Happy Friday my Lovelies! I hope you’re enjoying Piloting Fury. I you are, please share the word. Something entertaining to read in lockdown goes a long way for passing the time happily, and I’ll be offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Last week, Rab got to live, but it cost him big time. This week Diana Mac reports for duty onboard the Fury.
“Win the bet and Fury’s yours. Lose the bet and your ass is mine.” It seemed like a no-brainer — Rick Manning’s slightly inebriated offer. If he’d been sober, he’d have remembered indentured pilot, Diana “Mac” McAlister never lost a bet. All her life she’s dreamed of buying back her freedom and owning her own starship, and when Fury’s ne’er-do-well, irritating as hell captain all but hands Fury to her on a silver platter she figures she can’t lose. She figured wrong. That’s how the best pilot in the galaxy finds herself the indentured 1st mate of a crew that, thanks to her, has doubled in size. Too late, she finds out Fury is way more than a cargo ship. Fury is a ship with a history – a dangerous history, and one that Mac’s been a part of for a lot longer than she thinks. And Rick Manning is not above cheating at poker to get her right at the center of it all, exactly where he needs her to be.
Piloting Fury Part 5: Reporting for Duty
I reported to the Fury, as ordered, but Manning was nowhere to be found. That didn’t much please me. I wanted to be well out of New Hibernian space before the Dubrovnik got underway. I hoped like hell Manning had known what he was doing when he recalibrated my shackle. If he didn’t, there’d be no doubt when my arm broke out in blisters, and it would be downhill from there. I felt bad for leaving Captain Harker high and dry. He’d been good to me, and that was more than most indentureds could boast. If I hadn’t been so greedy, I’d have been a free woman by now, with at least enough credits to survive on until I found a ship in need of a pilot.
The situation didn’t suck nearly as bad as it could have. No one knew that better than I did. So, I figured since I was going to be bound to the Fury — at least until I could find a way free, I might as well get to know my way around.
The cargo bay was minuscule in comparison to that of the Dubrovnik, but the Dubrovnik was an orca class freighter, the biggest made. Still, Fury didn’t have to turn over the majority of the profits to an interstellar conglomerate. It was almost physical pain to think those profits could have all been mine.
The hold was clean and empty. Manning had just unloaded a mish mash of supplies for the spaceport, on which he’d turned a tidy profit. I knew that because he had bet those profits in our poker game only a few hours ago. Since NH372 was an isolated station, it paid well for the niceties of civilization. The place survived and thrived because it was the last outpost before the long trek to the Outer Rim and beyond.
I knew Manning was planning to take on a load of New Hibernian whiskey in space. I suspected that was because it wasn’t completely aboveboard. Lots of planets and stations on the edge of the Rim were taxed up to the teeth where luxury items were concerned, and smuggling was big business.
The small mess hall, like the rest of the ship, was clean and orderly. I wouldn’t have pegged Manning for such a neat nick. I was surprised to find a good supply of intergalactic specialties in the replicator. I hadn’t figured Manning for a foodie either. Having never had access to anything more than basic rations, I programmed in a bagel with cream cheese and ate it while standing, contemplating the strange textures and the tang of the cheese. I’d heard complaints from officers on Harker’s crew that most replicator favorites were more Old Terran nostalgia than actual knowledge of how those dishes were supposed to taste – not that an indentured had much experience with gourmet cuisine from any planet.
In spite of the fact that the majority of the ship was given over to cargo, there was a small, but well equipped gym and an observation deck. The captain’s quarters were locked. As if I’d bloody steal anything. The door next to it was also locked. I wondered if Manning was planning to house me in the cargo hold. My belly gave a tight little quiver at the possibility that he might just use me as his bed warmer. That sort of thing was strictly forbidden under the laws that governed the humane treatment of indentureds, though rules where indentureds were concerned were often and easily ignored. Back on deck, I plopped down in the pilot’s chair and examined the inside of my forearm for the millionth time. It was only slightly red from Manning’s minor surgery. Still no rash. But then we hadn’t left the station yet.
The same greedy fucks who thought it was a good idea to bring back indentured servitude as a way to pay off debt were the ones who had come up with a damn near foolproof method of keeping indentureds from escaping. They had engineered a virus, a small dose of which was injected into the sub dermal chip implanted in each indentured’s arm. What that meant was that if anyone attempted escape beyond the proximity detector programmed into the device, or if anyone tampered with the shackle, it would release the virus. While it wasn’t contagious to the general population, it guaranteed a slow, rotting death for the escapee. The advanced symptoms were similar to leprosy of the dark ages, though not at all related and far more painful. It all began with an angry rash around the shackle followed by a high bone-break sort of fever. Then it settled into the chest like viral pneumonia as the poor bastards’ lungs filled up and they all but drown in their own body fluids. By the time that past, at least enough that the blessing of a quick death was denied, the slow, painful loss of body parts began. If indentureds returned to their owners or were recaptured in time, they were injected with an antidote. If they missed that short window of opportunity, then the antidote was useless to them. Beyond that there was no cure, and the only recourse was one of the three plague worlds where the infected were sent to live out what remained of their miserable lives.
