Musketeer Space Part 13 – Conspiracy is Bad For the Blood Pressure

Happy Musketeer Day, Musketoons! I am not here. I am not even in Australia. I might not yet be in London yet, either. I am Schroedinger’s Author.

Of course, it would be THIS chapter that would go up while I’m away, wouldn’t it…

The Musketeers themselves are taking most of the next couple of weeks off. There is Other Plot that does not require their presence. But rest assured, they’re off causing trouble somewhere even when we don’t get to see what they’re up to.


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PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana’s desire to be a Musketeer pilot in service to the Crown has led her to a few dodgy places over the last couple of months, but none dodgier than this – she’s stumbled across a conspiracy on the moon involving Aramis’ secret girlfriend, Aramis’ ex-girlfriend, and Aramis’ ship – not to mention the Prince Consort’s recently-kidnapped tailor, Conrad Su, who is also Dana’s landlady’s much younger husband, and far too hot for his own good. Just go with it. It’s all going to be fine.

NOW READ ON!

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This chapter is dedicated to Tehani Wessely, who supports and enables so much of what I do in my career, and Musketeers too.


Part 13: Conspiracy is Bad For the Blood Pressure

Conrad caught Dana before she reached the hatch. The gravity was softer here than in the main dome, a little spongier underfoot, and he of course was better experienced than she was in dealing with shifting gravity. He slammed into her back, one elbow crunching hard between her shoulder-blades.
She fought back, tucking and rolling, slicing at his legs with her feet. She didn’t even think about drawing her stunner, not that he gave her time to do so.

His head took her in the stomach, and she punched the side of his face, struggling to be free of him. His arms were grappled hard around her waist, though, and when they hit the surface of the moon with only a slight bounce, Dana was underneath.

For a man only a little taller than her, Conrad had a lot of muscle to him. He also had an arc-ray beneath that soft civilian shirt of his, and he now drew it, pointing the bead directly into her face.

An arc-ray, not a stunner. Lethal.

“Who sent you after us, Dana?” he whispered.

“No one sent me,” she snarled, shifting her weight to see if there was any give in the hold he had her in. “You know who I am.”

“I know you convinced Planchet you were on the side of the angels, but if a burning comet promised that girl a spaceship to play with, she’d follow it like it was a puppy.” Conrad breathed slowly, in and out, his hand steady on the arc-ray. “Who are you really, and why did you follow me?”

“Who are you?” Dana whispered back. “And what the hell have you got yourself into? Whatever the three of you are doing here, it’s hardcore treason. And you made me a part of it.”

“I didn’t invite you!” he said incredulously. “You made yourself part of this.” Then he looked at her, as if he could read her intentions just by extremely close eye contact. Whatever he saw, it made a difference.

Conrad rolled off her and stood up, holstering the weapon beneath the concealing swing of his royal blue coat. “For the Crown,” he said, testing her as he had before. “Everything I have done here tonight is in service to the Crown. God help me.”

Could she honestly say the same? Had she followed him out of curiosity, jealousy, or genuine patriotism? Dana felt vaguely ashamed of herself. He was right. She had invited herself into this mess.
“For the Crown,” she whispered. “Always.”

He held out a hand, and helped her to her feet. “Come and join the Royalist pity party. We have coffee.”

As they walked back towards the dart, his fingers remained tangled in hers. She did not pull her hand away.

Dubois and Chevreuse had made themselves comfortable on the surface of the moon, beside the Morningstar. Though now she came to look more closely at it, Dana was not certain it was the Morningstar after all. There was a shimmer about the tail that made her wonder if another sight-shield illusion was in play here. Could they do that, make a ship tattoo look like any other?

If they could make a person invisible, why not?

Dubois sipped coffee from a thermos cup, and Chevreuse produced a pack of cards which she lay out in an elaborate pattern on the white rock beneath them. They both glanced up warily as Conrad and Dana approached.

“Oh absolutely,” said Chevreuse, shifting from suspicious to sarcastic with barely a second’s pause. “That’s an excellent way to keep a low profile, Conrad. Bring a date.” She leaned back, and Dana realised for the first time that the other woman was pregnant, quite substantially so, with a large dome of a stomach visible as soon as you saw her at an angle.

