Musketeer Space Part 10: The Weight of the Solar System

Fleur de lis littleIt’s Musketeer day! I love Musketeer day. This chapter has Dana doing Covert Operations, Athos doing Backstory, and Why TeamJoust Is An Awesome Sport. Also, Grimaud! I am a bit enamoured of Grimaud.

This week’s news includes the third of my BBC Musketeers reviews for Musketeer Media Monday: It’s Raining Musketeers is a super spoilery look at the last three episodes of the show.

I also wanted to give a shout out to this great post at overtheeffingrainbow.co.uk – is that a great web address or what? Lisa fangirls over both the BBC Musketeer series AND Musketeer Space, with a bonus Kermitflail gif for emphasis, which made me grin all over my face. I’m very glad when any reader tells me they are enjoying this story – which does feel like something of a departure from my usual fiction – but I am especially gleeful when someone who deeply loves the original novel likes what I’m doing. Because, you know. Liberties Are Being Taken.

Though every time I go back to the original material, I take comfort in the fact that my own banterific, comedic take on the story isn’t remotely out of place. Dumas was a comedy genius, with swords and hats. His Athos, while every bit as angsty and tormented as you might expect, also gets some of the funniest dialogue.

So without further ado…

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PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan came to Paris Satellite to become a Musketeer pilot, and has ended up as a Mecha cadet instead. At least she has three Musketeers as her new best friends – and, thanks to her new landlady, a sinister plot to uncover.

NOW READ ON!

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This chapter is dedicated to Katharine. Thank you so much for supporting Musketeer Space!

PART 10: The Weight of the Solar System

Dana’s head was full of turmoil as she left Madame Su. A royal scandal was the last thing she wanted to get mixed up in! But if this was a chance to get one over on Rosnay bloody Cho, it was worth the risk.

She wanted to ask the advice of Athos and the others. Surely they knew more about how to get a royal audience than Dana did. But all three of them were flying border patrols today, and this wasn’t the sort of conversation to have over comms channels.

No, Dana was going to have to handle this herself. It would at least make a good story when she joined her friends for supper later.

The only good part about this whole suspicious affair was the ship. Madame Su had a decade-old scout venturer stored in the civilian dock, and was happy for Dana to fly it down to Luna Palais rather than cadging a lift on official transport. The thought of having a helm wrapped around her skull again was enough to make Dana sing and dance. She missed having her own ship so badly that it hurt.

If only she had hung on to the old Buttercup.

Dana made her way through rows and rows of ships on E Dock, searching for the code that matched the keypass Madame Su had given her. It wasn’t here – she was too far along, and would have to go back a block or two.

As she spun around, she saw a ship that she recognised.

No. It couldn’t be that – there were plenty of Moth fighters, even those of the very latest generation. The fact that it looked exactly like the Moth that Dana had docked next to on Meung Station meant nothing.

Only…

The closer she got, the more she felt certain that it was the same ship.

Dana heard voices, and backed up into the shadow of a tricked out vintage Sabre with flames painted across its hull.

It was her. Ro, or Cho, or whatever her name was now. The pilot with the long black hair stepped out from the Moth, speaking into a clamshell tablet that was the same colour as her rose-coloured flight suit. “Don’t speak to me like that,” she said furiously. “Of course he’s fucking secure. You’re the one playing mind games. Are the friends going to prevent her getting to the moon or not?”

Dana heard another voice, low and male and melodic, coming out of the clamshell. “With friends like these… who needs enemies?”

“That’s not an answer, Milord.” Never had a formal title been spoken with such heavy sarcasm.

“You put your pieces in place, sweetness, and I’ll worry about mine.”

Rosnay snapped the clamshell closed, gave a short scream of frustration, and then strode away from her Moth, heading for the sphere-lifts. She made another call before she got there, this time through a comm stud in her wrist. “Foy. Check in with me in three hours on the Stellar Concourse. I don’t fucking care what I said about your rec-hours. Right.”

The sphere-lift hissed open and swallowed her up.

