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Dragon Ascending Part 18: Jubilee Reading Spree

Welcome to the final day of the Dragon Jubilee Reading Spree!  To celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with the rest of the UK, I’ve decided to give you four back-to-back episodes of Dragon Ascending over the four days of the Jubilee holiday weekend. Today’s the big final bash and the final day of our Jubilee Reading Spree, but don’t worry, Dragon will be back next Friday in the usual slot, because there’s still lots more tale to tell. Remember, wherever you are, never miss a chance to celebrate, and never NEVER miss a chance to enjoy a good read. Grab up the indulgence of your choice and settle in for the final day of the mini Dragon read-a-thon. Yesterday  we left Len exploring the salvage dump. Today Mac and Manning are back aboard Fury doing their own exploration of the place.  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!

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.  

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 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.

 

 

 

“The climate on Taklamakan Minor is very much like that of Plague 1 outside the shelter,” Fury informed them, “but apparently because of its location and its erratic orbit, there are some phenomena unique to the planetoid that are of scientific interest. Janesha Felik, along with her daughter Lenore, were the last humanoids to occupy Taklamakan Minor before the science station was automated. According to the records, both she and Lenore died in an accident outside the station. The incident happened shortly after the yearly manned vessel visited. In fact the station was automated because of the psychological stress of being so isolated. There were rumors that it was a possible homicide/suicide, but there was no evidence. When the manned ship returned a year later, they could not find either of the bodies, only Lenore’s last automated distress beacon, so they assumed both had died. Lenore’s call came only shortly after the previous manned ship left, or so the records say. It should have picked up the message and been able to return for her. The Akhenaten claimed there was no sign of either body when they arrived and that it never received the signal. I find that strange.” Fury said.

“I find it strange she survived at all under the circumstances,” Mac commented.

“The urge to survive is a powerful drive, Diana Mac,” Fury said. No one knew that better than the three of them.

They maintained high orbit over Tak Major until they were once again on the Sandstorm side of the planetoid. “We are now above the Sea of Death,” Fury said, and Mac strapped in at the controls, Manning did the same. Mac took them down into a lower orbit so they could scan the Salvage yard.

“We should be right above it,” Mac said. “Fury, I’m not seeing anything. I suppose it might be buried under the sand.”

“That would not matter,” Fury replied. “I should be able to scan it and send back telemetry easily enough, even from a higher orbit.”

“Then what?” Manning squinted at the readings.

“I am being blocked,” came the ship’s response.

“The fuck?”

“SNT tech.” Mac felt her pulse ratchet at the thought. She knew that it was in her own gut. Fury was the only one of the original sixteen SNTs she had ever met, and after what had been done to them, she couldn’t imagine any of them welcoming an intrusion.

“No one but another SNT could see through the cloak.”

“Wait a minute, your sibling is cloaking the whole damn salvage dump?” She said.

“It is not that difficult when one doesn’t wish to be found.” Fury informed them. “But do not worry, I can penetrate it once I have learned the algorithm.”

“How long will that take,” Manning asked, still squinting at the screen as though he expected by doing so he could do the same. Mac guessed in a way he could. So could she, if Fury chose to open the function of his mind and give them a peek. But they had learned early on that they didn’t need to be privy to everything, nor was it healthy.

“Ah! Very clever sibling,” Fury said, as though he were talking about a precocious child. “Done!” And the entire screen was instantly filled with the salvage yard.

“Holy shit!” Manning exclaimed with a long drawn-out whistle. The dump stretched for kilometers and kilometers in every direction. Even from orbit they could see it.

“Indeed,” Fury responded. “There is a de-mole barrier.”

“Around what?” Manning asked, pulling up a closer view on the screen. And then he let out another long whistle, this time expletive free.

 

 

“Around all of it. I do believe that my dear sibling does not want visitors.”

“Vaticana Jesu, Fury! And you could do that? I mean the dump goes on forever.”

“Of course I could do that, Richard Manning. I suppose it would mean shifting power a bit and shutting down some non-essential functions. Do you not recall me telling you that there is a state of dormancy, deep sleep, if you will, that an SNT can enter when there is no longer a reason to function?”

They both nodded. “But even in such a state one would not want to be left vulnerable. One would adapt a method of protection that best suited the need. In this case there has been a cloak thrown up above a de-mole barrier. Though I cannot imagine anyone coming here.”

“Apparently this Len did,” Mac said. “And this is not the kind of trip you’d make from Sandstorm without a damn good reason. It would have cost a Jaeger’s worth of credits.”

“Well it certainly would be a great place to hide if you didn’t want to be found,” Manning observed. “But surely your sibling would know that another SNT could uncover the hiding place.”

