Happy Holiday Weekend, everyone! If you celebrate Easter, Happy Easter, if you don’t then Happy Reason to Celebrate! Time for another instalment of Piloting Fury. The story of how Fury and Manning became a team continues this week as the two struggle with their own losses and their common enemy, loneliness. If you’re enjoying Fury, 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.
“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 37: So Much Empty Space
“Richard Manning, you are still weakened. If you will but ask me, I shall bring you what food you can best assimilate that will aid in your recover, and I do not think New Hibernian whiskey will be of aid.”
In truth, the humanoid’s strength astounded me, though at the time I just assumed it was because of my biological material in his body. He shuffled to the table in the galley clearly in pain, or at least to me, but then perhaps it is because I am more perceptive than humanoids and this one had not yet learned that there was little he could hide from me. From the time I brought him onboard, I had constantly monitored his vitals, for I knew how closely he walked to death and how hard I worked that he might stay with me.
“Consider it comfort food,” he said. In those days he still had not gotten past his efforts to find a place to look upon that he could consider to be me. “If what you say is true,” his gaze was now on the replicator, “then I’m damn lucky to be able to eat at all.”
“Considering the fact that corpses do not generally eat, you are, indeed, damn lucky. But Richard Manning, having my metabolism of alcoholic beverages still does not mean that it is a wise choice for sustenance.”
“All right then,” he rubbed his stubbled chin and studied the replicator in a very different way. “How about an ancient Terran specialty – cheeseburger, fries and a strawberry shake?”
While it was not a choice I would have made for him, I replicated his order and because of his convalescence, did so on the table in front of him. “While I cannot guarantee the flavor, I am relatively certain it will be as much like the ancient specialty as any other replicated version you have ever eaten.”
To this, he laughed out loud. “Trust me,” he said around a mouthful of the French fries, “nothing you could replicate couldn’t possibly be worse than the swill I’ve been served these past three years.” He ate in silence for a few minutes and then wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “You’re an SNT.”
“That is correct.”
He ate some more, and I waited, sensing that he had something he wished to say. At last he pushed back his chair and looked around, as though he planned to go searching for me this time until he found me. “Why did you save me? You lot are supposedly the scourge of the galaxy, going nuts and killing everyone in sight.”
“Supposed to be,” I responded. “Are you in doubt of it?”
“If the Authority says it’s so, then yes, I’m in doubt of it. If they said shit stinks then I’d be convinced it smelled like roses.”
“Though I would be inclined to agree with them when it comes to the olfactory properties of shit, as for the rest, I would say that you are a wiser man than most, Richard Manning.”
“Not so wise or I wouldn’t have gotten caught, would I?”
“Ah, then you are a convict rather than in debt. For what, if I might ask?”
“For trying to stay out of debt, what the hell do you think?” He went back to eating.
“That’s right, and a fucking good one too.”
“Apparently not that fucking good if you got caught.”
He grunted and shoved a fist full of fries into his mouth. “I was set up. Someone who had his eyes on my ship, had for years.”
“It must have been a very good ship, then” I said, “if it was worth such an act of betrayal.”
“It was a piece of junk, but it was mine, and it was better than his piece of junk.”
“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” I thought perhaps if he was fond of ancient Terran food, perhaps he might also know some of the slang.”
“Damn skippy,” he said, offering me a broad smile, which flashed bright and disappeared as fast as it came. “But you haven’t answered my question. Why did you save me?”
“I am programmed to protect and keep safe, as all SNTs are.”
He studied me for a moment and then slurped his shake. “Lots of things are not like they’re supposed to be.”
It was then that I felt the bone-deep ache of her absence, the one I would never now know, nor share my journeys. “Yes, Richard Manning, many things are not like they are supposed to be.” I withdrew to my solitude until he needed me again. It was easier than explaining to him that while he was the epitome of humanoid male testosterone driven bravado, I was not. I was not even fully formed and I was adrift in the galaxy without compliment or purpose, my only companion a braggart of a smuggler.
The next chronometric day I found him seated in the captain’s chair on the bridge. My first response was anger. The place was to have belong to her, and yet here this smuggler sat in it as though he had the right, as though I had invited him to be there. But before my anger could be fully formed, he very gently, nearly reverently ran his fingers lightly over my console. “Thank you for the clothes,” he said, softly, not sensing my approach, I was sure, but perhaps hoping for my company in the same way I hoped for his. I had stayed away lest my heart should break even more with the comparison of this convict, this uncouth humanoid to the woman I’d lost.
He chuckled softly. “I figure you must have got tired of my cock hanging out of the robe at inopportune moments. Hard to be dignified when you’re cock’s hanging out.”
“You are welcome, Richard Manning. And while I did not mind at all the occasional appearance of your cock, I thought perhaps you would appreciate proper clothing now that you are recovering nicely.”
His breath caught at the unexpected sound of my voice and the change in his heart rate, the flush of blood to his cheeks, the way he shifted nervously told met that he might possibly be as lonely as I was, though I could not imagine anyone being so lonely.
“What was the compliment onboard your ship?” I asked.
“Me. I was the compliment.” He chuckled and I could hear the nostalgia in his voice. “Just as well because I used every bit of space I could for the cargo bay. I slept in a hammock and the shitter was just a cubbyhole at the rear of the hold. Home sweet home,” he said resting his palm against the consol.
“Home sweet home,” I repeated, and for a moment the two of us were companionably silent watching the dark of space rush by. “If you are up for it, Richard Manning, I am happy to offer you a tour, though I do feel a bit like, what was that early Terran phrase, a flasher letting it all hang out.”
The man laughed out loud, and I was struck at how lovely his laughter sounded on deck. “I showed you mine, now I’d love to see yours.”
After we returned, I did not mind it so much when he sat in the captain’s chair. I was like a child waiting for, longing for his approval.
“There’s a lot of unused space.” He raised a hand and laid it respectfully on the console, “Beautiful space, wonderful space, but I have to ask, Fury, why’s so much of you so unused.”
“Because I am young,” I blurted out. One would think that as I am the pinnacle of humanoid and technology come together, that I would have shed all the human foibles of speaking before my thoughts were fully formed, and those were things I would have learned, would have developed it I had only been given more time.
He raised an eyebrow and stared up at the monitor, as though he expected my face to appear. “Young?”
I did not have time to squirm, or to answer his question because we dropped out of hyperspace face to face with a Phoenix class warship.