Happy Friday everyone! Time for more Fury. Let’s all escape to deep space for a little relief from the stress of our own space. I don’t know about you lovelies, but a good rollicking read is the best sanity saver. As I mentioned last week, I’m self-medicating with NaNoWriMo. for a writer writing a new novel is as much of a sanity saving escape as a good read. I do confess, however, to suffering from sleep deprivation while my characters keep me up late and get me up early for lots of caffeine and an extra hour or two of writing. In the worlds I create, I am god. 🙂 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 Mac and Manning arrive on Plague One and meet someone from Mac’s nightmare past. 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 17: Plague One Surprise
For the briefest of moments, I simply didn’t exist, and then I blinked back into my own skin freezing my ass off in the middle of a blizzard. Manning still held onto me, which was just as well because I wasn’t entirely sure without him as anchor I wouldn’t just blow away in the storm. He guided me right into a solid wall of ice. I caught my breath with a gasp of surprise as he pulled me through the illusion and into an airlock, which was opened from the inside by a one-armed man in clothing replicated to resemble the Old Terran mid-20thcentury. His t-shirt was covered in splashes of color along with the words ‘Make Love Not War’ superimposed over the peace symbol so popular in that time. One sleeve was empty, neatly folded over and pinned the to shoulder of the shirt. A gnarled twist of puckered scars climbed out of the neck of the t-shirt and up around the side of his face to disappear in the shoulder-length scraggle of graying brown hair. I recognized the results of late stage SNT, but the loss of an arm and the scarring belonged to a man who seemed absolutely healthy otherwise. I could only assume that he was another survivor who had been treated with the vaccine.
“Richard, good to see you again.” With a very pronounced limp, the man shambled forward and gave Manning a one-armed hug, which Manning returned with gusto.
“Vic. Been awhile.” He pulled away and turned to me. “This is Diana –”
“Diana McAllister.” The man turned fever-bright brown eyes on me and offered a beatific smile. He extended his hand. “Aden McAllister’s little girl,” he said. “You have your father’s eyes.”
My knees would have given beneath me if it hadn’t been for Manning’s arm slipping supportively around my waist. “You knew my father.”
“I knew him, and I knew the Merlin.” He gave my hand a hard squeeze and held my gaze. “I bonded them.”
“Jesus!” I pulled away so quickly that I nearly knocked Manning off balance. “Vic? You’re Victor Keen? You did that to him. It was your fault.”
Keen looked from Manning to me and back again, and stepped away, color climbing his scarred throat. “You haven’t told her?”
“We weren’t planning on making this stop, Vic, and I wasn’t exactly expecting you to be the greeting party.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I stepped forward ready to punch the bastard, crippled or not, but Manning pulled me back. “Haven’t you done enough damage?”
“Professor Keen is here because he’s an indentured, just like everyone else.”
“Not like everyone else,” the man said, his face darkening and his shoulders drooping noticeably. “Tell her the truth, Richard. Not like everyone else at all.”
“You tell her the truth, Vic. It’s your truth to tell, but,” Manning gave a glance around, “this is not the discussion to have in the airlock. Please, Mac,” he turned to me. “I promise you’ll get the whole story but not out here.” He grabbed me by the shoulder and gave Keen an apologetic looked. I wanted to kick him in the balls for it, but he might have suspected as much. He reeled me in close enough that I could do no damage and spoke next to my ear. “You’re about to do something you’ll seriously regret. Wait for the facts. That’s all I’m asking.”
I squared my shoulder and gave a jerk of my head that would have to do for
agreement. I wanted to hear the bastard’s story. Oh yes, I wanted to hear every bloody detail, and then I wanted to rip his other fucking arm off and let him bleed out. I knew what he had done. I knew every goddamn detail – way more than most, because the Merlin was the only SNT whose humanoid compliment fathered a child, who just happened to be onboard when the world fell apart.
The SNT15s were designed to fly deep space missions with a compliment of only one humanoid. There were just fifteen of them ever made. They were powerful, outrageously fast and versatile ships that would give any pilot wet dreams. In spite of having only a crew of one, they were stripped down and streamlined to have lots of cargo space to carry heavy equipment for colonization, supplies, even humanoids if necessary. In fact everything to begin a new colony, along with the colonists themselves could comfortably be transported on one properly outfitted SNT. They were all equipped with cloaking technology and a full array of weapons – weapons to be used only for defensive purposes, weapons that were controlled by the ship, not the pilot, effectively doing away with human error.
