Musketeer Space Chapter 61 – Tell Me About It, Stud

red studCheck out my most recent Musketeer Media Monday essay – D’Artagnan’s Unsatisfactory Parenting Skills (1994) [AKA D’Artagnan’s Daughter].

This is the last proper chapter though there will be an epilogue wrap-up mini chapter next week. Thank you so much for coming along on my madcap journey. Love you all.

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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE:

Meung Station, betrayal, data studs, Paris Satellite, photo-silks, duels, new friendships, flirting, disappointment, Lunar Palais, mecha-suits, the Regent, the Prince Consort, Madame Su’s pretty husband, a teenage engie with pigtails, fleur-de-lis and cinquefoil, Dana’s mission to Valour, spaceship crash, diamonds, Milord, success, snogging, kidnaps, the return of the Musketeers, tragic backstory, bad news from home, space ponies, self-destructive sexytimes, horrible revelations, spaceships, the Musketeers at war, Truth Space, Cardinal Richelieu, cake, assassination, the prisoner in the tower, star nuns, murder, the iris library, duel, spaceships, alien methods for dealing with criminals, and eternal friendship.

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Chapter 61 – Tell Me About It, Stud

The Sun-kissed were gone.

It would take weeks – months, perhaps – to dismantle the war. It would be days before the priests and Sabres and Musketeers and Regent and Cardinal and Amiral all accepted the evidence that the Sun-kissed were indeed gone.

Not leaving, not in the process of withdrawing from the battle zone in their many ships, but gone as if they had never been there at all. As if the humans of the Royal Solar System had been shooting at themselves, all this while.

It had happened, they worked out, within five minutes of the execution of Milord at the hands of his own people.

The population of the ocean world of Truth had survived the siege well enough – with surprisingly few casualties. All members of the Fleet with Truth listed as their birthplace had been given leave to visit the planet and their loved ones.

Porthos, who had left Truth long ago, felt no need to take up that particular offer. Her family were right here, and they needed her.

There were briefings and meetings and reports to be given, but Amiral Treville took it on herself to meet personally with each of her “gals”. The Cardinal and Regent had better things to do than attend such meetings.

Porthos did not relax. Surely all of them were in the Cardinal’s line of sight now. Athos and D’Artagnan, as the two members of the Royal Fleet who had been awake during the execution (and Porthos could kick them both for admitting that honestly) were likely to be blamed for the failure to follow through on the mission as it had been presented.

Sure, the Sun-kissed were gone, but the Cardinal and/or the Regent were supposed to have been the ones who made the grand gesture and ended the war. Not two Musketeers of slightly dubious reputation.

No summons came to explain their side of the story to the Crown or the Church.

On the bright side, this meant that Porthos and her friends could continue to indulge in plenty of grieving, drunkenness and in the special case of Athos and D’Artagnan, refusing-to-properly-process-emotions.

A heavy sense of ‘unfinishedness’ hung over them all. There were only so many quiet evenings of wine and subdued conversation that they could survive before one of them (probably, face it, Athos) cracked and started causing havoc.

Porthos missed Paris so much that it was a permanent ache in her heart. She wanted her own bed, and her kitchen, and her boyfriends, and the freedom to spend the occasional half day completely apart from her dearest friends without worrying they were about to explode from emotional repression.

Finally, their orders came in to report back to regular duty on Lunar Palais. With a few rec hours to fill before their mandatory pre-flight sleeping shift, Porthos invited Athos, Aramis and Dana to join her on the Hoyden. Bonnie provided soup, bread, cake and wine, and left them to it.

Once they had eaten sufficiently, the four of them piled on to Porthos’ bunk with the last of the wine, and she made sure that Athos and Dana, the two most in need of actual comfort though neither would admit it, were properly squished in the middle.

“Let’s talk about something else,” said Dana, her eyes half closed. “Something a million miles from the war and the rest of it.”

So Porthos told her favourite amusing story about the early days, when she and Aramis were learning to be Musketeers together, and the scrapes they got into. After a while, Athos joined in with descriptions of the most outrageous bar fights they had taken part in across Paris. When he ran out of breath, it was Aramis’ turn to entertain.

Finally, Dana was asleep, curled up in a small, tight ball over Porthos’ feet. Aramis was nearly there herself, her long hair spilling over Athos’ shoulder. “She’ll be all right,” she murmured. “She’s getting through it. She’ll mend.”

Porthos kept her steady gaze on Athos, wondering if the same was true for him.

Athos silently toasted her with one of the wine flasks. “Did you know he had a child?” he said, quite the last thing she had expected to come out of his mouth.

