Musketeer Space Part 11: The Friand of Aramis, the Espresso of Athos, and the Convenient Boyfriend of Porthos.

Fleur de lis littleMusketeer Day again! For those of you who listened to the SF Signal podcast on space opera, we had a discussion on how space opera needed more bagels – and I claimed that mine, at least, had friands.

Friand, by the way, is a terrible word to try to type if you have any kind of predictive text activated.

But they taste good.

This is, by the way, my favourite chapter title so far in the Musketeer Space project. It’s going to be hard to top. This is also a month with five Wednesdays in it, which means I was totally entitled to skip a week and take a small Musketeer holiday. But I didn’t, because I <3 you all. 50 Patrons! And only $8 away from that tantalising Christmas festive story that I am dying to write. I accidentally started plotting it the other day. Had to sit on my hands to stop myself typing…

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PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan is a Mecha cadet who longs to be a real Musketeer like her friends Athos, Aramis and Porthos. Dana’s landlady Madame Su has begged her to find her abducted husband, Conrad, who works for Prince Alek of Auster, consort to the Regent. Intrigue is afoot, involving an old scandal, zero gravity sports, the Duchess of Buckingham, and the sinister Captain Rosnay Cho. It’s really getting quite complicated now, isn’t it?

NOW READ ON!

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This chapter is dedicated to Terri Sellen, because all space opera should come with delicious baked goods. Thanks for your support!

PART 11: The Friand of Aramis, the Espresso of Athos, and the Convenient Boyfriend of Porthos.

“I’ve never broken into a spaceship before,” said Planchet excitedly. “At least, not a spaceship that belonged to someone who might turn up at any moment and shoot us.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” said Porthos over the comm. “I’ve have you know that Edwin and I…”

“Edmund,” corrected the helpful and convenient boyfriend of Porthos, who worked for station security and was letting her take a few liberties with the cam feeds.

“Ed and I are on the job,” said Porthos smoothly. “And I can tell you right now that the glamorous villain in the pink flight suit is currently drinking mocha shots on the Stellar Concourse. Her engie, meanwhile, is taking in some adult entertainment at the Ishtar Club. Oh, and the security cams on E Dock are all mysteriously glitching, and will continue to do so for the next hour or so.”

“No idea why,” said the deadpan voice of Ed.

Planchet consulted her clamshell tablet, checking the manual specs one more time. “Keep watch, Cap,” she said cheerfully. “I’m going in.”

“I’m not a Captain,” Dana sighed. Technically, her rank was Mecha Cadet, but when she was at work, she was generally referred to as Squaddie, because Essart was the sort of jolly commander who liked everything to be informal and friendly. It was horrible.

“I keep forgetting,” said Planchet. “Don’t worry, boss. You’ll get there in the end.” She had moved capably into the role of engie, despite Dana not having a dart to offer her, Musket-class or otherwise.

As Dana watched, Planchet stuck a small steel stud on the side of the Moth. When she activated it from her clamshell, a bright neon web swept across the entire ship and pulsed three times before disappearing.

“Interesting,” mused Planchet, peering at the info dump as it peeled across her screen.

“Can we hurry it up?” Dana said anxiously. “The cams might be off, but anyone could walk on through…”

“There’s one warm body on this ship.”

Dana blinked. “Is it Conrad Su? Can you tell? Or another engie?” After last time their paths had crossed, she had no intention of underestimating the resources that Rosnay Cho had at her disposal. Which made a lot of sense, if she was working directly for the Church of All, and her Eminence the Cardinal.

“He’s got blue hair, if that helps,” said Planchet, biting her lip.

“Sounds promising. How do we get in? What’s the weak spot?”

“The back hatch,” said Planchet. “No, wait.” She ran around the back of the Moth, and Dana followed her. “Look at that!”

The beautiful curve of the ship’s rear end had a gleaming, perfect surface. As Dana watched, though, it bubbled and bent outwards. “I suppose that’s a weak spot,” she said doubtfully. “Is there something wrong with the ship?”

“That’s not the ship,” said Planchet, sounding gleeful. “That’s the prisoner. I think he’s set off a melt-mine.” She leaned forward in fascination. “I’ve never seen one used except in simulations, that’s extreme!”

Dana pulled Planchet back beneath the landing gear. As they watched, a hole tore itself in the back of the Moth fighter, leaving ugly edges of twisted metal. On the one hand, it was a crime to cause such damage to a thing of beauty like this Moth fighter. On the other hand, the ship belonged to Ro, and that made it hilarious.

A head of bright blue hair stuck out from the twisted hole, and then a stocky athlete of a man, barely Dana’s age if he was a day, catapulted out of the informal exit and rolled neatly on the ground.

