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Piloting Fury: Part 18 Brand New KDG Read

It’s Friday and time for more Fury, and another escape to deep space for a little RR – that’s reading relief for those of us who’d rather have our noses in a good book.  In a NaNoWriMo  update, with ten days to go, I just reached the 50K mark, which is the basic goal of NaNoWriMo. But I’m a long way from finishing the novel. As I have said before, for me, writing a new novel is as much of a sanity saving escape as a good read. And yes, my characters are still keeping me up late and get me up early for an extra hour or two of writing.  The new Medusa Consortium novel is coming along nicely, and it’s great to be back with Magda and the gang.

I hope you’re enjoying Piloting Fury as we enter the 17th week. If you are, please spread the word and pass the link to a friend. I love to share my stories with as many people as possible. I’m offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Today, as a storm descends on Plague,  Mac finds herself having to pilot Fury to safer with no help from Manning. 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: Part 18 A Small Dose of Truth

“How can this be?” I asked, as a waitress in a vintage uniform served me a burger and fries and what she called a milk shake, informing me that everything I was about to ingest was either grown or synthesized on Pandora Base. No real meat, I was told, and since I had no idea what a burger and fries was supposed to taste like, I didn’t know the difference.”

“This is Professor Keen’s creation,” Manning said, looking from him to me and back, as though hoping that would placate me.

“Actually, we all worked together to create Pandora Base. It was just my design,” the man replied sipping at a cup of coffee.

“Like the SNTs?” I said.

He looked down into his cup and inhaled a deep breath. “Like the SNTs, yes.”

“And how many died in the creating of this little project?” The minute I asked it, I knew it was a stupid question.

“Thousands. I can give you exact numbers if you’d like. While we built Pandora Base, we were still working on the cure, and even when we got it right, it was difficult to synthesize without ingredients we had to have smuggled in.” He scrubbed his hand over his face as if by doing so he could erase the memory. “Everything had to be smuggled in back then. Some died just because we couldn’t get what we needed in time to save them. Those were the hardest deaths to bear. It’s only been the last ten standard years that we’ve been totally self-sufficient.”

“And the ships, the SNTs? How many millions died because of them, and you sent them out there, and you bonded my father.”

“There was nothing wrong with the ships. They were perfect!” He leaned so far over the table, I thought he would climb on top of it. The raw emotion in his voice crackled through the air like static. “Their bondings were perfect. Every contingency planned for, well-thought out, tested and retested. Every humanoid perfectly matched to his ship. It was the virus, it was the damn virus.” He dropped back into the booth and slapped the table so hard that the cutlery rattled.

“The SNTs would have brought the galaxy to the brink of peace. Another generation of ships would have revolutionized space travel with their speed only limited by the speed of human thought. That would have meant a more mobile workforce, and it would have opened up other uses for bonded technology that would have, within less than a generation, completely done away with the need for indentureds. Think about it, indentureds are the work force that keeps the conglomerates and the oligarchs in power. Fortunes have been amassed and empires built on the backs of indentured. What may have started out as a way to pay off debt has become an economic necessity.”

I folded my arms across my chest. “You’re not saying anything every citizen and every indentured doesn’t already know, Keen.”

Manning waved a hand to shush me, and Keen continued.

“At the time, there was already a motion before the Authority to begin the emancipation of indentured. Then the Perigrine incident happened, and everyone blamed the SNT ships, everyone said they weren’t stable. Within a few months several more went rogue. Diana,” he held my gaze with pleading eyes, “you and everyone on Pandora Base knows that the SNT virus was engineered to keep indentureds in line. There’s no way it would have infected a sentient ship. At least not as it was. It was engineered, never was it naturally occurring.” He looked down at my forearm. “It was engineered specifically for the shackle. But with the SNTs’ biological matrix, it could have just as easily been reengineered to infect a sentient ship. With just a little tweaking, the makeup of the virus that affects the brain in advanced stages of the infection could be magnified and manipulated so that it was the component of the virus that was injected into the sentient ships. That’s exactly what happened with the Peregrine and with the other ships. Your father discovered this — he and the Merlin. The Merlin had already been infected, but the bond was strong enough between the ship and your father that he was able to diagnose the problem and get the word to me. I made the mistake of taking the information your father gave me to someone in the Authority I thought I could trust. The next thing I knew, I was on a plague ship being sent here, deliberately infected, and your father and the Merlin had sacrificed themselves for nothing.” His voice had become a tight, vicious whisper and the fever in his eyes looked more like an inferno.

