8126 / 50000 words. 16% done!
Musketeer Space is of course my Nano project – so once again I am totally doing a non authentic version of the challenge – ah, one day I will have the leisure to write a novel out of nowhere, but this is not that day. This is never that day.
I’m hoping by the end of it to have a zillion more chapters written. Well, ten or so, plus the Christmas story that apparently wants to be a novel in its own right. But a zillion would be nice. A big milestone this week – I finished drafting Chapter 31 which will appear in December and marks the halfway point of the story! Musketeer fist bumps for everyone!
PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: The first time Dana saw Milord De Winter, he was meeting Special Agent Rosnay Cho in a seedy bar on Meung Station. She later heard his name in association with Conrad Su’s kidnapping, and again with the Matter of the Diamonds. The Duchess of Buckingham warned her that ‘Winter’ was an extremely dangerous enemy. The second time Dana saw Milord De Winter, she didn’t recognise him at all… until it was too late. It’s complicated, okay?
NOW READ ON.
Chapter 25: A Love Letter To Absent Friends
Dana felt lightheaded as she left the Palace, by the proper entrance this time, heading for the Mecha squad shuttle in the hope of getting a berth back to Paris. Sleep was what she needed. Sleep, and a message from each of her three best friends telling her they were alive and well.
But she would settle for sleep.
She could still feel the imprint of Conrad’s fingers upon her, the rough press of his tongue against hers, and the almost painful ache as they dragged themselves apart from each other again. She wanted him so badly, and waiting until tomorrow night felt like it might break her into a thousand pieces.
Sleep was looking seriously unliely.
Dana swung out of the main doors and clattered down the steps, happily invisible among the glamorous peacock and diamond guests who didn’t even look twice at her with her battered flight suit and pilot-short hair. She was obviously no one of importance, and she liked it that way.
Dana dodged several frocks lined with feathery collars, only to collide fully with a man in a dark purple evening jacket and light grey shirt. “Oh!” she exclaimed as she had the breath knocked out of her, and then again, more quietly, as she realised in whose arms she had accidentally thrown herself. “Oh. Milord De Winter.”
Vaniel still had his arms around her, thrown out to stop her falling down the steps, and he made no move to release her. His serious face roamed over hers quite curiously. Grey eyes, she realised. She had never noticed them before, but they were the same shade of grey as his shirt She imagined they looked even more piercing when he wore his hair bright silver as he had on Meung Station. “Miss Charlemagne,” he said in greeting, and there was a note of question in the name.
Did he know? she thought in a sudden panic. If Milord was as devious and powerful as Buck had implied, how could he not know who she really was, and what her mission had been?
“Um, yes,” she said, and smiled brightly, remembering the carefree persona she had taken on during their ride on the bullet train. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“It’s a flying visit,” he said, drawing back so that he was not holding her quite so intimately, though his hand still brushed her waist. “Bee wanted to attend the ball, and I heard that the Marquise de Wardes was likely to be here, so… two birds with one stone.”
“Of course,” Dana said. “Something political,” she added with a wry smile.
Vaniel returned the smile easily, and for a moment it was easy to believe he was exactly what he had seemed to be, in the first class carriage with his chattering sister-in-law. “You have not dressed as formally as everyone else,” he added.
There was no denying that she didn’t look at all like the Alix Charlemagne he had met on the bullet train. And yet he had recognised her without the wig and fripperies.
“I’m in disguise,” she said, twinkling at him. It was a source of great shame to her that she had discovered her inner twinkle, when pretending to be Alix. But that didn’t mean she wouldn’t use it in the field, when there were no other weapons within reach.
“Ah.” Vaniel – no, Milord – looked amused. “I won’t ask, then.”
They looked each other over for a moment more, and then the formal politician in him took over. He stepped aside, and gave Dana an officious nod. “I did not think our paths would cross again so soon.”
“You never know what the solar system has in store,” she said, trying not to let any of her nervousness show in her face or her voice.
“Indeed,” replied Milord De Winter.
