It’s a very wet and windy Friday at Grace Manor, and means time for more Fury. A cheerful hello, with a warm cuppa. I hope all is well with you Lovelies and that much good reading is happing. I plan to enjoy the rainy weather by curling up with a good read for a couple of hours this afternoon.
Whether it’s raining or not where you are, I hope you’re enjoying Piloting Fury as we enter the 14th 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. This week Mac’s old captain on the Dubrovnik pays for turning a blind eye to her escape.
“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.
Replacements: Part 14
Fallon’s face on the com pinning Harker under his icy blue scrutiny did little to aid digestion. The man always commed at mealtime, or worse. No longer having an appetite, Harker pushed the Britannia trifle to one side, squared his shoulders and forced a polite smile.
Fallon nodded to the dessert. “One of my favorites, Britannia trifle. Though it’s been my experience replicators never quite get it right.”
As if Harker would know. He’d never had it any other way, and frankly, it was like most specialty dishes from Old Terra. Who the hell knew what they were supposed to taste like? Anything beyond the basic nutritional needs for survival had been guesswork ever since the Great Exodus. Most of the history of that time had been lost. Little real knowledge existed about anything, let alone what the food tasted like.
“How can I help you?” Harker asked, forcing down the irritation he could do nothing about.
“Let’s not pretend here, Evander. I’m aware that you’ve known almost from the beginning that Leo Rab was my eyes onboard the Dubrovnik. You’re not a stupid man. If you were, you wouldn’t be commanding my flagship.”
The muscles of Harker’s neck felt like someone had just tightened them into a vice. He shifted in his chair and tried to relax. “Is Rab okay?”
“Oh he’s fine, just fine, but I don’t need him onboard the Dubrovnik now that Diana McAllister’s no longer there, do I?”
Harker desperately wanted to ask if McAllister had been found, but to do so would betray what he hoped for her, what the woman truly deserved. So he sat in silence watching Fallon pace. The unrelieved black of his military-cut suit accented his powerful, but slender build. The shape, the style, even the color of it, a constant reminders of the lethal man who wore it. Harker had noticed through the years of having way more contact with the man than he’d have liked, that he was never still. He always had to be in motion. If for whatever reason, he were forced to stand still or sit down, he twitched, he fidgeted, he drummed fingers on desk tops, bounced a knee up and down, tapped a foot on the floor. Harker had had the opportunity to notice way more about Abriad Fallon than he wanted to. But then he had never forgotten that it was always just a single misspoken word, a single false step that separated Fallon’s friends from Fallon’s unlucky indentureds.
And that kept him careful, or at least it had until Diana McAllister came into his life. Bargaining to get her onboard the Dubrovnik as his pilot had been his first reckless act, and Fallon had been onto him almost immediately. Had the man not seen the benefits of such a good pilot on his flagship, had he chosen to keep her close instead, Harker could just as easily have ended up wearing a shackle instead of captaining a conglomerate flagship.
His second reckless act was to turn a blind eye when he first realized that Richard Manning’s interests in McAllister ran deeper than just physical attraction. It had happened while the Dubrovnik, and every other ship with business there, waited out a planet wide lava storm safe in high orbit above Diga Prime. The crew who’d been stranded on shore leave remained in the protected underground warrens that made Diga Prime habitable. He had overheard a throwaway conversation between Manning and the doctor of the Matterhorn about the illegal manipulation of shackles. Until then Harker had thought such a skill was only offered by quacks in back alleys, a scam that gave runaways false hope and, in the end, did nothing but speed along that dreaded one-way trip to a plague planet. He’d thought such a thing was nothing more than a desperate act. And yet he’d understood it. When Diana McAllister came onboard the Dubrovnik, he saw that desperation in her eyes, and he knew the reason for it. But after that conversation he now suspected he was meant to overhear, he began to think that if anyone could help the young woman, Manning could.
His third, and most reckless act of all was to make sure he’d piggybacked Fallon’s message ordering the Dubrovnik to make the unscheduled stop at NH372 to the Fury. Oh the message had been no secret. Fallon owned the Dubrovnik, and if he wanted it to make an unscheduled stop, then he had nothing to hide. Besides the channels were always open among commercial cargo ships where everything was technically above board. Harker had simply tweaked the settings just enough that if Manning were listening, and if Manning’s interests in Diana McAllister were anywhere nearly as keen as he suspected, he’d pick up on it. There was little else he could do.
