It’s Musketeer day again! Conspiracies, mecha, romance and the spaceship equivalent of grand auto theft. Thanks so much for joining me on this wacky adventure. I’ll be away from the computer for the next two Wednesdays, but my trusty silent producer will do his best to keep the show on the road.
I still haven’t quite got over reaching my $200 milestone which means the festive Christmas prequel story is go. Next milestone, at the $300 mark, means I’ll be commissioning artwork, for here on the blog as well as the final ebook. I’m longing to have my Musketeers depicted in art, so that’s where we’re headed next.
And in the mean time…
SEE YOU IN LONDON, MUSKETOONS!
Start reading from Part 1
Missed the last installment? Track back to Part 11
Main Page & Table of Contents
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 – and that means getting into as much trouble as possible. Right now she’s tangled up in a Royal conspiracy, having just rescued the Prince Consort’s tailor and teammate Conrad from the Cardinal’s secret agent Rosnay Cho. And she stole a spaceship. Did I mention that Conrad is super pretty? It’s worth saying.
NOW READ ON!
PART 12: An Assignation at the Mecha Graveyard
“We’re actually doing this,” said Dana, sixteen minutes later as they prepared to roll the Moth out of E-Dock. She had twelve separate cables plugged into the back of her helm, three of them feeding smooth threads of data directly into her brain. Thanks to Planchet’s hacking skills, the Moth had welcomed her as an old friend and trusted pilot.
Fly, darling, come fly with me, we’ll see the solar system together…
“Bon chance,” said Aramis over the comms. She had elected to remain in Paris. She had also slipped a pearl stunner into Dana’s pocket before letting them go – Dana did not usually bear arms when not on active mecha duty. “I’d come along for the ride, but Porthos has her hands full and I have a feeling I might need to save Athos from himself.”
Dana frowned, her hands stretching over the smooth controls. “What’s up with Athos?”
“Don’t get distracted,” said Aramis’ honey voice. “I’ve been rescuing Athos since you were a teenager. So, last week, basically.”
“Hey,” Dana protested.
“Fly straight, baby doll,” said Aramis. “The moon is the big white thing you’ll spot on your scanner once you’re in the air.” She signed off the comm with an electronic trill.
This ship felt amazing inside Dana’s head.
“Two minutes,” said Porthos in her ear. “Get out while the going’s good. We want to see nothing but a clean, empty space when these cam feeds hum back to life.”
“A clean, empty space I can do,” breathed Dana.
Oh, she loved this ship. She hated how good it felt beneath her hands, and inside her head.
Dana had learned on darts, musket-class and otherwise, and could fly just about anything up to and including the very slow venturers that were used to ferry personnel back and forth between Paris and Lunar Palais. She had tried out a few fighters here and there, usually for testing purposes, but had never flown a Moth fighter of this quality before. The Moth was roomier than the dart, while still being streamlined enough to cut beautifully through the atmosphere.
It was like steering silk. Dana barely had to think her commands, and the ship responded with a light touch, reflecting subtleties of thought she didn’t even know that she had.
Space wrapped itself around the Moth, and pulled them in.
“Luna Palais Tertiary Dock, this is Control,” repeated the helm inside Dana’s head as they made their approach. “Identify.”
This was the difficult part. But Planchet had a hack for every occasion, in this case turning the ID chip stolen from Rosnay Cho’s engie into a profile avatar and voice simulator.
“This is Engineer Chretien Foy, Moth 286921,” Dana said, reading off Planchet’s clamshell tablet.
“Where’s your pilot, Foy?”
“This is a maintenance run only, regulation 68A.” Engineers could fly ships solo for freight or service as long as they were travelling distances of four hours or less, within chartered space. “Just put in a new set of power spheres, now running tests in all atmospheres,” Dana added, on impulse.
Conrad was smiling at her from the co-pilot’s seat. He had a good smile, that made his eyes brighter than his hair, and that was saying something. He really did have the most ridiculous hair. It wasn’t just the artificial neon blueness of it, it was the spiky texture and the silver tips to those spikes, that matched the scales that ran naturally down both edges of his face. “Don’t embellish,” he mouthed at her.
She gave him a rude gesture in reply, and he laughed.
“We can’t give you a spot for another hour, Moth 286921,” said Control. “Can get you a berth on Secondary Dock much sooner. How long will you be on the surface?”