My pulse beat in my ears like a flock of pigeons taking flight, and the tightness in my throat made speaking impossible.

At last Keen continued. “With the mass destruction caused by the infected ships, naturally public opinion turned completely against the SNT project, just like the Authority wanted. Up until that time the virus was known only by name V1. Most people just referred to it as ‘the virus.” But after the SNT disaster, it became known as the SNT virus. Rumor even spread that the ships had engineered it on their own for the purpose of destruction, never mind that they didn’t used it and never mind that it destroyed them. By that time the evidence was irrelevant. Emotions had been whipped into a frenzy, and what blame I didn’t get, your father got. That’s the truth of it, Diana. I swear to you. ”

I sat for a moment, feeling the world spinning out of control around me. It wasn’t that I ever had any control, but if what Keen said was true, then I felt more helpless, more trapped than ever.

Keen took a deep shaky breath and spoke into the silence. “I … I was sent to Plague One to die a long and painful death, and your father was saddled with the crime he didn’t commit, and the debt of the loss of the Merlin, which was all kindly passed on to you.” That part of the story I knew and lived with every day. I had no doubt Fallon had known this all along – even been a part of the downfall of the SNTs most likely. And for him, I was just a reminder of a job well done.

The clatter of Manning’s coffee cup hitting the floor brought us rudely back to the present. “I’m sorry. Clumsy of me,” he said, reaching for a handful of napkins from the vintage dispenser and scooting from the booth, where he promptly fell to his knees with a pained gasp.

“Manning, what is it? What’s wrong?” I clamored out after him, ignoring the shard of the broken mug slicing through my jumpsuit and into my knee, as I did so. “What’s wrong? Manning talk to me, damn it.”

“I need to get back to Fury, back to my quarters, then I’ll be just fine. Don’t worry.” The words were barely out of his mouth before he began trembling so hard I feared his bones would break. He forced a laugh between gritted teeth. “Talk about lousy timing. Mac, you’re knee’s bleeding. Best take care of it.” He offered me a napkin, but dropped it with a sharp groan as he doubled over, like someone had punched him in the gut.

“Forget my goddamned knee, it’s just a cut. Tell me what’s wrong?” In my peripheral vision, Keen was now standing, braced against the table with his hand extended to Manning. Between the two of us, we got him back into the booth just as the uni-com system crackled and a computerized female voice spoke.

Warning, all personnel return immediately to Pandora Base. P-Blizzard Epsilon will be planet wide in T-minus 40 minutes. Repeat all personnel return immediately to Pandora Base. P-Blizzard Epsilon will be planet wide in T-minus 40 minutes.

A siren began to wail outside in the biosphere’s main street.

“It wasn’t predicted to hit that fast,” Keen said, fumbling for his personal device in his pocket. “That means it’ll be a deep atmosphere storm.”

Manning grabbed my arm. “Get me back to my quarters, and get the Fury a safe distance from the planet.”

“You’re not fit to go anywhere,” I said, settling his parka around him. “I’m sure Dr. Keen can –”

“Do it, Mac. That’s an order.”

“Listen to him,” Keen said, helping him into the parka, and motioning me to put on mine. “He knows what he needs, and it’ll take you at least thirty minutes to get the Fury prepped and out of orbit.”

Manning fisted my parka in a wave of pain and then hissed between gritted teeth, “Mac, if you don’t get Fury out of high orbit, there’ll be no ship left to move.” Then Manning was leaning on both of us as we half dragged half carried him into the street, which was a hive of organized chaos as everyone prepared for the storm.

“We can mol-tran you two from Main Street,” Keen said. “In this weather, it’s not likely we could even get containment outside the airlock. It’s unusual for a P-level storm to breach so quickly, but it happens.”

Just outside the door of the diner, Ina Stanislovski joined us already dressed in her parka and storm gear. “I’m coming with,” she said falling into step.

“Ina can help,” Keen explained. “You can send her back as soon as the storm breaks.”

She took Keen’s place supporting Manning on the other side and Keen pulled out his device. Then he stopped and turned to me.

“I know you have a million questions, Diana, questions I’ll happily answer. Com me. I’m in Fury’s database under Kandenski. It was my mother’s family name.” And then he stepped back and spoke into his device. “Three for Mol-tran to Fury.”