“This is Dana D’Artagnan,” said Conrad. “She helped me get away from Captain Cho’s ship earlier, and she’s reliable backup. Aramis would vouch for her, they’re friends.”

Both women raised their eyebrows at that, and Dana remembered she was looking at Aramis’ current secret girlfriend as well as her ex.

“Actual friends,” Dana said with more emphasis than was strictly necessary. “Does she know you’ve got her ship?”

“Pretty, isn’t it,” said Captain Dubois fondly. She touched a stud at her wrist, and the tail fin of the dart shimmered suddenly, the pattern shifting from stars and fleur-de-lis to a different image of sword hilts tangled in vines, with the silhouette of a mountain range high across the top of the fin. It was the tattoo from the Parry Riposte. Athos’ ship.

“Don’t do that,” Dana growled. “You’re implicating them in whatever’s going on here.”

“Aramis owes me a favour, she can wear the inconvenience,” said Dubois, her hand going back to the stud as if to return the original illusion.

“Athos owes me nine,” said Chevreuse. “Leave it as it is.” She surveyed Dana thoughtfully. “So you don’t actually know why we’re here? Would you prefer it to stay that way?”

That was a good question. Conrad’s hand was warm in Dana’s. She was well and truly compromised now, and curious to know what exactly she was compromised about. “I assume if you were merely conspiring against the Cardinal, or the Regent, or the Musketeers, you could do it somewhere a bit more comfortable,” Dana observed, waving a hand around the mecha graveyard.

Dubois laughed at that.

Chevreuse wore a rather grim expression. “Oh for a warm tavern and a simple conspiracy.”

Dubois finished her cup of coffee, looking Dana and Conrad up and down like she was working something out. “D’Artagnan, you said? I have heard of you.”

Dana fervently hoped that whatever the glamorous pilot had heard did not in any way involve a photosilk. “You’re taking the Duchess of Buckingham home,” she blurted. “To Valour. Isn’t that right?”

“Ten out of ten,” said Dubois. “An official assignment from the Crown, no less. I’m not the one breaking rules to be here. Well, mostly,” she added with a slightly ashamed look at Chevreuse, who made a rude gesture in her direction. “Coffee?”

“And me,” said Conrad, finally letting go of Dana’s hand. “Lots of sugar, Trace. It’s been a long week.” They both found seats on the hard, pitted ground. Dubois filled a cup for each of them from the thermos tube, while Chevreuse flipped cards back and forth in a game of her own devising.

“A simple mission,” said Dubois. “Buck has playing diplomacy across the various continents of Honour ever since the Great Exile…”

“Less of the great,” said Chevreuse, screwing up her nose. “Can we call it the Shit Exile? Captain Dubois here was given the job of taking our worthy Ambassador back home now her term of service is up. Implied in that order, of course, was to make sure she bloody well went home by a direct route. Do not pass Lunar Palais, do not collect 200 credits.” She gave Dubois a dirty look.

“And given how much the well-being of the entire solar system relies on Buck getting home without being caught in the presence of his Royal Highness, the Prince Consort…” Dubois continued, returning the dirty look with one of her own. “We thought that the best possible chance we had was for Chev here to travel to Honour, meet Buck on the ground and keep damned close to her for the entire trip, while Conrad stayed here on Lunar Palais to prevent the Prince from making contact.”

“It was a workable plan, right up to the point that Rosnay Cho abducted me, keeping me incommunicado for the last several days,” groaned Conrad. “And guess who took the opportunity to make lots of subspace messages to his ‘family’ back on Honour?” It was his turn to shoot a dirty look, this time to Chevreuse. “I don’t know what the excuse at your end was.”

Chevreuse’s eyes glittered dangerously. “Forgive me for assuming she wasn’t completely self-destructive,” she hissed back. “I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Illicit sex has inspired so many bad decisions across history,” sighed Dubois, leaning her head back against her ship. “So here we are. Champions of the fucking solar system, with an emphasis on the fucking.”

Dana looked from one to the other of them. “It’s an affair, then?” She was almost shocked at the simplicity of the explanation. “Not some big political conspiracy, it’s just an affair?”

All three of them groaned and shook their heads.

“Of course it’s big and political,” Chevreuse said. “It’s the Prince Consort.”

“It’s technically treason,” said Conrad, sounding depressed.

