After a two-week hiatus, I’m back! It’s Friday and that means time for more Fury. As if Covid wasn’t enough of a reason to seek distraction, we can add a harrowing election week, with more nail biting to come. Bring on a little escapism, I say! And I’m happy to provide. As is my usual November habit, I’m self-medicating with NaNoWriMo, always a wonderful distraction for a writer. I’m working on a new Medusa Consortium novel while editing another. Yes, writers are, indeed, self-entertaining.
I hope you’re enjoying Piloting Fury as we enter the 16th week. 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. In this episode, Manning tries to convince Mac that visiting a plague planet is a good idea. Happy reading, and stay safe out there!
“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 16: Some Persuasion Necessary
The Svalbard departed at 0:600 with coordinates laid in for the Isle of Dogs through the McAllister Wormhole. The Fury set course for Plague One, with me dreading it as though I were going to my own execution. It was the first and the most desolate of the plague planets, one that was all but forgotten now. It had been ignored long enough that there were no more consciences in need of salving and no more drains from the Authority’s coffers for the conservatives to rant about. As far as anyone knew, there was no funding to cut. It was barely habitable when the Authority had first begun to use it. The transport of infected to Plague One had stopped years ago due to overcrowding of the parts that werehabitable. There had been an outcry from the collective guilty consciences of the general population when a film had been smuggled out revealing just how bad conditions were on Plague One. The place chosen to be the new plague planet was practically a paradise by comparison, but too small and too remote to be of any real value in the interstellar real estate grab.
A plan had been made for the mass relocation of the indentureds on Plague One, but of course it didn’t pass the vote of the Central Aggregate. The costs were prohibitive, and besides these people were criminals anyway in the eyes of the law. Money was never allocated. The heated debate became lukewarm, the film became yesterday’s news, and everyone turned a blind eye.
By the time I was born, automated freighters sent supplies periodically, and no one, not even infected indentureds went there. They were all sent to Plague Two and Plague Three and all three had minimal contact with the rest of the Authority. There had been efforts to make Plague Two and Three self-sufficient, but most people knew that just meant no one wanted to bother any longer. In fact, rumour even had it, by the time I was born, that there was no one left alive on Plague One. And yet that was our destination. Even the Fury felt sad beneath my fingertips as I laid in the coordinates. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, stroking the console gently.
I looked up to find Manning watching me. “If I wasn’t already well and truly convinced you were a pilot, I am now,” he said with a quirk of a smile.
“Most pilots their ship far better company than its crew,” I replied, grabbing up my device to check out the quickest routes away from Plague One once we were finished there.
He only nodded and scratched at the stubble on his chin. “Can’t argue much with that. Fury’s always been good company. Have you eaten?”
“I’m not hungry.” I spoke between barely parted lips and pretended to be focused on my device.
“I don’t care. You’re weakened from the experiences of the last day, and I know your stomach is empty.” I blushed at the reminder that the man had seen me hurling my guts. He continued. “Mac, you know the virus isn’t contagious, but there are plenty of other reasons I need you strong.”
“I can’t.” I stood hoping to escape to the map room before he could badger me further. But he grabbed my arm.
“That’s an order, not a request.”
“I can’t,” I repeated, more urgently. “Not after the dream. I can never keep anything down after that, and not after this.” I nodded to the console where I’d just input the route to Plague One.”
When I tried to pull away, he held me. “You have to eat. I need you strong. Now come on.” He all but dragged me to the galley, where he nodded me to the table and programmed the replicator. “You like chocolate don’t you, Mac?”
I made a non-committal grunt, just as the smell of coffee hit the back of my sinuses and the abused muscles deep in my belly tensed for it. But to my surprise, it actually smelled good, and I drew in a deep breath. He sat the cup in front of me. “The warmth is always comforting. Just hold it and smell it for a few seconds. It always helps me.” I did as he ordered.
“What, is this part of your hangover cure?”
He didn’t respond, but I noticed the tightness in his shoulders, the way he flinched at my words. “The dream. You have it often?” He asked as he settled in next to me with a bowl of chocolate pudding.
“Not any more, I don’t. Not since I was transferred to the Dubrovnik. I suppose considering everything that’s happened and with the Svalbard and all it brought back … things.”
“You wanna talk about it?”