“Hey,” Dana called softly. She was going to follow this up with “Hey, I’m Dana and I’m here to rescue you today,” but she was distracted by how ridiculous that sounded. Besides, Conrad Su was not in the mood to be receptive to a stranger.

“Stay away,” he warned, and leaped up on to the wing of the Moth. “I’m done with you bastards. If the Cardinal really wants to lock me up without trial, she can bloody well do it herself.”

“Your wife sent us!” Dana yelled up after him. “We have to get you to safety.”

“Thanks,” he laughed. “But no thanks. I’m going home.” And he leaped from the Moth on to a nearby drone carrier, and then a venturer, and so on across the row of ships.

“Go after him,” Dana said to Planchet, pushing her forward. “He should recognise you.”

“I think he’s too busy rescuing himself,” said Planchet, sounding impressed.

“That won’t last long if he goes home!” Porthos had reported back that the Su apartment was still packed with red guards ready to arrest anyone who rang the buzzer.

Planchet nodded, and scampered after the escaped prisoner. “Monsieur Su! Stop!”

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Aramis had definitely picked the short straw. Rosnay Cho’s engineer Foy had some very dubious tastes when it came to entertainment, and while Aramis was on the whole in favour of sexy women being naked in her presence, it was highly possible that spending a lot of time in The Ishtar Club would put her off breasts for life. For this, he could never be forgiven.

Finally, Foy replied to a message through his comm, and stood up to leave. Aramis did the same, leaving a large tip by her drink as she followed him out.

“We’re on the move,” she said quietly into her own comm.

“Heading this way, or back to the ship?” Athos asked in her ear.

“He’s strolling back along the promenade,” said Porthos in her other ear. “Towards you and Cho.”

“Order me an espresso and a friand,” said Aramis. She liked the warm friands that they printed down on Stellar.

“You’re paying,” Athos told her, and she heard the chime that told her someone was accessing her credit.

“I should never have given you the code,” Aramis groaned.

She kept half an eye on Foy as she strolled back along the promenade which overlooked the Stellar Concourse. There was Athos, sitting at one of the cafes on the lower level, his Musketeer jacket a bright blue beacon. From where he sat, he had line of sight on his own mark, the infamous Rosnay Cho.

Aramis had heard a lot about the Cardinal’s special agent over the years, and the various nasty messes she had been involved in, but had never actually set eyes on the woman. Athos dismissed Cho as ‘a viper’ but had failed to mention how spectacular she was to look at, from her confident body language and elegant frame to the long scar across her face accentuating her raw beauty. She looked like trouble. “I’m starting to see why young D’Artagnan has taken such a close interest in this woman,” Aramis murmured into her comm.

“Behave,” chided Athos. She watched him reach out and take something from the food printer embedded in the table. “Join me, or I will eat your cake.”

She ran down the stairs lightly, and kissed him on both cheeks as she joined him at the table, as if they hadn’t seen each other in years. “Next time, you can take the part of the mission that means sitting in a strip club.” She bit into the friand, still warm from the printer.

“Fun afternoon, was it?”

“I’ve never been so disinterested in naked boobs in my life before. All the disco lights and glitter.” Aramis shuddered. “I wanted to wrap all the women up in cardigans and take them home with me.”

Athos raised his eyebrows.

“Not like that,” she growled. “I wanted to feed them soup and rub their feet. Those shoes look terribly uncomfortable.”

“As would be the glitter.”

“Don’t remind me.” Aramis concentrated on her cake and coffee for a moment, letting Athos worry about observing Cho and the engie.

“Aramis,” he said after a moment.

“Mmm?” she said with her mouth full.

“Do you remember that party after the big game, about six months ago? The fleur-de-lis final, a few days before Joyeux?”

Aramis finished chewing, and blew on her coffee. “I remember you disappeared with my girlfriend for several hours.”

“Jealousy’s a curse,” he informed her.

“And whatever it was she was up to that night got her exiled, so thanks for that.” Aramis rather missed Chevreuse. She had been a good friend as well as a lover, and a fun time all around. Conveniently, the distance they had between them now made it possible to forget all the blazing rows they had shared in between the fun nights out and long nights in.

“That’s the party I’m thinking of, yes.”

Aramis set down her coffee and looked very seriously at him. “Is that what all this is about? The same old – scandal that never was?”

“Perhaps.” Athos glanced briefly over at Cho. “Porthos, how is our D’Artagnan getting on?”

“A snag or two,” said Porthos in their comms. “But it looks like she found the fella she was looking for.”

“A successful mission, then,” said Athos, ordering himself another espresso. “I loathe surveillance.”

“I know,” said Aramis, patting his hand. “You think such deep thoughts when you’re left on your own.”

“Why do you think I surround myself with people who never shut up?”

