Happy Birthday to me! Tomorrow is my birthday, so to celebrate, this week’s version of Fury is actually a double read. While you enjoy more time with Mac, Manning and Fury, I’ll be toasting you all with the bubbly. Since we’re in lockdown once again here in England, I’ll be celebrating at home, more than likely binge watching the fantastic 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve not seen it, I can’t recommend it enough. I try to watch it every year if I can.
Mac and Manning, however, are not Elizabeth and Darcy, and there’s nothing very well mannered in their behaviour at all. As we enter the 25nd week of Fury, I hope you’re enjoying the rollicking read. If so, 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, while the con was successful, the getaway doesn’t quite go as planned.
“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 25: Aftermath
“Tell you what,” he said in a slurred voice that was dripping seduction and generously laced with greed, “how about I give you a chance to win it all back and more.” He looked me up and down, and I crossed my legs and leaned forward.
“What did you have in mind?”
“If you win, you take back your shares. If I win, you give me the coordinates for the triaxium.” When I started to protest, he placed a brandy-scented finger against my lips. “Oh don’t worry, sweetie pie, if you lose I’ll see that you have enough credits transferred into your account that you won’t have to resort to poker for a little while at least.” He pulled my hand to his lips and kissed the back of it to the tune of Manning’s rapid-fired, multi-lingual cursing in my ear. My lips twitched, but I’m no amateur. I made it look like I was about to cry.
“You would do that for me?”
“Of course I would, darlin’. I wouldn’t leave you destitute, now would I? But,” he grabbed up my hand again and began to stroke the backs of my fingers as though he were stroking something farther south, “I would expect a little … reward, if you know what I mean.”
I offered my best pout. “And what about me? What’s my reward? How do I know you can trust me, I mean you just stiffed your partner for a whole shipment of New Hibernian. I ran my teeth over my pouty lip and shook my head. “No, I think I’d better go face the music. I lost. I need to quit while I still at least have a job.”
“I’ll throw in the whiskey.” And there it was, what I’d been waiting for.
“A whole load?” I settled back into my chair, and his gaze followed my tits as I did.
“Look, I’ll be honest with you. I’ve got room in my freighter for a full load of triax from a stingray class, but not with the whiskey, which I haven’t sold on just yet. I was holding out to trade with some New Sumerians just in from the Far Outer. They’ll pay a fortune for it.
I leaned forward my biggest smile leading the way, then I looked around to make sure no one was listening. “How’d you like a new partner?”
“What did you have in mind,” he said stroking my arm and all but drooling in my cleavage.
“Well,” I wriggled in my seat. “My crew are losers. I can’t count the number of times they’ve cheated me out of my fair share, and they never listen to me. I could have made us a fortune in the Outer Rim several times over if they’d only just taken my advice, followed up on my research, but no. I’m just the pilot. I’m not the captain, who is an idiot, by the way,” I said with a wave of my hand.
“Watch it,” Manning chuckled into my implant.
“It’ll take them a week, maybe more to get the equipment together, and then there are the permits. They’re actually going to get permits, can you believe it?” His eyes were getting bigger and brighter by the moment. “Our cargo bay is empty, plenty of room for a load of whiskey, and I’m the pilot, I can drop the shields and we can mol-tran the whiskey right on over. You did say you had mol-tran, didn’t you?” I didn’t wait for his reply. “Then you’ll have room for all that triax. If we leave now, we can mol-tran the triax, sell it on, and be back in time for Carnival in the Riviera. We can just let my soft-headed crew have the whiskey, that’s nothing, that’s chump change compared to the triax. What do you say?” I reached into my handbag and pulled out a couple of decent sized nuggets of ore that Manning had onboard the Fury. “I couldn’t resist taking these little babies just for luck, you know?” I ran my palm over his chest and all but purred. “I’d certainly say my luck has just changed.”
“Both our luck, partner,” he said squeezing my hand. By this time I’d learned to totally ignore Manning’s ongoing derogatory monologue. “All I need are the coordinates, Layla,” Blake said. I’d told him my name was Layla Bridges. It was actually the name of a series of obscure bridges my father had taken me to visit in a remote region of the Plitak System. They were ancient, built of stone spanning countless, rivers and waterfalls. It was the last trip I’d made with my father before he was bonded to the Merlin.
