Tag Archives: new KDG read

Piloting Fury Part 14: Brand New KDG Read

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.




Piloting Fury

“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?

Piloting Fury Part 13: Brand New KDG Read

It’s Friday, and that means time for more Fury. A cheerful hello from Grace Manor. I hope all is well with you Lovelies and that much good reading is happing. We’re just back from a wonderful week holiday in Appleby-in-Westmorland, right on the edge of the Lake District National Park. Did some great walks in gorgeous weather, and I even managed some good writing sessions in a local, very socially distanced and Covid safe coffee shop. What more could a girl ask?

As we enter the 13th 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. This week Mac’s past comes back to haunt her.




“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.



Nightmares and Demons: Part 13

Below deck, I lost myself in the work. I wasn’t a natural born medic. I didn’t like being around sick people, but neither did I like suffering, and I’d seen a shitload of it in my life, so I did what I could to make sure everyone was comfortable. I could already see improvements in the patients who had received the vaccine. But I knew for a fact that something this wonderful couldn’t be kept secret, and as soon as the Authorities found out about it, they’d confiscate it, and make it unavailable. Oh they wouldn’t destroy it altogether. The truth was it increased the usefulness of the SNT virus for biochemical warfare. I’d lived close enough to these sick bastards to understand how their minds worked, what they’d want. At the end of the day, we’d have been better off blowing the victims out the airlock. At least then their suffering would be over. Even healed they were still criminals, runaways, just like I was. I bathed the fevered face of the young boy, who was taking longer to recover than the others. I figured that was because he was so malnourished and abused. I could see the burn scars on both his arms and the place where his protruding collarbone had been broken at least twice. “You’ll be okay. I got you,” I whispered. He was less likely to hear the tightness in my voice, if I whispered, less likely to understand that I was only hoping for his recovery rather than expecting it. “I got you now. You rest awhile, and when you wake up, you’ll feel better.”

I need the coordinates to the McAllister Wormhole, Mac.”

Manning joined me, holding out his device.

I took it from him and punched them in without looking at him.

“Can you lay in a course for the Svalbard?” His voice was quiet, tired, I thought.

I nodded.

“Do you need the atlas?”

I shook my head and glanced up at him. “Not for that. I have that memorized from anywhere in space I’ve ever been, and it’s the first route I memorize wherever I am.” I focused my attention on the keypad entering the route. “It’s the only thing in the galaxy I can almost believe is mine.” I handed it back to him, and returned my attention to kid, who was now shivering. There were no more blankets to put over him, and I had nothing warmer than my T-shirt, which was soaked in my own perspiration from the efforts in the hot cargo hold.

“Here. Help me.” I was surprised when Manning laid aside his device and shed his bomber jacket. I eased the boy into a sitting position, and Manning helped him into it telling him that it was a genuine Terran flight jacket — the same story he had told me before I won it off of him, but the boy’s attention was riveted “Brings good luck,” Manning said, as the fever-ravaged kid all but fell asleep in his arms, and we lowered him back onto the stretcher.

“You should get some sleep, Mac. There’s nothing more you can do for him. The medics will stay here through the night.”

“Unless that’s a direct order, I’d like to stay.”

The muscles along his cheekbone jerked and twitched and he gave me a quick nod. “All right. If you’re sure. We leave for Plague One as soon as the Svalbard is away. The medics will stay onboard and care for their charges until then. Afterwards, Ina will stay with us to care for them until we reach Plague One. The sooner we get there, the better.” There was nothing happy-go-lucky about Manning now, and nothing but dread on my part when it came to our next port of call.

Long toward morning the boy died. I didn’t cry. He wasn’t the first indentured barely old enough to be out of diapers I’d seen die, and he wasn’t likely to be the last. His body was wrapped in a shroud from the Svalbard and sent into space with all the proper words, as though that made us all feel any better. None of us believed in an afterlife, and any indentured knew that the void of death was far better than what our lives would likely be.