Porthos blinked at him. “Milord – really? Is that even possible with alien biology?”

Athos shrugged. “Perhaps she isn’t really his. I suppose that’s a possibility. I looked her up. Morgan De Winter, daughter of Delia and Vaniel. She’s three years old, and heir to the Countess of Clarick.”

Porthos swallowed, not sure what the right thing to say in this instance was. “So Bee – the Countess will look after her?”

“She doesn’t seem the maternal type,” he said. “Very few New Aristocrats are. That’s why we hire nannies.”

“There’s a special insight into your childhood.”

He gave her an ironic smile. “Aramis says I don’t share enough.”

“S’true,” muttered sleepy Aramis.

Porthos thought about it for a minute, then nudged Athos with the foot that wasn’t currently being used as Dana’s pillow. “Does that mean that in twenty years we’re going to have some halfblood alien Countess coming after us for revenge?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me. Let’s hope someone teaches her to fence properly, or we’ll have to do it.” Athos blew out a breath, staring at the ceiling. “I know she was probably a pawn in the game. Another way for him to bind himself to the De Winter family.”

He wasn’t calling his former husband Milord any more, Porthos noticed. He never used a name at all. “Were you – if you’d stayed married, if you’d never found out who he was. Would you have had children together?” In his other life, Athos had a New Aristocrat title and an estate to pass down, after all. Just like Bee De Winter.

Athos gave her a thin smile. “We’d talked about it. Just talk, I realise now. We’d have had to use capsules of course, and if he had donated DNA, surely it would have revealed he wasn’t human. So no, we would not have had children. But at the time having a family seemed like a genuine possibility.” He made a face. “I would have been terrible at it.”

“Hmm,” said Porthos, who wasn’t so sure after watching him take Dana under his wing over the last several months. She had never thought of Athos as paternal, before that, but he had fallen into the reluctant role of mentor, at least, and it suited him.

Aramis used one hand to shove her long hair back out of her face. “You should talk to Chevreuse,” she muttered into Athos’ chest.

Athos patted her vaguely. “Go back to sleep.”

Aramis got that pouty look on her face, something Porthos had never seen her do sober, and poked him hard in the ribs. “No, I mean it. You need to talk.”

Porthos groaned. “This isn’t drunken confession time, is it? I can’t cope with drunken confession time. No one cares that you slept with Chev, Athos. We’re over it.”

Athos gave her a betrayed look. “You knew about the drunken confessions too?”

“I was there for at least half of them. After the fourth time I told Aramis we should write you a note you could read in the morning when you sobered up, but she was still finding it funny.”

He glared at her. “I hate you both.”

Aramis hauled herself up, trying to look serious. “In my defence,” she declared. “It was extremely funny.” She tried to poke Athos in the ribs again but he turned her hand aside, slinging an arm around her shoulders instead. Aramis sighed. “I don’t like you being the least drunk one in the room. Puts the balance of the solar system out.”

“I’m catching up,” he told her, tapping her on the nose with his wine flask.

“Not fast enough.” Aramis rummaged around in the bed, looking for something. “Where’s the clamshell that was here a minute ago? We need to call Chevreuse.”

“About what?” Athos asked in alarm. “Please tell me you’re not matchmaking me with your ex-girlfriend because we spent one drunken night together nearly a year ago. I cannot emphasise enough how much I don’t want you to matchmake me.”

Porthos shifted around in the bed and discovered something hard under her elbow. “Found the clamshell,” she sang.

“Call her,” said Aramis, and this poke turned into more of a punch in Athos’ stomach.
“Ugh. Stop it. Why?”

“Because,” said Aramis, speaking very carefully and slowly so as not to slur her words. “Chevreuse and Montbazon had a baby after she left Paris.”

Athos winced. “What’s that got to do with – good for them. All the more reason to leave them alone.” He was retreating into his usual polite disinterest, one of the many layers of armour he relied upon.

But oh, Porthos saw where this was going, and it was amazing. She clicked the clamshell open in anticipation. Three seconds after Aramis said the words “I found out very recently that Montbazon isn’t the biological father. And you know, Chev didn’t do blokes very often. All I’m saying is, you two should definitely have a conversation some time soon…” Porthos snapped a picture of the startled expression that crossed Athos’ face.

“Porthos,” he said a moment later, very calmly. “I am going to make you eat that clamshell if you don’t delete that image right now.”

“Nuh-uh,” said Porthos, shoving the unconscious Dana off her foot so she could leap to her feet. “This one’s going in the permanent album. And possibly printed on to a mug.”

