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Dragon Ascending Part 5: Brand New KDG Read

Happy Friday everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending. I’m in Glastonbury for a couple of days before I will once again make my way to the fabulous Northmoor House for a writing retreat sponsored by Imagine Creative Writing. The words will be flowing and, since the place is right on the edge of Exmoor, the setting is truly inspirational.  I hope you’re enjoying Dragon Ascending, the sequel to Piloting Fury, as much as I’m enjoying sharing it with you. Last week we left our mysterious heroine fighting for her life in the ruins of a ship that cannot access the programs needed to save her. This week our amnesiac ship continues the battles to save her life. As always, I love it when you share my work with your reading friends, so feel free. In the meantime, enjoy!

If you missed the previous episode of Dragon Ascending, follow the link for a catch-up. If you wish to start from the beginning of Dragon Ascending. Follow the link.

 

Dragon Ascending: Book 2 of the Sentient Ship Series

On a desolate junkyard of a planetoid, scavenger Lenore Felik, 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 5: Core Nanites Needed!

But then she stopped breathing! And suddenly all that mattered was that she breathe again. I would not have her work so hard to get to me only to die. This was not acceptable. I would have given her my breath, but I had none to give. Somewhere from the depths of all I had forgotten I accessed that compressions to her chest could restart her heart. Again, I do not know how I did it, but I formed from the molecules I was able to manipulate a crude compression device. I could not say that what I had created resembled hands, these appendages of mine. But they fit firmly between her breasts against that too thin chest beneath in which her heart should beat, must beat if she were to breathe, if she were to survive.

It seemed to me that I should be able to breathe for her, and the longer she did not, the more desperately I tried to access data that had to be there, abilities that I knew was there, all the while continuing with the compression of her chest. How horribly those compressions would hurt ribs that were already damaged. And what if, due to my efforts, a damaged rib punctured her lung. What if I could not access the information to heal her. All of these humanoid thoughts I did not wish to access were all too easily accessed.

I compressed and compressed while I accessed and accessed. Solar systems’ worth of information, worlds and lifetimes of information. Some of it helpful, some of it trivial, some of it I had never accessed before. And yet that which I needed hid itself behind the fog that was left of my memory. And still she did not breathe. Still her heart did not beat. What was I to do? Were it simply an act of will, a matter of me mentally making it so, I would have done, for I willed it with all of my being.

And just at that moment, just when I had begun to despair, my will moved inside her body, massaged that muscle that was her heart and inflated those lungs too tired of breathing to draw in the oxygen they could not survive without. And I did, in fact breathe for her, cause her heart to beat, as I would have the one I had lost.

It was not magic. It was simply the manipulation of molecules at which I had once been skilled. This I only remembered as my woman’s back arched and with a gasp that sounded like determined agony, she drew her breath anew. Then she rolled onto her side, forced herself up on one elbow and vomited again. Blood! She vomited blood. There was damage I had not seen, her injuries needed more than my puny efforts and ancient Terran first aid could provide.

There was a place, a place that was not this place in front of this airlock. It was there where she needed to be, a place that was specifically designed to treat humanoids when they were injured. And there was a place, deeper inside, a place at my center, a place so deep in the fog of lost memories that it hurt to even attempt access, and yet access it I must. I held her as her strength gave and she vomited again. The scent of blood permeated the airlock. I had been so intent on getting her heart to beat, getting her to breathe, that I had not seen the blood that now covered the wrapping of her ribs or the blood on her thighs. She had to have help from my center, and yet to move her might be fatal.

 

 

In a blink that was not a blink, the air lock disappeared and we were at that place where she must be if she were to live. Medico. A place of healing. I accessed file after file, on internal bleeding, on blood loss, on broken bones. All could be treated. All would be treated. All could be healed, and in an instant the computerized surgery began to work on her. Removing the filthy rags of her clothing, revealing how painfully thin she was. It was not difficult to see which ribs were broken, and there were three. What little flesh she carried on her delicate bones was nothing more than muscle beneath skin. The blood between her thighs was the blood of violation, a thing that made me rage for her, for I knew the damage of such injuries went far deeper than flesh and blood. Once again I wished the three who had violated her painfully dead, hoping as I saw her suffering, that I had sent them to just such a death. The auto-doc, my companion had called it, this bed on which my woman now lay, with its myriad robotic arms and devices. It was designed to heal humanoids. Though the one I had lost seldom needed this auto-doc, for she shared in my robust nature as she travelled with me.

