It’s Friday, and that means time for more Fury. We’re coming out of a rainy, windy week here at Grace Manor, but going into a long holiday weekend with the weather promising not to be dire. Result! I hope all is well with you wherever you are and that you’re staying safe and reading lots of good stuff.
As we enter the 10th week of Piloting Fury, I hope you’re enjoying the read. If you are, please share the word and pass the link to a friend. I love to share my stories with as many people as possible. I’ll be offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Last week, it was business as usual as Diana Mac learns the ropes aboard Fury working with Manning. All is going well as they take on a load of illegal whiskey, and Mac quickly learns, there’s far more to Fury and Manning than meets the eye.
“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: We’re In Trouble
Manning pulled up a camera from the cargo bay and I watched as the empty space filled with whiskey barrels. New Hibernia Alpha was a densely wooded planet, and therefore the primo New Hibernian whiskey was still fermented in wooden barrels. A few seconds later a man appeared standing next to the shipment. The captain of the Torrington had a chest that made me think perhaps he had stashed a smaller version of one of the barrels inside his shirt. In one hand, he held his device with the manifest, and with the other he circumnavigated the shipment poking and prodding to make sure the force field that held it all in place was secure.
“All right, Mac.” Manning grabbed up his device and stood. “I’m going to go welcome Captain Gruber onboard. Best you stay put in case we need to make a quick getaway – not likely with Gruber. He’s a pretty straight shooter, but with you leaving the Dubrovnik in such a hurry, I reckon there’s still a bulletin out on you as an escapee.” He looked down at his chronometer. “You’ve got another thirty-three standard hours before they’ll give you up and figure if anyone does find you, they’ll send you off to the nearest plague planet at the Authority’s expense. Once everyone gives up the search, then I promise I’ll take you to the smuggler’s ball.”
He leaned down close and for a second, I actually thought he was going to kiss me. “I’ve got an implant right here that’ll allow you and Fury to keep an eye on me.” He bared the side of his throat. “When we get a minute, I’ll fit you with one too. That’ll give us both a voyeur’s eye view.” He gave me a wicked smile. “Could be entertaining on those long hauls beyond the Rim. Besides it’ll also allow us both to mol-tran out of any bad situation if we should ever need to.”
Everything onboard the Dubrovnik was always proper and by the book. It had to be to suit the conglomerate’s taxations tables and their personnel safety standards. Since the Authority was well into the pockets of the conglomerates, rules had to be followed so that everything looked legal and proper, but any indentured could tell you just how deceiving looks could be where the Authority was concerned. I had to admit, getting one over on them, even if it was nothing more than a few barrels of tax-free whiskey, did my heart good.
On screen, I watched as Manning took the lift to the cargo hold, but instead of stopping there, the door pinged and kept going. To my surprise it stopped a half deck below the hold I’d explored earlier, and Manning chuckled all warm and honey-like over the com. “False floor, Mac. You gotta have one if you’re gonna work in Authority space. Those bastards would tax you every time you took a dump if they could figure out how to manage it.”
He stepped out of the lift to find the dour Captain Gruber looking him up and down. “Manning,” he said with a nod of the head. “Got yourself a crew, I see.” He offered a grimace of a smile and a shoulder shrug up toward the monitor mounted above the lift. “She any good?”
“Fury, shut it down,” I said in little more than a whisper. Once I was certain my mug wasn’t plastered all over the view screen, I blew out a sharp breath. “So much for keeping me secret.”
“My apologies,” Fury’s computer purred into the silence. “Richard Manning had all of the screens on to keep watch over you earlier when you were exploring,”
“Bastard.” The little twitch of Manning’s mouth and the sparkle in his eyes told me he’d heard my comment. “If you liked that, you’d love the gesture I’m making right now, just for you,” I said in a voice that was all smiles and sugar. I could have sworn Fury’s computer chuckled.
“You can’t get good help these days,” Manning was saying to Gruber. “She doesn’t eat much, though, and she’s good for a game of cards if I get bored.”
“You are a dick,” I said between barely parted lips. To which he only smiled and kept right on talking to Gruber about the goods manifest.
Beyond the acknowledgment of my existence, Manning made no effort to introduce me, and Gruber didn’t ask. Considering that I was a fugitive, I figured it was better for me that way. From my vantage point on Fury’s bridge, I watched with interest as the two men circled the cargo and compared manifests. The whole transaction took less than one galactic hour. Just as the process was concluding, Manning sent me a message on his device to lay in coordinates for Outer Kingston. It was the perfect place to sell high-end smuggled whiskey. In fact Outer Kingston was the perfect place to sell or buy any type of contraband. I’d never been there while I worked onboard the Dubrovnik. There was no reason to go there when a conglomerate orca class freighter was always on above board, Authority sanctioned business.
“So, Fury, my lovely,” I said, keeping one eye on the proceedings in the cargo hold. “You’ve been to Outer Kingston before,” I pulled up the logged routes. “What do you think, since I’m new, will you take me on the tourist route?” I let out a low whistle as I studied the logs of trips to Outer Kingston. “Looks like you’ve gone just about every route that’s ever been taken, haven’t you?” In my head, I couldn’t help imagining the ship offering me a testosterone charged ‘I’ve been everywhere, hon,’ Manning-like smile, and I had to chuckle.
“Recommended routes?” I tapped the question into the Fury’s computer, and nearly jumped out of my skin when Manning said. “Take the Faribaldi Nebula route, Mac. You ever been?”
I turned to find him standing behind me. “Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on you. Just not used to having anyone onboard but me.”
“I’ve been inside the Nebula,” I said, “but it sure as hell wasn’t the tourist route.”
“Inside the nebula? That’s one dangerous place to hang out, if everything I’ve heard is true,” he said, dropping into the captain’s chair. “What the hell were you doing in the nebula?”
“Rescuing one of Fallon’s brats.”
“Seriously? What happened?”
“His oldest son fancied himself a pilot. Got his coordinates wrong and ended up in the Faribaldi. Daddy sent me to bring him back.”
“Fucking hell! It’d take more credits that there are in the Outer Rim to get me in there. Hope he rewarded you well for that.”
“A good dose of the SNT virus, actually.” I kept my eyes on the console, kept my words even. “His son claimed it was all my fault he was lost in the first place because I wouldn’t take him into the nebula.”
“Jesus! What kind of idiot would want to go into the nebula?”
“One with nothing better to do, I suppose.” The Torrington had just made the jump, and I was about to lay in the course around the outer nebular aurora when the com crackled to life.
“Fury, this is the Svalbard.” Just then a raven class freighter a good ten times bigger than the Fury hove into view out of hyperspace. “We’re in trouble,” came the voice over the intercom.