They bowed to each other again, and then Dana moved awkwardly around him so that he could head up the steps and into the Palace.
If De Winter had anything to do with the matter of the Prince’s diamonds, he was far too late to do anything about it. Dana had beaten him, and Rosnay Cho, in one night.
Smiling to herself, she hurried off to catch a tram back to the nearest space dock. The sooner she was back on Paris Satellite in her own bed, the better she would feel.
Even if Paris without her three Musketeers was not Paris at all.
Dana slept for twelve hours straight. She had not meant to, but the adrenalin and stress and frustration had finally caught up with her. One moment she was clenching her fists tightly with the memory of how much she had wanted to forget about Palace protocols and morality clauses in employment contracts and just suck Conrad Su’s cock into her mouth, and the next she was lost in the strangest dreams of fencing footwork and crashing spaceships, and memories that did not belong to her at all.
When Dana awoke in her little box of an apartment, she stared for a moment at the blank white ceiling, not sure if she was on a solarcrawler, bullet train or venturer. She was not even convinced that she was Dana D’Artagnan.
It took some minutes to convince herself that she was really in her own bed, above Madame Su’s workshop. She had seven hours before she was due to meet Conrad at the Fountain of Tranquility, and she had to make those hours count.
No more distractions or regrets or heated fantasies. Today was about the loyalty she owed to her friends.
After a brief sonic shower, Dana headed out to the workshop. Madame Su was nowhere in sight, but Planchet was tinkering away with her heap of mecha that looked a lot closer to being actual completed suits than they had a week earlier.
“Hey chief,” Planchet said, her face open with joy as she saw Dana emerge. “Back in one piece, then?”
“I am,” Dana said, leaning on the balcony and stretching her neck. “I lost track of the others along the way, though. Can you help me collect them?”
“Of course, what do you need?”
Dana’s eyes flicked to the closed office door.
“She’s not here today,” Planchet said cheerfully. “Appointments down on Lunar Palais.”
“That explains why you’re calling me ‘chief’ while standing in the workplace of your actual employer who pays you actual credit.”
“Exactly!” said Planchet. “So I can help, right?” She set a large metallic arm down on the floor and looked eager to start.
“First things first,” said Dana. “I need to trace Porthos, Aramis and their engies. Which means finding out if any of them got arrested along the way to Valour, or if they’re hiding out. I need a new comm stud that can’t be traced to either you or me, access to the private databases of the Church as well as the Royal Fleet and any hospices between here and Valour. And I need a lot of coffee.”
“Is that all?” said Planchet. “That doesn’t seem like a lot.”
“Good,” said Dana, trying not to feel too cynical in the face of Planchet’s youthful exuberance. “You start with that list, and I’ll around to their apartments and see if they’ve made it home under their own steam.” It would be terrible to set off on an entirely unnecessary jaunt back to Valour just because she hadn’t bothered to use the high tech method of knocking on doors.
She had spent far too much time sitting in recent days – first the train and then the venturer. Walking off her nervous energy across Paris was a good place to start.
Dana had not expected Athos and Grimaud to be home yet, given the shape of the Parry Riposte when she had last seen them, so Dana went to their apartment first to get the disappointment out of the way. Aramis was possible. Surely if she hadn’t been too badly wounded, a medipatch or two would have her back on her feet by now, and she might have made it back to Paris…
Porthos was the wild card. Dana had absolutely no idea what had happened to her after the Calais. Perhaps she had been arrested? Or wounded, like Aramis? Or…
The lack of comm contact between them all was distressing Dana more than she liked to admit. Once she had a clean stud, she could risk getting in touch even if they were in Church custody. But why had none of them reached out to Dana before now?
Athos’ apartment was empty. It was weeks now since Dana had collected the entry code from Porthos, who had no compunction about sharing it – Athos’ drinking meant that all of them had needed to help him get home at some time or another, and it also allowed for waking him up for duty when an electronic alert wasn’t enough.