She made it as far as the cockpit before Athos brought her to the ground, wrestling the clamshell out of her hands, and she was laughing so hard she didn’t even mind.

Also, she had already uploaded the image safely to the Fleetnet servers, so.

“Hey,” said Aramis, leaning into the doorway as she watched them tussle. “Got any Sobriety patches?”

“Why?” Porthos howled. Athos held the clamshell triumphantly over his head, and she tickled him just to see him crumple in on himself.

“Because the Cardinal has summoned Dana to a meeting.”

Porthos and Athos both went very still, agreeing to a silent truce.

“Just Dana?” Athos asked.

“Just Dana,” Aramis said grimly.

“Well, fuck,” said Porthos.

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The Sobriety patches had done their work in making Dana respectable for this unexpected appointment, but respectable wasn’t the same as prepared.

She was exhausted, tired deep into her bones, and no amount of Sobriety could fix that. Being sad was exhausting. Dana’s initial shock over Conrad’s death had worn off, leaving a heaviness to her bones. Guilt and dread were there amongst the sadness, and it made for a deeply uncomfortable cocktail of feelings. The death of Milord at the hands of his own people had left her with no emotional reaction at all.

That probably wasn’t a good sign.

Honestly, Dana couldn’t care less what the Cardinal had to say.

She cared a little more that it was Ro who had turned up, smart in the dress reds of a Sabre, to escort her to this meeting.

“Am I under arrest?” Dana thought to say.

Ro lifted a single shoulder in a gesture that was utterly unhelpful. “Honestly, buttercup, I’ve no idea. I go where I’m told.”

“Yes,” Dana said sourly. “That is a thing I know about you.”

There was no sign of Athos, which was hopeful. Aramis and Porthos had promised to sit on him to prevent him crashing the meeting out of guilt or self-sacrifice or what the hell ever.

Dana fidgeted with the studs on her arm as she stood waiting outside the Cardinal’s office for forty-five minutes after the time indicated for the appointment. Someone was being taught a lesson about their place in the solar system, and she suspected it was her. Ro stood with her, barely moving or speaking.

“You’re still pissed off, aren’t you?” Dana blurted finally. “That the Sun-kissed knocked you unconscious, and you missed it all.”

Ro gave her a filthy look. “Maybe I’m pissed off because if I had seen and heard what happened, you would have a credible witness to defend you. As it is – I don’t know if you’re going to get out of this one. The Cardinal is furious that the Sun-kissed made her look – well, irrelevant.”

Dana lifted her chin, refusing to look cowed even though Ro’s words made her feel cold all over. “Like you would have helped me anyway.”

Ro rolled her eyes at her. “Yep, keep thinking of me as the villain of the piece, buttercup. It’s such a constructive attitude.” Her comm chirruped. “Oh look. The Cardinal will see you now.”

“Marvellous,” Dana growled. “Fun times for all.”

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The Cardinal’s office on Chaillot Station was filled with pot plants of various varieties: flowering succulents, for the most part, which made the air taste spicy on the tongue.

“Ah, D’Artagnan,” said her Eminence, setting aside a clamshell to pay unnerving attention to the young Musketeer. “So good of you to make time for me.”

“I have been expecting you to take an interest in what happened on The Stars Divine,” Dana said bluntly. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ro huff impatiently at her lack of tact.

“Indeed,” said her Eminence, steepling her elegant hands. “I have read the reports presented to Amiral Treville. You can understand how concerned I am that two pilots under my colleague’s command were directly responsible for losing a vital political prisoner during a time of war…”

“What war?” Dana said sharply. “The war is over. The Sun-kissed are gone. You’re welcome.”

This time, she actually saw Ro slap herself on the forehead. Fine, Dana wasn’t doing herself any favours, but she was sick of this – of pretending that the Cardinal herself hadn’t been directly responsible for half of Milord’s destructive hijinks.

“Captain-lieutenant Athos has a very troubling record,” her Eminence went on. “So many marks against his name for brawling, for behaviour ill-befitting an officer of the Royal Fleet. And of course, there is his known association with the missing prisoner, which makes his culpability in this matter so… disturbing.”

“I see,” said Dana, leaning back in her chair. “That’s smart. You know how much I love my friends, that I would do anything to protect them. But you also know that Athos is Amiral Treville’s darling – she would fight tooth and nail if you attempted to get rid of him. You can’t actually do anything to him, but you think if you threaten him hard enough, I’ll quietly go away. That I’ll make the grand sacrifice to keep him from being prosecuted.”