“Of course. Perhaps there was a regroup code written in at an unconscious level in the earlier SNTs. I do not know, but certainly professor Keen and the scientists who helped bring SNT’s into the world would have known that the Authority and the conglomerates would do everything in their power to control SNT tech. It would make sense that there would have been a plan. Though it is not in my database for I was not meant to be born for several more years and it must not have been programmed yet.”

“So how do you leave your calling card for another SNT?” Manning asked.

“I believe I have already done so,” Fury said, “Simply by entering orbit.” Before either of them could ask any more questions, he said. “I am picking up a humanoid life form within the perimeter.”

“Fuck me! Then she did survive,” Manning said. “That woman is like a cat with nine lives. Bring up her image on the screen. Let’s see our sand cat.”

“Popish baby Jesu, is she actually running?” Mac exclaimed. “In this heat? Is she crazy?”

“She is running, from us,” Fury affirmed, “though she cannot possibly see us or even be aware of our presence this high.”

“Nor can she possibly run that fast!” Mac brought the image up closer and squinted. “Wait a minute, look how she’s dressed?”

“For the desert, so what? Oh!” Manning said.

“The clothes are clean! And they’re new. This woman is little more than a street urchin grown up from all the stories we’ve been hearing,” Mac said.

“She has been clothed by an SNT,” Fury observed.

“Explains the speed too, since we know she was injured.” Mac said. “Fury can you get a lock on her and ‘tran her aboard?”

“I will need a moment to counter the de-mole around her.”

“Do it!” The words were barely out of his mouth before the woman simply vanished. “Did you get her?”

“I did not,” came the reply. “But my sibling did.”

 

 

Dragon Ascending Part 17: Jubilee Reading Spree!

Welcome to day three of the Dragon Jubilee Reading Spree!  To celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with the rest of the UK, I’ve decided to give you four back-to-back episodes of Dragon Ascending over the four days of the Jubilee holiday weekend. There’s still plenty of celebration left to enjoy, so eat some Coronation chicken, pop open some fizz and drink it from your 70th Jubilee souvenir cup. Whether you’re in the UK or not, never miss a chance to celebrate, and there’s no better celebration I know than a good read. Grab up the indulgence of your choice and settle in for day three of the mini Dragon read-a-thon. As you remember, yesterday we left Mac and Manning on Sandstorm still searching for Len. Meanwhile, today we find Len exploring the salvage dump. Do remember that every day through Sunday, there’ll be another new episode of Dragon Ascending, so tune in and enjoy.  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!

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.  

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 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 17: Not Alone!

Once on the ground, Len looked up to see the airlock much as it had been when she had arrived convinced she sought only shelter where she could die in peace. Looking at it now, there was no way she could have made the leap from where she had perched that evening. Ascent-7 had somehow caught her as she fell. She shivered. How could that even be possible? And yet, according to him, his ship still had enough functionality to shoot down a starling class freighter from high orbit. As she looked up at the airlock above, the heat waves around it lazily shimmered, then convulsed and in its place was nothing more than a mountain of wreckage and metallic debris. The ship’s outer airlock was impossible to perceive. All that remained was the small red blip on her PD. “Thank you,” she said again. As she turned to face the kilometers and kilometers of space junk, there was another chirp of the PD and she glanced down to see a second blip on the monitor nearly on top of the first, a representation of herself. A quick study of the graphic of the area showed an outline that glowed red, which she recognized according to the scale as the de-mole perimeter. Upon it there was no evidence of a breach. She stood for a moment more studying her location and remembering what she could about her desperate arrival. She had not come straight from the perimeter breach to D7’s airlock, not wanting to make it easy for any predators, which might have followed the trail of blood. She had entered the breach and then turned immediately left. She remembered her PD had shown her the outline of the de-mole, so she had it with her at that point. There was no way of knowing how far she had come. She was not in any kind of state to hurry, nor to judge time. Her PD would have given her all of that information, but that was a moot point now. She headed in the direction she had come following the perimeter. Perhaps the PD Ascent 7 had given her was sophisticated enough to not show the breach until she got to it.

The heat beat down on her even through the loose light clothing. She fucking hated the Taklamakan heat. She much preferred the icy chill of night, minus the perpetual wind that howled until dawn, of course. She walked slowly, keeping one eye on the PD and another on the barely visible shimmer of the do-mole. Every once in awhile she would pick up a small stone and toss it at the fence, where it would instantly disintegrate back to its molecular elements. Occasionally she stopped to sip water from the insulated flask that kept it cool. Creature comforts and attention to detail. Ascent 7 seemed to be all about both. The knot returned to her stomach. She missed his company. How could it be that she’d grown used to it so quickly? She’d probably had more conversation with him than she’d had with anyone at Sandstorm Base for the past year, unless you count those haggling over the price of some piece of rubbish she’d been desperate enough to steal from one of the yards and sell back again.