Dana breathed in and out. She had no idea what any of that meant, but she would remember it for later. Milord. Was that the same Milord she had seen with Ro on Meung Station, the one who looked far too aristocratic to be in a dive of a bar like that? They were in it together, then, whatever it was.

Her eyes turned back to the beautiful, gleaming Moth. Was this it? Was Madame Su’s abducted husband right here under her nose? Dana didn’t dare try to break in on her own. Who knew what kind of security layers were built into a ship like that?

Perhaps Planchet would have a trick or two. The kid seemed handy with electronics.

First things first, though. Dana had promised Madame Su she would fly to Paris and get a direct message to the Prince. She had time to check on the ship before she made a decision about the Moth. Dana tracked back along the dock until she found the right row for the Su scout venturer.

As she approached the right zone, Dana felt her senses prickle. She leaned casually into a recharging station as if checking the instructions, and glanced around. No one in sight. And yet…

She could see the Su scout, squat and greenish-grey on its dock platform. There, caught in the glare of the flat lighting in this area, she saw two shadows beneath it that were shaped like people.

Not just people, by their stance. Guards. Sabres, perhaps? Or Ro’s less official allies? There was a military feel about them.

The Su family had certainly got the attention of the wrong people.

Dana backed the hell up. She kept walking until she was at the sphere-lifts, and then let them pull her up, away from the civilian dock. She didn’t breathe properly until she was back in one of the shopping plazas, surrounded by people.

How the hell could she get off Paris Satellite discreetly? She didn’t have a ferry shift until tomorrow.

Her brand new stud, the one she had been issued along with her mecha when she signed the contract with Commandant Essart, chimed suddenly with an unfamiliar code. Dana stopped at the nearest set of privacy booths and slipped into a soundproof cubicle before accepting the call. “Hello?”

Planchet’s face, all worry and freckles, appeared in the air before her. “Are you alone?” she hissed.

“Yes, what’s all this about?” Dana remembered the scout. “You have to tell Madame Su -”

“She’s been arrested,” said Planchet, looking like she was about to cry. “Four Sabres turned over her rooms. They took her away. I hid under the clothes printer, waiting for them to leave, but they didn’t! I mean, two of them left with her, but the others are still there. I don’t know what to do.”

Dana thought with regret of her own room, which she couldn’t reach without going through Madame Su’s workshop. “Can you get out of there without them seeing you?”

“There’s the heating ducts, I suppose,” Planchet sniffed. “Do you think they’ll arrest me too?”

“I don’t know. Better not find out. Meet me here -” And Dana gave Planchet the address of the apartment Athos shared with his engie Grimaud. “Wait in the bar next door if you have to. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” She hesitated. “Do you know how to bust the security of the latest generation of Moth fighter, by any chance?”

“If I downloaded the manual, maybe.” Planchet brightened. “I’ll do that before I leave.”

“Only if you can do it silently!” Dana urged. “Don’t take any risks.”

She made her away across town, heading for the district where Athos lived, worrying about Planchet the whole time. The girl was a born mechanic, but didn’t have much in the way of survival instincts.

When Dana arrived, though, it was to find Planchet happily ensconced at Grimaud’s kitchen counter, eating a second helping of freshly printed pie.

“Thanks for looking after her,” said Dana.

Grimaud nodded, then looked more closely at Dana and took off her headphones. She looked odd without them. “You’re looking for Conrad Su,” she said.

Dana hesitated, unused to hearing so many words out of Grimaud’s mouth all at once. The previous total included two ‘hellos’ and a ‘good’ over the span of several weeks. Dana looked accusingly at Planchet, who shrugged with her mouth full. “She asked.”

“Do you know Su?” Dana asked, still trying to recover from the fact that Grimaud was acknowledging her existence.

Grimaud rolled her eyes. “Number 18,” she said. “Emerald Knights.”

“That makes no sense at all.” No, wait. The Emerald Knights. Wasn’t that… “Are we talking about TeamJoust?” Dana said finally. “Sports?”