“Triple shift if you have it,” said Dana.
“I can give you a double.”
“I’ll take it.”
Dana muted the comm and prepared for landing. “Well done, Planchet,” she tossed behind her.
“I think she’s asleep,” said Conrad, amused.
Dana craned her neck behind her. Planchet was strapped into one of the aft seats, her head lolling against the humming wall of the ship. “She deserves it,” she said. “Saved my bacon at least three times today. Will you make your appointment?”
Conrad tapped the blazing sapphire stud that he wore implanted on his ring finger, checking the time. He then leaned over Dana’s arm to call up a map of the dock they were heading for, and transfer it to his stud. It was odd to have someone seated beside her. She hadn’t flown with a co-pilot since first year training. “Just,” he said. “I’ll have to hustle along the Triumph to make it. The Secondary Dock is closer to the Palace, but I won’t have the benefit of the bullet train.”
Dana longed to ask what it was that was so important, but she kept the thought hard inside her chest. Curiosity was a bad thing, when state secrets were concerned.
Conrad touched her shoulder briefly. “Thank you for helping me, Dana. If I had a vote, I’d have you in Musketeer blues already.”
She ignored the compliment, which made her feel strange, and set about the landing protocols instead.
As they descended through layers of airlock to the dock below, Dana felt the familiar leaden weight in her stomach. Lunar gravity was all the worse now that she had been flying a real ship, and had to give it up.
Fly again, pleaded the Moth in her head as she executed a textbook perfect landing in the allocated berth. Her shoulders sagged. She didn’t want to let go.
Gentle hands came around to disconnect her from the helm, one cable at a time.
“That’s Planchet’s job,” she protested dimly. “She needs to practice…”
“I’m sure she is capable of doing it in her sleep,” said Conrad. “But I’m closer.” He leaned around Dana, releasing the catch on the helm. “Easy does it.”
She felt bereft as he lifted the helm up and set it into the correct module, ready for its real owner to reclaim it, once she realised her ship and engie were on the moon.
Then Conrad was back, feeling her pulse and staring intently into her eyes for a moment, to check her pupil size. Routine checks, performed as if he did them every day.
“I thought you were a tailor,” Dana said.
“I have many skills,” said Conrad, and then proved it by kissing her.
Dana’s senses were already firing in all directions after that short, glorious flight in a ship that knew how to sail the stars instead of slowly chugging through them. The loss of helm response was like a cold bucket of ice water over her brain, and here she was heating up all over again.
Conrad was warm and confident and confusing. Not to mention, married to her landlady. But Dana still kissed him back. His warmth was more than welcome.
Leaving Planchet to clear up the last of the crime scene (including record deletion, strapping an unconscious Engineer Foy in the pilot seat, and faking a post-dated passage for Dana and herself on a civilian shuttle), all of which which she seemed anxious to work on without them getting in her way, Dana and Conrad made a speedy path across Paris to the Palace.
They caught a tram up the Boulevard Triumph, which had been deemed of too great historic and artistic value to be spoiled by a bullet train, despite such trains having been invented long before a city had been built here on Lunar Palais.
Conrad grew more nervous and agitated as they neared the Louvre, and he had not tried to kiss her again. Dana was not sure which of these things was most concerning her, but she stuck with him in any case, to make sure for herself that he at least made it as far as the Palace without being abducted again.
Rosnay Cho was going to spit chips when she realised her ship had been stolen, and Dana couldn’t help grinning at the thought of it. She wished she could see the look on her face, and then wondered idly if Porthos’ Ed could arrange that via security cam.
“This is our stop,” said Conrad, and all but flung himself off the tram. Dana caught him up, and they plunged together through a gateway into the maze of gardens that surrounded the Palace.
Commander Essart’s Mecha Squad were housed in the East of the city, and Dana had got to know the Palace grounds pretty well in her time here – but not the private gardens, which were indulgent and sprawling, concoctions of carefully designed Artifice mixed with genuine, delicate flora from every habitable planet in the solar system.
Each garden led into another, as if they were rooms in their own right, and every one of them was spectacular. Dana didn’t get to see much, moving at such speed through it all. Finally, Conrad stopped. “You’d better clear off,” he said. “You shouldn’t be seen at the Palace. Can you get back to barracks, set up an alibi for yourself?”
