Musketeer Space Part 54: Mission to Valour

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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE:

Dana slept with Milord; Athos used to be married to Milord; Milord kidnapped Conrad; Buck slept with the Prince; the Cardinal wanted Buck dead; the aliens invaded; Rosnay Cho appears to be on the same side on the Musketeers right now but how long is that going to last?

NOW READ ON!

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This chapter is dedicated to Kantis Väisänen. Thank you so much for your generous support.

Chapter 54: Mission to Valour

Well, this was embarrassing.

Dana had not thought it was possible to be more embarrassed this week, not after the number of reports she and Athos had been required to fill in, detailing their intimate knowledge of the Sun-kissed agent known variously as Slate, Winter, Milord, Milord Vaniel De Winter, Linton Grey, Vaniel Stonewater, Auden Snow and the Honourable Auden d’Autevielle.

Then there had been the discovery, after a week or more of intense diplomacy and attempts at translating an alien language formed mostly from light and colour, that this particular agent was wanted by his own people for crimes so grave that they would be willing to pull their troops out of Truth Space in exchange for his living body.

The question as to whether the invasion had been intended for the specific purpose of reclaiming Milord or whatever he was called in his own language – Sparkle Flash Shimmering Sunbeam or something equally untranslatable – had literally been keeping Athos up at nights.

Dana, however, was so deeply wrapped up in their shared humiliation that she could not begin to accept that possibility.

What with one thing and another, she had developed something of a thick skin about both professional and personal embarrassment. At least she had a Musketeer jacket to keep her warm.

But then there was this: being trapped in an office on the Bastion with Athos and Amiral Treville while they were arguing with each other.

The Regent, Treville and the Cardinal had all agreed that reclaiming Milord from Valour was now a mission of the utmost importance to the war effort. Special Agent Rosnay Cho had been put in charge of a mixed unit made up of Sabres and Musketeers. Porthos and Aramis had both been included in the unit. Athos and Dana had not.

Another humiliation, piled so thickly on the others that Dana barely felt it. She knew why they were being excluded, and it stung, but she could survive it.

Athos, however, refused to accept even the basic premise that when it came to Milord De Winter, he and Dana were both hopelessly compromised. He was adamant that he and Dana were needed on the mission, precisely because they knew from firsthand experience how diabolically ruthless Milord could be.

He was not prepared to leave Treville’s office until she agreed with him. Treville had dug her heels in over the issue so quickly that there were practically skid marks on the carpet.

The argument had been going for two hours and counting.

Dana had missed lunch.

Finally, Treville threw up her arms and bellowed. “He’s in custody of the Countess of Clarick’s personal guards, and a planetary Marshal! All this team have to do is collect him from detention and bring him back here – a simple operation. What the hell insight do the two of you provide that is worth the risk of putting you in the firing line of a dangerous criminal with a personal grudge against you both?”

“For a start,” said Athos flatly. “There is no risk of either of us looking at this mission as a simple operation. There is no such thing, with this man involved.”

For a moment, he and Treville stared each other down, silently. It was impossible for Dana to imagine any outcome to this situation that did not involve Athos being locked in the brig, possibly forever.

In this rare moment of silence, Dana became aware of a frantic buzzing of conversation outside the office. “Amiral Treville,” she said hesitantly.

Treville held up a hand to silence her, then turned and strode out of the office.

Athos, who obviously saw this as an excuse to cheat her way out of their confrontation, gave Dana a dirty look. She rolled her eyes at him, and followed Treville out.

“Have they started shooting again?” Treville barked at her comms officer.

“No, boss,” said Comms. “It’s just – there’s something come through on the interplanetary wire. From Gossipnode and a bunch of other sites…”

“I wasn’t aware that Gossipnode was one of the sites we track.”

“Not usually, boss,” said Comms, blushing. “It’s just – they’re saying on Valour that the Duchess of Buckingham has been assassinated.”

Dana felt cold spread through her body, starting from her neck. Athos had gone terribly still.

Buck, she thought helplessly. And then, with a burst of inner selfishness: Oh God. Conrad.

His last message to her had been flippant and ordinary. This house is too small for me AND Buck’s terrible shoe collection. I was looking for the games room, fell into her shoe cupboard & was lost for hours. Send a ball of yarn! That had been yesterday.

