I’m still recovering from the joyous swordfest that was The Three Musketeers (1973) or as I prefer to call it, Musketeers Crack Me Up Seventies-Style.
Meanwhile, I’ve been writing the
Christmas Joyeux story which will be published on the blog at Christmas, thanks to the financial supporters of the Musketeer Space project via Patreon. It may have turned into a novella. I regret nothing.
There are a bunch of rewards and milestones still up for grabs on my Patreon page, including 3 more opportunities to name a Musketeer Space spaceship. Check it out today!
Now on to space hijinks.
PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Prince Alek of Auster shouldn’t have met secretly with the Duchess of Buckingham, and he definitely shouldn’t have given her that peacock jacket with the diamond studs. As the Regent’s husband, the stability of the government of the entire Solar System rests on his marriage contract, and Alek’s blown it in a big way.
Would-be Musketeer pilot Dana D’Artagnan has volunteered to get the diamonds back in time to save the day… for the sake of the Crown, honestly, and not just because the Prince’s tailor Conrad is really cute. Though let’s not kid ourselves here, he’s extremely cute.
NOW READ ON!
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18. Kissing at Airlocks
There was a difference, it seemed, between arriving to see Amiral Treville without an appointment when you were fresh off the venturer, and as a known quantity. Dana only had to wait an hour and a half before she was waved in through the plexi-glass doors to Treville’s office.
Treville dropped into the seat on one side of her sitting desk and waited for Dana to join her. “Timing is everything, kid. I just got off the subspace with Alix.”
“Mama?” said Dana in surprise. She had barely heard her mother’s voice in months. Subspace communications were an extravagance she could not afford. “Is everything all right back on Gascon Station?”
Treville shrugged one of her large, muscular shoulders. “It’s classified, of course. But you’re family, so you might as well know. Your mother’s security team uncovered three Sun-kissed agents on Gascon, disguised as tourists. We believe there are more, among the miners down on Freedom.”
Dana shivered. “The Sun-kissed didn’t bother with Freedom or Gascon Station last time around.”
“And yet,” said Treville evenly. “So you catch me on the cliff edge of a crisis, young D’Artagnan. The old enemy are moving against us and they haven’t got any worse at hiding in plain sight. Thank God and All for the vigilance shown by your mother and the bloody Gascons. But what’s your news?”
Dana hesitated for only a moment, then straightened her back and met Treville’s gaze. If she didn’t have confidence in herself now, how could she expect anyone else to believe in her? Even Conrad needed some persuasion, she thought sourly to herself. “I need you to authorise a mission to Valour.”
Treville’s face did not move. “Last I noticed, chicken, you weren’t working for me. Remember Commandant Essart? Appallingly chipper old duck, but good at her job.”
“This isn’t a Mecha Squad matter,” said Dana desperately. “It should have gone to a Musketeer, I know that. But – chance brought me into the path of a secret, and now I’m in the confidence of the Prince’s friend, and they’ve said they will entrust me with a letter…”
“Hey,” said Treville, reaching out a surprisingly soft hand to grip Dana’s shoulder. “Breathe.”
Dana felt like a child. She had meant to be so cool about this. But she took the Amiral’s advice, sucking in a slow, deep breath and letting it out again.
“So,” said Treville, a moment later. “This is about the Prince Consort?”
“It’s a matter of great political and personal sensitivity to his Highness,” Dana said in a small voice. “He needs someone to take a letter secretly to Valour, and collect an item for him before the ball. They know I’m talking to you – I can tell you what the letter will contain.”
“No,” Treville said sharply. She stood up, pacing back and forth. “Keep your damned secret, D’Artagnan. If the Prince needs this, that’s good enough for me. You’ll need backup, though.”
Dana nodded slowly. “And passage on the Calais, I thought?”
Treville looked amused. “You’re not negotiating for your own dart?”
Dana’s face felt hot. “I wouldn’t presume!”
Treville picked up a clamshell and tossed it from hand to hand before tapping notes into it. “I’ll need to arrange leave for you with Commandant Essart, and move the schedule around to release some Musketeers to accompany you. What do our three inseparables think about all this?”
Dana felt a stab of guilt. “They don’t know about it yet – about the mission, anyway. I came to you first. They know a little of the rest.”
“They’d be ideal choices for backup,” said Treville. You know, I think Porthos has been a bit off colour lately. Perhaps she needs some dirtside air to pick her up a bit. Aramis is well overdue for some personal leave, though I’m not going to admit that I’ve heard enough gossip around the traps to know she’s eating her heart out over some woman or other. And I’m sure Athos has picked up at least one duel-related injury this week.” Her mouth twitched, and she tapped a few more commands into her clamshell. “They could all do with a holiday.”