“Well I can,” said Dana, a bit hurt. “Are you sure I shouldn’t see you inside?”
“There are live cams all along Moonflower Walk,” he said, gesturing to the arch up ahead. “That takes me directly into the Council chambers, and no one will touch me there. I’ll be fine. And my Prince needs me.”
Dana was superfluous, then. “Look after yourself,” she said sternly. “You might actually need rescuing next time.”
“Oh, let’s not pretend you didn’t rescue me,” he said, with that smile that lit up his face, however tired and stressed he was. “I’d be locked up in a cell with my wife right now if you hadn’t got involved – and no one wants that.”
Dana had forgotten about Madame Su. What on earth were they going to do about that?
“Watch your back,” Conrad said to her. “You’ve made some dangerous enemies today, whether you know it or not.”
This is what I always wanted, Dana thought in a sudden rush. Adventures, and adrenalin, all in service to the Crown. Her heart was still beating fast from all that hurrying through the gardens. “I’m dangerous too,” she said.
To his credit, Conrad did not laugh at her. He looked at her for a long moment, and then nodded. “I wouldn’t want to get on your wrong side,” he said, and strode away along Moonflower Walk.
No more kissing, then. That was probably for the best.
What followed was highly embarrassing. Dana had been so busy following Conrad and keeping her eyes out for danger, she had entirely failed to take note of the route they had taken through the private gardens of the Palace.
Either that, or the Artifice was glitching and had scrambled the order of the garden rooms when she wasn’t looking. Possibly both. Maybe this was actually a cunning security system, to dissuade thieves and assassins.
Whatever the reason, she spent the next hour getting thoroughly lost. So much for returning quickly to barracks. She couldn’t activate any of her studs without pinging her identity all over the Palace proximity systems, and she knew for a fact that there was no detailed map of the private gardens available to any but those of highest rank.
She was going to have to find her way out by old-fashioned means. If only she had a ball of string about her person.
Dana had given up on ever escaping these wretched gardens alive, and had draped herself over a large ornamental rock to think through her options, when she heard voices. One very familiar voice.
She sat up, and crept over to a wall of bright peach Freedom roses, a famously ugly flower that managed to grow to twice its native size here with all the primping and water it had been allotted.
Dana peered through the web of thorns and saw, of all people, Conrad Su walking along a marble path. He had changed his suit and showered, his blue hair forming damp spikes. His coat was a deep formal blue velvet with gold embellishments, which made him look far more like the formal courtier he was supposed to be.
He was still pretty, though.
“Last chance to turn back from making the biggest mistake of your life,” he said, quite clearly, as he passed Dana, and she thought for a moment that he was addressing her. But then, to her surprise, she heard another male voice respond to his, close by, though he still appeared to be alone.
“Shut up, for God’s sake,” said Conrad, sounding completely fed up. “I sacrificed sleep in my actual bed for the first time in days for this, don’t forget that.”
Dana let Conrad and his apparently invisible companion pass, and then followed quietly.
It was curiosity, of course, about that mysterious appointment which had agitated him so much that he burned his way out of a ship that had been his prison for days. And, she had to admit to herself, at least partly it was because he might be leading her out of this ridiculous maze of an ornamental garden.
If there were other reasons for following the attractive athlete with blue hair, she would not admit to them, not under bribe or torture.
It was getting dark, which was just inconvenient. Dana was used to a shift-based lifestyle. Space was always dark, and if you wanted day, you turned the damned light on. This idea of being subject to the whims of planetary bodies was… strange.
But the paths were lit with hidden lamps and glowstones, and having this much shadow did make it easier to follow without being seen.
Finally they were out of the formal gardens and walking past rec hubs, and then a large private dock of Royal vehicles. There were a few people working here and there, and Dana kept to the dark, shadowing Conrad who was acting as if this kind of stroll was completely normal.
Where on earth was he going? And why drag Dana nearly all the way to the Palace only to turn around and leave again?
They emerged on the East side of the Palace, and now she had her bearings quite clearly. She was only a few minutes from the Mecha hub where her barracks were located. No excuse at all, to keep following Conrad to his mysterious appointment.
But then she realised he was heading past the practice yards, and towards the tunnel that led to the mecha graveyard. That fired her curiosity even more.
