Its Friday, and that means Fury time again my Lovelies! Hadrian’s Wall was fantastic, and fascinating. We had good weather and great walks, but it’s good to be back home with all the smelly walking laundry done, everything unpacked and back into my usual writing routine.
I hope you’re all enjoying Piloting Fury. If you are, please share the word. We writers love to share our stories with as many people as possible. I’ll be offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Last week, Captain Harker aboard the Dubrovnik missed his best pilotDiana and was secretly wishing her all the best. This week, it’s business as usual as Diana Mac learns the ropes aboard Fury working with Manning.
“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.
Business as Usual Part 8
By the time Manning joined me on the deck, looking way too perky for someone who was hung over, I was already well on my way to a meaningful relationship with Fury, who was doing me real proud.
“I see you’ve been reading back through the logs,” Manning said, as he settled into the captain’s chair.
“For someone who’s been sleeping off a hangover, you’ve been busy.” I replied.
“I don’t miss much,” he said with a hint of a smile that made his grey eyes glisten like the Faribaldi nebula. “Besides knowing you like I do, Mac, I could have guessed as much.”
Before I could comment that we really didn’t know each other all that well, he changed the subject. “Clothes comfortable?”
“And no,” he said, before I could ask, “I didn’t give you a grope measure while you slept, though it was tempting.” He wriggled his sun-bleached eyebrows, and I wondered again how someone who spent the majority of his time in deep space looked like he’d just come off a beach holiday. “Fury’s replicator sized you when you sat your fine little ass in the pilot’s chair, with that and the help of the view screen, voila!”
“It’s definitely a step up,” I observed. “The damn uniforms on the Dubrovnik never fit right, but then indentureds didn’t have funds to get bespoke ones.”
“Trust me,” he said giving the console an affectionate pat, “everything onboard Fury is bespoke. All you have to do is ask. And the room? It’s okay?”
“It’s fine.” As glad as I was to have a room at all, I’d been indentured too long not to expect there’d be a price attached. “It does makes me wonder, though, what you expect in return.”
“It’s just space, Mac.” He pulled up the view screen, the fine muscles along his cheekbones tensing. “Don’t read too much into it. If you work for me, I want you to be comfortable. I figure if you’re happy, you’ll work better.”
“A carrot instead of a stick, then,” I said, stroking the soft fabric on the sleeve of my jumpsuit.”
Manning’s body stilled as though he’d suddenly frozen in his chair. As he turned to meet my gaze, his eyes blazed bright. “Deliberately infecting someone with the SNT virus and then curing them at the last minute, seriously Mac.” His voice was little more than a low growl. “You may hate me right now, but you’ve gotta know I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy.”
I looked down at the place on my inner arm where the shackle was now all but invisible. “That may be true, but if I’m ever checked against the registration records, I’ll still end up with a lethal dose of the virus and a free ride to the nearest plague world.” I shivered at the thought.
He leaned in close, his gaze storm cloud dark. “If that ever happens, I’ll be shackled and sent to the nearest tri-ax penal colony.” He cradled his own arm against his chest in the way I’d done a million times, in the way I’d seen so many indentureds do. “You’re a gambler, Mac. You know everything has a cost.”
I studied him for a long moment, and he didn’t flinch. Then I let out a tight breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. “You did know how to manipulate the coding on my shackle to keep me from getting infected. I didn’t think you could. I didn’t think anyone could.”
“I can do a lot of things,” he said, his gaze still locked on mine, “and believe me, I know who the monsters really are.” Before the situation could get more uncomfortable, he changed the subject again. “Nice driving by the way. Through the Corset, I mean. But then I would have expected no less from an ace pilot. And nice thinking, tweaking the coordinates. Don’t know why I didn’t think of making the rendezvou point with the Torrington behind the Drogheda Dust Cloud.”
“Wow, you really don’t miss much.”
“That’s how I’ve managed to stay one step ahead of the Authority’s thugs.”
“Smart man.” I forced a smile. “I wouldn’t recommend Authority hospitality.” I couldn’t help feeling a bit of satisfaction when he flinched at my comment.
For a moment we sat in silence watching the viewing screen as we approached the rendezvous point. At last he spoke. “I’d better check the manifests one more time. Gotta be sure what’s on them is what I actually get, otherwise I’m the one who gets cheated on the other end.”
“I’ve checked them already,” I said.
“Kissing my ass won’t do you any good, Mac.” Then he chuckled wickedly, “Though it sure as hell would do me some good.”
“I had time to kill,” I replied, angry at myself for the blush I couldn’t control. “If I really am your first mate, then I need to know what’s going on, just in case you’re … hung over again, and I need to take charge.”
He eyeballed me until I squirmed in my chair. This time there was no mischief and no playful lust in his eyes. “Good point. I reckon if I can’t trust you then who can I trust?” He tugged his bottom lip between his teeth, blew out a sharp breath and pulled a tablet from beneath the console. “Then perhaps you’d like to check out the real manifest, Madame First Mate.”
I folded my arms across my chest and blinked. “Oh I have checked the real one. You don’t really think I thought what you recorded in the logs was actually the deal on the table when you’re doing the exchange beyond the Corset?” Just then the Torrington flashed into view and settled next to us.
“Well, that’s a relief then, I don’t have to lie to you.” Manning said with a bright smile.
“You own me. You can’t honestly think I’d be stupid enough to betray something as benign as a less than above board whiskey transport.”
He laughed out loud. “Oh Mac, we’re gonna get along just fine. You’ll see.”
I ignored the ridiculous warm flush I felt around my ears as he flipped on the com button and a gravelly voice with the accent from the Inner Rim came on line.
“Ready to transport, Manning.”
“The hold’s all yours,” Manning replied, and I just gaped.
“You have mol-tran?” Molecular transport technology was illegal for planets under the Authority, punishable by confiscation of goods and ship and a prison sentence, which meant a shackle. The Authority took its right to tax everyone and everything very seriously. Mostly they feared the unauthorized transport and trade of Indentureds. But their excuse was that it wasn’t safe. Everything I’d heard about the accidents and horrors from the use of illegal mol-tran convinced me they might be right on this one. But then maybe that was just more Authority propaganda.
“Of course Fury has mol-tran,” Manning replied. “It would be stupid to deal in some of the more … sensitive trade items without it.”
“Then you trust Gruber just to transport the whole shipment right down into the Fury’s hold, wave toot-a-loo and be on his way?”
“Of course I don’t trust Gruber, and he doesn’t trust me either. No one trusts anyone in this business. There’s always an inspection, and the exchange of credits takes place in person when everyone is satisfied with the arrangements, just like with
Harker on the Dubrovnik.”
“Right,” I said, rolling my eyes. Manning just offered me a beatific smile that would have been right at home on a New Vaticana saints.
“Commencing transport,” came the disembodied voice on the other end of the com.