I stumbled back to my room dry-eyed and stayed in the shower for ages rubbing at the damned shackle until the skin around it was angry red. Manning’s microsurgery was all but invisible beneath the number that was the only identity I had since my father died – at least the only one the Authority recognized. Then the debt of the Merlin and its destruction was saddled on him post mortem and, by proxy, his only living relative. I’d clung viciously to my name and to my memories, I’d worked hard, I’d gambled hard and saved away every credit to buy back my freedom and the chance to clear my father’s name. And now here I was, no closer to that goal than I had been the day they came for me, and me still holding desperately to the belief that my father would be cleared of all crimes, of all debts. I should have run. I should have escaped to some system on the Rim. I could have started a life as a free woman rather than clinging stubbornly to the beliefs that because I was a law-abiding citizen, as my father had been, justice would triumph.

I fell onto the bed too exhausted to mourn another loss that no one cared about. I slept, and for the first night in a long time I dreamed.

I wandered the deserted decks of the Merlin. That was how it always began. Even when the conscious part of me saw it coming, I could never get out of it until I’d seen it through to the bitter end. I was excited to see my father’s ship, a work of art, he’d told me, a pilot’s dream come true, and it really was beautiful, like no other ship ever built.

“She slices through space like a sharp knife through birthday cake.” I heard his voice as though he stood right there next to me, but he didn’t. He never did. I was always alone.

I walked the whole ship, from the bridge to the cargo hold, trying to find him, calling out to him over and over again. But he never answered, and my dread always grew the longer I searched. I ended up on the bridge trying to contact him on the com. It was his ship, after all. He had to be there somewhere. He wouldn’t leave his ship, and he wouldn’t leave his only daughter alone.

And then the screen flashed bright and I was staring into his fever bright eyes.  He sat propped in the engineering room against the door. There were radiation burns along his cheekbones and down his neck. It was then that I heard the first explosion and the ship juddered from a direct hit. “Daddy? Daddy what’s going on? What’s happening?” Another impact and I thought the Merlin would shake apart.

“Diana, I need you to get into one of the escape pods. Now.”

“Daddy, you’re scaring me.”

“Don’t be afraid, angel. Just do as I asked. Everything will be all right.”

And then I was screaming and hammering on the airlock of an escape pod as I watched the Merlin explode into a fireball with my father still inside.

After that I was running, running from Fallon, endlessly running from Fallon until I stumbled and he caught me by the collar. Two of his men held me while he inserted the shackle, chuckling to himself all the while. “You’re not daddy’s little girl anymore, 1215Mac035. You’re just a number, just a tool, and you belong to me.” And then my arm broke out in a rash, and he watched it spread. While he drank New Sicilian wine and fucked some nameless woman, I shivered with fever and screamed at the hallucinations the virus elicited. “This will teach you,” he said, lifting his glass as though he were offering me a toast. “This will remind you what will happen if you ever cross me, if you ever displease me. Then he took up a syringe and inserted it into my shackle. “Only I have the antidote, only I can make you all better, just like that Diana.”

But I didn’t get better, my skin reddened then blackened and pealed away. And he laughed. “Oops. Sorry about that girl. Guess I was a little bit late this time. Bad luck that. Never mind. Next stop Plague One.”

I woke drenched in sweat and gasping for air. I stumbled from the bed and barely made it to the bathroom in time to vomit until my whole body convulsed with dry heaves, until there was nothing left in me at all. And then I did cry, leaning back against the tiles, cradling my arm with the disease-free shackle against my chest, weeping for all I’d lost, weeping for the helplessness that was still the center of my existence, weeping for the death of one little boy whose name I didn’t even know, ashamed and embarrassed that even after all this time I could still let it matter.

It was a long while before I calmed enough to realize that I wasn’t alone. Manning knelt beside me, wiping my face with a cool cloth and offering me a glass.

“Drink this. It’s Fury’s special formula. It’ll balance the electrolytes in your system and help you sleep.” He held my gaze. “Without dreams.” He sat down on the floor next to me and handed me the concoction. I drank it back, not sure I could keep it down. To my surprise it felt good against my battered insides.

“Better?” he asked, still mopping sweat from my neck and forehead.

I nodded.

“I don’t want to go there,” I managed. Then my throat tightened and I was sobbing again like some blubbing baby.

To my surprise, he pulled me onto his lap and rocked me. “I know, and I’m sorry.”

“It’s not like I have a choice,” I hiccupped.