“It would be the perfect excuse,” explained Dubois. “To get rid of Alek, at the very least – the Cardinal has never been happy about the Regent marrying an Elemental New Aristocrat. But it could bring down the Regent, too. If one of her brothers turned up at the right time, putting on a moral front in the face of her scandal…”

“There’s not going to be a scandal,” said Chevreuse between gritted teeth. “Oh, I hate this. I need to be in there, at the Palace, doing my job. That big-toothed hologram they hired to replace me will never save the Regent from this catastrophe.”

“He’s in there with her right now, isn’t he?” Dana said carefully. She had figured that much out. Dubois’s ship was playing host to the dangerous liason, while the Prince’s friends sad outside and complained about it.

“The trouble is, I can’t actually refuse his orders,” Conrad explained. “That’s the curse of serving the Crown.” He sighed heavily. “I brought him here under a sight-shield. No one will know. We can do that much. Chevreuse is right. There doesn’t have to be a scandal, as long as…”

“As long as they don’t get it in their thick heads to elope,” Chevreuse whispered, not even wanting to speak the words. “That’s what we’re really here to prevent. There will be no evidence that they spent the night together – clearing up that kind of mess is what I do best – and as long as they go their separate ways, we’re done.”

“How do you make sure of it?” Dana asked. “I mean – is it enough that Dubois still has her orders to get Buckingham home?”

“Yeah,” Dubois said, looking just as sick as the rest of them. “Except that Buck is an Ambassador. That gives her royal fucking privilege. The flight contract specified she was not to be allowed to land on Lunar Palais, through any of the three docks. But -” She waved a hand around the barren landscape of the secondary dome. “Loophole. Maybe they should have given her your job, Chev. She’s sneaky. No one’s given me orders to make sure the Prince Consort stays on the moon where he belongs.”

Dana frowned. “If you couldn’t keep them apart tonight even with all of you working on it together, what on earth makes you think they won’t keep trying to see each other?”

There was a long, painful pause.

“You need to find him someone else,” Chevreuse told Conrad sternly.

“My job description does not include getting my boss laid,” Conrad snapped back.

“Oh, really? Because tonight suggests otherwise.”

“Wouldn’t that just be more treason?” Dana suggested. They all turned expressions on her that made her feel about twelve years old.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if it was anyone but Buck,” said Conrad. “Too political. She’s not just aristocracy back on Valour – if they ever get their referendum through to secede from the system, Buck is prime candidate to be their first Regent. And she’s Elemental, on top of it, so there’s the religious shit in there too. Any hint of an alliance between Alek and Buck would read as a conspiracy, even if it is just two people who fancy the hell out of each other.”

“Fancy,” Chevreuse teased, mocking him.

He leaned forward, and punched her lightly on the arm. “All we can do is hope they aren’t 100% stupid and self-destructive.”

“Cheers to that,” said Dubois, and they clinked coffee cups.

To Dana’s great surprise, there was no more talk of politics after that. They talked TeamJoust, mostly, with Chevreuse interrogating Conrad about the player who had replaced her with the Emerald Knights, referred to only as “The Lamb.”

Dubois joined in, knowledgeable about many of the teams they often faced, and Dana found herself able to follow most of the chatter thanks to the games she had attended with Porthos. She was even able to contribute a comment or two when they switched to discussing an upcoming Cinquefoil game between Serpentine and the Mousers which promised to be especially violent thanks to an emotionally fraught team lineup.

They no longer felt like conspirators who had failed to save their master from falling into the wrong bed; it was a gathering of friends. Dana found to her great surprise that Aramis, Porthos and even Athos had trained her, somehow, over the last couple of months, to make endless friendly conversation. It had been a skill that had always eluded her, back home on Gascon Station.

Conrad slung an arm around her shoulder at one point, and she leaned against his shoulder, choosing to forget that he was married to her terrifying landlady.

It was nice.

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Finally, the hatch opened and their prince emerged, concealed beneath the sight-shield again. He and Conrad made their farewells to Chevreuse, who tipped Dana a mocking salute before she joined the Duchess of Buckingham inside the dart that still bore the same fin tattoo as Athos’ Parry Riposte.

Both women, and Conrad too, looked utterly relieved that the prince was parting from his lover after all. The alternative had been terrifying.