The next thing I knew we were standing in the ship’s corridor in front of Manning’s quarters, with me feeling like I’d left half my innards on Pandora Base.

Stanislovski gave her belly a quick fisted rub, clearly feeling the same. “Always a rougher mol-tran from inside the base,” she said offering a reassuring smile.

“Get Fury out of orbit,” Manning managed, leaning heavily on Stanislovski. “I’m
counting on you, Mac.”

“I’ll see to Rick,” the woman said, and the next thing I knew the door to his cabin opened just wide enough to admit the two of them, then slammed shut and locked behind them leaving me standing in the corridor next to the bridge.

I felt the click of the locking mechanism like a slap, but I had more important things to dwell on than what I swear was absolutely not jealousy. I turned away, strapped myself into the pilot’s chair just as the whole ship lurched wildly. “Buckle in,” I announced over the com, already checking telemetry and trajectory “We’re in for a rough ride.”

 

 

Piloting Fury: Part 17 Brand New KDG Read

Happy Friday everyone! Time for more Fury. Let’s all escape to deep space for a little relief from the stress of our own space. I don’t know about you lovelies, but a good rollicking read is the best sanity saver.  As I mentioned last week, I’m self-medicating with NaNoWriMo. for a writer writing a new novel is as much of a sanity saving escape as a good read. I do confess, however, to suffering from sleep deprivation while my characters keep me up late and get me up early for lots of caffeine and an extra hour or two of writing. In the worlds I create, I am god. 🙂 The new Medusa Consortium novel is coming along nicely, and it’s great to be back with Magda and the gang.

I hope you’re enjoying Piloting Fury as we enter the 17th week. If you are, please spread the word and pass the link to a friend. I love to share my stories with as many people as possible. I’m offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Today Mac and Manning arrive on Plague One and meet someone from Mac’s nightmare past. 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 17: Plague One Surprise

For the briefest of moments, I simply didn’t exist, and then I blinked back into my own skin freezing my ass off in the middle of a blizzard. Manning still held onto me, which was just as well because I wasn’t entirely sure without him as anchor I wouldn’t just blow away in the storm. He guided me right into a solid wall of ice. I caught my breath with a gasp of surprise as he pulled me through the illusion and into an airlock, which was opened from the inside by a one-armed man in clothing replicated to resemble the Old Terran mid-20thcentury. His t-shirt was covered in splashes of color along with the words ‘Make Love Not War’ superimposed over the peace symbol so popular in that time. One sleeve was empty, neatly folded over and pinned the to shoulder of the shirt. A gnarled twist of puckered scars climbed out of the neck of the t-shirt and up around the side of his face to disappear in the shoulder-length scraggle of graying brown hair. I recognized the results of late stage SNT, but the loss of an arm and the scarring belonged to a man who seemed absolutely healthy otherwise. I could only assume that he was another survivor who had been treated with the vaccine.

“Richard, good to see you again.” With a very pronounced limp, the man shambled forward and gave Manning a one-armed hug, which Manning returned with gusto.

“Vic. Been awhile.” He pulled away and turned to me. “This is Diana –”

“Diana McAllister.” The man turned fever-bright brown eyes on me and offered a beatific smile. He extended his hand. “Aden McAllister’s little girl,” he said. “You have your father’s eyes.”

My knees would have given beneath me if it hadn’t been for Manning’s arm slipping supportively around my waist. “You knew my father.”

“I knew him, and I knew the Merlin.” He gave my hand a hard squeeze and held my gaze. “I bonded them.”

“Jesus!” I pulled away so quickly that I nearly knocked Manning off balance. “Vic? You’re Victor Keen? You did that to him. It was your fault.”

Keen looked from Manning to me and back again, and stepped away, color climbing his scarred throat. “You haven’t told her?”

“We weren’t planning on making this stop, Vic, and I wasn’t exactly expecting you to be the greeting party.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I stepped forward ready to punch the bastard, crippled or not, but Manning pulled me back. “Haven’t you done enough damage?”

“Professor Keen is here because he’s an indentured, just like everyone else.”

“Not like everyone else,” the man said, his face darkening and his shoulders drooping noticeably. “Tell her the truth, Richard. Not like everyone else at all.”

