Musketeer Space Part 19: How they Lost Porthos and Aramis

Metal+Signatures+Fleur+de+Lis+2"+x+2"+Decorative+Tile+in+Aged+BronzeMusketeer Day! I’ve been home with a sick kid this week – which is to say, I have been furniture for a sick kid all week. Luckily I can type one-handed while cuddling a 5 year old. It’s a life skill I have to use surprisingly often.

I have my cushion back! 7 chapters between you and me. No idea how I managed it – oh yes that’s right, I’m completely obsessed with this story.

Don’t forget to check out this month’s Musketeer Media Monday post if you haven’t got to it already – Musketeers Crack Me Up in the Seventies (1973). Or just watch the movie, which is hilarious and wonderful.

Perth friends, readers, fans and people generally at a loose end on a Monday evening – I will be in your town (under the covert identity of crime writer Livia Day) in a couple of weeks for the CrimesceneWA convention – and the awesome Stefan is hosting a book event on the 13th October for the new Cafe La Femme novel, Drowned Vanilla. It features homemade icecream, film noir quotes, YouTube snogging and people being horribly drowned in lakes. I’m completely in love with this book (amazingly at this stage of the publishing process) and very excited that other people can read it soon. Squee! Please come along to the bookshop if you’re around and free because it’s going to be so much fun to meet & catch up with you all.

In the meantime, there’s a road trip to be getting on with. IN SPACE!

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Missed the last installment? Track back to Part 18.
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PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE:
Dana D’Artagnan is on a mission to reclaim a coat with diamond studs from the Duchess of Buckingham, to save the Prince Regent’s marriage and possibly the solar system. Her friends, three Musketeer pilots, are along for the ride without asking any questions because they’re just that awesome.

NOW READ ON!

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This chapter is dedicated to Patreon supporter Kirsty Presser, who has been reading my work since the distant days of the Invisible College. Thanks, Kirsty!

19: How they Lost Porthos and Aramis

Dana had thought that she had got to know her three Musketeers quite well over the last couple of months. But you don’t really know people until you are forced to spend several days in close confinement with them.

All of them were dressed as civilians. For Athos, this meant a flight suit and grey jacket that was otherwise identical to the bright blue one he usually wore as a Musketeer, though without actual fleur-de-lis symbols scrawled across it. Aramis joked that if you cut off Athos’ arm, you would find a white fleur-de-lis pattern running through his veins, so the grey was fooling no one. The jacket was a sensible choice at least in that it was long enough for him to carry his Pilot’s Slice without advertising that he was armed with a concealed blade.

Athos also had an ancient and battered dark grey hat, which he used mostly to pull down over his face and pretend to be sleeping, when he wanted no one to talk to him. This was most of the time.

Porthos wore a fiery red wig, blazing gold earrings, and silk pajamas in a swirling ocean pattern on the grounds that a touch of glam made her more comfortable – and as the only one of them who had left their ship back on Paris Satellite, she didn’t have to worry too much about being ready for action. Every six hours or so, to prove how bored she was, she would change her outfit and her wig.

Athos had threatened to set fire to her suitcase, the last time she did this.

Aramis wore a dark green flight suit, her only true concession to disguise being that her hair was gathered at the nape of her neck instead of the usual tight top knot. “I have to fly in a hurry, I’ll probably strangle myself,” she noted. “But at least it looks casual.”

The first day on the Calais solarcrawler consisted mostly of card games, nervous tension, and Aramis and Porthos telling loud, scandalous stories about each other’s sex life, which had the bonus effect of scaring away the travellers who had begun the trip on the other side of the aisle, in the carriage they shared. The Musketeers now had this carriage to themselves.

It allowed them to spread out more, so that Athos could sulk quietly on the far side of the solarcrawler from his more raucous friends – and, sometimes, Aramis could join him, reading poetry with her feet on the seat opposite and sighing loudly about the desertion of Tracy Dubois.