The thing about the SNTs was that they were more than just metal alloys and computer components.They were organic at their core, and they were sentient. They were programmed to see long-range outcomes that would eventually lead to peace rather than escalation. Because the SNT project was overseen by the few remaining Free Universities and funded privately with no aid or ties to the conglomerates, the general population of the Consortium of Planets saw the SNTs as the dawn of a new age. The ships, with their bonded humanoid compliment, had the power to end conflicts, negotiate treaties beneficial to all parties and use their resources for further exploration and colonization to everyone’s benefit. They offered a galaxy reeling beneath the weight of petty wars, conglomerate greed and indentured servitude a new beginning. That was the dream, but all too quickly it became the Consortium’s worst nightmare, one that the shackle in my left arm assured I could never walk away from.
These past two days had forced everything I’d spent years trying to suppress back to
the surface, and now here I stood on Plague One, the hellhole of the galaxy with the man responsible for the whole SNT debacle.
Manning and Keen spoke quietly among themselves, and I ignored them, lost in my own thoughts. I remembered only too well how the age of the SNTs ended. Victor Keen and his team had biologically bonded fifteen humanoids — all of whom had volunteered for the irreversible procedure that integrated their brains and central nervous systems into the sentient ships. The procedure effectively and permanently tetheredthe ship to its humanoid component.
My father was not only one of the volunteers, my father was the SNT fleet commander, and no one was more proud that I was. I understood the opportunity. I understood that he, and me by association, were on the cutting edge of science and the evolution of a better society, a society that eventually would have no need for indentureds. Hell, as a child, I used to fantasize about growing up to be bonded to a ship of my own in a future generation of SNTs.
In that brave new beginning, Keen’s science didn’t take into account the psychological factors of that integration. If a mentally unstable humanoid can be dangerous, imagine how much more so a heavily armed star ship with a mind of its own? My father had died as a result, and I would have died too, should have died, except for a quirk of fate that left me both orphaned and indentured to a monster.
The first ship to go rogue was the Peregrine. It suffocated its human cargo of refugees from the conflicts on the New American outposts, blew its pilot out the airlock and destroyed four colonies and a space station on the Inner Rim before it was disintegrated by the Dubrovnik’s protective mol-canons. The modified canons were a gamble that an SNT would not anticipate an attack from a freighter.
My father died when the Merlin was blown to bits by the Alvarez, an Authority warship that should have been easy for the Merlin to defeat. But my father and the Merlin chose not to fight back. I was the only survivor. That was when Keen’s flawed science first came to light. Somehow, and no one ever figured out just how, the SNTs were extremely susceptible to the virus engineered for the shackles of indentureds. Somehow they had become infected. The virus destroyed the part of the ships biotechnical brain programmed to protect humanoid life. The end result was mass destruction on a scale no one could have imagined.
It was all because of the virus. That was what the Authority scientists had told everyone after the destruction of the Peregrine. Several of the ships were decommissioned without incident, several more were destroyed in boarder skirmishes on the edge of the Rim. After two more incidents and countless deaths, the rest of the SNTs were destroyed or decommissioned and taken secretly to remote space docks where they’d been either impounded or taken apart. That was not an easy task. The biological brains at the heart of the ships had a very powerful survival instinct. No one actually knew how many had been destroyed or rendered harmless. What I knew was that visions of those ships and the horrors they caused still haunted my nightmares.
I had been so pulled into the memories of a past that I was unaware of our surroundings until I realized I was sweating inside the parka and that the world had suddenly gotten brighter as we stepped through the airlock into what felt like bright sunlight.
“Welcome to Pandora Base,” Keen said, and in spite of his distress at what had just passed between us, he couldn’t hide his pride in the place that, while not exactly a paradise, wasn’t far from it. I could do nothing but stand and gape. “Plague One doesn’t exist anymore. Hasn’t for a long time now,” Keen hurried on to say, probably figuring to take advantage of my good graces.
“What about the SNT victims?” I asked.
“The ones on Pandora Base have all been cured,” and then his face darkened. “The ones who survived the horrible early years, that is. A new generation has been born here, a generation that would have been born into indentured servitude had the Authority gotten wind of what was going on here. So we prefer it if people still believe we’re Dante’s vision of Hell.”
“And this is your penance?” I asked.
He flinched, then squared his shoulders. “In part, I suppose.”
“If all the indentureds on Plague One have been cured, then why did we just deliver serum?” I questioned.
“You brought with you a dozen SNT survivors, also,” Keen said. “We’re a refuge, the safe place to which ships like the Svalbard can bring survivors, the place they can get treatment, so we keep a supply on hand. As for the whiskey,” he offered a tentative smile, “well while we’re very self-sufficient, we’ve not managed to increase the size of the biosphere to include luxury items like grains for fermentation. At least not yet. Follow me.” He nodded down what looked like the main street of a town straight from Old Terran middle America of the 1960s. “I know you’re on a tight schedule, but you’ve got time for meal before you head for Outer Kingston.” He turned to me. “And your explanation, Diana. The truth.”