His chuckle was a soft rumble deep in his chest. “Not like either of us does, it would seem.” Then he added, smoothing the hair away from my face. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you still get your twenty percent.”

And in spite of myself I laughed. “I should have held out for twenty-five.”

Hi smile turned wicked. “Hell, another minute or two in the Braid and I’d have happily given you thirty.” Then, with me still in his arms, he stood effortlessly and carried me back to the bed. Strangely enough the sweaty sheets had been replaced and the bed turned down. “Fury’s a bit of a mother hen when it comes to taking care of his crew,” he said as he settled me down and pulled the blanket up over me. “Get some sleep. The Svalbard sets off at 0600, and we’ll be taking the fastest route to Plague One.” He stood and headed for the door. Then he stopped. “Oh and Mac,” he said without turning back. “I’m the captain, not you. In front of our clients, even when they’re friends, like the Svalbard, both our lives may depend on at least the appearance of a strict order of command. Understood?”

“Understood,” I said.

“Good. Now sleep.”


Piloting Fury Part 11: Brand New KDG Serial

It’s Friday, and that means time for more Fury. A cheerful hello from Grace Manor. I hope all is well with you Lovelies and that much good reading is happing

As we enter the 11th 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. This week Mac discovers that whiskey is the not the most dangerous thing Manning and Fury smuggle.





“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.


The Truth, or at Least Part of It: Part 11

“I do, yes,” he said, taking the second first aid kit and moving into step beside me.

“These need immediate attention,” called the head medic. “There are ten others infected onboard, but we haven’t had time to treat any of them. Authority’s been on our ass since we left Freeport. I have no idea how they found out. We’ve had so many jumps that half the crew is puking and the other half is too dizzy to stand. They’re getting injections for space sickness now. But at the moment it’s just us and the pilot. Afraid the transfer of the precious cargo is going to be a bit slower than expected,” the medic said. Then she threw her arms around Manning in a heartfelt hug that he returned in kind. “You okay Rick?” she asked, reaching up to stroke his cheek.

He caught her hand and pulled it down to his chest. “Fine, Ina. I’m fine.”

I couldn’t help but bristle just a little bit, embarrassed to admit that I’d gotten used to having Manning and Fury all to myself. I wasn’t keen on the touchy-feely rubbing up against each other that meant the two had a history. Before I could dwell on it, she pulled away and offered me her hand. “Ina Stanislovski, First mate. Some damn good piloting there, though you scared a good ten years off half the crew.”

“They’ll get over it.” I grudgingly took her hand without introducing myself. I was suddenly way more focused on the mess of fevered flesh occupying the four stretchers than I was on Stanislovski’s overly familiar greeting of Manning. “There’s nothing we can do for these people. You know that. They’re too far gone.” If there was anything that made me want to puke, made me want to pass out, made me want to run away screaming, it was seeing someone in the advanced stages of SNT, the point at which there was no return. I was always just one step away from that. All indentureds were, and we bloody well knew it. We had nightmares about it, and I carried way more into my nightmares than most.

The First Mate looked from me to Manning and back again. “She doesn’t know?”

“It’s always been on a need to know basis, Ina, and up until now, there was no one else on Fury who needed to know. Besides,” he added. “It’s not my cargo.”

“It is now,” Stanislovski said. “The Authority will be on us the minute we leave the nebula. We leave everything on Fury and they’ll just think we dumped cargo. They won’t be able to do more than slap us with a trumped-up fine. But if they catch us fully loaded, the indentureds will end up dead and the precious cargo will be confiscated. You know what that means.”

“Fuck me!” Manning said, but he was already grabbing the vial Stanislovski offered him and loading a syringe.

She handed me one, but I stepped back. “There’s nothing we can do for these people. They’re too far gone for the antidote.”

She shook the fisted vial at me. “Oh there’s a cure all right, but it only works if you use it.”

“She’s right, Mac. Just do as she says.” Manning was already injecting the first patient. “There’s a cure. Just not very many people know about it. And the people we definitely don’t want knowing about it are the Authority, now move your ass.”