Dana couldn’t hide her surprise. She had expected to have to fight Treville on this, pulling out of all the stops to convince her that this mission was necessary. It was an odd feeling, to be taken at her word. “You’re putting a great deal of faith in me,” she said finally.
“Yes, I am,” said Treville in a firm growl of a voice. She looked Dana up and down. “I like your initiative, D’Artagnan. Athos speaks well of you, and a week doesn’t go by without one of my gals bending my ear, hinting that you’re worthy of service to this fleet of ours.”
Dana hadn’t known her friends were doing that. Part of her wanted the floor to open up and swallow her from embarrassment. But she wanted to grin stupidly, too. They believed in her.
“More to the point,” said Treville calmly. “I like that you came to me first with this. You’re not so swept up in the romance of being a Musketeer that you dodge proper procedure, like some people I might mention. And…” She looked uncomfortable now. “What I’m going to say to you right now will not go out of this room. I don’t like what’s happening right now, on Luna Palais. I don’t like that her Eminence the Cardinal takes every damned chance she can to fuel the distrust that’s growing between the Regent and her husband. It’s a nasty business, and it undermines the stability we were promised with their alliance. If the Prince Consort needs a mission taken care of with discretion, I’m going to give him my best people. Got it?”
“Got it,” said Dana, allowing the stupid grin to take over her face.
“So get the hell out of here, and take that letter where it needs to go. I’ll handle the rest.”
Stunned, Dana left the office, knowing that next time the others raised a glass in honour of their precious Amiral Treville, she would be shouting along with them.
Dana went to Aramis’ place first. She had not seen her in a few days. Unusually, the android Bazin let her in immediately without first quizzing her on her recent religious observances, or even whether she had wiped her feet.
“Captain-Lieutenant Aramis will now get dressed, if her friend is here,” he said with an unhappy trill, his metallic head tilting slightly to one side.
Aramis lay on her couch with a large volume of theological poetry balanced on her stomach, and a towel over her eyes. Her hair, usually bound up in a tight topknot for duty, fell in a dark wave over the arm of the couch. “Bazin, shut up and make me coffee.”
“Captain-Lieutenant Aramis did not attend church this morning,” Bazin said in his usual monotone, with a hiss against his words that made a bemused Dana think he was perhaps trying to whisper.
As Bazin slid away to make coffee for them on the other side of the room, where the food printer was sandwiched between two bookcases, Dana sat on the edge of the couch near her friend. She reached out gently and took the towel off her face. “Are you drunk?”
“Heartbroken,” sighed Aramis. She did look miserable, and her eyes were red and sore. “Also, slightly overdosed on poetry.”
Dana eyed the large book skeptically. “Does it help?”
“Not today.” Aramis sat up and leaned her forehead against Dana’s shoulder – not so much a hug as a droop. “Why do I always feel so bad when they return to their real partners? I know I was only borrowing her, but it still hurts.”
Dana had fairly limited experience with sleeping with men or women who were contracted elsewhere – and she refused to connect Aramis’ current misery to the flirtation she had going with Conrad Su. Instead, she patted Aramis’ back and gave her a proper hug, glad all over again that her crush on the other woman had disappeared into platonic friendship very early on.
Friendship was better. It had the potential to last longer, especially where Aramis was concerned.
“What you need is a mission to take your mind off it,” Dana said, trying to sound cheerful and encouraging.
“Captain-Lieutenant Aramis has received notification of two weeks personal leave beginning today!” announced Bazin from the food printer. “It will allow her the time she needs to contemplate the many ways in which she can nourish her soul.”
Aramis came alert at the news, pushing Dana out of her arms. “Leave? Why am I on leave? Has someone been telling Treville about my love life?” She swayed for a moment. “Ugh. Too much poetry. Take it away before it poisons me.”
Dana hastily levered the enormous book off Aramis’ lap and dropped it on the floor, then pushed it under the couch with her foot. Hopefully that would be far enough away. “I requested the leave for you. But we have to go to Athos’ place right now. If you’re up for an adventure.”
The old spark lit Aramis up, if only briefly. “Oh, an adventure. Why didn’t you say so?”
Grimaud answered Athos’ door, her headphones securely fastened beneath her star scarf. She gave Dana an extremely sarcastic look, and said nothing as Dana and Aramis trooped in, carrying the coffee cups they had brought with them at Bazin’s plaintive insistence.