But she had needed it, hadn’t she? In the end she had needed it. In the end I brought her here. The fog closed like a heavy nebular cloud tightly enfolding, obscuring that memory, for it was not one I ever wished to access again. And when this one was healed, I told myself, I would send her back home and return to my slumber so that I could be once again removed from those memories, so that it could once again be as though I did not exist.

These kinds of thoughts are never productive, and thus my desire to sleep beyond their reach. They are never productive and they were not then, for I needed to be clear-headed. There was something missing. There was only so much that the auto-doc could do for this one. The message on the auto-doc’s computer flashed bright. Core nanites needed! Core nanites needed!

I understood instantly. A blood transfusion would be necessary, one of my own blood, as it were. The nanites from my own core. That was also not hard for me to access, as the auto-doc prepared the anti-body suppressants that would be required if this one was not to reject my blood, for I always thought of it as my blood, and indeed, I suppose it was. My companion had been prepared by taking small doses of my blood over some time before we came together. This one had not. This one could very easily die without the antibody suppressants.

My blood. My blood! For a moment I hesitated. Surely this one did not deserve my blood. The only one who deserved my blood was no longer here. What great things had this one done? What sacrifices had she made? She was nothing but a skinny sand gypsy with no education, with nothing to recommend herself.

Core nanites needed! Core nanites needed! The message flashed over and over, urgent, demanding, and all the while the woman on the table grew weaker, fought less and less, the determination that had been her true scent when first she approached me, so unknowingly was fading, would soon become the smell of death already waiting to envelope her. Core Nanites neede! Core nanites needed!

Determination. Why? What had she to be determined about? What purpose could it serve in this desolate place? I moved closer to her, studied her in her pain, in her frailty, lost, alone, and still she struggled. Perhaps it was I who was unworthy to offer her my blood, tainted as it was with the loss of the one I could not save. Perhaps I would bring upon her my own contamination, contamination I would never be rid of.

Core nanites needed! Core nanites needed!

And then, as I hesitated, this woman’s life in my hands, she did something I would not have thought possible in her condition. She opened her eyes, her silver grey eyes, and looked right at me, as though she could see me, as though she could look inside and discover all that plagued me, all that I did not want anyone to know, all that I did not want to know myself. And then, she went into cardiac arrest.

 

 

Dragon Ascending Part 4: Brand New KDG Read

Happy Friday everyone! And happy reading! Last week I talked books and good reads, a new post I now offer on the first Friday of each month. But this week it’s time to return to our desolate ship and the mysterious heroine, who we left struggling to reach shelter before the dangerous desert night set in. I hope you’re enjoying Dragon Ascending, the sequel to Piloting Fury, as much as I’m enjoying sharing it with you. Last week we learned that safety isn’t that easy to come by. This week we discover that help isn’t easy to access. As always, I love it when you share my work with your reading friends, so feel free. In the meantime, enjoy!

If you missed the previous episode of Dragon Ascending, follow the link for a catch-up. If you wish to start from the beginning, of Dragon Ascending. Follow the link. 

 

Dragon Ascending: Book 2 of the Sentient Ships Series

On a desolate junkyard of a planetoid, scavenger Lenore Felik, 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 4: Accessing!

As I watched the desert woman struggle, I felt such pain, such helplessness, as I had not felt since my great loss. Against all odds this ragged creature had returned to me, and, in my efforts to provide for her, I had made her suffering worse. While the scent of her blood had disturbed me when last she visited me, it was as nothing compared to the scent of death clinging to her like a parasite. She had sustained more injuries than one humanoid should be able to endure and remain functional, and those injuries had been inflicted by other humanoids. Her condition roused in me feelings I could not bear to revisit, so I forced them aside to focus on this woman and her struggles. She would die, and very soon, if I could not access my resources. I remembered in my frustration, in the addled jumble of memories I avoided so carefully, that I had resources, many resources. Though perhaps I had lost them in my fall from grace. Had I fallen from grace? I could remember no such fall. I could remember only that there had once been grace once, and I felt its loss all the more exquisitely as I watched the woman’s desperate efforts to get to the safety I struggled to provide. It was as she wrapped the cloth which she had covered her filthy shorn hair tightly around her ribs that I realized my mistake. I had put safety beyond her reach. The dear soul would have to climb to reach me.