“Don’t worry,” said Dubois, before she returned to her helm. “It looks good but I’ve left a deliberate error or two in the illusion – if we’ve missed any security feeds, and someone gets a screen grab, it will be an obvious forgery.”

“You’re so reassuring,” Dana said dryly. She rather liked Dubois.

“In fact,” Dubois said cheekily, and made an adjustment to her wrist. Her Musket-class dart shimmered and took on an entirely different skin: gold instead of pearly white, sprinkled with scarlet stars in a regimented pattern. Even the engines and fin looked a different shape, for all the world as if the dart was Sabre-class.

“Now that’s a good look for you,” Dana said, with some relief that Athos wouldn’t be getting in trouble for this night’s work.

Dubois winked, and let herself into the ship.

Conrad stood a little way away, appearing to be having a polite argument with thin air. He broke off as Dana approached. “This is Mecha Cadet D’Artagnan,” he said. “She’ll be our extra security detail.”

There was an odd shift to the air as the prince turned towards her – the artificial scenery rippled a little, though he remained invisible. “My thanks, Mecha Cadet. If Conrad trusts you, I am sure that I can do the same.”

Dana tried to look as official as possible. “We should move,” she said.

The three of them made their way back through the mecha graveyard, and the tunnel that led back to the main dome. Conrad led them through into the gardens of the Palace. “We should wait until we’re closer to the living quarters,” he said. “Before we…”

But the Prince Consort had already shrugged off the sight-shield, as if sick of all the deceit. Alek of Auster looked just like he did on the holovision, only a lot more dishevelled. Dana had only ever seen him in beautiful suits before, or TeamJoust armour. Today he was in the trousers of a beautiful suit, with a rumpled shirt over the top.

Conrad rolled his eyes. “Didn’t you come out with a coat, your Highness?” He shrugged his own royal blue velvet garment off, and put it over the Prince’s shoulders. The Prince accepted this as his due, strolling amiably along the paths.

“I gave it to a friend,” he said carelessly, grinning at nothing in particular.

If Dana had been in any doubt about what had been going on in that spaceship tonight, she would have known from that shit-eating grin. She dropped behind them both, playing the silent bodyguard.

Conrad was furious – he carried it all in his shoulders, but it still spilled over into his voice. “That’s all we need,” he muttered. “Never mind the paper trail of tonight’s activities, you left a clothes trail as well.” They walked along in silence for a moment. “Which coat?” Conrad suddenly asked, as if it had been weighing on his mind.

The Prince gave him a happy, ridiculous look. “You’re not going to begrudge me a coat, my friend?”

“I make all your coats!” Conrad said impatiently. “Each one take weeks of design, and is hand-printed as a one-of-a… no, never mind. It doesn’t matter. Whatever your Highness needs.”

A pause, as they circled the Fountain of Tranquility, a majestic natural stone formation from the surface of the moon, which had been enhanced by sprays of Artifice water, dancing in loops and rivulets. It was a common sight on tourist posters of Luna Palais, though Dana had never seen it before. There was no time to do more than glance at it now.

“Yes, it does matter, actually,” exploded Conrad finally, on the verge of being extremely rude to his Prince. His exhaustion from the days of captivity was beginning to fray his diplomacy. “What were you thinking?”

Prince Alek patted him. “It’s all going to be fine.”

Conrad looked utterly defeated. “Just as long as it wasn’t the peacock coat. It wasn’t, was it?”

The Prince kept walking along the path of marble tiles.

“The one you haven’t even worn in public yet?”

“You can print another copy,” Prince Alek said, pitying Conrad for minding so much about petty details.

“Princes aren’t supposed to wear copies,” Conrad huffed. He turned at that point, miming his frustration to Dana, who hid a laugh.

They walked through room after room of exquisite garden art, Dana making a mental map as they went so that she did not get lost again.

Conrad stopped, very suddenly. The Prince walked a few steps before he realised, and turned back with one beautifully arched green eyebrow. “Conrad?”

It wasn’t a joke any more, or a minor costuming inconvenience. Conrad looked like death warmed up. “You removed the diamonds off it first, didn’t you?” he asked. “Before you took the peacock coat for a casual night-time stroll in the Palace gardens? You removed the twelve diamond studs which were loaded with the culture bank of Honour? The ones your wife gave you for your birthday last month?”

The Prince just looked at him.