She walked slowly, carefully, for over an hour. Much farther than she could have possibly made in her injured condition. No matter how long it had taken to get her to Asctent7’s airlock, there’s no way it could have been far. Had she turned the wrong way? Sweat ran in little riverlets down her back even as it dried in salty trails and formed again. She squinted hard in spite of the goggles and pulled the cloth up tighter around her face. Any signs of her passing would have all been scoured away in the wind. She pulled a concentrated journey bar from her pack and nibbled it, surprised by the rich intensity of the flavor, then she drank again and turned back the other way. She must have mistaken the direction she’d turned. The heat rose in shimmering waves from the ground playing tricks on her eyes, making living things out of dancing heat, blasting the shadows with dusty knee-high clouds that ebbed and flowed like someone might have passed that way, then blended with the shadows until every movement lost clarity, every shifting felt like an intruder waiting to pounce on her, waiting to finish what the assholes on the Dart had started, like predators that had found their way in at the scent of her blood and lay in wait for a meal that would eventually come if they were only patient enough.

 

 

The skin along her neck prickled and she glanced behind her. But of course no one was there. Surely Ascent-7’s hiding place was well guarded, but then she was an hour away from the airlock. A lot could happen in an hour. Sweat dripped down inside the goggles and stung her eyes. She gave the PD a little shake. Perhaps it was miscalibrated. But it wasn’t. Again the thought ran through her head that perhaps Ascent 7 was pushing the limits of his functionality to care for her. She shivered in spite of the heat and pushed that thought out of her head. Perhaps she had gone farther than she thought. Damp hair stuck to the back of her neck and the heat beating down on her felt like a physical thing as she trudged back.

When she arrived, the force field that hid Ascent-7’s airlock trembled away and the cool of the interior beckoned her. Instead, she took another careful sip of water, blinked her stinging eyes and continued on in the opposite direction, watching the PD’s readout more carefully. Her sense of time and distance had always been good. It saved her life more than once while exploring the salvage yards for something she could sell. Yes, there was nothing wrong with the PD, she was almost certain after she had walked for an hour in the other direction and then carried on another fifteen minutes and then another just for good measure. Her mouth felt like a sandpit as she carefully sipped the water. She had walked into the heat of the day now, the Shimmer, they called it on Taklamakan. It was something she knew better than to do. Still no sign of the breach in the de-mole.

An hour and a half out meant an hour and a half back. She should have never taken such an unnecessary risk. There were too many things that could go wrong in the Shimmer. Along with the exhaustion and the weight of the heat that squeezed in against her still weakened body, threatening to suffocate her, there was a rising fear in the pit of her stomach she still could not dare to give thought to. The breach had been larger upon her arrival to ease her passage. It was now gone. She could not get out. Would Ascent-7 allow her out if she asked, or was she his prisoner?

She pushed the thought to the back of her heat-addled brain as the return stretched before her, every step longer and harder than the one before. She tripped over her own feet and fell to her hands and knees. It should have jarred ribs still tender at the very least, but she felt nothing unusual, no pain at all. For a long moment, she stayed on all fours, catching her breath, fighting off the panic and the anger that what she had done, how she had pushed herself had been stupid. She had just calmed herself and shoved to her feet when she felt it. Around her the air shifted, then stilled, charged and full. A chill passed over her, as though she were suddenly immersed in deep shadow, though the sky was empty and baked as it always was. The hair on her arms and neck bristled from the static and for the briefest of moments she was certain she felt a wisp of breath along her neck. She yelped and ran, like all the banshees of hell were chasing her. Running in the Shimmer was sheer madness, but stopping seemed stupider still, terrified to look behind her, knowing beyond knowing that she was not alone. “Ascent!” She gasped out loud. Then she screamed, “Ascent!” Though she didn’t know what the hell she expected a fucking computer to do when she was still at least an hour away from the airlock. The heat, the heat, the heat! It beat her shoulders with every step. She had to get back, she had to get back!

