairly, this guilt that was not yours to bear, you have borne it far too long. It is time to give up that burden, and it is time for you to mourn those losses as well.”
“There’s a lot to mourn, Ori,” he replied, not hiding his own bitterness.
For a moment she was silent, and then she replied. “Dragon and Lenore Felish are waiting for us.” He felt her retreat like the sudden absence of warmth. Long ago he’d stopped allowing himself to dwell on that feeling, but after everything that had happened in the past few weeks, he found it more and more difficult to ignore the emptiness.
After a moment, he spoke down the sub-link. “I’m ready Dragon.”
To his surprise he found himself transported into a small quiet room with subdued lighting. In the middle, lying in state as though she only slept, was Janesha’s body, and Kresho felt the sharp stab of memory, of loss, of so much loss.
“I was able to retrieve her before leaving Taklamakan Minor. It was always Lenore’s desire that she should have a proper burial with the honors she so deserves.” Dragon spoke quietly, reverently. “I thought perhaps you would like to pay your respects before you meet with my Lenore.”
“Thank you.” Try though he might, he couldn’t quite keep the hitch from his voice. He could say nothing else, knowing that if he tried all the rest of the words pressing on his chest would come out like a maddening flood, and he wasn’t ready for the dam to burst, not now. Not yet.
“I have convinced my Lenore to listen for I am certain there is much she needs to know, much we both need to know from you and from my sister.”
“Do you still miss her?” To his surprise it was Ori who spoke as quietly and as respectfully as Dragon had.
“I miss what we had, the openness, the kindness.” She flinched at his answer, and he found it didn’t offer him the satisfaction he’d hoped for.
“I am sorry,” came the quiet reply.
Instead of responding, he addressed the other SNT. “Thank you for this, Dragon, for Len’s sake and for my own.”
“She is the mother of my beloved. I could not leave her there.” It still amazed Kresho that SNTs could sometimes be so oblivious to humanoid emotions and at other times understand humanoids better than they understood themselves.
He moved to the high narrow plinth on which Janesha lay and rested his hand on hers. “I couldn’t bring her back when I found her.” He grunted a laugh that sounded more like someone had kicked him in the ‘nads, felt that way too, he supposed. “I wasn’t well myself when I went down, and Ori gave me hell for it. She had to ‘tran me back unconscious and stuff me back in the auto-surgery again. And the lecture, Jesu Vati on a cracker that woman can lecture your balls off.”
“Maybe it’s an SNT thing,” he was startled by the woman’s voice behind him and turned to find himself face to face with Lenore Felish. “Dragon’s the worst. It’s always nag, nag, nag, your too thin, you’re not sleeping enough, perhaps you should drink more water.” There was a strange cross between a growl and a purr from the ship, and he could have sworn Ori gave a twitch of a smile. For what felt like an eternity, she stood studying him, and he let her, forcing himself to hold her gaze. At last her beautiful grey eyes misted and she swallowed hard, but when she spoke, she was well in control. “Why didn’t you come for us before?” she swallowed again and nodded down to her mother.
“I swear to you, Len, I came back for you as soon as I was able, I swear it. But all I found was Janesha’s body.” His words were raw, as though they had been rubbed up against the rough surface ice on Tak Minor. “You, I found no sign of, and I looked for days. I thought you were dead, but what I feared so much more was that the Authority might have taken you away in a shackle.” His voice cracked and he quickly looked back where his hand rested on Janesha’s. “I continued to look through the lists of those shackled for debts, through the list of those shackled on trumped up charges, through the news stories. I thought surely the daughter of a prominent SNT scientist and the niece of Quetzalcoatl’s companion’s shackling would make news. There was nothing. After awhile I had no choice but to assume you were dead.”
What happened?” She asked. “We waited and waited for you, and then, they killed her, my mom, they killed her right in front of my eyes and then left me there to die. What happened?”
“Believe me, nothing could have kept me away had I been able at all to get back to you, but I swear to you I couldn’t.”
She folded her arms across her chest, and held his gaze. He made no attempt to look away. It was time she knew everything.
“The Authority chased us from the time we left the Taklamakan system. We had no choice but to lead them a merry chase. If you remember, the Fidelio had more than a few people running from the shackle on board. The whole crew would be shackled if we were caught.” She moved to his side and gently stroked her mother’s cheek while he continued. “We led them away from Tak Minor, knowing what would happen if they found Janesha, what would happen if they found you. They didn’t know about you, and keeping you safe was our first priority.
“Not far beyond Vodni Station, we were surrounded by Jaegers. The Fidelio had little choice but to fight.” He looked away into the empty space in front of them letting his eyes go out of focus, forcing the story to somehow remain only a story and not the knife that had shredded his heart for the past ten years. “We were sitting ducks. The Jaegers had us, and they didn’t even have to fight. All they had to do was tractor us, board us and slap shackles on all of us. Captain Michaels was about to set the self-destruct button when all of a sudden, three of the Jaegers blew to bits, all but vaporized before our eyes. There were five altogether. I had a pretty good idea of what had just happened, and I figured we might as well bend over and kiss our asses good-bye.”
“An infected SNT,” she said.
He nodded. “Captain Michaels gave me access to a terminal on the bridge, and I tried to contact the ship by opening a sub processor link that was programmed into all of them. It was a long shot, of course. It was hard to imagine an infected ship being willing to open to sub-com, but we had no hope otherwise.”
“And?” she said, when he paused to the force the memory of it all back to a safe distance again.
He looked over at her, not trying to hide the pain he knew he couldn’t anyway. “I was wrong. The sub-com was wide open, and this ship was mourning, wailing, raging the loss of her compliment deliberately killed by the Authority to try and control her.”
He nodded slowly.
“It was I.” Ori joined the conversation. “I am Ouroboros, and I have waited a long time to meet you, Lenore Felish.”
Had Len not known what the presence of an SNT felt like, she probably would have been startled, but she only blinked, and then blinked again. “It was you who set the de-mole in place to protect Dragon.”
“I did, and now there is no further need for it.”
“Please,” Len’s eyes looked molten silver, as they misted in the subdued lighting. “Tell me everything.”