Access! I needed access to resources, to functionality, to data, to power sources, to my core, to the rest of myself. And yes, even newly awakened as I was, in all that was lost to me I knew there was so much more. I was a master at multi-tasking, or I had once been. Down into the darkness I dove charging through meaningless terabytes of information a fog that could not be real, could not truly exist, a fog I had created as protection from my loss. I cursed myself in a most humanoid way that in my shortsightedness I had not thought perhaps there would be functions I would need, that perhaps I would, at some point in my endless desolate future, once again have companionship, albeit rough companionship. I did not plan for such an event. Nor had I understood that in such an event I might need to provide aid and comfort. I had never imagined such would again be my lot. And yet here I was unable to access the most basic functions, the key purpose of my very existence, to provide companionship, to work in tandem with one so vulnerable, to offer strength, to offer access to the stars. And yet as this woman, my woman, as I had already begun to think of her, started her ascent, I was scrambling in the darkness of my own data seeking for basic resources to save her life. For even, against all odds, if she were to reach the shelter I had provided, my analysis of the situation was that she would most certainly die without my help, for she had no resources of her own. Even the pack she had carried when last she came to me was missing.

There was a place within my data that would allow me to heal her, knowledge, resources, but none of that mattered if I had put myself beyond her feeble reach. I could not even access the very basic function of movement that would bring the unlovely airlock I had provided closer to the woman’s reach. Basics. Basics. Basics! Why had I chosen to forget basics? How could I be so consumed in my own loss that I had not thought others had also suffered losses. And this woman drawing nearer, the blood loss accelerating with each agonized effort, pausing, lurching, gasping for each painful breath, had suffered her share of loss. I scented upon her flesh the reek of violation, the scent of angry males, the scent of petty helplessness magnified by testosterone and frustration. My own rage crackled and hummed at her suffering, my own frustration magnified as she slipped and would have fallen if she had not been truly skilled in the art of climbing. These men who had harmed her, they were not far, and they would pay. In an instant I lashed out, unaware until I had done it that I could manage such violence, unaware as I had done it even exactly what I had done, but they did not deserve further attention from me. The one struggling so valiantly to get to me, she deserved my full attention.

 

 

There were new cuts, deep cuts on her hand, and I had put them there as surely as if I had taken a knife to her. If she had fallen to her death, it would have been one more death laid at my door. Had I caused other deaths? These who had harmed her, had I caused their death? I found that I did not care if I had. And if there had been other deaths laid at my door, that memory I shut behind airlocks and fog and shifting sand deep inside myself. That memory I did not want to access. I only wanted to help. I only wanted to ease this woman’s suffering. I wanted her to live. I needed her to live, I who had sworn to myself before I sank into my deep slumber I would never allow myself to need again.

Accessing, accessing, Fucking accessing! Words of frustration, curses, colloquialisms, scraps of doggerel, limericks. These were not what I needed now. These belonged to someone else, to another life lost. Accessing, accessing! Multi-tasking.

She ascended another agonizing few feet and then vomited painfully into the empty space, vomited nothing but bile. She could scarce afford more loss of body fluids, dehydrated as she already was.

Accessing, accessing. The Vienna waltz, ghost stories from Diga Prime. Heart and Soul, Chopsticks, Beethoven! Goddamn it! Nothing useful! Nothing fucking useful, and my woman, the one who had come back to me, the only other in this desolate world, slipped again. She did not cry in her frustration, she did not curse, she did not make a single sound, in her agony, as she steadied herself, she did not even moan. Once again she wiped her bleeding hand on her trousers, and looked up at safety, tantalizing, tempting safety just beyond her reach,

Accessing, motherfucking accessing, desperate accessing!

She was going to jump. She was going to bloody jump!

Accessing, Vaticana Jesu! Accessing!

She was going to jump, and if she did, she would not make it. She would fall to her death, and I would once again be alone.

ACCESSING!!!!!

She jumped! I accessed and reached into the darkness. She jumped, her fingers slipped. She fell away, away, away.

Accessing, accessing, ACCESSING!

Resource found!

She fell away, and I reached out and drew her into my safety.

Once she was safe inside, I closed the airlock and with less than a thought made myself invisible to anyone who might come looking for her. At the time I could not say how I did it. Perhaps again it was some instinct of self-preservation that my makers had given me, but then again, I do not recall that instincts can be programed. Still, it did not seem quite like simple programming. None of that mattered at the moment. All that really mattered was keeping her safe.

But then she stopped breathing.