Grimaud smiled with all her teeth. “The game we conquered space to play,” she said in a tone that bordered on the religious.

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It was near the end of the patrol shift, which meant Grimaud was due down on Crown Dock to meet Athos and give the Parry, Riposte a once-over. Before she left, she set Dana and Planchet up with a recording of what was apparently the most famous Zero G TeamJoust game of the previous year.

Thanks to Porthos, Dana had taken something of an interest in Zero G TeamJoust since her arrival on Paris Satellite. She knew who most of the teams were, at least, though had barely got started on learning about the players.

The fact that Prince Alek of Auster, husband to the Regent of the Solar System, played in the 0-League had a lot to do with the Regent’s current high popularity ratings. Alek was fit, fashionable and utterly fanciable. Dana had seen a few clips of his games in the past – he was an unforgettable figure with those brilliant emerald eyes and matching hair, even in the vaguely unflattering armour padding.

This time, she was watching his other teammates. It turned out that Conrad Su was not just the Prince’s tailor but his jousting partner. Along with a feisty female pole-defence called Laurel Slaughter who had only joined the team recently, they were the Emerald Knights, one of the most popular TeamJoust squads in Paris.

“Everyone knows about this game,” said Planchet. “It was the last fleur-de-lis match of the season, just before Joyeux. Chevreuse – their previous pole-defence – she sprained her ankle, and the Prince called in a replacement at the last minute. Drove the audience wild, and the bookies too.” She nodded at the screen.

The replacement was tall and statuesque, with a wide white smile and reddish brown skin that matched her long, frizz-curled hair. Even beneath the padding, you could see the muscle on her from shoulder to thigh.

“She’d never played 0-League before, but everyone knew who she was,” said Planchet.

Dana looked again. The woman was vaguely familiar, but it was hard to tell in the helmet as she bounced back and forth in the air before the cams, a large pole tilted in one hand. “She’s famous?” she hazarded.

“She’s the Duchess of freaking Buckingham!” Planchet’s mouth was full of the sandwich Grimaud had made for her before she left – apparently Planchet’s freckled face cried out to be fed. “Georgiana Villiers, or Buck to her friends and the tabloids. Ambassador of Valour.” She nodded at the screen. “Social media exploded when this was announced. She’s got 11 million followers, and they were all fan-acing the game like crazy.”

“I don’t know what most of those words mean,” said Dana. “She’s popular, then.” The Duchess of Buckingham. That was the one that Madame Su had been so sure was implicated in an affair with Prince Alek. Did it count as a conspiracy if it had been televised?

“It was a brilliant game,” said Planchet, skipping to the highlight montage. “That’s Mr Su. Madame’s husband. He doesn’t spend much time at the workshop because he lives down at the Palace most nights, but he’s all right.”

The Emerald Knights celebrated their win with the age old manner of hugs, rude gestures and butt-patting. Nothing unusual in that. Conrad Su was stocky where Prince Alek was tall, but he had the same combination of silver scales over golden skin that marked him as a native of Auster. His hair was coloured bright blue, contrasting with the Prince’s green. He also had to be at least thirty years younger than his wife. “Go Madame Su,” said Dana, impressed. Her taste in men was much prettier than her taste in fashion and wall decor.

The cam feed slowly scanned the crowd, capturing the joy, winces and general hubbub of the Emerald Knights supporters.

“Slow it!” Dana said sharply.

Planchet did so, and gave her an odd look as the audience footage crawled to a near-standstill.

Dana had spotted her friends. The Three Musketeers. Dana had been dragged to several TeamJoust matches with Porthos, but neither of the others had shown much interest in the game.

Here, though, they all sat together in a tangle, right behind the players’ bench. And there weren’t three of them, there were four. A woman with bright purple hair, an Emerald Knights jacket and fierce green face-paint sat with her feet on Aramis’ lap, her head thrown back against Athos’ shoulder. When she saw the cam slide past her, she screwed her face up and roared directly into the lens, which looked very strange in slow-mo.

Who was she?