I injected my first patient fighting back tears – me who had given up my emotions the day the shackle went into my arm. But this, this was hope where there had been none, and I found myself smiling down into the face of a boy who looked barely to be in puberty. Clearly he was terrified. He had already lost two fingers and his feet were bandaged. The end stages could go on for years and horrible years, and the only refuge was one of the plague planets. What the hell kind of debt must this lad’s family have incurred that it would pass on to a child? The obscenity of it all made my blood boil.

“She’s Aden McAllister’s daughter.” Stanislavski spoke to Manning without looking up from the patient she was tending.

Manning shot me a glance and gave a grunt and a nod.

“Not sure if you’re brave or stupid,” she replied.

“Not sure it’s any of your business,” I growled. I was liking the woman less by the moment.

“I needed a good pilot,” was all Manning said.

By the time Stanislavski set up a make-shift infirmary, it was hotter than hell in the cramped space of the hold, though Manning assured me that Fury had regulated the temperature for the comfort of the victims who shivered in the throes of the fever. We had injected the four on the stretchers and made them as comfortable as possible. The rest of the Svalbard’s crew was beginning to recover from space sickness, and they were bringing in the less critical victims.

I worked with a strange sense of anguish and hope. It was an unusual mix. Even when Captain Harker allowed me shore leave and the chance to win what little money I could through gambling, he knew damn good and well that I’d never live long enough to pay off my indenture. But this! This meant that if indentureds could escape, and if they could get to a place where the vaccine was available, they could take on a new identity, move out beyond the Rim and begin a whole new life. I couldn’t get my brain around it. I couldn’t think beyond the next injection, the bathing of a fevered brow, the holding of an emesis pan while someone still suffering the remnants of space sickness vomited. And next to me, Manning was doing exactly the same.

I had just finished the last injection and had checked to see that all of my patients were resting comfortably when I noticed crates baring the conglomerate label were being loaded onboard. Wiping my forehead, I moved to where Stanislavski stood. “What the fuck? You risked my ship for whiskey? That’s your precious cargo?”

My anger didn’t rattle her in the least, nor my pilot’s possessiveness of Fury. “Oh that’s not the precious cargo. But yes, that is whiskey. If anything, they need it on Plague One more than they do on the Rim.”

“Jesus! You were going to Plague One?” And for the first time since the wild ride had begun, I felt like I just might join the ranks of the space sick and lose my lunch.

She studied me for a moment, then took my left arm into her hand and looked down at where my shackle was nestled just below the skin. “You’ll have visited one of the plague planets, I presume? I can’t imagine Fallon not making sure every indentured of his gets the scenic tour.”

I nodded. “Plague Three, my first month under the shackle. He wanted to make sure I knew what would happen to me if I crossed him. He used the virus as a punishment,” I added swallowing bile.

“And yet you crossed him, and you survived.” Before I could comment, she gave my shoulder a squeeze, then rolled up her sleeve. There was only a white scar where her shackle had been. A white scare met that somehow an indentured had either won freedom or bought it. “My owner did the same. With me, he waited a bit too long.” The line along her jaw hardened, and the color rose in her cheeks, the color I recognized as anger. Only another indentured would recognize that look.

“Lucky for me, I was smuggled onto Plague One. I was among the first the serum was tested on.” She looked beyond me, and I knew she was looking into a nightmare past that could have so easily been my own. Then she turned her gaze back to me. “Half the Svalbard’s crew are free indentureds, so yes, we wouldn’t have minded flying right through the center of the Faribaldi if we’d had to. At least it would have been a clean death.” Then she added as an afterthought, nodding to the next load of crates being brought onboard the Fury, “The rest of the shipment is serum. Sadly it’s not nearly enough, but one day there will be. That’s worth the risk. One day maybe there won’t be a need for it.”

Up until today I could have never allowed myself even her modest optimism, and I still couldn’t. I knew better than anyone the odds against a few freed indentureds, and even I wouldn’t have taken that bet.

Our attention turned to a tall man with eyes like none I’d ever seen before. They were the color of Valinian opals.

Stanisovski spoke next to my ear. “Captain Bryar lost his eyes to the SNT virus. He sees with implants.” Then she stepped back and introduced me.

“Damn fine piloting, First Mate McAllister,” Bryar said, offering me an outstretched hand. “Damn fine piloting. I only wish there was time to celebrate over a proper meal in the captain’s quarters.” Then he turned his attention to Manning, who approached, running a sani-device over his hands.