When Lunar Palais was first built, hundreds of years earlier, it was considered too dangerous to have ships constantly coming in and out of the main dome. The only space dock then had been set up in a secondary, much smaller dome, with a tunnel connecting the two. This secondary dome was disused now, except as a storage space for abandoned tech that was too big to keep anywhere else, and had not yet been pillaged for recyclable parts. Old spaceships, building units and especially rundown old mecha clotted the area, so walking through it was like exploring a rusting former battlefield.
Mecha Squad Essart and their engie crew sometimes held drinking parties here, among the debris and broken-down vehicles. When a suit was smashed beyond reasonable use, there would be a ceremonial drag-and-ditch, to which all members of the Squad were not only invited, but expected to participate. Dana had also sneaked in here once or twice on her own in the early days, so she could get extra mecha practice away from the kind but mocking eyes of her friends and/or her new squadmates.
There had been no terraforming here, nothing to disguise the surface of the moon as anything but what it was – a pitted, rocky landscape that looked like death. Dana liked it out here better than within the proper dome of Luna Palais – it felt more honest, somehow.
She had not thought about the fact that, as a former spacedock, the dome must be fully-functional.
Up ahead of her, past a heap of severed steel heads and giant armour, Conrad stopped in a recently cleared patch of ground. He stood in the flickering pool of light from a neon beacon, looking absolutely exhausted. His companion was obviously nearby, as that light caught the occasional movement that should belong to a person, despite whatever shielding they were using. Dana hid in the shadows of a nearby disused hangar. Guilt stung her briefly as she caught something like despair on Conrad’s face for a moment before he hid it behind something more polite and diplomatic. Did she have a right to spy on him just because she had partly rescued him today?
Dana was about to turn and leave when she heard a sound so familiar to her that she could not move her feet.
The plexi-glass above them shifted and rotated out in layers, allowing for a ship to descend. Dana caught her breath as she watched it come down. It wasn’t just that it was a musket-class dart, which automatically made it beautiful in her eyes. It was familiar. A scrolling pattern of fleur-de-lis and sacred constellations tattooed its back fin, clear enough that Dana knew the name of the ship. It was the Morningstar.
It belonged to Aramis.
She had missed something. If Dana should have learned anything from her time in Paris it was that the Musketeers had their own secrets, many secrets, and a history she did not share. Whatever secret assignation was happening here, Aramis was involved, and she had kept it from Dana even while helping with the escape back on Paris. Humiliation burned through her as she stared down the ship.
The pilot emerged first, wiping flight-gel from the white-blond stubble of her scalp, and stretching her legs. She was a Musketeer but not Aramis at all. It was Captain Tracy Dubois. Dana had seen more of than she should thanks to a certain personal photosilk belonging to her friend, but they had never met in person. Dubois wore full Musketeer uniform, but you would have to be a long way away to mistake her soft pink face for Aramis’s honey brown tones.
Captain Dubois spoke briefly to Conrad on the ground, and they shared a handshake of forearms gripping each other, colleague to colleague. She used greater deference in nodding to Conrad’s companion, the one that no one could see. Then she opened up the side hatch of her ship.
A woman stepped out, in a silver flight suit. Her hair was long and braided in loops – no longer purple, but a violent pink colour. Dana knew this woman too, if only by vid-image and reputation. She was the exiled former Minister of PR and former Emerald Knight, the one called Chevreuse.
Another of Aramis’ lovers, which meant Dana was holding her breath, waiting for her friend to emerge as part of this blatantly conspiratorial group. Instead, a third woman emerged from the ship, bronzed and beautiful in a scarlet flight suit.
Buck. The Duchess of Buckingham. She had not been formally exiled from Lunar Palais but she was most definitely not supposed to be here.
A conspiracy against the Crown, then. It had to be. And Dana had helped Conrad set up this illicit gathering! She was in so much trouble just for witnessing whatever the hell was going on. She had to get out of here.
Dana turned and ran across the pitted surface of the moon, putting them all behind her. But in this charged, silent atmosphere, she could not help her feet scuffing the ground, and the noise of it sent echoes in all direction.
Not fast enough to escape. She heard the heavier footsteps of pursuit, and ran faster.
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 ($300 a month) will unlock COVER ART.