Sorry for the long delay in getting a new post out. My only excuse is that I have no excuse. I hope you enjoyed The Bus Route as much as I enjoyed writing it and sharing it. Writing and sharing my work is always the best part of doing what I do, so I have decided to share some new, never before seen KDG stuff on my blog, first of all because it’s a bit experimental and out of the KDG norm, and second of all simply because I want to be able to share some of it before I put it out to the larger world.
Piloting Fury is a project very near and dear to my heart, with a rewrite now in progress. Having said that, today is day one of July’s Camp NaNoWriMo, and I found myself inspired and prodded strongly by my Muse and her big stick to write the next book in what is a Space opera, of sorts, with plenty of political intrigue, plenty of sex, plenty of space travel — a lot of which is done in sentient ships. Piloting Fury is the first novel in that series. At this Camp NaNoWriMo, I will be working on book two, Dragon Ascending. Enjoy the first half of the first chapter, and if you’re very good, I’ll have the rest of the chapter up soon (or if I’m very good 🙂 ) From there, we’ll see where Fury leads us.
“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.
Chapter 1: The Bet
“Win the bet and Fury’s yours. Lose the bet and your ass is mine.” Rick Manning was more than a little bit drunk. He had to be to make that sort of bet with me. Everyone knows you don’t gamble with Diana Mac unless you want to lose. I never lost – ever! What gambling I managed in spaceports was my sole income, and I horded it all obsessively. Every credit of it went toward paying off the contract of my indenture. Nope! I never lost because I couldn’t afford to. And yet here I stood on the small but efficient deck of the Fury, reporting to Rick Scumbag Manning, and the prick was nowhere to be found. “Probably sleeping it off in some whore’s bed,” I growled under my breath.
“You cheated, you bastard,” I said out loud. Even if he heard me, what the hell was he gonna do, dock my wages, throw me in the brig? “I know you cheated, I just don’t know how you did it,” I said to the console which, in spite of my anger at Manning, already had me intrigued. I confess, vivid visions of strangling Rick Manning with a New Hibernian cryo-whip couldn’t hold my imagination quite like the console of a good ship – even one I was now indentured to for who the hell knew how many galactic years. I’m serious when I say I’m the best pilot in the galaxy. It’s not bragging if it’s true. I’ve never met the ship I couldn’t fly. Not that I got that many opportunities indentured to the Dubrovnik, but Captain Harker had raked in the credits more than once by betting on me in an impromptu race of some sort. Of course the ship was never my own, and that made the bet even more interesting. No one ever saw it coming.
In spite of my crap situation, I couldn’t help admiring the clean lines and the efficient arrangement of the Fury’s controls. While the ship might look like a rusty tub on the outside, Manning had known to put his money where it mattered. I was already jonesing to see what the ship could do, and the truth was that the Fury was one helluva ship despite the rusty tub appearance. I doubted if Manning even knew what the original make was. If the entire ship wasn’t glued together with spit and high tensile repair tape, I’d be surprised. But leave it to Manning to win, steal, smuggle and finagled some of the best, state of the art components in the galaxy. I only knew that because he and I got drunk together on Diga Prime waiting out a lava storm one night in a bar. The man was as proud of his ship as he was his cock and, while I’d made it a point not to check out the latter, I’d wanted to check out the Fury for a long time. Just not like this.
I flopped down in the pilot’s seat, which strangely enough felt as though it molded to fit my butt. I knew for a fact that Manning’s ass needed a little more space than mine, and so did his broad shoulders. I’d admired those shoulders and that ass in more than a few spaceports where we’d pitched up together. At this moment, though, I loathed the whole damn package with a loathing hotter than the fiery pits of Diga Vulcanus. I envisioned kicking that very fine ass out the airlock somewhere in the Outer Rim. But thanks to the mess the cheating rat bastard had gotten me into, I couldn’t even do that.
It had been such a sure thing. I was sitting pretty, wasn’t I? The newly healed incision on my forearm itched like crazy, and while it was already all but invisible, it guaranteed I was as bound to the Fury as if Manning had roped me and tied me to the pilot’s chair. I should have known. I should have suspected something, but I was too busy patting myself on the back for my good fortune, too greedy for more.
I should have suspected something when Manning lost a small fortune to me in game after game of Sandirian poker. At the time, the man wasn’t yet too drunk to make intelligent decisions, and I knew for a fact he wasn’t a gambling addict. I’d heard about addicts who had gambled away far larger fortunes than the one Manning had dropped, which was just enough to buy back my indenture with a nice little nest egg to tide me over until I could find other work. Nope, Manning was a lightweight when it came to gambling losses. A minor satrap was legendary for gambling away a whole planetoid out at the edge of the Orion Nebula. I just figured it was a cock thing with Manning. I recognized the signs. The dress I wore had worked its magic just like it always did with lonely, horny punters in spaceport hoping to get laid. Men or women – it didn’t really matter. If they gave me that look and offered to buy me a drink, I knew I had them. They all just assumed because I was sitting alone, shuffling a deck of cards, I was as lonely and as in need of entertainment as they were.
