18453 / 50000 words. 37% done!
Wednesday is Musketeer Day! I feel like it should come with a special hat.
PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: Rosnay Cho beat Dana at a psychedelic computer game, made fun of her spaceship, and sabotaged her attempts to become a Musketeer. Since then, whenever Dana has seen her and her candy-coloured flight suits around Paris Satellite, Cho has been causing trouble, usually on behalf of the sinister and mysterious Cardinal. They are not friends. They will never be friends. Also, Dana was kind of hoping to hook up with Conrad Su tonight, but apparently that’s not happening either.
NOW READ ON.
Part 26 – Rendezvous at the Fountain of Tranquility
For a moment, Dana could not breathe. She was on high alert, her body reacting to the other woman’s presence as if they were about to fight to the death, but while Dana’s fingers traced the Pilot’s Slice baton that hung from her belt, Rosnay Cho made no move to attack. She leaned a hip against the glorious rock formation, and waited as if she had all night for Dana to think of something intelligible to say.
It might take longer than that.
“So I suppose we should start with the little tailor that could,” said Cho, in that low, confident drawl of hers that had driven Dana to the point of rage back on Meung Station. Now it just made her want to curl into a ball of embarrassment. “I’ll admit, I was expecting to find him here with his pants around his ankles. Any thoughts on that?”
Dana lifted her chin. Oh yes, there was the sting of anger that Cho usually aroused in her. Much better than shock and fear. “I haven’t seen him today.”
“Stood you up,” said Rosnay Cho, almost sounding sympathetic. “That’s a damned shame.”
“What are you talking about?” Dana couldn’t be standing here in the Palace gardens having a conversation about her love life with Rosnay freaking Cho. It was simply impossible. She must have fallen asleep. Spacelag could do that to a person.
“Because he’s not in the Palace,” said Cho with a brief shrug of her shoulder. “And it wasn’t me who abducted him this time. Bad news for Conrad Su – because my orders have always been to keep him alive.”
Despite the surreal nature of the conversation, Dana’s throat caught at that. “You think he’s dead?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea. But I know that nothing short of abduction would have kept him from this cute little dance you two have been practicing together.” Cho made a hand gesture that wasn’t exactly filthy, but was a little too descriptive for Dana’s nerves to stand. “The Cardinal doesn’t know where he is, the Prince Consort doesn’t know where he is, his wife never knows where he is, and now you are just as clueless as the rest of us. That’s a worry.”
Dana gave up on trying to make sense of the fact that Rosnay Cho was here, talking to her like they were allies. She dropped to the ground, stretching out her legs, because standing and pacing wasn’t working for her anymore and sitting meant she was less likely to lose her temper and try to punch Cho in the nose. “Do you have any suspects?”
“One or two ideas,” said Cho, looking down her nose at her. “A rogue agent, in any case.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
Cho shrugged and joined Dana on the ground, crossing her legs neatly under her as if she sat on garden paths every day of the week. “There’s a very subtle form of interrogation that they teach us about at Special Agent Academy. Not sure if you’d ever have heard of it. It’s called a conversation. I thought perhaps we could have one. No pressure or anything. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it as we go along.”
Dana stared at her, searching for some kind of clue as to what was going on here. She saw nothing suspicious. Cho’s narrow, heavily-lidded eyes watched Dana carefully, as if she was taking in far more information than she offered in return, but she did not look or feel like an enemy.
This was wrong on so many levels.
“We’re not friends,” Dana said finally. She couldn’t access the anger she had felt at Cho in the past. After everything that had happened to her in the last week, and now the revelation that Conrad was missing again – she was nothing but numb. But that didn’t mean she was going to be an idiot.
“We don’t have to be friends,” Cho sneered at her. “We’re fucking professionals. And whatever you think of me, and my employer, we serve the Crown too.”
“The Church,” Dana corrected sharply.
Cho tensed a little at that, but her smile only widened. “The Church serves the Crown.”
“Does it really?”
“Oh, kid, let’s try to keep the paranoid conspiracy theories with hints of treason to a minimum, shall we? For once?”
“I haven’t committed treason!” Dana said hotly.
Cho looked at her for a long moment, her smile shifting into something thoughtful and not altogether nice. “Well, that’s good,” she said. “Because I haven’t arrested you for treason. It would be a terrible thing for both of us if we turned out to be wrong about that.”
A long silence stretched between them. It made Dana’s shoulder blades itch, but it didn’t worry Cho at all. She actually seemed to relax into the silence and finally brought that damned smile of hers back into play. Dana had forgotten about that smile. It should be classified as an intergalactic weapon “By the way, the trick with the pastries? That was adorable. Amateur as hell, but that’s why it worked on me. I never saw it coming.”
Amateur as hell shouldn’t be a compliment, but in Cho’s mouth it sounded exactly that – and Dana was struggling to get past the implications of ‘adorable.’ “How much do you know?” she asked finally.
“Oh, buttercup, don’t show your hand too soon,” Cho said, almost laughing at her with her eyes. “I know more than you would like about all the shit you’ve been up to since you got to Paris. But I know less than I would like. That’s why this conversation is oh so necessary.”
