30134 / 50000 words. 60% done!
If you’re in Hobart, please drop by the Hobart Bookshop tomorrow evening for the launch of my second Culinary Crime murder mystery, written under the name Livia Day. If you can’t make the launch, you will be able to purchase Drowned Vanilla at various bookshops around Australia or directly from the publisher, Twelfth Planet Press. There is an ebook edition coming soon.
Other exciting things happening this week include me finally clawing my way back to ‘par’ with Nanowrimo, and putting up a Musketeer Media Monday post about the second of the Richard Lester Musketeer films: Musketeers Break My Heart Seventies Style (1974). Oh, and the Robotech Rewatch, another Musketeer Space meta series sponsored by my Patreon supporters, reached that episode where the Earth is basically destroyed.
All this, and Ms9 got to the end of the Harry Potter books. I’m ridiculously proud of her, it was one hell of a reading effort, and it’s pretty clear that she is now in love with the whole book reading process. She also had to suffer that terrible experience of ‘I’ve been reading this series I adore for months WTF do I do now’ and of course solved it by starting again at the beginning.
But you’re not here for all that, you’re here for space hijinks and Musketeer BFFs! I’m excited because after separating my sweeties for too long, we’re finally heading into the ‘get the band back together’ arc, which is up there with the Musketeer Meet-Cute and the epic four way duel with the Englishmen as my favourite bits of the original story. Okay, those aren’t my only favourite bits.
PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE:
Dana D’Artagnan set out on a quest to the planet Valour, to protect the Prince Consort’s reputation – and along the way, all three of her best friends, the Musketeers, were wounded or lost. Now she’s determined to get them back – assuming they’re still alive…
NOW READ ON!
Chapter 27 – Paying for Porthos
Dana had flown a lot of ships lately that were not hers. The crew shuttle didn’t count, not really. But Rosnay Cho’s Moth, and then the Parry Riposte, had clawed themselves into her head. In both cases she had been high on stress, terror and excitement – and with the Parry Riposte, she had been dealing with the added pressure of Athos nearly dying and the colossal mindfuck of blending their brains together with nexus to keep the damn boat in the air.
The Hoyden was like a cool breath of lemon-scented oxygen, by comparison. Of course Porthos’ ship would be the most comfortable, inside and out. This was going to be a cruise made of cake.
Getting away from Paris Satellite was the difficult part. Dana had made sure to leave her digs well before Planchet set out for her “holiday” so that Madame Su did not suspect that Dana was stealing (borrowing!) her mechanic.
Still, the travel pack that she had swung over her shoulder apparently smelled of guilt, because Madame Su was out and about suspiciously early, getting in Dana’s face about her comings and goings.
“Why, you’re hardly here but you’re off again, Mecha Cadet, they work you hard down on Lunar Palais, don’t they?” she said with open curiosity as she barred Dana’s path out of the workshop.
“Well, you know all about hard work, don’t you, Madame Su,” Dana replied, polite as anything. The last thing she could afford to do was lose her temper at her landlady, even if Dana was worried sick about the woman’s missing husband.
It would be almost reassuring at this point, to know Conrad was back in the hands of Rosnay Cho. But the charming and devious Milord was another matter. Dana had not been sure how dangerous he was until she heard the way Ro spoke of him. She could still feel the Special Agent’s breath on her cheek as she whispered those last few words to her.
If Milord has your boyfriend, you’re not getting him back.
But damn it, she had no idea where to even start looking for Conrad Su, and she needed Athos, Aramis and Porthos back in her corner. They had to be her first priority.
After she finally shook off her landlady – whose curiosity about Dana’s plans for the week was not only out of character, but a definite warning sign – Dana’s next stop was to Amiral Treville. She hadn’t checked in yet with the commander of the Musketeers who had allowed the mission in the first place, without even knowing what it was. Dana had to report the loss of all three Musketeers and her intention to fetch them back as soon as possible.
Without mentioning the specific details of the mission, such as the diamonds, Buck and Prince Alek, not to mention her own romantic interests, Dana did her best to share what she could with the large, intimidating Amiral. After a moment’s hesitation, she did confess about her confusing conversation with Special Agent Rosnay Cho, and concern about Conrad’s disappearance and the possibility that her landlady was now operating as one of the Cardinal’s spies.
