Home and safe just in time for Musketeer Day! I had an amazing and inspiring trip to Perth which I will write about more thoroughly when my jetlag has climbed off my back and stops punching me in the back of the head.
But here’s some Musketeers I prepared earlier.
REMINDER: If you read last week’s chapter super quickly, within the first 12 hours I posted it, chances are you missed a lot of dialogue because I did an HTML thing by accident. So it might be worth checking back to read what Dana and Athos were saying to each other while they were linked via the ship.
PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana is almost at the end of her quest to reach the Duchess of Buckingham, collect the diamond studs and save the Prince Consort’s marriage, but along the way she has lost all three of her best friends, and crashed a spaceship. So it hasn’t been a GREAT day.
NOW READ ON!
22. The Making of Alix Charlemagne
It took six hours for Dana to find civilisation – a large enough town to have a bullet train node – with the assistance of Planchet’s clamshell.
From there, it took several hours of travel and changing connections before she reached the duchy of Buckingham. It was surreal, to be surrounded by people and white noise and all the amenities of a heavily populated planet, so soon after ditching into a lake in the middle of nowhere.
Athos had done a good job, getting them this near before they made planetfall. If Dana thought too much about that, she might cry or hit something and break her hand, so she concentrated instead on what an idiot he was to be taking nexus for every flight. Did Aramis and Porthos knew he had been doing that to himself?
Of course they knew. They had to know. The three of them were the inseparables, had been for years. Dana was the stray puppy they had adopted. She had not let herself wonder too deeply about why these close friends had bothered to let her into their tight group.
On this damned bullet train, there was too much time to think. She didn’t even need to waste much time locating the Duchess of Buckingham, thanks to Planchet’s app which consolidated all social media references to the political, sporting, celebrity dynamo that was “Buck.”
All Dana had to do was check the app occasionally, to be sure she was on the right track. Buck had addressed the Elemental Separatist Union earlier in the day, signing autographs outside the Hall of Communications in the largest city in Buckingham, and then returned to her country estate where she had been hosting a house party all week.
Dana was underdressed for the occasion. But there was no going back now.
It rained again, as Dana approached Villiers Manor. A light mist of water descended from the sky in a haze leaving droplets clinging to her eyelashes and stubbled scalp. Villiers Manor was a ridiculously palatial house, if you could even call it a house when it was twice the size of the palace on Luna Palais. Obviously it was the way of decadent dirtsiders to sprawl across the planetary surface as if they had all the room in the world.
The gravity felt better to Dana than her previous dirtside experiences, and she put that down to Valour’s history of being terraformed. Perhaps the planet had been designed to appeal to the needs of the spaceborn.
There was nothing else about Valour that was familiar, for a person who spent most of her life encased in metal. The scenery continued to look fresh and green, which made Dana feel somewhat itchy and suspicious.
Still, she had told the truth when she admitted to Athos that she liked this planet. For the first time, she thought maybe she saw what the whole dirtsider fuss was about.
The mountains surrounding Villiers Manor were grey and looming in their rocky formations, which reminded her of Freedom except for the green fringing around every peak.
A servant allowed her in through the front door, as Dana claimed to be a messenger. Her plain black flight suit was obviously not a formal Raven uniform, but the servant was polite enough to not point this out.. Dana hovered awkwardly in an entrance hall which was about the size of Marie Antoinette plaza back home in Paris.
Oh, that was an odd thought. Paris was home. That was enough to make Dana smile for a moment. Her face was still holding the expression when a woman dressed like a mermaid hurled herself down the staircase.
Buck trailed copper silk and sequin scales behind her, in a long train that formed a tail. Her impressive bosom was clasped in two bronze seashell shapes, picking up the highlights of her reddish-brown skin and bright golden eyes. Her hair was braided into long metallic chains that fell almost to her feet. “You’re from Alek,” she said, her voice warm and inviting, and she hurled herself into Dana’s arms. Her own arms were sturdy and muscular, gripping the other woman fiercely “I remember you. You were at the mecha graveyard, with Conrad.”
Dana was unprepared for an armful of duchess, and clasped her closely so as not to fall over. “Um,” she said, and then looked more closely at the other woman’s face.
Georgiana Villiers, the Duchess of Buckingham, was high as a kite.
“It’s an urgent message,” Dana said firmly, setting Buck on her feet before she felt it was safe to let go. “Do you think – would you have a dose of Sobriety handy?”
Something like fear flitted briefly across Buck’s face. “Can’t do that,” she said, and put her finger to her lips. “Ssssh. Worked very hard on this chemical balance. He can’t see me when I’m like this.”
“Do you mean – the Pri -” Dana started to say, but Buck lurched forward and pressed both of her perfumed hands across Dana’s mouth.
“No no, don’t say it, walls have ears. Come on.”
