Musketeer Space Part 21: Crashing and Burning

drowned vanilla coverMusketeer Day again! I’m going to be hopping on a plane tomorrow to Perth for the last of my jetsetting plans for the year – I will be appearing (as Livia Day) at CrimeSceneWA. My GOH speech is on the Saturday and I’ll be appearing on a Twelfth Planet Press designed writing-publishing stream on the Sunday. I’m particularly looking forward to a panel on crowdfunding with Alisa and Chris.

Then on Monday 13th Oct we are holding an event for the new Cafe La Femme novel, Drowned Vanilla, at Stefen’s Books! Come along to ‘meet the author’ and my cute new book, and join us for drinks afterwards at Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub.

Time: 5:30-6:30

Speaking of Livia Day, here’s an interview I did about Drowned Vanilla with Bec Stafford at the Tara Sharp website.

Now, here’s a crashing spaceship for your reading enjoyment. And finally, a planet!

Start reading from Part 1
Missed the last installment? Track back to Part 20.
Main Page & Table of Contents

PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan has a thing to deliver to a place. She’s two Musketeers down, and now Athos is showing his lack of self-preservation in all kinds of new and exciting ways. They hooked their brains together to pilot the ship more effectively. Let’s see if that helps, shall we?

NOW READ ON.

[UPDATE: So I stuffed up the html with my layout for the telepathic discussion in this chapter, and if you read or downloaded the chapter during the first 12 hours it was up chances are you missed a bunch of dialogue. Sorry!]

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This chapter is dedicated to Jennifer Davis. Thanks so much for your support!

21: Crashing and Burning

They were falling.

Of all the things you could possibly do with a spaceship, falling had to be one of the worst. Definitely in the top three.

Dana could not move. Her brain was swallowed up by the ship, and the ship was damaged in so many places that her thoughts were consumed by it: the cracking of the hull, the spark of broken wires, the painful burn of the defence shield as the last precious layer peeled away from the hull.

This was not good.

She could not find Athos. Had he already lost consciousness? If she reached out a hand or opened her eyes then she would see him beside her, but she wasn’t willing to lose her cerebral connection to the Parry Riposte to confirm what she already knew.

He was there. But he wasn’t here.

There was no cheerful song of flight and joy coming from the Parry Riposte. Even the ship herself was frozen in fear. Dana reached out carefully with her thoughts, remembering the first time she had ever piloted a ship in space on her own, not just piggy-backing on the flight controls of her mother. She was fourteen, and invincible.

From that moment on, she had never wanted anything but flying spaceships.

The memory buoyed her, kept her upright while she reached deeper into the ship, searching for the power spheres, the thrusters, anything to stop this horrible, stomach-churning descent.

Her memory of first flight collided with another, a memory of hands on the helm and a screen full of stars, and a first ship, a ship she had never flown before, patient and loving under her hands.

It wasn’t her memory.

“Athos,” she breathed, and pressed in deeper. His memory was so close to hers – first flight, the sickening joy of it, the knowledge that nothing else in life would ever be quite this good or simple or right.

In the real world, in the cockpit of the Parry Riposte, she felt his boot nudge against hers.

Footwork, she thought, wanting to laugh hysterically. That was what they needed after all. The perfect pattern, copying each other, mimicking the same movements until they became properly aligned.

But there wasn’t time for that, because they were falling out of the sky.

She pushed her memory fiercely against his, smashing them together. They fractured at the pressure, one memory bleeding into another. Other memories and thoughts filled her head, shattered images of space and ship and thrust and metal. Memories broke into pieces and reconnected. She couldn’t tell where she ended and Athos began.

Bare feet, walking across polished floorboards. She was stupidly in love with those feet. Who did they belong to?

This time, they reached out together, Dana and Athos as a unit. Holding together they were finally able to draw the ship upwards, out of its sheer drop. Up and up, through the blueness and into the comfort of grey.

-Cloud cover again?- she asked, not wanting to unsettle the balance by speaking aloud in the real world.