And then there was Rick Manning. He’d been doing his best for the past several galactic years to get me in bed. By now it had become a game between us. He flirted, and I let it roll right on over me. I liked the banter. I liked the fact that we had intelligent, often witty conversations, as well as a lot of laughs in between his flirtatious, but harmless, advances. It was what we did, the two of us. So why should I think anything was particularly different about last night? Yes, he showed up at my table before I could reel in some sucker willing to lose his shirt. And yes, when I tried to shoo him away, he offered to play a few hands with me as a warm-up – he said, and then he’d leave me to find another victim. It was a win-win. I could skin Manning of a few credits before he decided to give it up, and then get serious with someone who didn’t know me.
But he didn’t give it up. He just kept losing, and betting and losing again. Fuck me if the man didn’t lose everything he had, all of his life savings, right down to the last credit. I know this because the Notary kept asking if he was sure and reminding him that all notarized bets were legally binding. Still all he could do was chuckle.
“It’s your hair, Mac,” he said as he motioned over the notary yet again to transfer more credits to the indentured sub-account Captain Harker had set up for me. “When you wear that dress and let your hair down like that, of course a man’s gonna lose. And you, you little minx, that’s what you’re counting on, isn’t it?”
“I need the credits, Manning.” I leaned across the table and rubbed my fingers together under his nose in a gimme gesture. “Indentured here, remember? But if it’ll help,” I grabbed up the band that had secured the battered deck of cards and pulled my hair back in it. “The dress I can’t do anything about. The butler hasn’t brought my holiday wardrobe down from the Dubrovnik yet,” I joked.
“Helluva place to go on holiday,” he said, glancing around the Nine Tails. Then he leaned over the table and offered a smile that would have shamed the Suns of Valoxia. “Tell you what, one more hand and I’ll bet my jacket.” If you win, you can cover up a little bit and maybe give me an even chance. And if you lose,” he looked me up and down.
“I won’t,” I replied shoving the deck of cards across the table to him.
He took them and began to shuffle, his eyes locked on mine. “If you lose, then I get your clothes. All of them.”
“It’s just as well I’m gonna win then because you wouldn’t look good in this dress. Teal’s just not your color.”
He only chuckled as he dealt the cards.
In no time at all I was bundled up in a vintage flight jacket that Manning swore up and down was a real Terran relic he’d won in a poker game he’d apparently done much better in than he was doing in this one. He slugged back another New Hibernian whiskey and the barmaid, who bent so he got a good view down her bustier, brought him another one. I laid down enough credits to pay for my drinks and stood. “Gotta go, Manning. You’ve got nothing left I can win off of you, and I sure as hell don’t want the clothes off your back.”
“Not so fast, Mac.” His words weren’t exactly slurred, but getting pretty close. He blocked my exit with an extended leg, nodded back to my chair, and with a shrug of his shoulder sent the barmaid scurrying for another whiskey for me. “You can’t leave till I’ve had a chance to win back all my shit.”
“I can, and I will,” I said, stepping over his leg, but even half drunk, Manning was fast. He lifted his thigh, effectively high-centering me and ending me up in his lap. He curled thick fingers around a my makeshift pony tale and reeled me in. I remember thinking it strange that he smelled more like a man who’d been enjoying the great outdoors in the Parks of the Beledine than someone three sheets to the wind on cheap-assed whiskey. I even remember not minding his flirtations at the time, but then why would I when I was a free woman at last, one with a very nice jacket, even if it was considerably too big.
“I do have something I can bet.” His breath was warm against my ear, and I felt the buzz of my own generous alcohol consumption that made me think I just might take him up on what I figured he was about to offer me. It would be a nice addition to the drunken celebration of my freedom. After all, an indentured didn’t have a lot of free time for sex. When I did have the time, I was trying to win a few more credits toward my freedom.
“Oh that,” I nodded down to his lap and gave a little laugh. “I figure I can have that without wagering for it.”
The chuckle he returned sounded positively animal, and his lips quirked into a crooked smile. “While I can think of nothing I would enjoy more than a good shag in the sheets with you, Mac, that wouldn’t win me back my shit now would it?”
I was about to say that since he had nothing to offer I saw no point. I was about to walk out the door of the bar free and clear, go straight to Captain Harker, pay off the contract of my indenture and see what it felt like to sleep and wake up as a free woman. That’s what I should have done, in retrospect. But then Manning dropped the bomb.
“One more hand, Mac. Just one. Win the bet and Fury’s yours. Lose the bet and your ass is mine.”
Fuck me! If he hadn’t been holding me, I would have fallen right onto the floor. Now I’m not a woman who’s often speechless, though as an indentured, I know when to keep my mouth shut. But this time, all I could do was make a couple of fish gasps. He gave me that look I was sure had gotten more than a few women into his bed. It had probably worked just as well getting him out of trouble with the authorities when his cargo was less than copasetic.
“What do you say, Mac? You up for it? I’m betting the Fury along with the next three contracts I have to fill.” He shrugged. “If I don’t have a ship, I can’t fill the contracts, right? Come on. Give me at least one more chance.”
“Your ship? You want to bet the Fury?” I stumbled off his lap all but falling on my ass before I made it back to my chair. He was already motioning the notary over.