Dana heard a throat clearing, and looked up to see Athos in his own doorway, regarding her with that flat, unblinking gaze he often used to unnerve people. It had been a while since he had turned that expression on her.

“We’re watching a game,” she said hesitantly.

“So I see.” He dropped his heavy jacket at the door and headed for the kitchen corner of the apartment. “Turn it off, Grimaud.” His engie appeared behind him, mouth pressed shut.

“Don’t tell her what to do,” Dana said, annoyed at him.

“Turn it off!” Athos roared. He looked furious. “I didn’t know you even still had that.”

Grimaud gave him a filthy look, and turned off the vid. She gestured for Planchet to join her, and they went into the other room.

“Are you drunk already?” Dana demanded. “You’ve only just got off duty.”

“Believe me, I am extremely sober,” he snarled. “And if you’ll excuse me, I plan to do something to rectify that.” He began searching his cupboards. “Grimaud, where is my whiskey?”

Silence from the other room.

“Conrad Su has been abducted,” Dana said quietly.

Athos stopped for a moment. “I see. Well, that’s not surprising.”

“Not suprrising?”

“He’s close to the Prince Consort. That means he knows all sorts of things that other people would like to know. I’m sure he’ll be returned in due course, that’s how it usually works.”

“He’s been gone three days.”

Athos finally located the bottle he had been looking for, wedged behind the food printer. “That is troubling,” he admitted. The anger had dissipated now, with no real sign of what had caused it.

“His wife suspects the Cardinal is involved, through an agent called -”

“Well, yes,” Athos said patiently. “She probably is.”

Dana could have hit him out of sheer frustration. Instead she watched as he poured several measures of whiskey into two glasses, drank one, added ice to the second, and rapped a code into the food printer.

“Don’t you think someone should do something about it?” Dana demanded eventually, while the printer hummed to life.

Athos poured a fresh drink for himself, in the glass without ice. “This is palace politics. Believe me, I have been playing this game since before you were born…”

“You would have been ten,” she snapped.

“I started young. You don’t want to get involved, D’Artagnan.”

The printer chimed, and Athos removed a roast beef sandwich from it. Dana was distracted for a moment, staring at it.

Athos picked up the whiskey glass with ice and the sandwich, and went and rapped on the inner door of the apartment. Grimaud opened it after a moment, and glowered at him.

“I am very sorry for shouting,” said Athos, sounding sincere. He gave her the peace offerings.

Grimaud took the plate and glass and closed the door again, with a nod.

“Now, where were we?” he said as he returned to Dana and more importantly, his drink.

“You were about to explain to me what happened at a certain fleur-de-lis match last Joyeux, when the Duchess of Buckingham played on Prince Alek’s team,” said Dana.

He gave her a dirty look. “I’m incredibly certain I was not going to explain that.”

“Come on, Athos!” she exploded. “You were there. I saw you on the cam, with the others. If something happened that night, you know about it. You could just tell me!”

Athos sighed. “You have no idea what you are getting into here, little one.”

“I’m not a child.”

“It was a bad time for all of us.” He met her eyes. “Some things are better forgotten.”

“I agree with you,” Dana said calmly. “Right up to the point that it comes back to bite you on the arse, thanks to the enemies of the Crown.”

He regarded her steadily for a moment, and then had another swallow of whiskey. “There are two different forms of TeamJoust: cinquefoil and fleur-de-lis. You know the difference?”

“We get sports broadcasts all the way out on the rim, you know.” Though in truth, Dana had paid little attention to TeamJoust before Paris. She knew that cinquefoil was melee-style, five jousters per team, and it was brutal. Fleur-de-lis was three per side, played in a sequence of one-on-one until the final melee spar. It was generally regarded as the more civilised game, because fewer people got seriously damaged while playing it.

“You’ve got the game right there in front of you. The Fleur-de-lis showdown of the century. The Emerald Knights were playing the finals against the Night Witches, but Chevreuse busted her ankle three days before the game.”

Dana nodded. “Chevreuse was their third teammate?”