While I studied my shackle, I absently ran my fingers over the control panel, slightly warm to my touch. Suddenly the screen activated and Rick Manning smiled down at me from on high.
He was very much out of uniform. In fact the man was naked. At least he had enough professionalism to give me just an upper body shot. The fucker was sitting on the edge of a very rumpled bed. Had he really left me alone and scared shitless in a nasty back-alley room so he could shag the goddamned barmaid?
“Did you sleep well Mac?” He scrubbed a hand over his stubbled cheek and stifled a yawn.
“From the looks of things, not as well as you did,” I growled.
“Me?” He glanced back behind him at the empty bed, and I tried not to notice the way the muscles of his belly tensed when he laughed. “Oh yeah, It was one helluva sleep. I’m still a bit hung over, though, thanks to you.”
“You don’t look any worse for the wear,” I said, biting back a far less polite comment. I was now his indentured after all.
“Well you know me, stiff upper lip and all that. I never complain.” He waved an arm dismissively and continued. “I’m sorry not to be on deck to welcome you aboard.” He leaned forward and looked at me through storm grey eyes. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to have you on the crew. You’re gonna love piloting Fury. I promise it’ll be way more fun than the Dubrovnik. Truth is you’ll be much more at home with us. You’ll see. After all, we share something far more intimate than sex, Mac. We share the appreciation of a good ship.” His smile turned wicked. “The thought of your very fine bottom in the pilot’s chair, the thought of your expert hands all over that console commanding Fury’s every move, well that’ll ease my suffering immensely.
“Anyway, I figure you’ve done a bit of exploring on your own and helped yourself to breakfast, I hope. No skimping with rations on my ship.” He ran a hand through slightly shaggy bronze hair that looked like he might have spent time in the sun and the wind rather than in the dark, sterile, chill of space, then he puffed out a sigh and looked around. “It’s hard to know where to begin with Fury. You already know the ship’s been modified and modernized and tarted up more times than an Hanorian hooker.” He leaned forward, arms resting on muscular thighs, but at least he had the decency to keep the sheet draped over his lap. “Doesn’t matter though. Fury just keeps getting better and better.”
He snapped his fingers. “That reminds me. There’s something I need to tell you before I forget. Oh you’ll figure it out on your own, as intuitive as you are, but it’s really best we get it all out in the open right now so there won’t be any uncomfortable moments.” He stifled another yawn. “Don’t worry. It’s not bad or anything like that, but it’s still best to be forewarned.” He leaned still closer and I mirrored his posture, holding my breath, waiting for it with a fist tightening in my gut. He shot a glance around as though he was afraid someone might overhear. I wondered again if whatever bimbo he’d rogered all night was still in the room just beyond the range of his device. He drew a dramatic breath and ran the tip of his tongue across his upper lip in a gesture that could have been nerves, but could just as easily have been a come on. “Unlike most ships, Fury’s not a she. Fury is most definitely a he.”
I blinked, then blinked again. I tried to swallow back a laugh, but it came out an undignified snort. Indentured or not, I lost it. “Fury’s a he? Are you fucking serious? You’ve cheated me in poker, Shanghaied me into indefinite servitude and tampered with my shackle while drunk on your ass, then you couldn’t even be bothered to be here when I arrived. And the most important thing you can think of to tell me in your post coital hung over state is that the Fury is a boy?”
To his credit, he at least blushed a little bit, then he folded his arms across his chest as though he just realized he was naked. “A man, actually, Fury’s a man. Every ship has its quirks and every captain has his superstitions, so I’m gonna have to insist that you humor me on this.”
“Fine! You’re the boss. I’ll refer to the Fury as a Veletian hermaphrodite if that’ll please you. Now is there anything of importance you might want to fill me in on before I take … himout of space dock? I really don’t want to be here when Harker finds out he’s without a pilot.”
“Right, well unless you have questions, I’m sure you can figure it out. After all, you’re the best pilot I know. You’ll find the flight plan in the computer, and we rendezvous with the Torrington at 19:00.” He yawned again and stretched like a New Hibernian cave cat in the sun, a move that nearly caused the sheet to lose containment. “Knock yourself out.”
“Shouldn’t you get your ass over here then?”
“Oh, I’m already onboard,” he said. “I’ll be sleeping it off in the Captain’s cabin. Give me a shout an hour before we rendezvous with the Torrington.” He yawned again and the view screen went blank.