“You tell her the truth, Vic. It’s your truth to tell, but,” Manning gave a glance around, “this is not the discussion to have in the airlock. Please, Mac,” he turned to me. “I promise you’ll get the whole story but not out here.” He grabbed me by the shoulder and gave Keen an apologetic looked. I wanted to kick him in the balls for it, but he might have suspected as much. He reeled me in close enough that I could do no damage and spoke next to my ear. “You’re about to do something you’ll seriously regret. Wait for the facts. That’s all I’m asking.”

I squared my shoulder and gave a jerk of my head that would have to do for
agreement. I wanted to hear the bastard’s story. Oh yes, I wanted to hear every bloody detail, and then I wanted to rip his other fucking arm off and let him bleed out. I knew what he had done. I knew every goddamn detail – way more than most, because the Merlin was the only SNT whose humanoid compliment fathered a child, who just happened to be onboard when the world fell apart.

The SNT15s were designed to fly deep space missions with a compliment of only one humanoid. There were just fifteen of them ever made. They were powerful, outrageously fast and versatile ships that would give any pilot wet dreams. In spite of having only a crew of one, they were stripped down and streamlined to have lots of cargo space to carry heavy equipment for colonization, supplies, even humanoids if necessary. In fact everything to begin a new colony, along with the colonists themselves could comfortably be transported on one properly outfitted SNT. They were all equipped with cloaking technology and a full array of weapons – weapons to be used only for defensive purposes, weapons that were controlled by the ship, not the pilot, effectively doing away with human error.

The thing about the SNTs was that they were more than just metal alloys and computer components.They were organic at their core, and they were sentient. They were programmed to see long-range outcomes that would eventually lead to peace rather than escalation. Because the SNT project was overseen by the few remaining Free Universities and funded privately with no aid or ties to the conglomerates, the general population of the Consortium of Planets saw the SNTs as the dawn of a new age. The ships, with their bonded humanoid compliment, had the power to end conflicts, negotiate treaties beneficial to all parties and use their resources for further exploration and colonization to everyone’s benefit. They offered a galaxy reeling beneath the weight of petty wars, conglomerate greed and indentured servitude a new beginning. That was the dream, but all too quickly it became the Consortium’s worst nightmare, one that the shackle in my left arm assured I could never walk away from.

These past two days had forced everything I’d spent years trying to suppress back to
the surface, and now here I stood on Plague One, the hellhole of the galaxy with the man responsible for the whole SNT debacle.

Manning and Keen spoke quietly among themselves, and I ignored them, lost in my own thoughts. I remembered only too well how the age of the SNTs ended. Victor Keen and his team had biologically bonded fifteen humanoids — all of whom had volunteered for the irreversible procedure that integrated their brains and central nervous systems into the sentient ships. The procedure effectively and permanently tetheredthe ship to its humanoid component.

My father was not only one of the volunteers, my father was the SNT fleet commander, and no one was more proud that I was. I understood the opportunity. I understood that he, and me by association, were on the cutting edge of science and the evolution of a better society, a society that eventually would have no need for indentureds. Hell, as a child, I used to fantasize about growing up to be bonded to a ship of my own in a future generation of SNTs.

In that brave new beginning, Keen’s science didn’t take into account the psychological factors of that integration. If a mentally unstable humanoid can be dangerous, imagine how much more so a heavily armed star ship with a mind of its own? My father had died as a result, and I would have died too, should have died, except for a quirk of fate that left me both orphaned and indentured to a monster.

The first ship to go rogue was the Peregrine. It suffocated its human cargo of refugees from the conflicts on the New American outposts, blew its pilot out the airlock and destroyed four colonies and a space station on the Inner Rim before it was disintegrated by the Dubrovnik’s protective mol-canons. The modified canons were a gamble that an SNT would not anticipate an attack from a freighter.

My father died when the Merlin was blown to bits by the Alvarez, an Authority warship that should have been easy for the Merlin to defeat. But my father and the Merlin chose not to fight back. I was the only survivor. That was when Keen’s flawed science first came to light. Somehow, and no one ever figured out just how, the SNTs were extremely susceptible to the virus engineered for the shackles of indentureds. Somehow they had become infected. The virus destroyed the part of the ships biotechnical brain programmed to protect humanoid life. The end result was mass destruction on a scale no one could have imagined.

It was all because of the virus. That was what the Authority scientists had told everyone after the destruction of the Peregrine. Several of the ships were decommissioned without incident, several more were destroyed in boarder skirmishes on the edge of the Rim. After two more incidents and countless deaths, the rest of the SNTs were destroyed or decommissioned and taken secretly to remote space docks where they’d been either impounded or taken apart. That was not an easy task. The biological brains at the heart of the ships had a very powerful survival instinct. No one actually knew how many had been destroyed or rendered harmless. What I knew was that visions of those ships and the horrors they caused still haunted my nightmares.