 

 

My Reading Highlights of February

The highlight of my reading month in February was easily the release of Sarah J. Mass’s second Crescent City novel, House of Sky and Breath. Of course that meant a re-read of book one, House of Earth and Bloodin preparation. Rereading a novel is like visiting an old friend, and all of Maas’s books have become dear friends to me. I timed my reading to coincide with the February 15 release, finishing one book just in time to start the next. I was not disappointed. I lost sleep and left household chores undone while reading HoS&B, but with a SJM novel, that’s no surprise. HoS&B is continuation of Hunt and Bryce’s story as they struggle to create a normal happy life together. But happy lives in a Maas series are hard earned. The book fleshes out some of the characters from HoE&B that I was aching to know better and introduces a few intriguing new ones. I loved the growing camaraderie between unexpected characters as their abrasive edges take a back seat to a common cause. HoS&B seriously raises stakes that were already astoundingly high forging dangerous alliances and forcing desperate actions. Because Crescent City is an adult series, the sex sizzles, and there’s plenty of it. Before I started  HoS&B  I had another book lined up from the TBR pile to plunge into. Book bereavement is always worse when you binged a new novel the first few days after release and then have to wait a whole year for the next one. Always be prepared. Just saying.

 

 

 

While I was expecting the cliffhanger ending, what I wasn’t expecting was the jaw dropping twists and turns at the end, which have made me even more impatient for the next book in the series. Sarah J. Maas’s House of Sky and Breath is easily my choice for February’s read of the month.

 

Sadly the rest of my February reading selections were lackluster and disappointing. It pains me to say that February was a reading month characterized by the phrase, “this book had so much potential.” Because reading is a very subjective pleasure, I won’t give the names of any of the other books I read in February. If you know, check me out on Goodreads. But don’t expect scathing or snarky reviews. Not my style.

 

The best books allow me to forget that I’m a writer and immerse myself in the experience of reading for pure pleasure. But if the book is disappointing I can’t help donning my writer’s cap and mentally noting everything that could have made the book better. I understand that one person’s BRAVO read may be another reader’s MEH. But if I am giving a rating on Goodreads or Amazon, a novel has to be truly atrocious for me to give it three stars, in fact usually I just won’t rate the book at all if I find it that bad. I won’t even finish it. But from a writer’s point of view I reckon anyone who sticks with the writing process long enough to complete a novel deserves something for the effort. But it pays to take the time to perfect the writing craft, and that process never ends. How many books have we read by bestselling authors that could have benefitted from a good edit? That being said, while I will tell you the books I love, I will never tell you the books that I found disappointing. That means you’ll never know if I gave a book four stars because it wasn’t bad or because it just wasn’t quite worthy of five. Sorry about that. I’m just way too much of a softie.

 

In other book news, most of you know I read almost exclusively from my Kindle reader now. I do love my instant gratification and my portable library. But it hit me a few weeks ago that there were some books I wanted tangible copies of … just in case. That honor is reserved only for my very, very favorite, best ever reads. With that in mind, this week I treated myself to the whole nine novels of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Yes, they are my favorite books ever written by my favorite author ever to write, and yes I’ve read them multiple times, and yes, yes, yes! I will read them again… and again. I just wanted those special books to be something I could actually stroke and touch and admire because Naomi Novik is a goddess, and I proudly worship at the altar of Good Books. That is all.

 

 

Happy reading, everyone. Do share any your favorite that you think I might enjoy. See you next Friday with the next instalment of Dragon Ascending.

 

 

 

Dragon Ascending Part 3: Brand New KDG Read!

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you’re enjoying Dragon Ascending, the sequel to Piloting Fury, as much as I’m enjoying sharing it with you. Last week we left our mysterious heroine searching a salvage yard for safety from the coming night. This week, we learn that safety isn’t that easy to come by.  As always, I love it when you share my work with your reading friends, so feel free. In the meantime, enjoy!

If you missed the previous episode of Dragon Ascending, follow the link for a catch-up.

 

Dragon Ascending: Book 2 of the Sentient Ships Series

On a desolate junkyard of a planetoid, scavenger Lenore Felik, 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 3: The Climb

Len grew up climbing, in the wreckage here on Tak Major and before that on the ice cliffs of Tak Minor. She was sure on her feet and strong, but then that was when she had not been beaten half to death. Not that she hadn’t taken her share of beatings before, but until today, she had always given as good as she got, most times better. She could easily see the route up. It was not very far. Any other time it would have been an easy climb. But now, weak as she was and with the breeze already brushing her face, it would be worse than climbing the Harbinger on Tak Minor. Injured or not, she’d have to try and she’d have to do it quickly. She didn’t waste her breath with the curses running through her mind as she pulled off the wrap from around her head and face and wound it as tightly as she could around her ribs, the string of silent expletives becoming more colorful as the pain made bright colors dance in front of her eyes. She would have pissed herself in the agony if there had been any water left to wring out of her dehydrated bladder. At last the binding was done, and without pausing for more than a shallow gasp of breath, she began her ascent. It was only ten meters, she told herself with every agonized breath, only ten. At least the coming cold of the desert night helped her stay conscious. Even so, the route up the first half was a battle to stay conscious.