“You should have sent us days ago,” grated Athos, his only saving grace being that he spoke in a voice low enough that no one but Treville and Dana could hear him.

Treville straightened her back and gave Athos a chilly look. “Head down to Chaillot Station and inform Agent Cho to make room for two more. If you come back to Paris in a body bag, I’ll blow up that ship of yours myself.”

Athos gave her a flinty glare. “They burn bodies on Valour,” was all he said before he walked away.

Dana offered Treville an apologetic smile, adorned with all the embarrassment she had left, which was basically scraps at this point. “We’ll end this war,” she said with all the fervour of a newly minted Musketeer captain.

“Yes,” Treville sighed. “But with Athos involved, you’ll probably have started three more by the time I see you again.”

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Rosnay Cho had a new Moth fighter. Not the same Moth fighter as before, but one even newer. This one had a name – the Ryan Mac – and it was absolutely beautiful, gleaming silver like a beetle. A beetle made out of stars.

Life, Dana D’Artagnan decided, was entirely unfair.

Ro looked singularly unsurprised to find Athos and Dana joining her for the final briefing at the dock on Chaillot Station while their ships were detailed by a group of dedicated and highly caffeinated engies.

Planchet’s transfer to the Musketeers had come through three days after Dana’s promotion. She waved cheerfully at Dana from the fin of the Buttercup before sliding all the way under to check the couplings on the power spheres.

“Is it true?” was the first thing Athos asked Rosnay Cho. The two of them had bonded during the hellish week of translation, as they both liked to say exactly what they thought and not bother with any pesky diplomacy.

“We think so,” said Ro between gritted teeth. “All we’re getting is news reports at this point – we haven’t been able to make contact with Villiers House or with local law enforcement.”

“Was it him?” Dana asked, because she could be as streamlined and efficient as the rest of them.

Ro gave her a steady look. “Our sources assure us that the agent known as Milord is still under guard, on private land on the other end of the continent. It’s possible that this assassination is unconnected to his detention.”

Porthos blew out an unbelieving breath, and even the two Sabres who made up the party muttered ‘ha’ to each other.

“Our mission is the same,” said Ro. “We collect the target from his detention, and we bring him here to the Bastion. It’s not our job to investigate the assassination of the Duchess, however tempting it might be.”

Dana raised her eyebrows, silently calling bullshit on that one. “But?” she invited.

“But,” said Ro, giving her a smirk. “Turns out we have a little more manpower than we originally planned on, so I’ll make that call when we hit Valour orbit. In the mean time – saddle up, buttercup. A lot of space miles between here and there.”

Her first mission as a Musketeer. Dana was playing it as cool as she could, but she was pretty excited as they all went to their individual ships, even though she caught Aramis mouthing the words ‘saddle up, buttercup’ in silent delight.

“Ready to go, Cap,” said Planchet as Dana stepped into the cockpit, and the pigtailed engie came forward to help her with the helm and harness.

Wish me luck, papa, Dana thought as they flew in formation out into space.

Buttercup at least was delighted to be flying again. Space space! Here we go!

The look on Planchet’s face – delight that they were finally doing this, both of them, together – mirrored Dana’s own. And if it helped to distract her from the fact that Conrad Su had not replied to her recent text messages, then all the better.

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After several days leaping and recharging their way along the Solar System, they were only a few hours out from Valour when the message chimed into the Morningstar.

Aramis blinked at the screen, which was not even on the list of what she had expected.

PRIORITY ONE CALL FROM LUNAR PALAIS, followed by a series of ominous looking high security codes.

“Captain-lieutenant Aramis,” said Bazin from where he stood plugged into the wall of the cockpit. “There is a priority one…”

“Yes, Bazin, thanks, I can see it.” Aramis hesitated only a moment before stabbing at a button to bring up the call. “Morningstar.”

It was not a surprise to see the sharp, intelligent face of Chevreuse filling her screen – the surprise was the origin of the call.

“Why are you in Paris?” Aramis demanded. “What’s wrong?”

The other woman rolled her eyes. “Apart from the obvious, you mean? I’m here to sit on a royal friend of ours so he doesn’t go raging across the galaxy on an unsanctioned killing frenzy.”

Oh. That made sense. Chev would have had time to fly to Lunar Palais from the Daughters of Peace once she heard the news about Buck – and royal exile or no royal exile, of course she would not leave Prince Alek to deal with the news on his own.