To believe that there might be a way out for his pilot that would keep Harker above Fallon’s suspicions was a fool’s dream. He had always known that in his heart of hearts, and in that moment when he had known that Fallon was sending his eldest son to retrieve Diana McAllister and return her to Terra Nova Prime, it no longer mattered. He found that he couldn’t sit back and do nothing. And now he would pay for it. He only offered a benign smile and forced himself to continue with his trifle when Fallon had nodded to it graciously.
“Please, eat. It was not my intention to interrupt your meal.” Of course it was. Harker forced the spoonsful of trifle down the tightening constriction of his throat. Catching people at the most inconvenient moment, making sure they were slightly off balance, was one of the more civilized ways Fallon reminded everyone just how much their fate was in his hands.
“I suspect that you had something to do with my dear Diana’s escape, Evander.”
In spite of his efforts, Harker let the spoon clank noisily against the dish and wiped his mouth on the napkin, knowing he could eat no more. Fallon continued. “Oh I’ve suspected that you and half your crew have had a soft spot for her since I let her come onboard. That’s why I had Rab placed with you. I even suspected that if you didn’t help her try to escape, you might turn a blind eye if someone else did.” As he paced, his fingers twitched and his fists clenched and unclenched as though he anticipated tightening them around someone’s throat. “I suppose I can’t hold you at fault for that. The girl is rather endearing, and who knew she was such a good pilot?” His chuckle was more like a warning growl. “Well obviously you did, didn’t you? Captain’s instincts, I suppose. Besides, if memory serves, you did know her father. Like father like daughter, hmmm? That was your gamble, wasn’t it?” He waved a negating hand. “Never mind. It was a good use of my resources, as you told me back then. However,” he looked down at his perfectly manicured nails as though he were inspecting them for flaws, “I’ve invested a considerable amount into Diana McAllister’s maintenance and upkeep.” He leaned forward toward the monitor until Harker could make out the large pores around the sides of his nose. “Your next stop is Cairovia, isn’t it?’
He knew that it was. Harker always sent him the route plans along with cargo manifests and cargo destinations, but he answered as though it were business as usual as though he were not waiting for the axe to drop. “That’s right. Triaxium offload.”
“Good. I think it’s time for some new blood aboard the Dubrovnik. Performance is down and a bit of a change might be exactly what she needs.”
Performance was better than ever, and Fallon knew it well. Harker held his breath as the man grabbed up his device and tapped the keypad. “Oh don’t worry, no one will lose their position and no one will even be demoted. I just think a little shake-up is in order. I’ve chosen, randomly of course.” He motioned down to his device. “Fifteen members of your crew, including Rab, will be transferred to three other ships now docking at Cairovia. And you’ll receive fifteen new crew members of my choosing, those who have a little more loyalty to the conglomerate and the Authority.”
“To keep an eye on me,” Harker said, mentally kicking himself for not holding his tongue.
“Of course not, Evander. We’re old friends here, after all. I just think the Dubrovnik could use some new blood.” He glanced down at his device. “Oh, and one of those who’ll be coming over to your team is Kristov Lebedny. He’ll be joining you as second in command. Take him under your wing and show him the ropes, as a personal favor to me, Evander, and I’m sure the two of you will get on just fine.”
Harker sat stiff backed, unmoving. He had made his choices, and now he would face the consequences. He waited for it.
“I’ve a pretty good idea where Diana McAllister is at the moment, and I expect her to be onboard an Authority ship bound for Terra Nova Prime within the next few galactic days. Once she’s safe back in my care,” he offered a smile that would warm the cockles if Harker didn’t know the darkness it hid, “then the way I see it, no harm done. The new crew will perform their duties to the highest standard, as I’ve always counted on from the crew of the flagship. Then once you’ve trained up Lebedny, well I think it’s time you might want to consider your retirement, old friend. Certainly you’ve earned it.” He glanced down at his watch, clearly a Terran antique. “Goodness me, I’m late for drinks with the prime minister. Don’t worry, Evander, I’ll have our Diana back in my protection in no time.” The screen went dark.
For a long time Harker sat unmoving, watching his trifle melt into unappealing sludge. He knew that the world of conglomerates and politics was as much bluff as anything. He had to hope, he couldn’t bear not to hope that Diana was in good hands and that Richard Manning was half as much of a slippery rogue as was his reputation. That was all he had left to him now, that belief that perhaps Fallon was not as confident in Diana McAllister’s swift return as he pretended to be. Why else would he place his own people onboard the Dubrovnik after the fact? Why else would he leave the open threat hanging over Harker’s head?