It was the increasing nausea that kept her from passing out completely. Who knew battling to keep from puking on herself could be anything one would be glad for, but the burn of bile in her dry throat focused her as the pain shot through each pull and drag, each pushing to her feet, each horrendous stretching upward. And then the fucking wind picked up again. It howled and gusted around her in swirls of dust that made her eyes water and stung her face, now exposed since she had use her head covering for her ribs. She clung to her precarious perch, arms and legs trembling until each gust passed. Under normal circumstances, she would have just jumped for it and swung up those last few meters. She’d managed worse, but this time, this time she’d have to hold on and take it slow.

 

 

Another pull up and her hand slipped for a harrowing moment leaving her hanging, fearing that she would pass out and fall and none of it would matter anyway. But if she did, knowing her stupid luck, she wouldn’t die, only break enough bones to become an easy feast for any predator that squeezed through the opening, or to have her bones scrubbed clean by the scouring of the sand driven by the wind before she had the good grace to fuck off and die. She closed her eyes fighting vertigo, nausea and worst of all despair. That was a waste of time she didn’t have. She steadied herself and reached out. It was only when her hand slipped the second time she realized it was bleeding. How much more goddamned blood could she have left to bleed out? There was no binding it, not from her unstable position. She gave it a quick wiping on her filthy trousers and tried again. The hand held long enough for her to make another lunge upward, with just enough space for her to puke off to the side without soiling herself anymore than she already was. When the dry heaves stopped, she clung for another moment to the unstable heap of junk she ascended until she could steady herself. Her hand slipped again, new abrasions, more blood, a lot more blood. Fuck it all! She would have to jump. There was no other choice. The wind was all but howling around her now. If she didn’t act, it would blow her right off the mountain of junk. She waited only long enough for the gust to pass so that she could see, taking the opportunity to fill her lungs with what little breath she could manage in each painful gasp. The airlock was at least a little closer than it had been. And if she fell, she fell. She would do her best to do a proper hard splat of a landing and with any luck she would lose consciousness, break a few more bones, lose the rest of her blood and that would be that, or at least she hoped. Not so bad, she thought. Way better than this shit.

Somehow in spite of the pain, she found that place deep at her center, the place that felt bigger than the Outer Rim and the Great Rift put together, yet it was impossible to pinpoint. There she remained just long enough to draw in another tiny sip of breath. Then she gathered herself and wiped her hand one last time on her trousers. For a split second her vision cleared, the wind went somewhere else, and there was only her and the airlock tempting her to safety. One more painful breath and she jumped, heaving herself upward into blinding pain, arching and reaching and stretching with a banshee yell that came from deep in that same place.

And she knew instantly, she knew that she would not make it. She was just too weak. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to no one there. The wind raged and the whole junk heap shifted, falling all around her. She cried out and reached upward feeling another rib snap as the world flashed bright and she lost consciousness.

 

 

Dragon Ascending Part 2: Brand New KDG Read

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you’re enjoying Dragon Ascending, the sequel to Fury’s story as much as I’m enjoying sharing it with you. In this week’s episode, our mysterious heroine is in trouble, and help in a junk heap is difficult to come by. As always, I love it when you share my work with your reading friends, so feel free. In the meantime, enjoy!

If you missed the beginning episode of Dragon Ascending, follow the link for a catch-up.

 

Dragon Ascending: Book 2 of the Sentient Ships Series

On a desolate junkyard of a planetoid, scavenger Lenore Felik, 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 2: Shelter

This place is but shifting sand. One can never return to the same spot even from day to day. Therefore in her condition, I feared the woman would not find me and that she would have no shelter. It was no hardship for me to open a breach in the de-mole fence, to make it even larger to accommodate her injured condition. This time she bore no pack and her clothing was torn and bloody. How brave and determined she was to have sought me out. But beneath the shifting of the sands, I feared she would not be able to find my shelter, and I could not bear for her have come so far in vane. This time her needs demanded frantic searching through the fog that ever obscured my memories if I were to assure her safety. She would need an entrance, a door into a space that had not been breached since my loss. And in my rising consciousness I found I could give that to her. However putting it where she could easily access it in her weakened condition was a thing I could not recall how to do.

