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
As we enter the 11th 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 discovers that whiskey is the not the most dangerous thing Manning and Fury smuggle.
“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.
The Truth, or at Least Part of It: Part 11
“I do, yes,” he said, taking the second first aid kit and moving into step beside me.
“These need immediate attention,” called the head medic. “There are ten others infected onboard, but we haven’t had time to treat any of them. Authority’s been on our ass since we left Freeport. I have no idea how they found out. We’ve had so many jumps that half the crew is puking and the other half is too dizzy to stand. They’re getting injections for space sickness now. But at the moment it’s just us and the pilot. Afraid the transfer of the precious cargo is going to be a bit slower than expected,” the medic said. Then she threw her arms around Manning in a heartfelt hug that he returned in kind. “You okay Rick?” she asked, reaching up to stroke his cheek.
He caught her hand and pulled it down to his chest. “Fine, Ina. I’m fine.”
I couldn’t help but bristle just a little bit, embarrassed to admit that I’d gotten used to having Manning and Fury all to myself. I wasn’t keen on the touchy-feely rubbing up against each other that meant the two had a history. Before I could dwell on it, she pulled away and offered me her hand. “Ina Stanislovski, First mate. Some damn good piloting there, though you scared a good ten years off half the crew.”
“They’ll get over it.” I grudgingly took her hand without introducing myself. I was suddenly way more focused on the mess of fevered flesh occupying the four stretchers than I was on Stanislovski’s overly familiar greeting of Manning. “There’s nothing we can do for these people. You know that. They’re too far gone.” If there was anything that made me want to puke, made me want to pass out, made me want to run away screaming, it was seeing someone in the advanced stages of SNT, the point at which there was no return. I was always just one step away from that. All indentureds were, and we bloody well knew it. We had nightmares about it, and I carried way more into my nightmares than most.
The First Mate looked from me to Manning and back again. “She doesn’t know?”
“It’s always been on a need to know basis, Ina, and up until now, there was no one else on Fury who needed to know. Besides,” he added. “It’s not my cargo.”
“It is now,” Stanislovski said. “The Authority will be on us the minute we leave the nebula. We leave everything on Fury and they’ll just think we dumped cargo. They won’t be able to do more than slap us with a trumped-up fine. But if they catch us fully loaded, the indentureds will end up dead and the precious cargo will be confiscated. You know what that means.”
“Fuck me!” Manning said, but he was already grabbing the vial Stanislovski offered him and loading a syringe.
She handed me one, but I stepped back. “There’s nothing we can do for these people. They’re too far gone for the antidote.”
She shook the fisted vial at me. “Oh there’s a cure all right, but it only works if you use it.”
“She’s right, Mac. Just do as she says.” Manning was already injecting the first patient. “There’s a cure. Just not very many people know about it. And the people we definitely don’t want knowing about it are the Authority, now move your ass.”
I injected my first patient fighting back tears – me who had given up my emotions the day the shackle went into my arm. But this, this was hope where there had been none, and I found myself smiling down into the face of a boy who looked barely to be in puberty. Clearly he was terrified. He had already lost two fingers and his feet were bandaged. The end stages could go on for years and horrible years, and the only refuge was one of the plague planets. What the hell kind of debt must this lad’s family have incurred that it would pass on to a child? The obscenity of it all made my blood boil.
“She’s Aden McAllister’s daughter.” Stanislavski spoke to Manning without looking up from the patient she was tending.
Manning shot me a glance and gave a grunt and a nod.
“Not sure if you’re brave or stupid,” she replied.
“Not sure it’s any of your business,” I growled. I was liking the woman less by the moment.
“I needed a good pilot,” was all Manning said.
By the time Stanislavski set up a make-shift infirmary, it was hotter than hell in the cramped space of the hold, though Manning assured me that Fury had regulated the temperature for the comfort of the victims who shivered in the throes of the fever. We had injected the four on the stretchers and made them as comfortable as possible. The rest of the Svalbard’s crew was beginning to recover from space sickness, and they were bringing in the less critical victims.
I worked with a strange sense of anguish and hope. It was an unusual mix. Even when Captain Harker allowed me shore leave and the chance to win what little money I could through gambling, he knew damn good and well that I’d never live long enough to pay off my indenture. But this! This meant that if indentureds could escape, and if they could get to a place where the vaccine was available, they could take on a new identity, move out beyond the Rim and begin a whole new life. I couldn’t get my brain around it. I couldn’t think beyond the next injection, the bathing of a fevered brow, the holding of an emesis pan while someone still suffering the remnants of space sickness vomited. And next to me, Manning was doing exactly the same.
I had just finished the last injection and had checked to see that all of my patients were resting comfortably when I noticed crates baring the conglomerate label were being loaded onboard. Wiping my forehead, I moved to where Stanislavski stood. “What the fuck? You risked my ship for whiskey? That’s your precious cargo?”
My anger didn’t rattle her in the least, nor my pilot’s possessiveness of Fury. “Oh that’s not the precious cargo. But yes, that is whiskey. If anything, they need it on Plague One more than they do on the Rim.”
“Jesus! You were going to Plague One?” And for the first time since the wild ride had begun, I felt like I just might join the ranks of the space sick and lose my lunch.
She studied me for a moment, then took my left arm into her hand and looked down at where my shackle was nestled just below the skin. “You’ll have visited one of the plague planets, I presume? I can’t imagine Fallon not making sure every indentured of his gets the scenic tour.”
I nodded. “Plague Three, my first month under the shackle. He wanted to make sure I knew what would happen to me if I crossed him. He used the virus as a punishment,” I added swallowing bile.