Athos stood at his kitchen bar, with a clamshell sprawled open before him. “Funny thing,” he said. “According to Treville, I have been given two weeks leave for my health. Do either of you know something I don’t, or does she finally agree that I need to devote myself to full time drinking?”
Dana bit her lip. “Actually, the leave means that Treville wants you – all of you – to follow me.”
Athos looked even more sarcastic than Grimaud. It was something about his eyebrows. They were at least twice as world-weary as the rest of him, and that was saying something. “To take the waters at Truth? A holiday spa on one of the Daughters of Peace, perhaps? D’Artagnan, I didn’t know you cared so much about my health.”
“Valour,” said Dana, and watched his face close over. There was something about that particular planet, she knew, that disturbed Athos greatly. It couldn’t be helped. She needed him for this. She needed all of them.
Porthos burst into the apartment, not bothering to hide the fact that the entry code to the door had not even slowed her down. “Leave!” she exclaimed. “Since when do we get personal leave without asking for it? Is Treville cracking up at last? I knew she was on edge, but this is ridiculous. Is someone trying to get us out of the way, do you think?” She gave Aramis a very pointed look. “Someone hasn’t been getting political, have they?”
“I don’t know why you look at me,” said Aramis, tossing her hair. “I haven’t seduced anyone political for months. Besides, I’m nursing a broken heart.”
“Oh, right,” Porthos scoffed. Then, very slowly, she turned to Dana, who lifted her own chin and tried not to look guilty. “It’s you, isn’t it?”
“It’s a secret mission for the Crown,” said Dana. Honestly, it didn’t get any easier each time she tried to explain.
“And does this have anything to do with -”
Athos raised a hand, and the other two went very still, watching him. “Treville thinks we should follow you, D’Artagnan?”
“You’re the reason she trusts me,” Dana said, feeling defensive. “All three of you. She refused to even ask for the details once I told her it was a royal secret…”
“So we won’t ask questions either,” Athos said steadily. “This is your mission. Tell us what we need to know.”
Dana felt a warmth spreading from her stomach. It was a good thing, to be trusted. “I will receive a letter shortly,” she said. “To be delivered to an old acquaintance of yours in Valour.”
Athos flinched at that, but it was Aramis who said, “Buck?” in a low voice.
Dana nodded. “She received a token from the Prince Consort which he needs back here, urgently. Before the anniversary ball.”
“That’s a tight time limit,” said Porthos.
“We can do it faster in the darts,” said Athos. “But too showy. They’d make us in an instant.”
“And I don’t have a dart,” Dana noted.
Athos shrugged, as if that was a minor detail. “You could ride with one of us.”
“He’s right, though,” said Aramis. “The three of us setting off in our darts is too obvious. I presume we’ll be followed?”
“Her Eminence won’t want me to get to Valour,” Dana admitted.
All three of them nodded, as if this was what they had expected.
“Special Agent Cho will have her eye on you now,” Porthos added.
“I thought the Calais,” said Dana.
Athos winced. “I don’t like the idea of us trapped on that damned solarcrawler. Too many ways to get boxed in.”
“We could take a getaway ship as freight,” Porthos said thoughtfully. “Or one of us could follow the Calais, ready to patch in if we have to.”
Dana had a thought. “Do you know how to use a sight-shield, to conceal or change your ship’s tattoo?”
All three of them blinked at her.
“Where did you learn a trick like that?” Aramis said finally.
“Your girlfriend,” Dana admitted. “Um. Your most recent girlfriend.”
Aramis’ eyes narrowed, and she hooked one arm around Dana’s neck. “Is it time for you and I to have a chat about information best shared sooner rather than later, baby doll?”
“The time for that is definitely later,” said Dana. “Much later. The Calais leaves in two hours. We already have our tickets booked.”
The Calais solar crawler was perhaps the slowest way to get from Paris Satellite to the planet Valour, but it had the benefit of being too damned big and too damned populated for anyone to hijack.
It looked like an articulated earthworm made out of steel armour and plexi-glass, and ran a steady, reliable transport service between Paris and Dover Satellite, the largest orbital city of Valour.
Three days there, 24 hours to find the Duchess of Buckingham and reclaim the diamond studs, and three days back. Grimaud was parked in freight guarding Athos’ disguised Parry Riposte, and Bazin and Bonnie were both crewing Aramis’ disguised Morningstar, which would discreetly follow the solarcrawler and allow them to scan for any other ships which might likewise following them. Porthos’ Hoyden remained on station, to make it less obvious that the three Musketeers known as the ‘inseparables’ had bugged out at the same time. Planchet had also reluctantly agreed to stay out of this particular adventure, on the grounds that she was still technically employed by Madame Su, and someone had to conceal the fact that Dana had gone anywhere.