“This is promising,” Porthos said suddenly, patching Rosnay Cho’s clamshell into their comms.

“The wife should be comfortable in the Armoury,” said Cho, as clearly as if she were sharing the table with them. “Hopefully, our guest might change his mind about talking once he knows that the Church has her in custody.” She drummed her fingers on the table.

“What’s the word from Milord?” asked Foy.

Aramis glanced at Athos with curiosity in her eyes. “Milord,” she mouthed.

Athos shrugged in response.

“Bastard likes to tease,” said Cho. “But he’ll come through. He always does.” She checked her clamshell, and frowned. “There’s one loose end I don’t like. The Su family have a lodger, and no one’s seen him or her all day. Why does the name D’Artagnan sound familiar?”

Athos and Aramis went very still.

“Don’t you remember?” the engie guffawed. “Back on Meung Station. The buttercup?”

Cho laughed at that, too. “Don’t suppose it’s the same kid. But I’ll stroll up to the Su residence to see how their mousetrap is going. We must make sure anyone who calls on that family over the next few days gets taken in for questioning. If the lodger is our buttercup, I won’t pretend I won’t enjoy having her arrested.” She got to her feet. “Go check that the Moth is charged up, file a flight plan for 20:00 hours. I need to be down on Luna Palais well before midnight, to report to the Cardinal.”

“D’Artagnan,” Aramis said softly into the comm. “Engie coming down your way. Get out of there.”

“Already out,” came the muffled voice of Dana. “How long?”

“Ten minutes or so, maybe fifteen if there’s traffic on the spherelifts.”

“I can make extra traffic,” Porthos volunteered. “Can’t we, Ed?”

“You’re enjoying this power a little too much, darling,” observed Ed, but he didn’t object.

“Do you want to take the dreadlocks or the angry trousers?” asked Aramis. Rosnay Cho was already walking away, in the opposite direction to her engie.

“Oh, you take the engineer,” said Athos. “I fancy having a look at this mousetrap of theirs. If Cho and her red guard friends are looking for a D’Artagnan, maybe they should find one.”

Oh, she didn’t like the sound of that. Aramis gave him a hard look. “Planning on convincing a bunch of reds that you’re a short black Gascon with girl parts?”

“A physical description would make things harder, if they have one.” Athos admitted. “But I can be very convincing.”

“As long as there aren’t any Sabres there who recognise you as Athos.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but someone cut my hair recently. I could be anyone.” He had a mischievous light in his eyes.

Aramis hadn’t seen such glee in him for a long time. Athos smiling while sober was rare, but Athos allowing himself to enjoy something other than wine and swordplay was a thing to behold. “You should probably take off your Musketeer jacket,” she suggested.

“That would practically be cheating.”

“We have more fun since she joined us, don’t you think?”

Athos gulped down the last mouthful of his espresso. “It’s better than being stabbed in the chest. But the day is young.”

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When she first set out to rescue Conrad Su, Dana had not envisaged ending up with him flat on the floor beneath her, caught a secure headlock. “Planchet, how do you know this hellcat?” he hissed, arching his back up as if trying to throw her off.

Dana was small, but sturdy, and she held firm, squeezing him a little tighter around the throat. “Do you want me to explain it again?”

“No,” Conrad snarled. “I want Planchet to explain it. I’m aware that’s not necessarily going to make things less confusing, but I’m prepared to take that risk.”

Planchet loomed into view over both, grinning all over her freckled face. “Dana’s a pilot!” she said brightly. “I’m going to be her engie when she’s a Musketeer.”

Dana should correct that ‘when’ to an ‘if’, she knew, but she couldn’t quite bear to dampen the kid’s enthusiasm. “That’s probably not helpful for this specific situation, Planchet,” she said instead.

“She is Madame Su’s new lodger,” Planchet added. “We came to rescue you. Was that really a melt-mine on the side of the ship, that was amazing!”

“A piece of tech I picked up from a friend,” said Conrad, lying still now as he took all this in. “Dana, then.”

“D’Artagnan,” Dana corrected.

“I think as long as you’re sitting on my back, I can call you by your first name. Swear by your honour and your ship that you’re not working for the Cardinal.”

“I don’t have a ship,” Dana sighed. “But I’ll swear on my honour and all future ships, if you’ll take that.”

“Your loyalty is to the Prince Consort?”

Dana hesitated. “To the Crown,” she said. She sat up, allowing Conrad to do the same. He didn’t look quite as preternaturally pretty in person as he had on the holo screen but that could be because he had been captive in a ship for a couple of days. “My loyalty is to the Crown, and that covers both the Prince and the Regent.”

Conrad rubbed his neck, and winced. “It’ll do. I really can’t go home?”