Dana devoted most of her spare time to stalking the Duchess of Buckingham by way of Planchet’s very convenient app. This had the bonus of making her annoyed at the dissolute lifestyle and irritating public habits of someone other than her three friends.

Still, by the second day, all four of them were just about ready to kill each other. They took turns sleeping in the bunks above the seats, never more than two at at time. They prowled the aisles of the other carriages in the guise of visiting the food printers, and they developed new and interesting ways of getting on each other’s nerves.

It was third shift of the second day, and the train lights were low. Dana slept for a few hours, to the soothing sound of Aramis and Porthos muttering at each other beneath her bunk. Athos, in the bunk on the far side of the carriage, had been lying still for a long time, but she was not sure if he was asleep either.

When Dana awoke, she heard a name, and then another, and frowned as it seemed that Aramis and Porthos were speaking in code.

“Londres,” said Aramis.

“Ngyeng,” said Porthos.

“Petronova.”

“Dee.”

Dana turned, irritated, to see Athos’ bright blue eyes shining at her from across the carriage. “They’re trying to work out which of them has shagged their way through more of Paris,” he said, and there was something about his disapproving tone of voice that broke Dana completely.

She laughed out loud, and Athos’ mouth twitched as if he wanted to laugh too. Just like that, their friends were less annoying again, which came as a relief.

“The peanut gallery can stay quiet, or we will entreat them to put their money where their mouths are,” Aramis said from below.

“Oh, I’m definitely not playing,” said Athos, rolling on to his back.

“You could bet on the outcome,” suggested Porthos, because gambling was always an option where she was concerned.

“Not doing that either,” Athos said firmly. “It’s going to be a tie.”

“Smartarse,” said Porthos. There was a long pause. “I think it actually is a tie. This is ridiculous. I know Aramis is more of a tart than I am.”

“At least my affairs are sequential rather than simultaneous,” Aramis said, sounding smug.

“Just be thankful you have divided Paris so neatly between you both,” Athos yawned. “Aramis takes the women, Porthos the men – no need to squabble about it.”

Dana arched an eyebrow at him, and asked the question she would normally not dare to speak aloud. “And what about Athos?”

He huffed quietly at the ceiling and said nothing.

“Ah,” said Aramis, as if she was discussing a great tragedy. “Athos fucks no one. It is a great source of frustration to us all.”

“Not true,” said Athos from his bunk, shifting again so that he had his back to Dana. “I hooked up with a Sabre three months ago. You got into a duel over my honour, which was mildly hilarious.”

“Oh yes,” Aramis said sourly. “How could I have forgotten?”

“The truth,” said Porthos in a mocking voice. “Is that Athos fucks no one who could ever make him happy.”

“Thank you!” said Athos, sounding approving. “Far more accurate.”

There was a long pause, and Dana wondered if he was asleep or only pretending so that the conversation would end.

“And Dana?” said Porthos cheekily, from below.

“Oh, me,” Dana said, glad at least for the low lights so she wouldn’t have to meet any of their eyes. “Paris is full of beautiful women and unattainable men. I’m sure I’ll catch up with you all eventually.”

Athos snorted. “If you could try not to attract a political conspiracy with every affair, it would be easier on my nerves.”

Dana grinned at the ceiling, thinking of the beautiful Conrad Su. “I’m not promising anything.”

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A few hours later, Dana was awoken by a touch of Aramis’ cool hand on her cheek. “Time to start paying attention, baby doll,” the Musketeer whispered.

“How long?” asked Athos from the other bunk, rolling out and landing lightly on his feet as if he had not been sleeping at all, but waiting for exactly this summons.

Dana took a little longer, sighing before opening her eyes. “How long for what?”