-We’re over the ocean,- he sent back. -Not the end of the world to put her down here but it won’t help your mission. Need to get to Castellion, as close to Buckingham as possible before we…-

-Land?-

-Crash.-

-Such an optimist.-

-The cloud should affect their instruments.-

-And ours. I can’t see a damned thing. The pursuit ships…-

-We haven’t lost them yet.-

They flew straight and even now, a perfect motion of speed and grace. Everything was going to be all right, if they could fly like this forever.

Dana opened her eyes. The Parry Riposte had settled calmly in the back of her head as if this was normal, and she finally felt stable enough to look for herself, to take in her co-pilot and the visuals through the physical screen.

Athos’ eyes were open as well. He had a savage grin across his face, though there was blood running from his nose. “Catch me if you can,” he said in the real world.

They darted from cloud to cloud, surfing the sky with occasional bursts of speed followed by long slow glides that used almost no power at all.

“Here,” Athos breathed. “Like this.” Then a stab of pain roiled through him and the ship fell from his grasp.

Dana caught it, taking the lead, skimming the ship along the inner edge of the cloud. Navigation, that was what she was here for. Being his double meant more than steering the ship. “You still with me?” she murmured.

She felt a warmth inside her head, like a handshake or a formal salute before the fencing began.

They didn’t speak after that, but took turns handing the ship back and forth between them, taking point and then falling back. It was like a game, if not for the fact that she was sure he was badly hurt. They were going to have to do something about that.

Damn you, Athos. Nexus was for emergency situations and for early training, not for everyday use. Dana hated to think what kind of damage it was doing to him. Did they have enough medipatches on board to deal with this? What kind of training did Grimaud have, or would it be down to Dana to fix him?

Assuming they were all still breathing when they hit the ground.

Crash, not land. They didn’t feel like they were crashing now, but Dana had a suspicion that the Parry Riposte wasn’t revealing all of her damage to Dana as the interloper.

-There’s Castellion,- Athos said to her, and Dana felt a burn of complex emotions attached to that simple word, the name of a continent.

They weren’t her emotions. Athos was the one who had baggage when it came to this planet. For one horrible moment she was tempted to poke into his mind and see what came spilling out.

He’d know she was doing it. And it was a little embarrassing that getting caught was the main reason she held back.

-So what’s the plan?- she sent to him. -For when we crash.-

-Land,- Athos corrected, as if he had never put the idea into her head that they might not come out of this all right. -Have faith.-

-Always.- She took control off him and sped ahead, refusing to toss it back to him. -Have a nap, old man. Put your feet up.-

His mind melted around hers, blurring them together, so his hands and hers worked together in perfect sync. -None of that, pup. I’m not dead yet.-

It was warm in here, the kind of heat that meant something somewhere was probably on fire. Dana found herself overwhelmed by a vision of green grass. She smelled lemons and rain, and blinked the grass away only to be caught by sight of crisp white sheets in a bright bedroom; the curve of a perfect shoulder blade; a mess of hair that looked silver in the sunlight. She could not see the man’s face, but his presence made her warm to the pit of her stomach.

“A hundred and one reasons to hate this planet,” said Athos in the real world.

Dana shook her head, blinking. “That seemed like a good memory.”

“Not from this angle.”

She threw him a memory of her own, of the miserable months she had spent on Freedom, fixing communications equipment for the miners to raise the credits for her final flying accreditations. Even the rain was grey on Freedom, grey and opaque like the minerals they dug out of the planet, and the skin of the miners who worked the surface for very long.

Athos shook his head and smiled. -I’m not playing memory chicken with you.-

-So you’re saying I win?-

There was a snap inside Dana’s head, hard and sharp. The Parry Riposte fell from her control, and Athos did not reach out to catch it.

-What the hell?-

-That was our second last power sphere,- he told her.

-Damn.-

-Going down, D’Artagnan. Any last words?-

-Tell Aramis that you were right all along. I hate cinquefoil.-

Athos laughed at that, a loud shout of a sound in the silent cockpit, almost buried beneath the terrifying sound of the ship’s vitals disintegrating around them.

And down they went.

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Dana’s first thought as she awoke was . They had lost the final power sphere sometime just before the emergency landing which was as close to a crash as made no odds. The Parry Riposte was silent in her head, and when she reached out to tug the ship back inside herself, her senses thrumming thanks to the nexus in her bloodstream, she felt nothing.