I had been so pulled into the memories of a past that I was unaware of our surroundings until I realized I was sweating inside the parka and that the world had suddenly gotten brighter as we stepped through the airlock into what felt like bright sunlight.

“Welcome to Pandora Base,” Keen said, and in spite of his distress at what had just passed between us, he couldn’t hide his pride in the place that, while not exactly a paradise, wasn’t far from it. I could do nothing but stand and gape. “Plague One doesn’t exist anymore. Hasn’t for a long time now,” Keen hurried on to say, probably figuring to take advantage of my good graces.

“What about the SNT victims?” I asked.

“The ones on Pandora Base have all been cured,” and then his face darkened. “The ones who survived the horrible early years, that is. A new generation has been born here, a generation that would have been born into indentured servitude had the Authority gotten wind of what was going on here. So we prefer it if people still believe we’re Dante’s vision of Hell.”

“And this is your penance?” I asked.

He flinched, then squared his shoulders. “In part, I suppose.”

“If all the indentureds on Plague One have been cured, then why did we just deliver serum?” I questioned.

“You brought with you a dozen SNT survivors, also,” Keen said. “We’re a refuge, the safe place to which ships like the Svalbard can bring survivors, the place they can get treatment, so we keep a supply on hand. As for the whiskey,” he offered a tentative smile, “well while we’re very self-sufficient, we’ve not managed to increase the size of the biosphere to include luxury items like grains for fermentation. At least not yet. Follow me.” He nodded down what looked like the main street of a town straight from Old Terran middle America of the 1960s. “I know you’re on a tight schedule, but you’ve got time for meal before you head for Outer Kingston.” He turned to me. “And your explanation, Diana. The truth.”

 

 

Piloting Fury: Part 16 Brand New KDG Read

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.

 

 

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 7: Brand New KDG Read

Happy Friday my Lovelies! We’re actually away up in Cumbria walking some of Hadrian’s Wall this week — our first time away since lockdown began. It feels wonderful to be back in one of our favourite parts of the UK. It feels lovely just to be away.

I hope you’re all enjoying Piloting Fury. If you are, please share the word. We writers love to share our stories with as many people as possible. I’ll be offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. Last week, Diana Mac did a bit of exploring around her new home. This week, Diana Mac is missed.

 

 

 

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.

 

Turning a Blind Eye Part 7

Captain Evander Harker paced the bridge of the Dubrovnik, waiting for the shuttle to dock. The ship had been delayed in its departure due to a missing pilot. Oh he’d occasionally had crewmembers jump ship without giving notice, but they were usually unskilled labor and certainly they were never indentured. Of course there were others who could pilot the ship, though certainly none who were anywhere nearly as good at it as Diana McAllister.

“No sign of her, Captain,” came the message from the shuttle pilot. “If she’s on the space station, scans aren’t showing any evidence of her shackle. She’s long gone.”

Harker certainly hoped that was true. Leo Rab had reported to sickbay with a broken rib and a ruptured kidney last night. He claimed he was attacked behind the Nine Tails. But Harker knew better. He might have a reputation for being one of the few orca class captains working for Bright Star Conglomerate that was incorruptible, but that didn’t make him stupid. That made him cautious. It didn’t matter if you were a starship captain or a bum. Harker was always well aware that the boundary separating a free citizen from an indentured was thin and fluid. Diana McAllister was a perfect example of that. So he’d always been cautious. But he’d been a helluva lot more so since taking Mac onboard. She had made the Dubrovnik, and therefore Bright Star, a lot of money. But he had known from the beginning her being on the crew was only a temporary reprieve. That he wasn’t sure what had happened to her left a cold knot in the pit of his stomach. That Rab had gotten away from whatever altercation he’d been involved in with no more than a broken rib and a ruptured kidney left him hopeful. But then again, there was really little reason for Rab to remain aboard if McAllister was gone. Well he could tell himself that, but clearly Fallon senior still wanted him watched.

Harker paced back and forth on the deck one more time, knowing that there was no need to wait any longer, and hoping against hope that the best damn pilot in the galaxy could somehow make a successful escape. If any indentured he’d ever known deserved it, she did.