Dana allowed herself to be dragged up a staircase that could have housed about ten Musketeers, and into a room which was probably a library because the walls were covered with antique books from floor to stupidly-high ceiling.
“I only come in here when I’m flying,” said Buck, her pupils so large that there was no other colour visible in her eyes except for the tiniest streak of brown. “So he doesn’t see. He mustn’t know that I’ve worked out how to – “ she paused, unsteady on her feet. “He doesn’t know that I remember him when he’s not here. Been working on it. But I forget sometimes, and then – I come here to remember.”
She reached out a hand to a touch-sensitive light on the wall, which illuminated the room more brightly than before.
“It keeps me from losing all the pieces,” Buck whispered, and there was a tremor of fear in her voice as she looked up.
Dana followed Buck’s gaze, and saw a single word blazing across the ceiling, spelled out in golden light from the wall panel.
“He got into my head,” said Buck. “He sees everything I see. He made me betray -” Tears were bright in her eyes all of a sudden. “I have to remember him, or I can’t fight him when he gets inside my head. He’s not here now, though. Be quick. Give me the message.”
Hesitant, not knowing if Buck would even remember this once she had sobered up, Dana reached down to extract the stud from her ankle. It had been burrowed there so long that it felt like part of her.
She passed it over, and waited as Buck pressed it into her own wrist and listened to the message within, her eyes closed. She swayed a little as she all but inhaled the sound of her lover’s voice. Then her eyes snapped open again. “The coat. It never made any sense that I took the coat. Come on.”
Dana followed Buck from room to room – she guessed that she was in Buck’s private quarters now. Apparently duchesses needed multiple wardrobes in which to keep their many outfits. Every room on this floor had one or more cupboards dedicated to ridiculously fancy dresses, boots, hats, trousers, jewellery and other trinkets.
So much space. So much wastage. On Paris Satellite or any other space station, even the most dedicated party animal would have most of their clothes dissolved and reprinted based on the needs of the day. Why on earth would you need to keep so many things?
Dirtsiders were crazy, and wealthy New Aristocrat dirstsiders were crazier than most.
“Here!” Buck crowed, diving into yet another room full of massive antique furniture and lush carpets that made Dana’s feet feel like they were being softened up for bad news.
The duchess pulled a garment out from under her bed, a soft heap of purple silk shot with gold, green and midnight blue. An embroidered pattern of feathers covered the silk in an intricate design. This had to be the peacock coat Conrad had made for his Prince.
Diamonds glittered ferociously from the lapels of the coat. Dana blinked as she took them in. Prince Alek had tossed the coat away as an impulsive gift to his lover, not thinking about the value of the studs, and the danger if it turned up in the wrong place.
“I shouldn’t have taken it,” said Buck, handing it over. “Of course I shouldn’t. But Winter was in my head and – I don’t remember much about why it made sense at the time.” She sighed deeply, and sat on the bed. Her pupils were still blown out and dazed, though her voice was steadier now. “I don’t know why he didn’t take it off me at the spaceport. You know there are two Winters? The silver and the brown. The silver lives inside my head, but the brown – he’s the dangerous one. You won’t even see him coming.”
Dana smoothed the silk out between her hands. “It’s all right now. I will get this back to Conrad and the Prince in good time for the ball…” But then she stopped, and laid the coat out on the canopied bed, stretching it flat so that she could count the diamond studs. “Ten. There are only ten here.”
Buck frowned, a gleam of intelligent thought passing briefly across her glazed, drugged-up expression. “No. There were twelve. Of course there were twelve. For the twelve continents of Auster.”
Dana wanted to shake her. “Has anyone touched this coat? Since you left Dubois’s ship?”
“Winter,” Buck moaned, and slid down on to the floor. “Winter must have taken them. He’s going to use them against Alek.” She buried her face in her hands. “I am way too high for this. Can’t think straight. But if I get straight, he’ll come back and he’ll know.”
“Okay,” said Dana, thinking fast. She was apparently the only person in the room who could be trusted to do the thinking. “Assuming that you’re right about having a spy implanted in your head – and I’m taking a lot on trust right now…”
“Agreed,” Buck said softly.
“He won’t be expecting you to return the coat at all, with any luck. But if Alek wears it at the ball, with only ten diamond studs showing, it will be a disaster. Especially if your Winter has passed on the other two to someone in a position of power.” The Cardinal, Dana thought with a shiver. The red guards who jumped them on the Calais had to have been working for her. Rosnay Cho was working for the Cardinal, and other agents too. That mysterious Milord.
Her brain finally caught up with her mouth. “We need to replace the diamonds. Conrad didn’t want to risk it on Palais Luna or Paris Satellite, but that was when he thought we might have to replace all twelve.”
You couldn’t just print diamonds, it was one of the few substances that couldn’t be replicated. But if the Duchess was willing to bankroll it, and they had the right craftsperson, they could perhaps have a couple of studs made from scratch in the time available.