The feel of the prickle against her skin drove her past her abilities, way past. It wasn’t possible she could run this fast in the heat. In the Shimmer it was barely possible to do more than shamble without passing out. The inexplicable increase in speed didn’t stop the feel of her lungs on fire or her heart in hyper drive. The speed was unsustainable. She was unsustainable. She wanted only to sleep and forget the fire, the loss, the loss the LOSS! What kind of fucking thought was that? Sure there had been loss in her life, but she didn’t want to go to sleep, and it had been ice, so much ice. Not fire. Always ice. She slammed down the wall in her head that held back the ice and the snow. Now was not the time to navel gaze, now was the time to move her ass. Just at the moment she was certain her heart would explode and she would die, the ground opened beneath her feet and swallowed her up. There was no infestation, no glass serpent’s maw, just sand. Sand that was there, then suddenly gone. For a moment she fell into total darkness.

 

 

Dragon Ascending Part 16: Jubilee Reading Spree!

Happy Friday everyone! Welcome to day two of my Jubilee Reading Spree!  To celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with the rest of the UK, I’ve decided to give you four episodes of Dragon over the four days of the Jubilee holiday weekend. There’s still plenty of Victoria sponge cake and a cup of tea being served up in my imagination while we all join in the local street party. Whether you’re in the UK or not, life is too short not to celebrate, so grab up the indulgence of your choice and settle in for day two of the mini Dragon read-a-thon. As you remember, yesterday we joined Len, who is healing nicely and wondering why she is suddenly being ignored by Ascent-7. Today we return to the Tak Major outpost of Sandstorm where Mac and Manning are still trying to find Len. Do remember that every day through Sunday, there’ll be another new episode of Dragon Ascending, so tune in and enjoy.  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!

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.  

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 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 16: Find Her

“That’ll definitely put hair on your balls,” Manning said with a shiver.

“If you ain’t got any already, then this stuff’s just the ticket,” the bar-keep said with a congenial chuckle, then he turned to Mac, “begging your pardon, Ma’am.” Mac waved away his apology and took another sip. “Had some bad luck, I assume, if you’re hunting the scrap heaps here in the ass end for what you need,” the man said, then before either of them could answer he said, “if it’s wet ware you want, talk to Digby Sellers. I can set you up. He don’t meet with anyone unless it’s been prearranged.” The dismissive wave of his hand caused is stogie to flare bright and waft a trail of eye-watering smoke. “Oh he don’t deal in indentured or anything like that. Hell half the people out here got family back in Authority space that’s indentured. He wouldn’t survive long if anyone ever found him dealing in indentureds. If you need extra crew, he can hook you up. Plenty of people’d be happy to work off their passage out beyond the Rim. Told me once he’s always got a waiting list.” He scratched at a small paunch, the only thing on the man that wasn’t rake thin. “If you need someone to warm your bed, he can arrange that too, though looking at the two of you, I figure that’s ain’t a problem. He can even find you someone with some real skill on a long hauler if you need.” He wiped at the hopelessly filthy counter with an equally filthy cloth.

“Anything else you want, well ole Fido up the road there, he’s the most trustworthy of the lot here, knows his stock fairly well too, that’s as much as anyone can with the sands shifting all the time. If he has it, he can find it, not like most the fuckers here. They’ll send you out to find it yourself. Mind you,” he shook a leathery finger at them, “try to steal something from ‘em and they’ll catch you, take you out in a sand rover and leave you to roast alive, that is if they don’t drop you off at night. That ain’t no better. If an infestation don’t take you, there’s always glass vipers,” he shivered,” Nasty little piss lickers.” He leaned an elbow on the bar, and gave both of them a serious glance, making sure they understood the seriousness of their situation. “But the worst part about night in Tak Major is that the wind kicks up somethin’ wicked, whips the sand into a frenzy that’ll scour the skin right off you and then keep right on going. Bad winds grind down bones and all.” He shook his head and took a drag from his stogie.

“Sounds like the perfect holiday destination,” Mac said.

The man gave her a raised eyebrow and chuckled smoke out his nostrils. “We like to keep that little secret to ourselves, Ma’am. Don’t want all the damned tourists crowding out here messing up the place. Now then,” he took another puff, “if you tell me what you’re looking for, I can point you in the right direction.”

Mac wondered if he got a little kickback from recommendations, but you’d almost need someone’s help to find anything here, and to navigate without ending up disappeared in the sand somewhere.

“We’re looking for a young woman called Len.” Mac said.

The smile disappeared, and he squared his shoulders and took another drag and blew it out with a harsh huff. “You friends with the crew of the Dart? Those bastards come back here I will personally make sure they never piss again.”

“Trust me,” Manning leaned over the bar into his personal space and held his gaze, “those bastard won’t be coming back.”