“There are three points on the route where the Calais crosses Church Space,” said Aramis, helping Dana down from her own bunk. “If they’re going to jump us, it’s going to be in one of these windows of opportunity. The first one is due in about twenty minutes. But it’s a short run, they’d have to be sure of our arrest and have us packed away in under an hour. The second window is next shift and much longer. If they got the jump on us, we’d still be neutralised before getting too close to Valour, so that’s the one they’re most likely to take.”

“Unless they lose their nerve and strike early,” said Athos.

Dana felt disgruntled. They obviously all knew this but hadn’t mentioned it to her before now. This was supposed to be her mission! Then again, she should have researched the route – it had never occurred to her that she would need to check for pockets of Church Space. “Where’s Porthos?”

“Porthos is in the bar lounge, doing her bit to create a false sense of security in the red guards,” said Aramis, with a sly smile.

“Is that code for gaming and drinking?” asked Dana.

“I’m hoping for gaming and pretending to be much more drunk than she is,” said Athos. “But you can never be entirely sure, with Porthos.”

“Spaceship calling the sword silver!” Aramis coughed pointedly. “She’s not the only gambling drunk in this party.”

“I never said she was.” Athos replied.

Aramis spoke into her stud, connecting all three of them to Porthos. “Darling, you need to pull back. Dangerous territory ahead.”

Dana heard a buzz of conversation and static in her ear for a moment, then the clink of glasses. After a long pause, they heard Porthos speak in a low voice. “I may have miscalculated. I keep winning.”

Aramis frowned. “So lose some of it and get back here.”

“I’ve been trying,” Porthos insisted. “But I keep winning. They’re seriously pissed off, and if I leave the table now I think they’re going to kill me.”

“So you started gambling with red guards,” Athos said between gritted teeth as he joined the conversation. “And now you’ve given them an excuse to attack you.”

“I’ve bought drinks for the room but that’s only going to take us so far,” Porthos said warily. “They’re calling me back to the table, hang on.”

“Cheat to lose,” Aramis hissed. “I don’t like this.”

“Fuck that,” said Athos in a voice far more harsh than Dana was used to from him. “Leave the money and run. Pol, get the hell out of there. This smells like a trap.”

There was only silence from Porthos.

Aramis took her Pilot’s Slice from her bag and hung the baton from her belt, giving up on any pretence that she was a civilian now. She pulled an arc-ray Dana had never seen before from one of the deep pockets in her flight suit. “I’m going to get her.”

Dana took the opportunity to check on her own weapons – the Pilot’s Slice baton that Athos had given her, and the pearl stunner from Aramis.

Athos was already at the door of the carriage, but Aramis grabbed his collar and hauled him back. “No! I’m going to get her,” she insisted. “You and Dana make for the Parry Riposte in the hold. Porthos and I will make contact with the Morningstar and get out that way.”

“Aramis,” Athos said in a pained voice.

“Go,” she said, smacking him on the shoulder. “You have to get Dana to Valour.” She blew Dana a quick kiss and then threw herself through the rattling connecting door and was gone.

For a moment, Dana could not breathe. Then Athos moved, lifting himself up into the bunk he had most recently slept in. His fingers, and then the sharp edge of his Pilot’s Slice, worked quickly against the ventilation panel in the ceiling, which sprang open as if it was a trick he had prepared earlier.

“You’ve done this before,” Dana accused.

Athos gave her a swift, fierce grin. “Memorising the blueprints of public transport vehicles is never a waste of time. We chose this particular carriage for a reason.” With a fluidity which would only surprise those who had never fenced against him, he slid up and into the opening he had created, climbing into the narrow space beyond.

Dana did not hesitate to follow, pulling the ventilation panel closed behind them.

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Their journey through the inner fittings of the Calais was long and tiring, though they covered a remarkably short distance for the effort it took. By the time they had made their way down into a service corridor, Dana was grimy and short of breath. Athos looked more cheerful than she had seen him in ages.

“Another short cut,” he revealed, hacking the electronic lock of a freight lift. “Act like you own the place.”