“And yet you crossed him, and you survived.” Before I could comment, she gave my shoulder a squeeze, then rolled up her sleeve. There was only a white scar where her shackle had been. A white scare met that somehow an indentured had either won freedom or bought it. “My owner did the same. With me, he waited a bit too long.” The line along her jaw hardened, and the color rose in her cheeks, the color I recognized as anger. Only another indentured would recognize that look.
“Lucky for me, I was smuggled onto Plague One. I was among the first the serum was tested on.” She looked beyond me, and I knew she was looking into a nightmare past that could have so easily been my own. Then she turned her gaze back to me. “Half the Svalbard’s crew are free indentureds, so yes, we wouldn’t have minded flying right through the center of the Faribaldi if we’d had to. At least it would have been a clean death.” Then she added as an afterthought, nodding to the next load of crates being brought onboard the Fury, “The rest of the shipment is serum. Sadly it’s not nearly enough, but one day there will be. That’s worth the risk. One day maybe there won’t be a need for it.”
Up until today I could have never allowed myself even her modest optimism, and I still couldn’t. I knew better than anyone the odds against a few freed indentureds, and even I wouldn’t have taken that bet.
Our attention turned to a tall man with eyes like none I’d ever seen before. They were the color of Valinian opals.
Stanisovski spoke next to my ear. “Captain Bryar lost his eyes to the SNT virus. He sees with implants.” Then she stepped back and introduced me.
“Damn fine piloting, First Mate McAllister,” Bryar said, offering me an outstretched hand. “Damn fine piloting. I only wish there was time to celebrate over a proper meal in the captain’s quarters.” Then he turned his attention to Manning, who approached, running a sani-device over his hands.
“Can you do it?” Was all Bryar asked.
Manning nodded tight-lipped, then blew out a sharp breath. “If we make a quick turnaround and kick Fury into high gear, then we should be able to make the rendezvous in Outer Kingston with no trouble. Traveling to the edge of the Rim is never an exact science. Things go wrong. No one is on a precise schedule out that far. What about you, Bryar? Do you have a plan?”
“Well we can’t stay here forever, but wherever we come out now, they’ll be after us. Granted our hold will be empty and they’ll have nothing on us, but it’ll slow progress. It’ll really slow progress, and the next shipment is vital to Plague Two.”
“Where do you need to be?” I ask.
“Isle of Dogs. It’s where the serum components are kept. No one goes there so no one suspects.”
“I can get you there fast.” I said.
All eyes were suddenly on me.
He offered a gentle smile. “No offence McAllister, but I don’t think my crew could survive another jump like that last one.”
“What about a trip through a wormhole?”
“There are no wormholes in that area, at least none that have been charted,” Manning said, studying me like he’d never seen me before.
“That’s true,” I replied, “but McAllister One has never been charted.”
“McAllister One?” Both Bryar and Manning spoke at the same time. Stanislavski moved to flank her captain, arms folded across her chest.
Manning chuckled softly and scratched his head. “Mac, care to take us on a little tour in the chart room?”
As it turned out the chart room was a corner of the observation deck with a holo-image atlas of the known galaxy and download capabilities for individual devices. It didn’t take me long to pull up the image of an empty stretch of space not far from the Faribaldi. It looked to have nothing more interesting than a brown dwarf and a possible black hole. I knew for a fact it was no black hole. “The McAllister One wormhole?” Manning said, a broad smile splitting his face.
“I named it after myself because I was the lucky indentured who got sent through in a probe to see if it went anywhere.”
“And, let me guess,” Manning said, “you told Fallon it didn’t.”
“I’d just been punished.” I kept my voice even, my face neutral. They didn’t need to know more, and I didn’t want to be reminded. “I figured I just about had enough life support in the probe to make it to the Isle of Dogs if I cut the tether. If I’d died in the probe, it wouldn’t have mattered. I was okay with that. I wasn’t okay with being infected and ending up on a plague planet slowly rotting to death. But if I had made it to the Isle of Dogs, well who knows, if I’d taken the risk I might have been a free woman by now.” I shot Manning a glance, but I didn’t linger. The look on his face was raw, and it had been a raw enough day already. “I lied to Fallon. I fudged the telemetry. Not that hard for me to do, actually, and I filed it away as something that might be helpful if I ever did find a way to escape. The next month I was transferred to the Dubrovnik.”
I enlarged the little sliver of space to maximum magnification. “No one will look for you there because there’s no reason to go there. It’ll take you half a chronometric day to get there, and then it’s just a fast ride through the wormhole – smooth as flushing a galacine toilet. You’ll be at the Isle of Dogs in time for Happy Hour. I can calculate the exact times, even lay in a course for you if you want,” I said.
Bryar studied me with those opal bright eyes. “It’s the life of my entire crew on the line, McAllister.”
“Like it was a couple of hours ago,” I observed nodding to the cargo hold below us. “We can lead you through if you want.” I spoke without thinking, I spoke out of turn, and I knew the minute I did it that I shouldn’t have. Manning’s amicable face became a storm cloud, and he looked like he could bite right through Fury’s hull. Unconsciously I grabbed protectively at my forearm.
“McAllister, you’re dismissed.” His voice was like polar ice, and his gaze followed the movement of my hand against my shackle. “Go down below and check on the cargo. Now.” He said before I could open my mouth to apologize.
With my heart slamming at the inside of my ribs, I did as he asked, kicking myself for opening my mouth at all. His battles were only mine in as much as they kept me alive. If the Svalbard was taken lock stock and barrel, what was that to me? Every Indentured had a hard luck story. If not, we wouldn’t be indentured to begin with. And the truth of the matter was that the only thing that ever really mattered at the end of the day was staying alive long enough, and keeping your wits long enough to either buy your way out or die in a way that didn’t involve the SNT virus.