Dana shook her head. “They’re waiting at your place, to arrest anyone who goes there.” Porthos had patched the table conversation to her comm as well, which may have made her explanation to Conrad a bit more confused than she had intended, since she was listening to them at the same time. “Me too, for being a lodger.”

“Not me, though!” Planchet said cheerfully. “Madame Su doesn’t pay me except in bed and board, and she’s always kept me off the books.”

Conrad gave the young engineer a friendly shove. “Don’t say that like it’s a good thing. My darling wife’s not taking gross advantage of you for your own protection, just because it happened to work out that way this one time.” He looked seriously at Dana. “Here’s the thing. Prince Alek is my boss and my teammate. I’m the closest friend he has left on Luna Palais. That means I’ve been picked up for questioning, and subjected to security checks more times than I’ve made silk coats. And trust me, I’ve made a lot of silk coats. They usually let me go about my business after an hour or two.”

Dana nodded. “Is this the first time Rosnay Cho was involved?”

“The first time she’s got her hands dirty,” Conrad muttered. “Though I’m starting now to think she was behind a few other incidents in the past. I thought she’d let me go once I finally convinced her there was nothing compromising I could tell them about his Highness. Luckily, Cho favours psychotropic drugs and brain cables as a method of interrogation…”

“You surprise me,” Dana said dryly, remembering the use of pilot drugs in their Duel.

“And I happen to be one of the 5% of the population who can’t be invaded that way,” Conrad went on. “One of the reasons people in power like to share so many bloody secrets with me. I would have waited for Cho or her employers to lose interest, but I ran out of time.” He paused, looking at Dana as if he was still wondering how much to share with her. “I have a very important appointment later today, down on the moon. That’s why I risked the melt-mine to get out. I have to reach the Prince Consort in the next couple of hours, or he is going to get himself into so much trouble with out me. Seriously. You can’t believe how much trouble. Cities burning, solar system crumbling, shit is going down.”

Of course she was going to help. She had come this far. “You can’t go by civilian shuttle,” Dana said immediately. “Too many Church zones to cross between here and there – they’d pick you up as soon as you stepped into their surveillance coverage.”

“I can take him in my dart,” Aramis said in her ear.

Dana shook her head. “You and the others have done enough, and your ships are too recognisable. No point in advertising the involvement of the Musketeers, not unless we have to.”

“Athos won’t be needing his ship for a while,” pointed out Porthos in her other ear. “Since he’s about to…”

“Shh, don’t distract her,” Aramis cut in. “You have a plan, don’t you, Dana?”

Dana found herself grinning. “Conrad has an appointment Down There, and I’m a pilot. So all we need is a ship. And I happen to know where there’s a ship with compromised security close by.”

Conrad gave her an odd look. “You want to steal Rosnay Cho’s Moth?”

Dana felt as if her insides were full of lightning. “You have no idea how much I want to steal Rosnay Cho’s Moth.”

“But I blew a hole…” Conrad reminded her.

“I can fix it!” Planchet said excitedly. “I can!” she patted a small satchel on her belt “I’ve got my box of tricks, including sealing glass and rotor-connectors. The self-repair system on board should do the rest once I log Dana into the system.”

The sphere-lift beside them beeped suddenly, and irised open to reveal Aramis with an unconscious man at her feet. “So what you’re saying is,” she said calmly. “It’s a good thing I just gave Cho’s engie a dose of Pentasleep and stole his ID stud.” She opened her hand, revealing the small metal stud that she had removed from Foy’s wrist.

Conrad raised a hand. “Can we stuff him in the sonic shower compartment and feed him protein bars through a slot? No particular reason.”

“How much longer do you need to keep E-Dock in a security blackout?” Porthos broke in over the comm channel they had been sharing. “Because Ed is going off shift in about twenty minutes, and I owe him two steak dinners and some amazing sex straight after.”

“Three steak dinners,” corrected Ed. “And dessert.”

“Baby, I have all sorts of ideas about dessert…”

“Twenty minutes will be fine!” said Planchet, blushing hard. “It only takes ten to backdate a flight plan into the system.”

“Interesting,” said Aramis, gesturing for Conrad to help her pick up the unconscious engie. “Dana, your talent for human resources is spot on. My own engie is sadly far too moral to endorse a caper like this.”

Dana gave Planchet an encouraging smile. “I think we’re going to work well together,” she agreed.

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You have been reading Musketeer Space, by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Tune in next week for another chapter! Please comment, share and link. Musketeer Space is free to read, but if you’d like to support the project for as little as $1 per month, visit my Patreon page. Pledges can earn rewards such as ebooks, extra content, dedications and the naming of spaceships. My next funding milestone ($200 a month) will unlock a special story to be released at Christmas.

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