“I’m going to be executed,” Conrad whispered.

“They made her eyes sparkle,” said the Prince. “You wouldn’t understand.”

Conrad just made a small sputtering sound.

“I wanted to give Buck something nice, something important – you know she’s going back to Valour and they’re never going to let us see each other again? My marriage contract lasts for eight more years!”

“Yes,” said Conrad quietly. “I know that, your Highness, that’s why I risked life, limb, my reputation and my career to let you have this meeting together.”

They looked at each other for a long time, and then the Prince smiled casually and turned back towards the Palace. “Lalla-Louise has bought me many gifts over the years. I am sure she won’t even notice.”

Conrad stayed where he was standing, for a few moments later, as the Prince went on without him.

“I should go back to barracks,” Dana said awkwardly. “I bet you’re wishing right now that I had done that in the first place so I didn’t overhear any of that.”

“You’re not the one I’m worrying about,” said Conrad, and reached out to her hand. “Though maybe that makes me as much of an idiot as…” he stopped himself, and shook his head. “He’s usually smarter than this,” he added, plaintively. “Honestly, you’re not seeing him at his best.”

Dana nodded. “I believe you.”

“You don’t sound like you believe me.”

“I’m trying really hard to believe you.” It was obvious that Conrad cared deeply about the Prince despite the other man’s incredible and obvious idiocy.

Conrad laughed. “You know, if he had decided to go with her, not one of us would have had the power to stop him.”

“Wars have been started for less,” she agreed.

“I know it looks like Chev and I made a disaster of things tonight, but… it could have been worse.” Conrad groaned, and buried his face in Dana’s shoulder for a moment. “I’m so tired. There should be a law against how tired I am right now.”

Dana patted him on the head. “You should catch him up before he accidentally proposes to a potted plant, or blurts out his night’s activities to the Regent over late night cocoa.”

Conrad laughed into her shoulder. “Love makes people ridiculous.”

“I wouldn’t know.” Though Dana was having a terrible urge to thread her fingers through his bright blue hair, and that definitely felt like it would cross a line of ridiculousness.

Conrad looked up, then, and met her gaze with his. “You’re young,” he said. “You’ve got time.”

That would be the moment for her to tease him – who couldn’t be more than a couple of years older than her – about being such an ancient married man, but Dana couldn’t bring herself to make a joke about that.

“We’re done?” she asked, instead.

“You’re done,” Conrad said firmly. “My drama continues.”

“If I can ever be of help again -”

He nodded once, and then turned away to leave her again, following his ridiculous Prince.

“Wait, Conrad,” she said, feeling like an idiot. “Which is the quickest way to the mecha barracks?”

Conrad came back for a moment, and pointed down an avenue of Artifice roses bursting out of floating teacups. “Keep going down that way until you reach the glow in the dark daisy clock, and take the hedge path past the seahorse spheres. They come out near the croquet lawn, and there’s a gate in the wall on the other side that leads directly to the East Wall.”

Now she felt less like an idiot for asking. She would never have found it on her own. “Good night.”

Conrad blew her a kiss, jogging backwards along the path. “You’re spectacular, Dana D’Artagnan. I owe you.”

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Dana had not stayed a night at the barracks for weeks, but she had arranged to meet Planchet there once they were both done with their parts of the adventure. She found the young engie fast asleep on her bunk, surrounded by snoring mecha cadets. The girl looked worn out, but peaceful.

Dana sat on the edge of the bunk, and Planchet stirred. “Did we save the day?” she asked drowsily.

“Yes,” Dana lied. “That is a thing that we did.” Apart from being sworn to secrecy, there was no way she ever wanted Planchet to know what a massive waste of time their “heroic mission” had turned out to be.

Still, the Prince Consort hadn’t actually run away with his lover to a planet that was making rumblings about independence. That counted as a win, right?

“Was fun,” Planchet muttered, turning over to make room for Dana. “Can we do it again?”

Dana paused, and then lay down beside her, balancing precariously on the edge of the narrow bunk. She would just close her eyes for a minute. “Sure,” she said. “Any time, Planchet.”

It’s hardly worth lying down, it’s not like I ever sleep on the Moon, was Dana’s last thought for the next twelve hours.

She dreamed of flying, and peacock coats that scattered diamonds through space like a pattern of falling stars.

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