Happy Friday my Lovelies, and time for another chapter of Fury.
If you’re enjoying this rollicking read, 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. Remember this is a work in progress, so please be gentle with me. This week the secrets Manning and Fury reveal to Mac generates more questions all with colossal implications.
“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” McAllister 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 27: More Answers, More Questions
“What?” That was all I could manage. It was as though I’d forgotten how to speak. I pulled away enough to look down at my shackle and cradled my arm in my hand as I’d done since I was first indentured, the only way I had of comforting myself, comforting my assaulted flesh, the flesh that constantly carried the means of my destruction. “You …”
“Oh you won’t be able to tell any difference and neither will anyone else.” He lifted my chin onto the crook of his finger and held my gaze. “Do you really think I’d ever have an indentured? The same technology that allows me to reprogram your shackle to me, also allows me to deactivate it entirely,” he said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you.”
“It would not have been wise,” Fury interjected.
Manning reached out and lay his other hand gently over my arm. “Believe me, I wanted to, but if you knew you were no longer an indentured, if anyone knew, then the risk to you and to the research going on at Pandora Base would be that much greater.”
I felt as though I was doing another hyper-jump – this one without a ship, this one without even my own body.
“It’s still not safe for you to know, but it’s not safe for you not to either. If we’re to finish what we started, then I can’t have you living in terror, and I can’t have you looking back at the past.” He nodded down to my arm. “I’d remove it completely if the circumstances were different, and I hope in time to do just that. But for now, it’s best if the world believes Diana McAllister is a runaway indentured who ended up in the hands of someone who could hijack her shackle.”
I didn’t realize I was crying until Manning wiped a tear with his thumb. “I’m free,” I hiccupped.
“You’re not free. You’re a long way from free yet,” Manning said.
On the replicator by the bed a steaming cup of tea appeared and the scent of chamomile filled the room. “Here, drink this. It’ll help calm you.” Manning handed it to me and smiled. “Fury has a home remedy for everything.”
“From seven hundred different worlds,” the ship added.
“Then there’s a plan. There’s a reason why you cheated me in poker.”
“There are lots of reasons, but yes, there is a plan, Mac, and you play a major role in that plan. You have since before you were born. You just didn’t know it. Fallon suspects, and that’s why he made sure your father got the blame for the loss of the Merlin and forced you into indentured service – to him specifically. More than likely that’s why he infected you so many times with the virus as well. But that’s something you’ll have to discuss with Professor Keen.”
“He infected me for punishment,” I said.
“Fury, pull up the data,” Manning said, holding my gaze.
A graph flashed on the monitor on my wall with Diana McAllister and my indentured number written after it.
“These were the dates Fallon infected you,” Fury said.
“Fucking hell!” I swallowed hard. “The bastard kept track!”
“Oh he did way more than keep track,” Manning said. “And he wasn’t best pleased about losing his data.”
“I don’t understand, I said fighting back the urge to be sick.
“Look at the graph, Mac, look at the dates. Every time, he infected you, he left the cure a little longer. I know,” he said waving a negating hand, “that’s a game sadistic owners often pull with their indentured, and if they go too long, well, they just send them off to a plague planet and get another indentured. It’s not hard in this day and age to trump up charges, to make sure someone can’t pay the debt they own. It’s just a matter of what position you need filled. The Authority and the conglomerates have had control of the universities and technical schools for years and no one gets through them without owning some kind of service to the Authority, most owe way more than service by the time they’ve managed their education.”
“I know that, every one knows that,” I said, “but what does it have to do with Fallon keeping track of the times he infected me.”
“He played it close to the bone with you, didn’t he?”
Bile rose to my throat and I shoved the tea aside. “The bastard took bets on how long he could hold out before he injected me with the antidote.”
“Barbaric pile of excement.” To my surprise, it was Fury who spoke.
“Mac,” Manning took both of my hands in a tight grip. “You should have died after the third time he injected you.”
He nodded up to the graph. “My cheating at poker was nothing compared to the bets he made. The deck was always stacked in his favor. Mac, listen to me, very carefully, after the third time, he infected you, the antidote was just saline. You’re immune to the SNT virus.”