Chevreuse was a good friend to have in bad times, always. “This line is secure,” she said now in that brisk, no-nonsense way of hers. “At least, if it’s not then no line ever can be. Are you heading to Valour?”

Aramis didn’t ask how Chevreuse knew that. Her ex-girlfriend had spent her whole career being a wickedly effective information hub. “Special team,” Aramis replied, assuming Chev knew the particulars. She must only be asking to let Aramis knew that she knew. “Collecting a package.”

“Yes, well that could be trickier than you think,” Chevreuse frowned. “Can you do me a favour?”

“Always,” Aramis said automatically, then hesitated. “As long as it’s not treasonous or anything.”

Chevreuse gave her an exhausted look. “As if I’d ask you commit treason before breakfast.”

“Shoot.”

“Do your people know how Buck died?”

Aramis stared at Chevreuse through the screen. She was all bright white bobbed hair and business suit – very professional. “No. Information’s been pretty sketchy, mostly gathered from the news sites, and it’s not supposed to be relevant to our mission.” Collect Milord, take him back to the Bastion, that was it, that was all they were supposed to do.

Chevreuse leaned in, her bright blue eyes trouble. “Aramis, darling, I can’t emphasise enough how relevant this information is to your mission.”

“So tell me.”

“Marshal Felton paid a call on Buck, forty minutes before the staff at Villiers House reported her murder.”

Aramis blinked at her. “Marshal Felton. Jan Felton?” She had never met a stuffier, more rule-abiding person in her life. “That can’t be right.”

“There were witnesses who corroborated the security records, but all evidence concerning Felton’s presence in the house was deleted within six hours of the time of death.” Chevreuse choked a little over the word ‘death’ and Aramis wanted to reach through the view screen and hug her.

“What can I do? We’re not going to have much leeway on the planet if you want us to expand the investigation…”

“No need,” Chevreuse said, getting more of a hold on herself. “That’s not the favour I require. There’s one witness who can’t be bought, can’t be silenced, and I know exactly where he’s hiding now because I sent him there. I need you and your ridiculously loyal crew to find him, keep him safe. And I need you to promise you will, Aramis, because without that promise I’m not sure how long I can stop the Prince Consort attempting to do it himself.”

Aramis nodded briskly. “Send me the coordinates, Chev. If your witness is who I think it is, I know a Musketeer who is going to be very pleased to hear it.”

Conrad Su must have escaped Villiers House after Buck was killed. No wonder Chevreuse and the Prince were so desperate to secure him. They had already lost one friend this week.

“Good,” said Chevreuse with a grin. “I have a soft spot for your little D’Artagnan, since she sent me the best bloody personal assistant I’ve ever had. Kitty is a marvel.”

“And how’s the baby?” Aramis asked, to keep Chevreuse on the line a little longer. It seemed like a million years since they had talked.

Chev actually looked startled – it was rare that Aramis was able to ruffle her. “How did you know about that?”

“Is it a secret? I would have thought Montbazon would be shouting it to the sky – he’s always wanted an heir, hasn’t he?”

Aramis didn’t know Chevreuse’s husband all that well – one New Aristocrat high-up government official was much the same as another. Chev had always kept them as separate as possible, for job-related discretion more than embarrassment about having a girlfriend on the side. Whatever she and Montbazon had, it had always been a matter of convenience and pragmatic friendship rather than romance.

“He was happy to acknowledge her,” Chevreuse said, sounding surprisingly flustered. This was fun. “He’s not the biological father, though.”

Aramis smirked, leaning her chin on her hands. “Really? Tell me more.”

Chevreuse narrowed her eyes. “Oh look,” she said brightly. “Signal’s breaking up.”

And the perfectly clear subspace signal which had transmitted her footage all the way from Lunar Palais dissolved into a burst of grey static.

“That was fun,” Aramis announced to Bazin, who was giving her one of his patented judgy android expressions. “Can we set up a secure line between us and the Buttercup? I need to chat to Captain D’Artagnan about boys.”

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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, please visit my Patreon page. Pledges can earn rewards such as ebooks, extra content, dedications and the naming of spaceships. Milestones already unlocked include the Musketeer Media Monday posts, the Robotech Rewatch posts, and “Seven Days of Joyeux,” a special Christmas prequel novella which was released in December 2014. My next funding milestone will unlock GORGEOUS COVER ART.

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