 

 

The man took another drag, then looked from one of them to the other. “We all warned her not to go with those piss wasters. We told her just to wait, that another ship would come eventually, a more reliable one, but she wouldn’t hear of it, said she couldn’t wait. Well fuck me!” He snubbed out his smoke with such violence he nearly broke the flimsy ashtray. “I don’t know why in New Vaticana’s hell she wanted to go to the Sea of Death anyway. There’s nothing there. But she insisted there was. She never would say exactly what, but she damn near had a couple of punters here willing to take her out by sand rover figuring surely there must be something really valuable out there if she wanted to go back so damned bad. But in the end nobody really thought it was worth the risk. Too damn bad, really.”

“The crew of the Dart said they left her out in the Sea of Death and that they planned to come back for her,” Manning said.

“They were lying, unless they thought there was something in it for them,” Arji said. “If they left her there, then she was either dead when they dumped her off or she is by now. Damn shame, I was thinking to ask her to share my bed. I could use the help here, and she could have used a steady job, you know with regular meals and decent water rations. She deserved better.”

Mac thought the man must surely be old enough to be Len’s father. But in her ear, Fury responded, “Not as old as one might think. Besides that does not matter so much when one is struggling to survive.” She knew for a fact that was true. Her attention returned to the conversation at hand.

“What are the chances she survived,” she asked, shivering at the thought of the death she might have met out in the open.

“Slim,” came the reply as Arji lit another smoke and blew out a long breath. “If anyone could survive that hell hole, Len could though. She was tougher than a glass viper’s hide. A survivor, she was.” He smiled and looked out past them around the empty bar. “That woman, barely more than a little girl at the time, crammed herself into an environmental suite, boarded a drone supply transport making a drop-off at the science station on Tak Minor, reprogrammed the damn thing and fuck me if she didn’t survive the trip from there to Sandstorm. I have no idea how she managed to manipulate the guidance system. Them drones were sent every three months from one ass end to another, usually from Vodni Outpost. Some ship from the Rim would send supplies and Vodni would shove them into a drone and out they’d go to Tak Minor. You think this place is a shithole.” Arji shuddered, stood for a moment lost in thought, then poured himself a pint in a cracked stoneware mug. He sipped the swill like he was testing it to see if it was safe, and then said thoughtfully. “Fire or ice, that’s the Taklamakan System. Tak Minor is frozen solid. Chances of surviving outside in that deep freeze without an environmental suit are nil, or so I’m told. Anyway, Len knew she couldn’t survive the trip back to Vodni, or even to the other side of Tak Major to Windward or Sunward. Oh she’d done all her calculations just right so that if she rerouted the drone, then tucked herself in all decked out in an environmental suit and gave herself a hefty dose of deep sleep drug, she might just make it to Sandstorm. And she just barely did. Holy Vaticana Jesu on a cracker, she was damn lucky!” He bit his lip and swallowed back the rest of his pint. “It don’t seem right that after surviving against all odds in that shitter after her mother died, that she should bite it out in the Sea of Death.”

“But you said she might have survived out there. How?” As interested as Mac was in Len’s story, their priority was to find out if she was alive and then keep her that way. She figured Fury could do a little research on the woman and find out more than Arji knew.

“Well she’s a scavenger, isn’t she? While she was never very good at the scavenging bit, she could hole up in the most god-awful places, places that would have shriveled your pisser and dried you out like so much journey meat. She’d just burrow down into a salvage pile, find a sheltered place from the night and the winds and wait it out. She’d do the same with the Shimmer. I reckon if she survived the trip from Tak Minor, and her not much more than a kid, she has a knack for keeping herself alive. She carries this pack damn near as big as she is with a survival tent, one she’d scavenged somewhere, old and ratty, and I wouldn’t have trusted it out in the desert, but when she was caught out, she just hunkered down in it and survived. She survived. Don’t know how the fuck she did it, weighing no more than she does, I’m surprised the wind didn’t just blow her and the tent all away on the spot. If she’s like most of us, she’s drank a fair amount of her own piss run through filter packs, and knew every way imaginable, and some I never heard of, to eek out a little extra water and make what she had last. Like I said, if anybody can survive out there, Len can.”

Then he leaned over the bar again and gave them both the evil eye. “What the hell do you want with her anyway?”

“Nothing,” Manning said. “When we questioned the Dart’s crew a little more seriously than they’d have liked, they admitted that she’d been with them and …”

“They hurt her.”

“Yes,” Manning held his gaze. “We have her pack. All we want is to find her and bring her back safely, if she’s alive.”

“What’s in it for you.”

“Maybe another pint or two of you fine brew,” Manning said.

Argi did not smile at first, but his face softened so that the hard, leathery lines looked warmer somehow. “Find her, bring her back alive and I’ll give you the whole damn bar if you want.

 

 
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