Athos’ tone was almost fond. “Former minister of Public Relations. Used to give the Cardinal absolute hell on the Palace Council. Nice legs. Excellent pole-defence. And just good friends with Aramis, since you’re after all the dirt.”

Dana certainly knew enough to understand what ‘just good friends with Aramis’ meant. She reached for the remote that Grimaud had left behind, and called up the image of the cam panning the audience. “Is that her?”

The woman with the purple hair and Emerald Knights colours, pulling a horrid face into the cam feed, then laughing.

“That’s her. She insisted we all take her to the game anyway. I had to carry the wretched woman to her seat.” Athos didn’t sound like he had minded much. “Chevreuse, Conrad and Alek were unbeaten that season. She practically threw herself off a balcony when she realised she wouldn’t be able to play the match against the Witches. It looked like they might have to forfeit. But – did I mention Chev was a political genius?”

Dana couldn’t believe she was feeling jealous of this woman who had been friends with the Musketeers – her Musketeers – before she came to Paris. This was ridiculous. “No, you didn’t.”

“Well, she figured out the loophole in the rules. If anyone subbed for her in that match, it wouldn’t count as the same team, and they’d lose the ‘Invincible’ claim for the season. But since Buck – the Duchess of Buckingham – was an Ambassador to Paris, there was a legal twist that allowed her to take on the duties of any member of the Palace Council, as if she were that person. And, you know, contracts are sacred.” Athos was smiling again, in a good mood as he thought about his friend. He even poured Dana a drink of her own. “Brilliant move. So Buck took Chevreuse’s place, they beat the Night Witches 6-3, and the rest is history.”

Dana leaned in. “And?”

“There is no and.”

“A few minutes ago, you were furious I was bringing all this up again. And the twist ending to the story is that their team won and everyone was happy? I don’t buy it, Athos.”

That flat face again. “Something happened,” he admitted. “But don’t ask me what, because I worked damned hard to not know the details. There was a party afterwards, and things got out of hand. Sometime in the early hours, Chevreuse asked me to delete some security cam footage as a favour to her, which I did. I assumed it had something to do with Prince Alek, but I. Didn’t. Ask.” His blue eyes blazed at Dana. “And if I knew anything, I wouldn’t tell you. Because we serve the Crown first.”

“The Crown first,” Dana agreed quietly.

“The Regent knew about it, whatever it was. Buck was sent on a tour of Honour, with the expectation she would not return to Paris during her contract as Ambassador which, incidentally, is just about up. She should be heading home to Valour any day now. And Chevreuse…” Athos sighed, looking tired. “The Cardinal had been trying to get her fired for years. Within a week of that damned game, the Regent stopped protecting her. Chevreuse has been living in exile ever since. Artemisia, I think.”

Artemisia was one of the cities in orbit around the ocean world of Truth. Dana had visited there once – a nice enough place. But it wasn’t Paris. She didn’t feel jealous of Chevreuse any more.

Athos reached for the bottle of whiskey again. “Those are the stakes you’re playing for, sweetness, when you get involved in this Palace shit.” He glanced up at her, eyes steady. “Or are you already involved?”

“I don’t think you’d better drink any more,” Dana said. “Not if we’re going to rescue Conrad Su from the Cardinal.”

A smile played over Athos’ mouth. It looked different, with the beard so close-shaven. “I don’t believe I volunteered. Madame Su isn’t my landlady.”

Dana leaned in. “Are you going to make me say it?”

“Don’t say it, D’Artagnan,” He threatened, but it was a teasing voice and nothing like the unexpected anger that had flown out of him when he first arrived.

“All for one…”

Athos hissed and set the bottle down. “Really? You’re seriously pulling this? You’re not even a…”

“And one for all,” finished Dana.

He glared at her for a long time. “I’ll call the others.”

“Good plan.”

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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 Christmas story.

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2 replies on “Musketeer Space Part 10: The Weight of the Solar System”

  1. Katharine says:

    Aww, shucks. My own dedication? And what an exciting chapter it is! Fantastic as ever 🙂

  2. tansyrr says:

    So glad you liked it!

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