She had, however, loaned her clamshell to Dana, fitted out with an app that assimilated all network, broadcast and social media references to the Duchess of Buckingham, which would hopefully help her locate and communicate with Buck as efficiently as possible.
It was a good plan.
But Dana, standing on the crowded platform near the airlock, was missing one vital element. She still had not received the letter from the Prince Consort, and they were running out of time.
Athos and Aramis were already on the solarcrawler, staking out the four-person carriage that Dana had booked for them. Porthos was at the other end of the platform, making a very public farewell to one of her boyfriends. This worked as a perfectly reasonable ‘we are ordinary people not on a secret mission’ cover, as it turned out that the departures platform was a place where a lot of people chose to kiss other people.
Dana stood there, surrounded by travellers and their friends and families, and a whole lot of kissing. Her thoughts were frantically full of Rosnay Cho, who must surely be sent after them soon if she hadn’t already. Dana jumped every time she spotted a colour which seemed deeply inappropriate for a flight suit. The Cardinal would certainly send her special agent after them, if she had any idea that this mission was taking place.
Of course the Cardinal had to know about the mission. The Cardinal, Dana was only just starting to learn, knew bloody everything.
A hand caught at hers, dragging her back off the platform. Dana resisted only for a moment when she saw a spiky lock of blue hair sticking out from beneath a black cap like the ones that the Ravens wore. “I like your disguise,” she said breathlessly.
“I worked on it specially,” said Conrad Su, with mischief alight in his eyes. Before Dana could ask a question or even mention the letter, he tugged her towards him, and she practically fell upon his mouth.
It was a good kiss, a more thorough and exploring snog than they had exchanged before, and Dana would have been lost in it entirely if not for the sting of a stud burrowing into the lining of her cheek. “Romantic,” she said dryly as their mouths parted.
“It’s what all the cool kids are doing,” he said, with a vague gesture at the many kissing couples and families around them. The crowd had thinned somewhat now, as they were only a few minutes from final lockdown. Only the hardcore kissers and huggers remained on the platform now.
“I have to go,” said Dana.
“Obviously,” Conrad said, ducking his head slightly as he smiled at her. He almost looked shy for a brief moment. Just another reason to find him ridiculously attractive. “Good luck,” he offered.
Dana was feeling confident again. “Kiss me again before I go,” she said impatiently.
This time, when their mouths came together, there was no exchange of information studs. Just tongue.
By the time Dana found the carriage where Aramis and Athos had begun the first card game of many, the Calais was already detaching from the air lock.
“Here’s to a boring and uneventful journey,” said Athos, not looking up as Dana slid into the seat next to him. Porthos joined them a few minutes later, sitting beside Aramis and opposite Dana. “Three obvious intelligence agents in the cheap seats,” she said. “A couple more I’m not sure of in first class. More red guards than I’ve seen on the Calais before – but most of them are doing security checks for the Sun-kissed.”
“That’s a good cover,” said Athos, dealing the cards. “Though increased security is to be expected after the Regent’s speech. Blood scans?”
“Psych scans too.”
He nodded. “D’Artagnan, if they ask you, go for the blood scan. You don’t want to give anyone an excuse to look inside your head.”
“Got it,” said Dana. She wormed the stud that Conrad had given her out of her cheek with her tongue. It was a high grade platinum, very fancy, and would look out of place in the line along her wrist. This is where having hair longer than a centimetre would be useful. She hesitated for a moment.
“Ankle,” said Athos without looking at her. “Stings like a son of a bitch, but it’s amazing how often an interrogator forgets to check inside your boots.”
“That’s true, actually,” said Porthos as Dana slipped her fingers inside the soft leather of her boots, and pushed the stud into the flesh just above the bone of her ankle. “I used to keep an arc-ray down there until that time I accidentally burned two of my toes.”
“To Valour, then,” Dana said breathlessly. She didn’t have to words to say how grateful she was that her friends were willing to come with her on this, without even knowing the details of the mission.
She was grateful to them, full stop.
“To Valour,” Athos echoed, in a far less enthusiastic tone.
Aramis nudged him with her knee. “Cheer up. Dana’s the only one who has to make it in one piece to the actual planet. Chances are, the three of us be collateral damage along the way, and she’ll have to leave us floating dead in the freezing wastes of space.”
“Promises, promises,” replied Athos.
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 a special Yuletide prequel story to be released in December. My next funding milestone ($300 a month) will unlock COVER ART.