Knuckles cracked in the suicide grip I had on his hands and I wasn’t sure if they were mine or his. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breath. The graph on the screen blurred and went out of focus.
“I … I’ve never been so ill.”
“That’s because he infected you with higher doses of the virus each time, until in the end, the dosage would have been lethal even to a full bred Polyphemian. And yet, you recovered. Your body healed itself every time. Every time.”
“I was his guinea pig.”
“The data, the tissue samples, the work, it was all done in conglomerate labs under one of the conglomerate’s best scientists. But Fire Star labs were infiltrated. The data and the tissue samples they had taken from you were stolen by some of Keen’s network. That was the precious cargo aboard the Svalbard. At the time, the Svalbard didn’t know that my cargo was even more precious.
“The reason I cheated in poker, the reason I would have kidnapped your ass and hauled you kicking and screaming onboard the Fury is because with his data and samples gone, Fallon needed you back. Fallon was about to arrange your transfer from The Dubrovnik back to conglomerate labs.”
I didn’t realize I was shaking until Manning pulled his damn monk robe off and draped it over my shoulders. Hell, I hadn’t even noticed he still wore it, but then I had a lot on my mind.
“If Fallon’s son was as far out in space as the edge of the Rim, then he was looking for you. You’re the cure that Fallon wants to control, because if he doesn’t, you could sway the course of history.”
“Drink your tea,” Furry said. “You do not look well, Diana Mac.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked, “And even more importantly, how do you fit in? Are you just doing it for money? Am I just another job?”
He cupped my face in his hands and gave me a kiss, a quick kiss, but it got my full attention nonetheless. “You know better than that, Mac. You’ve always known better than that from the day we first met. Let’s just say I have a long history with SNT technology and I have at least as much of a stake in this as you do.”
I waited for more, but it didn’t come, and I wasn’t entirely sure I could take in any more tonight anyway. For a moment we all sat in silence. I sipped my tea, which somehow Fury had managed to keep warm for me. “So what do you want with me then. I’m assuming I’m not just the pilot. Or will I get booted off on Pandora Base permanently the next time we’re there for research purposes.” I suddenly felt queasy again.
“That’s not going to happen, Mac. You’re right here with me and Fury where you’re supposed to be.” Manning blew out a sharp breath. “But you’ll have to trust us for now that for the three of us to do what we have to, we’ll need Victor Keen’s help.” He reached out and smoothed the hair away from my face. Oh believe me, I would love nothing more than for you to have no other task but piloting Fury. I have wet dreams of what the three of us could do together in the galaxy if we were free to do what we pleased.”
The thought made me a little wet too, I had to admit, and better yet, it made me smile.
“Maybe someday we’ll be able to, but not yet. Right now there’s just too damn much at stake.”
I gulped back the rest of the tea, heaved a sigh and squared my shoulders. “All right. We just scammed back a fortune in contraband, we just escaped a seriously nasty sonovabitch, which will probably come back to bite us in the ass, and I’ve just learned I’m no longer an indentured plus I’m the reverse of Typhoid Mary. What’s next?”
Manning brought my hand to his lips and placed an enthusiastic kiss on my knuckles, and it felt almost like Fury shared his excitement. “Well, we need to sell the whiskey to the New Sumerians, and I know just the buyer for the musk oil out there as well. New Sumerians are gaga for aphrodisiacs. We’ll need the resources. When that’s done we’ll head back to Pandora Base. Keen will need to run some tests on you.” He squeezed my hand. “None involving infecting you, believe me. And some of those, believe it or not, will involve your piloting skills.” He held my gaze. You really are the best pilot in the galaxy. By far. Keen can also answer more of your questions than anyone else alive. After that, the plan gets complicated, but,” he gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze, “it’ll involve clearing your father’s name and the sentient ships as well as Keen, and I don’t have to tell you the implications for indentureds.”
“Wow!” That was suddenly all I could say. My world had just shifted on its axis again, and if the first shift had been major, this one was beyond colossal.
“We focus on one day at a time, Mac, just like we always do, and we do the task set before us. And right now the task set before us is food, drink and celebrating one hell of a scam.”