“Here we go, I’ve just lowered the shields so you can mol-tran the whiskey. Oh heavens, I’m so excited.” I gave him Fury’s coordinates.
“I’m ‘tranning them over now,” he said.
“Hold it.” I brushed my cleavage against his arm and settled close enough to see his device while he set up the ‘tran lock. “What’s that?”
He zoomed in. “Polyphemian musk oil. Huge shipment,” he said. “I traded a Digan for it. Practically stole it. Poor bastard didn’t know what he had, since Digan’s have no sense of smell, they’re not susceptible.”
But everyone else was very susceptible, and I knew it. Polyphemian musk oil was one of the most expensive, most coveted aphrodisiacs in the galaxy. “Well, you’d better do something with it because you’ll need all that space for the triax, trust me you will, and even then I’m not sure you can get it all on board.”
The greedy bastard expanded the lock and this time Manning’s curses sounded more like a prayer of surprised thanksgiving. Blake and I watched as both the whiskey and the musk oil disappeared from his cargo bay. I passed the coordinates for the non-existent triaxium to his device just as Fury confirmed that our cargo hold was indeed very full.
“Partners!” I gave a drunken little squeal and launched myself at Blake in a busty hug that he returned with gusto. Then I toddled unsteadily off to the ladies room to freshen up, I told him. I knew exactly what would happen next.
I had a much-needed pee after drinking enough ginger beer to float a battle cruiser. Then I took my time freshening up and toying with my hair until Manning spoke into my implant.
“You, my darling, have just been stood up. Blake will be halfway across the Ingrid Expanse before you have your nose powdered.”
If there’s one thing a Polyphemian craved more than sex, it was the opportunity to scam a deal. The deal I just pulled off made me wonder if there might be a tad bit of Polyphemian floating around in my own genetic soup somewhere.
“The musk oil alone is worth three times what the whiskey is,” Manning whispered in my ear. “Bloody hell, you were born to this business, woman! Tonight we celebrate.”
I pumped my fist in the air with a victory salute, and gave the holo-mirror a shit-eating grin while giving myself one last inspection before returning to Manning. My mind was completely focused on the celebration aboard the Fury that might possibly involve more of Manning’s lips when I walked out the door and ran smack dab into Gerando Fallon.
He was drunk, like he always was. The eldest son and a blight on the family name, his father always said. But as far as I was concerned the whole goddamned family was a blight on the galaxy. Gerando was the one who had dragged me into the Faribaldi among other unpleasant things. Before panic could override surprise, survival instincts that had kept me alive all these years, kicked in. With my head down, I mumbled an apology in High Digan and spoke in the mincing little girl voice Digan women used when they interacted in public. But he grabbed me anyway.
“Hey sweet tits,” he pulled me up close into the stomach knotting scent of whiskey, sweat and testosterone. I tried to breathe through my mouth. I knew his scent way too well not to know that before the night was over some woman would end up in a bad way, and it sure as fuck wasn’t going to be me, not this time. He gave my butt a groping squeeze, and I pushed back. “You go running into a man dressed like that and you’re liable to get you pert little ass fucked.” He slapped my butt, and turned away. I thought he’d let me by, I thought he was heading for the pisser.
The wave of nausea passed into an instant of relief so overpowering that I could do nothing but gasp. He didn’t recognize me. The fucker didn’t recognize me. I kept my head low and had damn near made my escape, when, he grabbed my arm in a bruising grip and jerked me back with an evil growl.
“Seriously! Did you think I wouldn’t recognize you, McAllister? Did you really think you were going to get away with it?” He gripped my chin in his hand in a vicious squeeze and lifted my head so I had no choice but to meet his gaze. “Just look at you, all healthy and smooth-skinned, half naked and begging for it. It’d be ashamed for me not to take advantage before the old man gives you a nice hefty dose of the plague.” He jerked me in until we were nose to nose, and the alcohol of his breath nearly made me gag.
