Happy Friday everyone! Time for another episode of Dragon Ascending. Last week Mac and Manning found out just how bad things could get. This week they uncover a stunning secret. 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!
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 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 62: What if You Weren’t the Only One?
For a moment the two of them sat in silence, Mac swiping back through the entries in Len’s journal, and then Manning said, “I don’t understand why the Authority would kill Len’s mother and leave her here to die. They would have been worth a fortune in a shackle, not just for the debt of the Quetzalcoatl, but for Janesha Falish’s knowledge of SNTs.”
Then Mac let out a long, low whistle, wiping at the returning condensation on the screen and squinting down at it. “That’s because it wasn’t the Authority who killed her mother. It was … Jesu Vati, Manning! It was the fucking men from the Dart! They did this! They were scavenging for the tri-axe cells and for the food supplies. That’s all they wanted. That’s all those bloody bastards wanted!”
“We should have blown them all out the airlock when we had the chance,” Manning growled.
“And we fucking turned them loose. I turned them loose.”
“We all did, Mac.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze. We couldn’t have known, and certainly Fury’s justice seemed pretty appropriate at the time.”
The computer flashed the message: 15 minutes to generator power-down.
They took the two computer tabs and headed to the enviro-shelter, which they had checked out and prepared beforehand not wanting to be caught out. It was small, but not uncomfortable, and it would keep them from freezing to death until the generator kicked back in at 05:30. Inside they settled in on the cots and began systematically going through the content of the tablets hoping to find a way to get a message through to Fury.
“Do you remember Janesha Falish or Keith Vanderbilt?” Manning asked Mac.
“No. My father kept me away from the SNT docks and laboratories, for reasons that are obvious now, I guess. I only vaguely remember Professor Keen. Because Merlin was the flagship of the First Fleet, he visited from time to time. When any of the other science crew or engineers had to come onboard, my father sent me away to stay with a family friend in the countryside. Mabel Farmer. She was nice. I liked her. She understood SNTs, and she understood me. I think maybe she and my father were lovers before he bonded with Merlin. I remember a lot of people believed she was my mother and neither of them would say otherwise. I understand why now. I never wanted to know if she was, which I suppose is strange, but I had my father and I had Merlin, and he was quite the mother hen, just like Fury. I think it’s an SNT thing.” For a moment they were both silent thinking about the emptiness they felt in Fury’s absence. “I hadn’t known it would be so bad,” she said, rubbing a hand over her chest as though she felt a physical pain.
“Me neither,” Manning said. “I know I always missed him terribly when I was away, but I knew I would be back in his arms soon and that no one would keep me away.”
For a moment neither of them spoke, and then Mac said, “Manning, how do you feel?”
“I’m fine. I don’t think the tether will be an issue while we’re together. Fury didn’t seem to think so.” It was always uncanny how easily they could read each other.
“But we’ve never put it to the test before.”
“Well,” he forced a smile, “here’s our chance.”
Again silence. “Say it, Mac. I can always tell when you have something to say but don’t know if you should or not.”
“Manning,” she came and sat on the edge of his cot next to him, holding his gaze, “I need you to promise me something.”
“If I can,” he said slowly.
“If you start having problems, because of the tether, I mean, you’ll let me put you in stasis in one of the cryo-tubes. They’d discovered the only way of escaping Tak Minor in the case of an emergency was the programable cryo-pods. “I mean we both know that Fury will come for us. All we have to do is hold out, but no one knows about the tether, and if you should start feeling weak, please, Manning, please don’t risk it. I need you safe. I need to know that we’ll make it through this together.”
“Mac,” he took her hands in his and kissed her gently. “I am safe, and I’ll stay safe. I trust Fury’s diagnosis with the tether, and even Keen agreed.”
“I don’t care. If they’re wrong, I want you safe.”
He studied her for so long, she thought he wasn’t going to answer, and then he let a long slow breath. “All right, Mac. If it comes to that, we’ll both do what we have to do to survive, to get back safely to Fury.”
“And to kick some Fallon ass.”
He pulled her into his arms and stroked her hair. “You know it.”
To Mac’s surprise, they both slept in spite of their shit situation. She figured that the little run in with the lovely weather on their way to the generator shed and the desperate effort to check their resources, organize and hunker down, had something to do with it, or maybe the cocktail of drugs Fallon had given them.
In the morning, they had a hot breakfast of some kind of New Caledonian gruel. Manning told her ice planets demanded hot food and more frequent meals to maintain both body temperature and weight. They bundled up, roped up and went out to explore their surroundings. According to the logs and the information pages always left for the incoming scientists, the early morning hours were the safest and the calmest. While it was still brutally cold, there was almost no wind. By noon the wind was already getting up and visibility limited. Outside, covered from head to foot so that every centimeter of skin was protected, the wind was still brutal, though visibility was a little better. The weak sun, too distant to give off much heat or a great deal of light rose to bathe the planetoid in the dusty gray of dawn, pale and anemic, only a few degrees above the horizon. There was no axial tilt so there were no seasons. The sun stayed as a fixed point rising and setting at the same time every day of the planetoid’s existence, though the eratic orbit meant that the length of the years could vary greatly as could the weather. At the moment they were in a fairly close orbit, so Tak Minor was having a heat wave. For the most part the surface was pock marked with ice craters. It was only Mount Orion that rose above the pocked surface to any noticeable height, and it was noticeable, since the station was built on the mountain’s flank. A little farther up the slope on a spiraling path was the only other humanoid built structure, the dock, barely big enough for a starling class freighter because it was rarely used for anything other than cargo drones.
There were no other landmarks in any direction as far as the eye could see, just the flat pockmarked surface that receded to the horizon. They trudged up to the landing pad, which was literally nothing but a landing pad. The view from the flank of Orion gave them just a glimpse of the curve of the planetoid, which was considerably smaller than Tak Major. By that time the wind was already picking up. From there they returned to the safety of the station, already exhausted from the cold and the wind. As they stripped in the anteroom, Manning said, “We might be able to get a message out from the top of that mountain, but we can’t do that without environmental suits. We’d never survive the trip up and back. We can charge the suit.”
“No. There’s only one suit and we’re sticking together. We have to, Manning. Besides, you know as well as I do there’s only one tri-axe cell. Charging the suit would be one helluva drain on it.” She didn’t tell him that she would make the attempt on her own if it came to putting Manning in the cryo-tube. And then she would come back and join him in the other tube if no more supplies were delivered.
“Then we find another way,” Manning said. “We find another way. We’ve got a whole library of information at our fingertips in there on that computer. Surely we can find some way to maybe rig a connection for our sub program link. If a thirteen-year old girl could get off this ice ball with such limited resources, then surely the compliments of the most powerful SNT in the galaxy can do the same.”
“Agreed,” she said, “But first we eat.” Manning was shivering. She wasn’t. Not that she wasn’t freezing her ass off, but it worried her anyway.
After they had eaten they went to work on the computer dredging up all the information they could find on Tak Minor. None of it came as too much of a surprise to Manning, since he had spent way more time on ice worlds than he ever wanted to again. “I found some files here that are encrypted,” he said, frowning down at the monitor. “The weird thing is it’s almost like an SNT sub-processor message. I recognize the wave patterns, you know like brain waves.”
Mac came to his side and looked down at the pattern. “That’s…” She dropped into the chair next to him and began to work on the keyboard. “Manning that’s almost identical to the sub-processor I share with Fury.”
“Christus Vati, you mean the one that was implanted in you at the embryonic stage?”
“Only Fury and I shared that sub-processor language, but it stands to reason that possibly… What if…”
“What if you weren’t the only one?”