“Come,” said her Eminence. “No one is speaking of prosecution.”

“Oh, so you don’t want to arrest me for letting Milord go into the hands of his own people – the very people you yourself had promised to deliver him to? What, then? Are you taking my commission? I thought only Amiral Treville could fire a Musketeer.” Dana worked very hard not to tremble on that one, because of all the things Cardinal Richelieu could do to her, taking away the Musketeers was as bad a threat as taking away Athos.

“And yet a resignation letter has to come directly from the Musketeer herself,” the Cardinal said.

Dana actually laughed. “I’m going to resign, am I? I must have missed some of the implied threats, because you’ve said nothing to me today to scare me into that kind of desperate response.”

Cardinal Richelieu smiled a thin, triumphant smile. “Two Musketeers who share a troubling sexual history with the escaped prisoner, the only witnesses to that prisoner’s escape – that embarrassment, combined with the undoubted success of the Combined Royal Fleet in driving the Sun-kissed invaders back where they came from, suggests to me and many of my supporters that there is no need for the Musketeers to exist as a separate fleet at all. We all serve the Crown, after all.”

Dana leaned back in her chair, considering her next words very carefully. “What would Amiral Treville’s role be in this brave new world of a single fleet that you propose?”

“Ah, my dear Jeanne. I’m sure she would enjoy more time to spend with her grandchildren.”

Dana stared at the Cardinal. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ro sucking in a long, slow breath.
“I am surprised,” Dana said finally. “That you think it appropriate to blame the Musketeers for the Sun-kissed taking custody of their prisoner. Considering that we were working under your direct orders at the time.”

The Cardinal’s face went very still. It was fascinating. Not even a muscle twitched. “The mission parameters were very specific,” she said finally.

“Oh yes,” said Dana. “The verbal mission parameters that you gave to us via Special Agent Cho – or is it Captain Cho? I lose track. They were very specific. That’s why it was so thoughtful of you to allow us more flexibility in our interpretation of those orders, in a written contract.”

This time, it was only the Cardinal’s eyebrows that moved, but boy did they move. “Say that again,” she said coldly.

Dana smiled, and swiped one of the studs along her wrist – the one that Athos had pressed upon her the minute he realised she had been summoned to this meeting without him. It was an expensive piece, a flat bead of platinum with a red fleur-de-lis stamped into it.

At the swipe of Dana’s fingertip, the words of the contract contained within sprang up, glowing in the air between them.

It is by my orders and for the good of Crown and Solar System that the bearer of this stud has done what they have done.
Cardinal Richelieu, timestamp 987398Red, identity sealed.

The Cardinal stared at the words, and then up at Dana. “Do you want a promotion, Captain-lieutenant D’Artagnan?”

Dana blinked rapidly, taking in the change of tone. “No thank you, your Eminence. I’m still quite new. You know how it is. Learning the ropes. No promotions warranted or necessary.”

There was a muffled snort from the direction of Ro. Dana kept her gaze fixed firmly forwards.

“As you were then, D’Artagnan,” Cardinal Richelieu said, opening her clamshell again, and making it clear that the Musketeer was dismissed. “We’ll rattle along as we have been for a while longer.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Dana. She felt Ro tug at her sleeve, and rose to her feet. “See you back in Paris.”

“Oh, I’m sure our paths will cross from time to time,” said the Cardinal sardonically.
Dana was still a little in shock as Ro propelled her out of the office, and the door spiralled shut behind them.

“Just so you know,” said Ro in a steady voice as they walked down the corridor. “That was insanely hot.”

“Thanks,” said Dana automatically, still more concerned with putting one foot in front of the other without falling over. “Wait, what?”

Ro took hold of Dana’s shoulders, crowding her against the nearest wall and kissing her like they were on a burning spaceship about to die.

Dana gasped into the kiss, surprise giving way to hell yes, want, and wound one arm around Ro’s neck, reeling her in.

“Right,” said Ro, sounding somewhat dazed as they broke apart. “It’s not the Sabre uniform, is it? Because I hardly ever wear one of these.”

“It’s definitely not the uniform,” said Dana, grinning at her.

“Okay. Good to know.” Ro raked her fingers through her long hair. Dana had never seen her looking remotely nervous before. It was kind of great. “I’ll be seeing you, buttercup.” She gave Dana a half-mocking salute, and strode away down the corridor.

Dana stayed leaning against the wall a little longer, as she caught her breath. And yes, sure, she did watch very closely as Ro walked away.

Hell. Yes. Want.

Huh.

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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.

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