There was something deeply reassuring about discussing these things with such a solid presence of Amiral Treville, when the commander of the Musketeers wasn’t pausing to bellow at her pilots in the plexi-glass corridor. Dana had been worried that she sounded like something out of a holo-soap, but Treville nodded calmly and listened and took her seriously.
“Leave the Su matter with me, D’Artagnan,” she said as Dana’s report wound up. “I’ll have a quiet word with his Highness at our next meeting, and we’ll see if we can’t find out what’s happened. Chances are, once this latest kidnapper figures out that the tailor can’t be brain-drained, he’ll be dumped back in the city somewhere. You bring back my Musketeers, and we’ll reconvene in a week or so to pool our findings.”
Dana smiled at that, feeling oddly comforted by Treville’s confidence. “You don’t think they’re dead, then?”
“Dead drunk, maybe,” Treville scoffed. “I think not one of those three would give me the satisfaction of coming to a bad end. Far more likely that they’ll be the death of me. You, though, kid,” she added with a rare smile as she issued another travel pass and credit transfer to D’Artagnan for the journey, for ransoms, hospice bills and any other expense that the three Musketeers might have incurred. “I have a feeling you may outlast us all.”
Now Dana was at the helm of the Hoyden, allowing Planchet to fasten her into the harness, and opening her mind to the smooth inner workings of the ship.
Please enjoy this flight. I just know we’ll do so very well together.
She hadn’t quite known what to expect from Porthos’ ship computer, but with a name like Hoyden she hadn’t expected a voice like warm marmalade and an encouraging, maternal air.
That’s right, dear, you’re doing wonderfully, the ship added as she pulled them out of the dock and into open space. What reflexes! I am impressed.
It was embarrassing how nice it felt to have the ship praise her, even though she knew it was a thoroughly egotistical quirk of programming. She was going to have to tease Porthos about it, when she found her, and the thought of it made Dana grin all over her face. “Let’s look at those ransom demands,” she said once the flight was underway and the ship’s glowing compliments had eased off to a gentle, encouraging murmur.
Planchet tapped her clamshell and called up the text exchange to one of the Hoyden’s navigation panels so Dana could read it easily.
987ss3Xunknown – To retrieve Capt Porthos: Chantilly Station, Grand St Martins, Room 308. Bring 1500 credits.
029PlanchetCS – May we speak directly to Capt. Porthos or Eng. Boniface to confirm their location and identity?
987ss3Xunknown – Planchet don’t be an idiot this is B. Do you have the funds? Lives may depend!
029PlanchetCS – We’ll be there. What is the status of Captain P?
987ss3Xunknown – She’s driving me up the fucking wall, that’s her status.
“That does sound like Bonnie,” Dana agreed. “I wonder why they need so much credit to release her.”
Planchet frowned. “Isn’t Grand St Martins a casino? I’m sure I heard about it being a casino.”
Dana did her best not to beat her forehead upon the dashboard of the smooth-talking ship. “Or there’s that,” she sighed. Somehow, she had fallen into the trap of thinking that Porthos was the sensible one of the three. But she had been gambling with Red Guards when jumped in the first place.
And a sensible Musketeer was still a Musketeer. Ratbags and reprobates, all of them.
She missed them so much.
“We’ll see soon enough,” Planchet said cheerfully, as if the results would be fun however they turned out.
Chantilly Station was so very different to Meung Station. Meung was primarily a refuelling stopover, packed with engies and mechanics and seedy, one-night entertainments. Chantilly, on the other hand, was a high end tourist zone and shopping hub. Dana was no longer surprised at the size of Porthos’ ransom – the number of digital ads and stings that poured into her comm on the short walk from the space dock to the central plaza was so overwhelming that she wouldn’t have been shocked to find Porthos stuffed and mounted in a fancy department store.
Everything was for sale in Chantilly.
Grand St Martins was not a casino. It was worse than that. Grand St Martins was, quite obviously, the most expensive hotel on the station. Possibly the most expensive hotel anywhere within Valour Space. It oozed class, and charm, and you could practically smell the price of everything rolling off it like a perfumed haze.