“Juarez, take us out of orbit,” he ordered the lieutenant now sitting uncomfortably in Diana Mac’s chair. Then he hit the com button. “All hands to stations.” With any luck they would be out of hailing range before Abriad Fallon checked in. In truth Harker was surprised that he hadn’t done it already. Surprised and worried. Conditions were picking up for one helluva radiation storm, giving him a genuine excuse for not contacting Fallon about Mac going AWOL. That would give the girl a little more grace, he thought, trying not to dwell on the very real possibility that she was already suffering in an alley somewhere, or worse yet, aboard Gerando Fallon’s ship. By now the virus would have become far more than a rash and in another forty-eight hours, there would be nothing anyone could do for her. The only other possibility was just too damn good to be true, and yet circumstances kept him hoping.

As he took his seat and buckled in, he knew that there was already nothing anyone could do for her if Fallon found her. He had no idea why the man wanted her so badly, and Vaticana Jesu knew he had done everything in his power to keep her away from the man. Now matters were out of his hands, but as long as Leo Rab remained onboard the Dubrovnik, he was still under Fallon’s scrutiny.

Once the Dubrovnik had cleared the Corset and the jump was made, and he couldn’t help noticing it was a little rougher than it would have been if McAllister had made it, he unbuckled and turned to Juarez. “You’re head pilot now, lieutenant, at least for the moment.” He supposed it was his own little streak of mean, his own way of dealing with all the goddamn helplessness he felt every day, but it did his heart good to see Juarez pale just a little bit as he gave a stiff necked nod and a breathless ‘yes sir.’

He returned to his quarters and grabbed a quick cup of coffee from the replicator before he settled in to inspect the manifests one last time for the cargo they’d be off-loading in Inner Rim City. But the words and numbers blurred in front of his eyes like some foreign language. He pushed back from his desk and commed Sickbay.

“How’s Rab?” he asked without preamble.

“Making a recovery,” came Dr. Flissy’s no-nonsense reply. “He’s off the duty roster for two, maybe three days, but he should be good to go by the time we hit Inner Rim City.”

“He still in sickbay then?”

“For a couple more hours, yes, then I’m releasing him with pain meds back to his quarters to sleep.”

“Good. I’ll be right down. I want a word with him.”

“Right captain.” Flissy didn’t ask why the ship’s captain was questioning Rab rather than the on-duty security staff, which was just as well because he really couldn’t give a good answer could he?

As he stepped into the corridor security chief, Ivan joined him. “A word, sir, if I might.”

“What is it, Ivan. I’m in a bit of a rush.”

The man matched his steps unflustered by his captain’s impatience. “Just thought you might like to know that Amos and Han saw Gerando Fallon in the Nine Tails last night eyeballing McAllister. If I were to venture a guess, he’s the reason our pilot is missing.”

Well hell, this was not what he wanted to hear, and yet it didn’t surprise him either. Even as it worried him, it left him hopeful.

“That’s a possibility,” Harker replied. He’d known Fallon would be there. That was the reason Fallon senior ordered him to make the unscheduled stop at NH372. He’d also known exactly what Gerando Fallon had been there for, which had forced him to act recklessly, but he was the only one who knew just how recklessly he had acted.

“Militia said that a hooker who worked from there turned up dead this morning. Last seen leaving with Fallon.”

No surprise there, Harker thought, as his stomach tightened still further. He’d feel better, he hoped, after he’d talked to Rab. “Thanks Ivan,” he said as he reached the lift. “Keep on it for me. She was a damn fine pilot. Could well be she saw him and ran. I would have. Could well be she’s holed up somewhere. I’ve got the militia looking with instructions to administer the antidote if they find her in time. Nothing else I can do at the moment, is there?” Nothing else but keep his fingers crossed and
hope.

Harker would be willing to bet that Gerando Fallon being at the Nine Tails last night had more than a little to do with the hooker’s death and Rab’s beating. Hell, the way he saw it, if Gerondo Fallon had gotten hold of Rab, then the man was lucky to be alive and in one piece. But if Fallon junior had been that upset, then Harker would also be willing to bet it was because McAllister had slipped through his fingers. Even the thought of Abriad Fallon’s eldest being that close to the girl made his skin crawl. The scuttlebutt was that some punter beat McAllister at poker last night. That was big news and it travelled fast. He also knew she had left with him. That was all he knew. That was all it was safe for him to know, and even that might be too damn much.

 
© 2018 K D Grace
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