“They couldn’t eat.” I hadn’t intended to say anything but the words were out before I could stop them, and the lump in my throat brought with it the threat of tears. “Some of the people with advanced SNT couldn’t eat. I saw them on Plague 3. Fallon made sure I did.”
“I’m sorry, Mac.” Manning held me in a sympathetic gaze.
“I couldn’t eat either.” I looked down into the warm black coffee. “After he took me back home. I … for over a week I couldn’t … I couldn’t eat. I tried. Really I did. And then, Fallon had me taken to the infirmary and they force fed me. They did that every time it happened, the dream, I mean.” The room swam before my eyes and I cursed myself. I didn’t want Manning of all people seeing me like this.
“Fuck,” he whispered in a harsh breath. He shoved back the chair with such force that he nearly upset it, and he began pacing the room. I clutched the cup tighter and watched him, feeling small and miserable.
Then he plopped down beside me again. “Mac, I’m not Fallon. You need to know that right up front.” He ran a trembling hand through his hair and looked around the galley as though he were expecting to find answers maybe over by the replicator. “What happened with the Svalbard, that was unexpected. I never intended to expose you to that. I never intended to make this difficult for you. But things happen, Mac. Shitty things. If anybody knows that you do. He took the cup from me and sat it on the table sloshing it across the pristine surface. “Listen to me,” he cupped my face in his hands. “I’m not Fallon, and you’re not staying behind on a Plague Planet. I’m responsible for your care and well-being, and I take that seriously, Mac, do you hear me. I take that seriously.” He pushed the hair away from my face. “We all get lost in the past sometimes, and it’s never a good place to be, and things like this, like with the Svaldbard, well they just serve to remind us that it is the past. We’re here, now, and moving forward. Stay in the present, Mac. Stay with me and Fury, and you’ll be okay. You’ll be just fine.” He released me and dipped up a huge spoonful of pudding, half of which ended up on the table before he made it to my mouth. I opened for it. I ate it, and it was good.
“It’ll be okay.” He said after I’d eaten a few more bites. “I promise it’ll be okay, Mac. Just stay right here with me and Fury and it’ll be okay.”
It took less than three chronographic hours to get to Plague One. We had seen that all our passengers were fed and cared for, and indeed, all of the SNT victims were massively improved. I pulled out of hyperspace with my stomach in a double knot. Not wanting to be alone with my thoughts, I was busy making small-talk to Fury when Manning joined me on the deck swathed in a heavy parka. He held out its twin for me.
“You’ll need this until we get to Pandora Base. It’s colder than a witch’s tit out there. But at least you won’t need life support. The atmosphere is massively improved.”
The air on Plague One had been unbreatheable back in the early days because of the burning of the dead. He added quickly, “there are very few dead these days, Mac.”
“Rick, we’re all ready,” came Stanislovski’s voice over the com.
Still holding my gaze, he answered. “How many mol-trans outs?”
“Just one. Pandora Base has upgraded since you were last here. The mol-tran can take passengers and the cargo, no worries.”
“Plague One has mol-tran tech?” I managed after a few fish gasps.
“Have had for a long time now. Technically they don’t belong to the Authority because the Authority believes there’s no one left alive here. You’d be amazed what a blessing that’s been.”
“That means we don’t have to go down. That means we can just leave once everyone’s been mol-tranned out.” I nodded down to the computer. “There’s a major planet-wide storm about to hit, and Fury doesn’t want to be in the upper atmosphere when it does.”
“Don’t worry. We won’t get caught.” He held the parka out for me to slide into. “But there are things I have to take care of, Mac, and things that you’ll need to see. Things that might ease your discomfort considerably.”
“All clear,” came the reply on the com. Then there was a squawk and a wheeze and all was silent.
I back stepped. “I don’t need to see anything, honest I don’t. I’m okay with just waiting here with Fury, you know, getting better acquainted.”
In one quick movement, Manning swathed me in the parka until I had no choice but
to shove my arm through the holes as he zipped me in and pulled up the hood. With my heart racing faster that Fury’s hyper jump engines, I stood facing him, not able to meet his gaze.
“Mac,” he lifted my chin on the crook of his finger. “You need to go down.” He brushed my lower lip with the tip of his thumb and I was suddenly dangerously close to tears. “It’ll be okay. I promise.” Holding my hand tightly, he opened the com. “Pandora base, two to mol-tran.” Then he pulled me into a tight embrace. “It’ll be fine,” he whispered again before the deck of the Fury vanished.