Dana had to raise some defences before it was too late. It felt more like a duel than a conversation, and Cho was winning it, hands down. “What is it that you really want to say?” she demanded. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t feel like exchanging banter with the bitch who flashburned me unconscious and stole my ID and credit the first time we met.”
“Interesting attempt to take the moral high ground from the scrappy little cunt who stole my Moth and abducted my engineer,” said Rosnay Cho, the words coming out as calmly as if she was saying she preferred lemon to milk in her tea. The warmth and friendly demeanour leached out of her face, leaving her a cold professional again. It was an impressive shift. Dana wished she could control her own features so readily. “This is what you need to know about me, kid. I could have destroyed you by now, if I thought you were a serious threat to me.”
“Does that mean you don’t think I’m a threat or that you don’t take me seriously?” Dana didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.
Rosnay laughed once, a short and sharp sound. “Maybe both, but I can’t help being fascinated by what you’ll do next. It’s like watching a space crash – you can’t tear your eyes off the disaster in progress, even if it makes you feel sick to your stomach.”
Okay, now Dana knew she was being insulted.
“You’re dangerous,” Cho conceded. “You’re definitely that. But mostly you’re dangerous because you’re so bloody new at this, you don’t even know what the rules are. Shutting you down now would be like kicking a puppy for peeing on the floor.”
Definitely, thoroughly insulted.
“But if the Cardinal asked you to – shut me down,” Dana pushed. “You would, wouldn’t you?”
Cho looked tired. “The Cardinal is not your friend right now, D’Artagnan. But that doesn’t mean she is your enemy. If I were you, I’d make a little effort to keep it that way.”
“Milord De Winter,” Dana blurted out.
That at least had an effect on her partner in this so-called conversation. Rosnay Cho’s face went very still. “Go on,” she said steadily. “What about him?”
“He’s one of the Cardinal’s agents, isn’t he? He works with you.”
Having Cho’s full attention was more distressing than she had imagined. Dana tried not to swallow or blink or reveal in any way how nervous she was in the face of that steely gaze. She didn’t want to provide any more entertainment if she could help it. A puppy who pees on the floor. That’s what she thinks of me.
“I’d classify Milord as freelance, if anything,” Cho said finally. “He’s done some work for the Church, some work for the Crown. I’ve never attempted to parse his loyalties one way or the other. He’s ruthless and he’s useful, except when he has his own agenda going, which is most of the time.”
“Could he be – the rogue agent?” It was a thought that had been flying around in Dana’s head since Cho first mentioned that Conrad was missing. Vaniel de Winter was here; he had been at the Palace last night. Was that a coincidence? Was he really here because of his sister or the Marquise de Wardes? If he knew who Dana really was and what she had been doing – if he knew as much about Dana and Conrad as Rosnay Cho obviously did –
Cho pressed her lips together, giving the matter some serious thought. “Do you have any reason to think he might be?” she asked finally.
“I met him, that’s all. When I – recently.” She was not going to admit to the matter of the diamonds, not even if Cho knew every single detail. “He didn’t know who I was.”
“Oh, buttercup,” said Cho, as if she felt sorry for her. “If you believe that, you’re more green than I thought.”
Dana’s comm trilled. She tapped it automatically, hoping to hear Conrad’s voice, some sign that he wasn’t in trouble, that some ordinary mishap had kept him from fulfilling his promise to her.
Instead, Planchet’s voice sounded in her ear. “Chief! I have a location for Porthos now. And some sort of ransom request.”
Dana blinked. “Ransom for Conrad?”
“No, for Porthos. Has Conrad been kidnapped again? Madame Su’s going to be so pissed off.”
“Maybe. Don’t tell her anything yet. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Flight plan filed?”
“Done and done,” said Planchet, sounding gleeful. “I told the Madame I was going to visit my mother for a week. She threw a wobbly but then I let her dock my pay and she cheered up a lot.”
“Good, thanks. Sorry about the pay thing. See you soon.” Dana stood up, stretching her legs. At this rate she was going to have to become a Musketeer purely so she could ensure someone was paying Planchet a salary. “I have to go.”
“Of course,” said Rosnay Cho, letting her shoulders rise and fall in something like a shrug, but far more elegant. “Find your friends, bring them home. I’m not going to stop you.”
“Why not?” Dana couldn’t help asking.
Cho raised an amused eyebrow at her as she rose to her feet. “No one’s paying me to stop you, kid. Not yet, at least. I’d move fast, if I were you. You never know when that might change.” They were back to that odd, friendly politeness and it was completely doing Dana’s head in. Rosnay Cho piled on the surreal by extending a hand towards Dana as if they were respected colleagues.
Dana shook her hand, feeling a tingle of warmth at the connection. Tonight could not get any weirder.
But no, that wasn’t true, because Cho then leaned in, brushing her mouth against Dana’s cheek in an intimate gesture that felt a lot like a kiss. “If Milord has your boyfriend,” she whispered near Dana’s ear. “I’m sorry, buttercup, but you’re not getting him back.”
Then she released Dana’s hand, and walked away across the palace gardens without another word.
“So,” Dana muttered to herself once Rosnay Cho was gone and she was left alone with the Fountain of Tranquility. “That was a thing that happened.”
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.