Buck nodded, caressing the coat with one hand. “I know an electro-jeweller in Liberte who should be able to – do a thing.” She waved her hand vaguely.
“Can I use your credit?” Dana had no shame in asking. This was Buck’s mess and Dana was already doing more than enough to clean it up.
Buck waved her hand again, to indicate that she didn’t care.
Dana cracked open her clamshell again, plotting a course.
The bullet train could get her to the nearby county of Liberte. It wasn’t even going too much out of her way – from there she could go on to Arguerinne, the largest spaceport in the region. There were closer ports, but she needed a big crowd to get lost in.
She would miss the connection with the Calais’ return trip, but that was just fine with Dana, especially if she could use Buck’s credit for passage on a venturer instead. She had no doubt that the red guards would be well aware now of the name Dana had been travelling under with the Musketeers – better to choose a new identity and let the Calais passage stand as a false trail.
“Won’t this Winter of yours be able to see everything we’ve planned when you sober up?” was the next thing Dana though to ask. Hopefully Buck’s plan was not to never sober up, as that didn’t seem sustainable.
The duchess reached for her locket, which snapped open to reveal a cornucopia of pharmaceutical delights. “This little black pill is Oblivion. Can knock me out for a day or two. Should lose – about a day of memory. I’ll forget all about you, brave little Musketeer. Also that incredibly boring conversation I had with Madame Pinquenot this evening. So win-win.” She preened a little, looking delighted with herself. “Winter will never see what we talked about here today.”
Dana didn’t correct Buck about being a Musketeer. She rather liked the assumption. She reached out to close the locket before the duchess got too enthusiastic about popping pills. “Let’s get that credit line and travel pass sorted out first, yes? And -” This last request was deeply embarrassing, but she had to ask. “I think I might need to borrow a frock.”
Two days later, a woman whose travel pass named her as Alix Charlemagne waited impatiently on the platform to catch the bullet train from the Liberte node to Arguerinne. She had spent most of the day pacing up and down the sales floor of a high end electro-jewellery emporium which was so exclusive it didn’t even have a name. An elderly self-described genius named Mr Emil had taken seven full hours to blast-cut and engrave two diamond studs to match the others on the Prince Consort’s coat.
They had decided together to fill the studs with ancient opera tracks, cave paintings and century-old social media memes, to complement the content of the other studs which were apparently stocked with the ‘culture bank’ of the planet Honour.
Emil’s work was excellent, and it would pass, but Dana was pretty sure she had almost lost ten years off her life waiting for the studs to be ready.
The dress wasn’t helping. Thanks to the over-enthusiasm of a drugged-up Buck, Dana had come away from Villiers Manor with a suitcase full of frocks, shoes, baubles and even a cosmetic wand, which made her feel like an alien playing dress-ups. But she put up with it, because she needed to look as different as possible to Dana D’Artagnan.
The fashion among New Aristocrats on Valour at the moment was for retro-glamour, long sweeping skirts and jewelled collars. Dana had come this close to putting a corset on under this particular travelling gown but decided at the last moment that there was only so much ridiculousness she could tolerate.
Athos might actually laugh if he could see her now. Assuming he even recognised her. The other two would certainly be rolling on the floor – Dana had muttered enough about Porthos’ vanity when it came to covering her pilot’s buzz cut with elaborate wigs on her days off.
Now here was Dana with long black curls spiralling around her ears, a pearl choker wrapped around her throat, and a jade green gown covering her from muscular shoulder to pearl-buttoned ankle boot.
She had never dressed so ‘femme’ in her life, and she felt like a complete idiot. Especially when she tangled the back of the gown in the automated doors, and needed two of her fellow passengers and a conductor to help her free it without ripping.
All she wanted to do after that was to throw herself into the nearest seat and nurse her embarrassment quietly, but the conductor caught sight of her travel pass and waved her all along the length of the train to the first class carriage.
Cheers for that, Buck.
The other occupants of the carriage were a white couple who were heartily ignoring each other. The man, who had untidy brown hair, a rumpled business suit and a near-permanent frown, leaned against the window with all his attention given to a gleaming chrome clamshell. Dana didn’t let her eye dwell on him despite a vague sense of deja vu. Where had she seen him before? Perhaps the two of them were celebrities, like all those yahoos at Buck’s party or in her photostream.
His companion, who wore her auburn hair with style and pearl-clustered hairpins, and actually did have a corset beneath her own tailored silk travelling gown, looked delighted to see Dana. “Finally, someone to gossip with!” she exclaimed, all but clapping her hands with glee. “I’m Bianca, Countess of Clarick, and I just know we’re going to be the best of friends!”
Dana considered it a great personal triumph that she didn’t turn tail and run instantly. Time to suck it up and become Alix Charlemagne, as convincingly as possible.
Oh, God. She was going to have to talk about shoes.
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.