Dana looked around, feeling a little guilty for being there. But not so guilty that she didn’t steal one of his jackets – a blue one that looked even more like a Musketeer jacket than the grey ‘terrible spy’ jacket he had worn on their mission. You could almost see the outline where there should be a fleur-de-lis symbol on the back.
She would return the jacket to him when he had proved to her satisfaction that he hadn’t managed to get himself killed.
No one replied at Aramis’ apartment either. Dana couldn’t bring herself to leave straight away, and she didn’t have the code for entry. She leaned her forehead against the door, willing her friend to be inside complaining about her broken heart, or inhaling too much poetry.
Dana had not been this long without talking to Athos, Porthos or Aramis since they first dragged her into their company. She missed them so much. And while she trusted in their sense of self preservation, she couldn’t help worrying that at least one of them might be lost for good thanks to her, and the mission she had accepted on behalf of them all.
Could she ever forgive herself, if Aramis or Porthos had been fatally wounded? Or their engies? Athos had still been so worried about Grimaud, when Dana abandoned them. How would he cope if she didn’t make it?
The guilt had set in now, good and proper.
As Dana turned to leave Aramis’ door, she heard bootsteps nearby and her heart lifted for a moment as a Musketeer rounded the corner in full dress blues. But the short blond hair and light skin was a dead giveaway that this was not Aramis.
It was, in fact, Captain Tracy Dubois. She looked just as disappointed to see Dana standing there as Dana was to see her. “Oh,” she said. “I had a proximity alert placed on Aramis’ door so I’d know when she got back. She’s not with you, then?”
“No,” said Dana, taking a moment to marvel at the level of stealth technology that Aramis’ girlfriend had been willing to utilise to keep an eye on her. Only, weren’t they supposed to be ex-girlfriends now? Interesting. “She’s not back yet. I’m – setting out to collect her, tomorrow.”
Worry flickered across Dubois’s face. “What went wrong?”
“I can’t talk about that.”
“Of course. I know the score.” Dana realised belatedly that Dubois probably knew exactly what the mission was about, as Conrad had asked her to take the letter first. Still, it was in both of their interests not to say anything aloud in an unsecured corridor.
They stood there for a moment, equal contributors to the awkward pause.
“Would you give her something for me?” Dubois blurted suddenly, her pale cheeks flaring red with embarrassment. “A letter.”
“Of course,” said Dana, holding out her wrist to accept a shared file, stud-to-stud. Instead, Dubois reached into her own flight jacket and pulled out a flat, crinkling object. An actual envelope, which felt brittle in Dana’s fingers as she accepted it.
“She likes paper,” Dubois said, shifting back and forth on her feet.
“Yes, she does,” Dana smiled, remembering the heavy poetry and theology books that smelled like dust and dryness.
“Don’t let her burn it or anything, before she’s read the contents. She can be dramatic.” Dubois had recovered some of her usual snark, and even managed to roll her eyes. “But I was wrong, to end things like I did. And I miss her. Will you tell her that, if you get the chance?”
“I’ll do my best,” said Dana, tucking the letter securely in the pocket of Athos’ jacket.
Porthos’ place next, which was the worst of all because she was the one most likely to be here – with Bonnie at her side, how could she not have evaded the red guards and found her way back home?
Dana had her hopes up far too high that she would be welcomed by the scent of freshly brewed tea, and bread warm from the oven.
But neither Porthos nor Bonnie were home, by the sound of it. Dana sighed, and called through to Planchet through her comm. “Can you crack a door code for me?”
“Sure,” said Planchet without asking why. There was a pause, and a tapping sound, and then suddenly a high-pitched whine filled the corridor. Every door within Dana’s sight buzzed open, all at once.
“Just this one,” Dana hissed, hurling herself inside Porthos’ apartment and slamming it behind her. “Just this one!”
“Oops,” said Planchet. “Fixed, sorry. I have the other things you needed, by the way.”
“Brilliant, that was fast.” Porthos’ apartment had an empty coldness to it. It was usually warm, with music playing and spices in the air. The lack of Bonnie made the place feel even more sad than the lack of Porthos. Dana felt suddenly very lonely. “Planchet, are you due any leave from Madame Su? A few days, perhaps?”