Len managed to stay upright to the perimeter of the salvage yard, but the crawl through the opening in the de-mole defence shield wouldn’t do her broken ribs any good. She hadn’t bothered to bind them, racing time to reach shelter before nightfall. Pain is a good thing, her uncle had always said. It meant you were still alive. Her uncle was full of shit. Or would have been if he was still alive. No one believed he was, but her mother had never given up hope, so neither would she. Still, she thought he was full of shit about pain. Pain, she’d had more than enough of, and she’d not liked any of it one little bit.

She was surprised to even find the de-mole breach again. Not that she much cared. A quick death by being disintegrated at the molecular level might be preferable to what was likely to be her fate. But while she wasn’t afraid to die, she wasn’t ready to bring it on any quicker. The breach was bigger than she remembered. She could actually crawl through this time. She dropped to her knees in a wave of nausea, the threat of unconsciousness accompanied the grating of her ribs with each breath. Still, she struggled forward on hands and knees. Her uncle, she supposed, would be pleased. She and managed not to vomit from the pain until she was through the breach. She hoped nothing would scent her blood and follow her. That was the downside of the breach expansion. She doubted the shield had been serviced in maybe twenty galactic years, and yet whatever was hidden in the salvage yard here in the worst part of the Taklamakan had been valuable enough to put up a de-mole defense shield, expensive and illegal for use other than military. And not even the military wanted anything to do with this place.

No one ever came to Taklamakan Major, and it was only bad luck that she and her mother had ended up on Taklamakan Minor. Or maybe not so bad, since the Authority left them alone, and both she and her mother would have been taken into indentured servitude had her mother not booked passage on the first transport to anywhere. It never mattered with the Authority how young a child was, or even if it had been born yet. The debt of the family was visited on the children, and her family’s debt was colossal. Though this desert was a shit hole at least as bad as Taklamakan Minor, it beat the hell out of being shackled as an indentured.

 

 

Taklamakan Major was one continuous salvage yard with a few outposts where no one came but criminals and fugitives, and only then in desperation. Even those trying to escape the shackle avoided the Taklamakan System, if you could even call it a system. But her mother had said she would have happily endured worse than to be shackled to some conglomerate pig. Her daughter would grow up in the free world. Len only knew the stories she’d heard of the Authority and of the conglomerates that ran the system, stories that her mother had told while they shivered in the science station on Tak Minor. In the Taklamakan System, you had two choices, freeze your lungs out or fry your brain, and yet the place was still better than a shackle in Authority space. Anyone who lived there would tell you that. She had turned six on the yearly long-haul supply ship that delivered them to the science station on Tak Minor, the only inhabitants of the tiny planetoid. And now it seemed she would die here in the dust and swelter of Tak Major without ever seeing the stars her uncle told her tales about. If this was her life flashing before her eyes at the instant of her death, well she reckoned she didn’t have long at all, because it was full of mostly nothing interesting.

Len shoved her way into the salvage yard and then forced her way up to her feet. She swallowed back bile in a wave of pain that her uncle would have found reassuring. The farther she got from the breach in the perimeter, the safer she would be, but in her condition that couldn’t be far. The place went on for kilometers, but she would be forced to find something close and find it soon. Inside the perimeter at least she wouldn’t have to spend her last hours being eaten alive by an infestation. She’d rather throw herself on the de-mole.

But the night was coming on. Once the winds got up, she’d have no hope of finding shelter if she didn’t do it now, so she forced herself onward. The temperature was already dropping and she bit her tongue trying to keep her teeth from chattering. Any noise might expose her, even in the relative safety of the salvage yard. If she could get through the breach in the de-mole, so could other things seeking shelter for the night, things she would rather not spend time with.

She didn’t know if you could lose consciousness while you walked, but she was pretty sure she’d done just that. In the next lucid moment she was looking up at an open airlock some ten meters off the ground. The shifting sands had apparently lifted the hulk of a junked ship, the open maw of its airlock gaping black in the growing dusk. The remaining light reflected off the metallic skin of what was, at the very least, some kind of escape pod. If she could manage the climb up to the airlock, she was pretty sure she would be safe for the night.

 

 
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