“Can you do it?” Was all Bryar asked.

Manning nodded tight-lipped, then blew out a sharp breath. “If we make a quick turnaround and kick Fury into high gear, then we should be able to make the rendezvous in Outer Kingston with no trouble. Traveling to the edge of the Rim is never an exact science. Things go wrong. No one is on a precise schedule out that far. What about you, Bryar? Do you have a plan?”

“Well we can’t stay here forever, but wherever we come out now, they’ll be after us. Granted our hold will be empty and they’ll have nothing on us, but it’ll slow progress. It’ll really slow progress, and the next shipment is vital to Plague Two.”

“Where do you need to be?” I ask.

“Isle of Dogs. It’s where the serum components are kept. No one goes there so no one suspects.”

“I can get you there fast.” I said.

All eyes were suddenly on me.

He offered a gentle smile. “No offence McAllister, but I don’t think my crew could survive another jump like that last one.”

“What about a trip through a wormhole?”

“There are no wormholes in that area, at least none that have been charted,” Manning said, studying me like he’d never seen me before.

“That’s true,” I replied, “but McAllister One has never been charted.”

“McAllister One?” Both Bryar and Manning spoke at the same time. Stanislavski moved to flank her captain, arms folded across her chest.

Manning chuckled softly and scratched his head. “Mac, care to take us on a little tour in the chart room?”

As it turned out the chart room was a corner of the observation deck with a holo-image atlas of the known galaxy and download capabilities for individual devices. It didn’t take me long to pull up the image of an empty stretch of space not far from the Faribaldi. It looked to have nothing more interesting than a brown dwarf and a possible black hole. I knew for a fact it was no black hole. “The McAllister One wormhole?” Manning said, a broad smile splitting his face.

“I named it after myself because I was the lucky indentured who got sent through in a probe to see if it went anywhere.”

“And, let me guess,” Manning said, “you told Fallon it didn’t.”

“I’d just been punished.” I kept my voice even, my face neutral. They didn’t need to know more, and I didn’t want to be reminded. “I figured I just about had enough life support in the probe to make it to the Isle of Dogs if I cut the tether. If I’d died in the probe, it wouldn’t have mattered. I was okay with that. I wasn’t okay with being infected and ending up on a plague planet slowly rotting to death. But if I had made it to the Isle of Dogs, well who knows, if I’d taken the risk I might have been a free woman by now.” I shot Manning a glance, but I didn’t linger. The look on his face was raw, and it had been a raw enough day already. “I lied to Fallon. I fudged the telemetry. Not that hard for me to do, actually, and I filed it away as something that might be helpful if I ever did find a way to escape. The next month I was transferred to the Dubrovnik.”

I enlarged the little sliver of space to maximum magnification. “No one will look for you there because there’s no reason to go there. It’ll take you half a chronometric day to get there, and then it’s just a fast ride through the wormhole – smooth as flushing a galacine toilet. You’ll be at the Isle of Dogs in time for Happy Hour. I can calculate the exact times, even lay in a course for you if you want,” I said.

Bryar studied me with those opal bright eyes. “It’s the life of my entire crew on the line, McAllister.”

“Like it was a couple of hours ago,” I observed nodding to the cargo hold below us. “We can lead you through if you want.” I spoke without thinking, I spoke out of turn, and I knew the minute I did it that I shouldn’t have. Manning’s amicable face became a storm cloud, and he looked like he could bite right through Fury’s hull. Unconsciously I grabbed protectively at my forearm.

“McAllister, you’re dismissed.” His voice was like polar ice, and his gaze followed the movement of my hand against my shackle. “Go down below and check on the cargo. Now.” He said before I could open my mouth to apologize.

With my heart slamming at the inside of my ribs, I did as he asked, kicking myself for opening my mouth at all. His battles were only mine in as much as they kept me alive. If the Svalbard was taken lock stock and barrel, what was that to me? Every Indentured had a hard luck story. If not, we wouldn’t be indentured to begin with. And the truth of the matter was that the only thing that ever really mattered at the end of the day was staying alive long enough, and keeping your wits long enough to either buy your way out or die in a way that didn’t involve the SNT virus.