“How the hell did a skanky little indentured come up with the money to get her shackle neutralized, that’s what I wanna know. Though I imagine that bleeding heart Harker had a hand in it. Don’t tell me this Manning bastard decided to free you to keep his cock warm. He could have saved himself a whole lot of credits by just buying himself a Hanorian whore. I hear lots of lonely smugglers keep one or two onboard for scratching the itch. Still, neutralizing your shackle cost him less than its costing my old man to hunt you down, so there must be something about your worthless ass that makes men putty in your hands. How ‘bout you show me just exactly what it is.” He gave me a teeth-rattling shake and pulled me up on my toes until I was pressed against his sweaty stink.
I’m not sure if it was rage or terror that won out, but adrenaline shot through me like a rush of Digan fire dust. I stomped down hard against the inside of his shin. My balance was off just enough for it to be only a glancing blow, but it was enough for me to break and run, with him cursing loudly right on my tail. I barely made it to the back door before he was on me, pulling me back by the hair. “You little bitch, the old man should have infected you properly when he had the chance.” He reeled me in close and spoke next to my ear. “The old man’s birthday’s coming up. I haven’t got him a gift yet. You’ll do nicely, and I’m sure he won’t mind if I test drive you first.”
“Get off her, Fallon. He will mind and you know it, now get off her.”
I squirmed in his arms to see Leo Rab, from the Dubrovnik, striding toward Fallon like he was being chased by Valkyries.
Before I could speak, Fallon grabbed me around the throat and hauled me up on my toes with me gasping and choking for breath.
“Fuck you, Rab. The ole man isn’t here, and this whore is.” As he reached for his fly, I brought the crown of my head up hard under his chin, jarring his whole head back. He cursed profusely and stumbled back right into Rab, just as Manning shoved his way around the two, slid his arms around me and pulled me close.
“Get us out,” Manning spoke softly and as calmly as if he were just telling me the latest gossip. “Hold tight.” And before I could utter more than a shocked little yelp, Fallon’s surprised face bloomed bright then went thin and faded, then for a split second the world blinked out of existence.
“She got away. She fucking got away! He’s gonna kill me.” The kid kicked over a table, upsetting the poker game going on and sending the punters scrambling before he started on them, then he picked up one of the cheap-assed chairs and threw it through the cheap-assed wall. “I’m gonna rip that rat bastard, Manning’s, throat out! I’m gonna fry his brains out with a mol-gun and leave him to drool and shit himself.”
“All right! All right, goddamnit!” Rab gasped, all but dragging the boy out into the alley to cool down before he wrecked anything else in the Corsair in a blind rage. Fucking good thing his old man was loaded. Hadn’t taken him long to do some serious damage. Shit, the kid was scary in his rage. “He had her in a mol-tran lock, Junior. There was nothing we could do. Bloody hell, I’ve never seen anything that accurate.”
“Come on.” The kid jerked away. “Let’s go find Blake and beat the truth out of him. He’ll know where they’re at. Surely he’ll know.”
Rab grabbed him and swung him around. “How the hell will he know where they’re at? Weren’t you paying attention? Think, ya little twit. Blake doesn’t fucking know McAllister or he sure as hell wouldn’t have been playing cards with her. He doesn’t know anything about why we want Manning and the Fury. Hell he thinks Manning is shackled and on his way to hard labor in the triax mines. Whatever the hell McAllister told him, you can bet it wasn’t the truth. We took a gamble that she would even be here.”
Junior let fly a string of curses that would have curled Rab’s hair – if he had any. Before Rab could respond, the kid drove his fist into the wall with so much force that knuckles cracked, and the smell of blood added to the stink of piss and puke in the alley. His shoulders slumped and he looked down at his mangled hand like it was a total surprise to him. He didn’t resemble his father much at all just then, Rab thought.
“He’s going to kill me.” He said softly, and he began to shiver like they were on Arctica Major instead of balmy Outer Kingston. “He’s going to kill me.”
“Hey! Hey, calm down. Let’s get that hand looked at.” Jesus, he couldn’t believe he was being buddy-buddy with the little shit, but his old man had really done a number on him. “You’re the bearer of the family jewels, remember. He ain’t gonna kill you.” Frankly it was what might happen that didn’t involve death that worried Rab a whole lot more, though he kept his worries to himself. He wouldn’t put anything past Fallon senior. Having the pleasure of seeing the interaction between the two just during his time onboard the Ares, he had to say, he understood exactly why the kid was such a fucked up mess.