“Oh, pretending I own an entire solarcrawler won’t arouse suspicion at all,” Dana griped, but she restrained herself from saying more. What would she have done in this situation without her Musketeer friends and their experience to get her this far?

She had never felt so young in her life.

The freight lift took them down to the storage bay in the belly of the Calais, which was packed with crates and containers. Running alongside the enormous bay were the separate cells containing ships under transport to Valour. Each opened out into its own airlock, for ease of loading and unloading.

Dana’s stomach untwisted with relief as she saw the Parry Riposte, its fin tattoo covered in a pattern of geometric shapes instead of its usual display of sword hilts, vines and mountain range.

For the first time, Dana wondered about that mountain, and what it meant to her friend.
Athos hissed between his teeth, and Dana responded to his warning, stepping back to conceal herself behind a pile of bright orange storage tanks.

Dana did not have an arc-ray of her own, only the pearl stunner. When Athos slid his own hand out from under his grey jacket, she was mildly surprised to see that he was also armed only with a stunner.

How many? She mouthed to him.

He showed her four fingers.

Two each, then. Perfectly manageable. If she could manage to overcome the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears to aim, of course.

The comm silence from Porthos and Aramis was terrifying. She couldn’t think about that.

Athos counted to three silently by tapping his boot lightly against Dana’s own. Then he swung out on the far side of the tanks, and Dana moved the other way. She immediately saw two red guards standing sentry at the hatch of the Parry Riposte, which hung open. Two others, in Sabre flight suits, had hold of Grimaud’s arms and were marching her away from the ship.

Dana shot fast, first the one holding Grimaud’s right arm, and then the guard on the left of the hatch. Athos had taken out the guard on the right of the hatch already, but tried for a double shot on the guards holding Grimaud, which set up a fierce buzz of bright white stunner feedback.

They ran across to the ship, coming to a halt at Grimaud’s unconscious body.

“Is that why you’re not allowed a real gun?” Dana demanded.

“Results are what matter,” Athos growled, scooping up his engie and throwing her over his shoulder. “Let’s get on board.”

“You didn’t trust me to cover two of them,” Dana spat.

Athos gave her a weary look. “Don’t take it personally, D’Artagnan. I don’t trust anyone to do anything.”

But it wasn’t true, Dana thought sourly as they made for the hatch and closed it behind them. If Aramis and Porthos had been here, Athos would not have hesitated to assume they were each capable of stunning two guards.

The Parry Riposte had a standard internal layout for darts, with a secondary engie seat beside the pilot’s harness, and a couple of jumpseats at the back of the cockpit for passenger transport. Like Dana’s old Buttercup, there was a tiny cabin at the back with a bunk and other basic features.

Instead of putting the stunned Grimaud on the bunk, Athos strapped her into one of the jumpseats and then took his own place in the pilot’s position, arranging harness and helm with a deliberate precision that made it clear he had done this many times, without the assistance of an engie.

Dana would have offered to help, despite being pissed off at him, but he didn’t even pause as he snapped the cables into his own neck port, and clipped the straps of the harness firmly around him.

“Request emergency burst exit,” he ordered her, inserting another cable into his scalp as he secured the helm. “They won’t open the airlock for us otherwise.”

Dana took the seat beside him and leaned into the ship’s comm, glad she at least could have something practical to do. Something to take her mind off worrying about their friends, if only for a few seconds. She summoned up a casual drawl as she spoke. “Calais Control, this is civilian storage ship reference A309458, requesting clearance for emergency airlock release.”

“Reference 309458, this is an irregular request,” came the tinny voice from Calais Control. “Full passage will not be reimbursed.”

“Sorry, Calais Control, this is an emergency and we need to bug out earlier than expected. Terms and conditions understood.”

“Safety protocols enabled, airlock will release in three minutes.”

“Thank you, Calais Control.” Dana glanced over at Athos. “Three minutes.”

