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.”