-Alone.-

She forced herself outside her own head to take stock of her physical state. The harness and the chair had protected her from the worst of the damage, though she was stuck in what felt like a coffin of twisted metal.

Oh, that was the roof. The roof of a spaceship should not look like that.

With a gasp, she released herself from the harness and helm, shaking her scalp free of the connections. Thank goodness Athos had let Aramis shave his damned head before getting into a crash like this, or he’d have been…

She couldn’t see Athos. She could not in fact see most of the ship, as the hull had buckled around her, and her feet were jammed up against the remains of the console, which was crumpled into an ugly shape.

He should be there, beside her, but all she could see was the very edge of his seat, and a sharp-edged wall of metal that had separated them.

Dana’s feet were wet. More than wet. Water sloshed through the ruined ship, up to her ankles. “Missed the continent,” she groaned. “That’s embarrassing – such a big – target.”

For a moment she thought one foot was trapped, but it was only her boot caught on a ragged edge of metal. Dana pulled it free, glad she didn’t have to remove the boot, and then paused for a split second to run her fingers inside and check that the stud was still burrowed into her ankle.

It would be disastrous to lose it, after all this.

The Parry Riposte creaked under her as Dana slid out of her seat and crawled under another piece of wreckage. The water levels dipped higher, wetting one of her legs up to the knee.
Sinking was bad. Sinking a spaceship was up there with falling and crashing. These were all bad things. But nothing had exploded yet. So it could be worse.

Dana made her way through the damaged dart. She found the main hatch but it had crumpled inwards and would not respond to her touch. As she moved further on, she found the slashed remains of Grimaud’s seat. The Parry Riposte lurched under her, almost flinging her into a hip-deep pocket of water.

What did she have to work with here? No arc-ray. A pearl stunner was only good for use against people, not metal. Her fingers went automatically to the baton that hung on her hip. So there was that.

This situation was exactly what the slice was for, not playing at swordfights. But something about the feel of the hilt against her fingers made Dana look at Grimaud’s jumpseat again. Someone had already been here with a Pilot’s Slice. Those slashes were too even to be accidental.

There was a definite tilt on the ship – the further back she went, the deeper the water got. But that was promising – it wasn’t filling up completely which suggested the water wasn’t as deep as she had suspected.

And maybe… yes, there. She saw a twisted bunk, the soft silver mattress pulled aside, and beyond it a gouged shape in the wall, mostly submerged in water.

She had found where the water was getting in, at least. And the escape route that Athos had left for her.

Dana didn’t hesitate. She took a deep breath and plunged forward, through the smooth lines of sliced metal, and into the water. She swam down into darkness and then up, to the fluttering pattern of light she could see on the surface.

Up and out, gasping in air that tasted like planet. Planet and – lake. They had landed in a freshwater lake.

It only took her a few strokes to reach the edge and haul herself out into a day that was strangely warm considering how much cloud they had flown through to get here. The sky was blue, an intense shade that Dana had never quite seen before, not on Freedom or Truth, the only planets she had spent any time on. Tufts of cloud swam through the sky above them, some white and some grey.

The grass was so green it hurt the eyes. They were surrounded by mountains and trees that looked like something out of a children’s fairy book. But Dana didn’t have much time to gaze at the ridiculously pretty scenery. Athos was there, only a few metres from the edge of the lake and their part-submerged ship, leaning over the body of Grimaud.

He was soaked to the skin, one hand tangled in Grimaud’s soaked star scarf as he applied the medpatch to her neck. Dana leaned into him, letting her hand brush his arm only slightly to let him know she was there.

“I was coming back for you,” he said in a low voice.

“Didn’t need you to.” She glanced back at the ship, which had not sunk any deeper into the water. It had been the right call. The wreckage was stable, and had only shifted at all once she started moving. “How’s she doing?”

“Breathing. Stable. She had a gash in her arm but didn’t lose too much blood.” He pushed away from Grimaud and buried his face in his hands. “Well, that was smooth.”

“Any landing you can walk away from…”

“Don’t. Even.” Athos wasn’t looking at Grimaud or his ship, but there was despair in his voice.