“A lot can happen in three minutes,” he said grimly, flicking between security screens. He rolled the ship forward a little, to put more distance between the crumpled red guards and themselves.

It was at the two and a half minute mark that reinforcements arrived, for the red guards. Half a dozen more Sabres ran into the storage bay, arc-rays at the ready.

Athos immediately fired up the main thrusters, sending a wave of heat back in the direction of the fallen and active guards.

“You’ll kill them,” Dana said in a low voice.

“Better them than us,” he said calmly. “Or did you forget that your mission is for the Crown?”

“Reference 309458, detecting life signs too close to your ship for standard safety parameters,” broke in Calais Control.

Dana reached for the comm, but Athos took over. “They’re nothing to do with us, Calais Control, but if we move fast, the rogue element won’t be coming into the airlock with us.”

“Understood, Reference 309458,” said Calais Control, and to Dana’s surprise the airlock seal slid open. Athos ran the ship forward just enough, and the seal closed behind them, to the dismay and fury of the Sabres and other red guards.

“Thought it was you, Athos,” added Calais Control in a far more casual voice. “Pol with you?”

“She’s still on board, Marc,” said Athos. “Keep an eye out for her? She was in trouble, last I heard.”

“Understood 309458, fly safe,” said the voice, back to its business-like and almost robotic formula. The final seal of the airlock gasped open, propelling the Parry Riposte out into cold space. They drifted for several hundred metres before the distance was safe enough for Athos to fire up the engine properly and draw the dart away from the Calais.

“Was that another one of Porthos’ convenient boyfriends driving the damn solarcrawler?” Dana said after a moment.

Athos shrugged. “I’m not even surprised when they turn up anymore.”

Dana concentrated on breathing for a few moments, trying to calm her thoughts down. They were clear, for now. She was on track for her mission. But it had been one hell of a cost.

Athos’ hand nudged against hers, and he pointed to one of several screens showing the spacescape outside the ship. Dana could see the long, sinuous shape of the Calais, running along the virtual rails that traced glowing, only-detectable-by-computer silver lines from Paris Satellite all the way to Valour and insured there was no deviation in the flight path.

There, attached to the side of the train like a leech on a miner’s leg, was the Morningstar. Like the Parry Riposte, Aramis’ dart was in disguise, with a generic pattern of suns and moons tattooed across its fin instead of the more devout imagery that Aramis preferred.

Athos activated his comm, pulling Dana into the same call. “Bonnie, Bazin, what’s happening?”

There was a pause, and then the anxious tones of Bazin the android filled the comms. “Captain-Lieutenant Aramis is aboard, but wounded. She is not currently conscious. Engineer Boniface has boarded the Calais to secure Captain-Lieutenant Porthos.”

Athos nodded grimly, as if this was about what he had expected. “Give Bonnie and Porthos as much time as you can, but if any Sabres or red guards approach the hatch, detach immediately and get Aramis to a hospice. Meung Station is the closest.”

“Yes, those instructions are compatible with my orders from Captain-Lieutenant Aramis,” Bazin said, as always providing evidence that robots were capable of sarcasm. “Godspeed, Captain-Lieutenant Athos.”

“Godspeed, Bazin,” said Athos, and closed the comm.

Dana’s hands were shaking. She had no idea what to do with any of this. “Aramis and Porthos.”

“They’ll be fine,” Athos said in a clipped voice. “Worry about us. We’re the ones with the precious cargo, remember? They’re out of it now.” He glanced at the screens. “We can outstrip the Calais and make it to Valour in the next eight hours at maximum thrust. Nine or ten hours if I take the route to avoid crossing pockets of Church Space. But if they send pursuit ships after us, there’s nothing to do but run.”

“Not if,” Dana said in a small voice. “When.”

Athos nodded, hands steady on the controls. He always looked more at peace in helm and harness of his dart than at any other time. “Not if,” he agreed. “When.”

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