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.
“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 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.”