Dana gave him a swift hug from behind, her arms wrapping around his shoulders just for a moment before she released him. “Breathe. We’re down. We’re in one piece. All of us.”

It was more than she had hoped for, during their descent.

“And a brilliant story to tell Aramis and Porthos when we catch up with them,” he said, his voice sounding far away.

“That too.” Dana didn’t want to think about Aramis and Porthos, not now.

A light spray of water spattered across the back of her skin and she stared at the droplets for a moment. The heat of the day had given way to a cooler breeze, and when she looked up she saw that the clouds had more grey than white in them, and there were more of them. Dana watched, fascinated as blue bleached out of the sky.

“And now it’s raining,” said Athos. “I’ve been on this planet for five minutes, and it’s raining on me.”

Rain. Dana had felt it in virtual simulations, but never in real life. It had a breathless feel about it, as if the world was about to fly apart into pieces of water. She almost enjoyed the sensation.

“Athos,” she said, and for some bizarre reason she felt like laughing. At him, at the scenery around them, at the delicious realisation that they were alive when they should have died in a crash like that, surely. “Did you and this planet have a bad break up with each other? Is counselling required?”

“I hate this sodding planet,” he growled. “I hate being rained on. And I hate – are you dancing?”

“Just stretching,” Dana said, spinning around on the spot with her fingers and arms flung wide. “I want to see if I can move faster than the raindrops.”

“D’Artagnan,” Athos said, keeping his voice even. “You are enjoying this planet’s company far too much. Should I leave you two alone together?”

“Jealous that I’m getting on well with your ex?” Dana grinned at him, then threw herself to the ground. The grass still felt warm from the sunshine that had disappeared behind the grey clouds. “I’ve never liked a planet before. This is new.”

“It won’t last,” he said, but there was less resentment in his voice now, maybe even a flicker of humour. “Rain might be a novelty now, but wait until it’s been going for seven days, so you can’t go out, can’t walk or ride anywhere…”

“Ride?” Dana said, lifting an eyebrow. “Are we talking about live animals? What kind of fucked up New Aristocrat life did you and this planet have together?”

“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that – shut up,” he said, turning back to Grimaud as she sucked in a sudden, sounding-awake break of oxygen. “Engie? Still alive?”

Shakily, Grimaud raised one hand and gave him the finger.

“Thank God for that,” Athos said, reclaiming something of his usual poise and snark. “Getting revenge on an entire planet would have been time-consuming.”

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Athos was right. Grimaud was going to need to rest for some hours, and she couldn’t be left alone. Dana was well aware that what Athos wasn’t admitting was that he needed medical attention himself. When she finally slapped a diagnostic medipatch on him it had taken a full fifteen minutes to list all of the repairs that it wanted to make to his internal organs.

Dana wanted to stay with them until she was sure, but there was the mission. The platinum stud was all but burning a hole through her ankle.

“It’s not even a choice,” Athos insisted. “You need to get to Buckingham and get that bloody stud off your ankle. If you manage to collect the item you came for, you’re heading straight back to Paris without collecting us first.”

That was the worst part.

“But if I -”

“D’Artagnan,” he said sharply. “If the Sabres catch up with Grimaud and me, we won’t offer any resistance. At this point, arrest might be the fastest way home for us. If our clever ‘ditching in the lake’ plan works, however, and they don’t find us, the two of us can make our way back by the slow route. Neither of us are holding anything incriminating. We’ll be fine.”

Dana screwed up her face in frustration. She wanted to cry, but refused to do it in front of him. This was her mission, and she knew he was right. “If you’re not back in Paris before me, I’m coming to get you,” she vowed. “All of you.”

Seated beneath a temporary shelter he had rigged up from the contents of the ship’s emergency locker, with Grimaud lying on the grass beside him, Athos gave her a salute that was not entirely sarcastic. “We would expect nothing less,” he told her. “Now, get the hell out of here, D’Artagnan. You’re wasting time.”

And that was how, having already lost two Musketeers, Dana finally abandoned the third.

It felt like a terrible mistake even before she was out of his sight, but she kept on walking. It was all about the mission, now. It had always been all about the mission.

Dana was really starting to hate this bloody mission.

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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, 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 ART.

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