“I’ve got a couple of months banked up but she’s good at thinking up reasons why I shouldn’t use it,” said Planchet. “Why – hey, do you want me to come with?”
“I suspect I’ll need your hacking skills,” said Dana. “And… I’m going to need an engie.” Unlike Athos and Aramis, Porthos’ apartment had an entire kitchen as a separate room. Dana had found what she was looking for, a small crystal keysphere hidden in a bowl of lemons.
“You’ve got a dart?” Planchet asked, her voice going up into a shrill tone of excitement.
“Yep,” said Dana, pocketing the keysphere to Porthos’ Hoyden. “I have a dart. We’re going to use it to get the others home.”
Late shift rolled around. Dana was back in the palace gardens of Lunar Palais, waiting for a rendezvous with a married man. It felt like she had a fully-charged power sphere in her stomach, reaching critical load due to sheer anticipation.
Her head was not exactly in the game. She kept checking her comm for updates from Planchet. They had mapped several possible hospices where Bazin might have taken Aramis, and nothing had come up yet. Planchet had delved far more deeply into the Church arrest records than any civilian should, and was sure that there was no arrest record for any of the missing Musketeers or engies.
That didn’t necessarily mean anything. Dana remembered the time Athos had been arrested in her name, and they had kept him from scanning his true identity even during an interrogation. But still, it was promising.
Planchet had at least located the city on Valour where Athos and Grimaud had been most recently, thanks to the salvage records of a ship that had to be the Parry Riposte.
Dana was excited by that, because it gave her the idea to track Aramis (and possibly Porthos, if they were together) via the Morningstar. Planchet was working on it. All in all, it was a lot to keep in Dana’s head. If she was thinking with her head and nothing else right now, she would stand Conrad up.
But this thing that the two of them had going, the flirting and the kissing and the hands all over each other, was more of a distraction to Dana than if they had shagged their brains out already. Getting laid could only simplify things for them both. They could burn it out of their system and get on with their lives. Right?
Conrad was half an hour late already. Had he changed his mind? The very thought of it made Dana whine with frustration.
Still, she had flight plans to review and Planchet’s comms to monitor, and what with one thing and another, she was able to distract herself while she waited to find out whether she was the one who had been stood up.
The time clicked on toward 20:00 hours, and there was nothing left to review or check. Dana thought about heading back to Paris. But the Fountain of Tranquility was aptly named. For the first time in a week, Dana had absolutely nothing to do. There was something calming about sitting here in the shadow of the dramatic rock formation, watching the Artifice water spray in careless, perfect patterns across the shadows and smooth lines.
She would give him another hour. She had nowhere else to be.
As she waited, Dana fiddled with the studs along her wrist, ending with the one that she kept close to her elbow, so that it was always covered by the sleeve of her flight suit or fatigues. The opal that the Prince Consort had given her. It was empty of information, except for a certification-file of authenticity that marked the location and creator of the jewelled stud. It was worth a lot, she knew, even without getting it formally valued.
The Sun-kissed were rising again. While Dana didn’t wish another war on the solar system, she couldn’t help but think that she was more likely to get a commission in the Musketeers during wartime. Especially if she could finance her own helm and harness. The opal was a substantial downpayment on a dart of her own, and she knew that pilots were expected to at least partly fund their equipment.
Her dream might be a little closer, one way or another.
She heard footsteps nearby, against the quartz pebbles of the nearby avenue, and a wave of warm relief and desire surged through her. He was here. He had come to her, finally.
“Dana D’Artagnan,” said a low, husky voice. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Every warm cell in Dana’s body turned cold, as if the atmosphere had been sucked out of the lunar dome all at once. That was not the voice of Conrad Su.
Instead, she saw a shadowy figure with long, flowing hair and swinging hips. And then the figure stepped into the light of the fountain, which illuminated the ragged scar that carved through her beautiful face.
It was Special Agent Rosnay Cho, radiating warmth and smugness.
This couldn’t be good.
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.