The windows were made of real stained glass, and the entrance door of genuine polished wood. Dana was starting to think that the ransom for Porthos was suspiciously low.
As they stepped into the hotel lobby, and Planchet let out a short breath of either excitement or amazement, Dana realised that there was another pertinent detail about this place that had not been evident from the outside. It wasn’t for humans.
Oh, the staff were human enough, for the most part, but every guest from the receptionist to the dimly-lit bar restaurant at the far end of the foyer was a Mendaki. Dana had always got along rather well with the aliens she had met in pilot bars and similar dives, back on Gascon Station as well as on her various stopovers across the solar system and even in Paris from time to time. But they had been comrades, able to speak the common language of ships and beer and spare parts.
These Mendaki were from the richer end of the interplanetary alliance. They wore flowing robes and jewelled piercings instead of flightsuits and mildly pornographic tattoos. They spoke their own language in bell-like trills instead of using dodgy translator units to approximate speech in Standard.
Most tellingly of all, the staff waited on them hand and foot, with the kind of polite servitude that always irritated Dana, no matter who was doing the serving and who was being treated better than everyone else. Still, there was no getting around the fact that this was a hotel for the Mendaki and their comforts. What on earth was Porthos doing here?
“Brilliant,” whispered Planchet. “I’ve never seen so many all in one place. Aren’t those outfits amazing?”
“Let’s stroll towards the sphere-lift,” Dana said quietly, her eyes on the circular door to the left of the front desk. “As if we’ve been staying here all week. Casual as you can.”
“Oh we won’t stand out at all, do you think?” asked Planchet, and it took Dana a moment to realise that the young engie wasn’t being sarcastic.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Dana sighed. Together, shoulders back, they headed for the sphere-lift.
They didn’t make it. Two staff members in tailored uniforms cut them off and led them back to the front desk with such deference and politeness that Dana was hardly aware it was happening.
“Can we help you, madame and madame?” asked one.
“Are you guests of the hotel?” asked the other.
Dana lifted her chin. “We’re visiting a friend on the third floor,” she said, using a tone of relaxed confidence that reminded her of Aramis and how she was always wrapping complete strangers around her little finger.
It didn’t work so well for Dana.
Both staff members sucked in a breath and looked at her with suspicion. “And the name of your friend?” said one.
“For security reasons, you understand,” said another.
Their voices were not nearly as deferential anymore.
Dana tried a knowing smile, though she was afraid it came out as more of a grimace. “It would be most indiscreet of me to tell you.”
“Ah,” said a soft voice behind them. “You would be Madame Porthos’ friends, I think.”
Dana and Planchet turned to see a tall blue-green Mendaki nearby. Her head was smoothly puckered, and her tendrils fell from the lower part of her face down almost as far as her knees. She wore a smart suit in the same colours as the staff uniforms, though better tailored. Most importantly of all, she was speaking excellent Standard rather than relying on the dubious effect of a translator unit.
“And you would be?” Dana asked sharply, not even caring if she came across as rude. She wanted to see Porthos alive and well, and pretence had never come easily to her.
“I am Madame Gsaoid, manager of this establishment,” said the Mendaki. “Can I assume that you are here to take custody of Madame Porthos?”
Take custody was an odd phrasing. “I am here to see her,” said Dana. “Is there any reason that I should not visit her in her room?”
“Not at all,” said Madame Gsaoid with a quick bow of her head. “I would be most pleased to escort you there personally if I did not fear for the life of myself and my staff.”
“Excuse me?” Dana said disbelievingly. “Who has threatened you?” Did this have something to do with Porthos’ ransom? What the hell kind of trouble had her friend got herself into? Thoughts of space mobsters and casino crime, or the Red Guards, or something worse than that, all flitted through her head at once.
“Why, Madame Porthos,” said Madame Gsaoid, with a jerky inflection of her mouth that Dana had learned in her experience with other Mendaki not to mistake for a smile. “She has threatened the safety of any of my staff who attempt to approach her room.”
Dana folded her arms. “And what did your staff do to her, to provoke such a threat?”
“There is the matter of the bill,” said the manager. “Madame Porthos has firmly discouraged any attempt to negotiate on what is currently owing. I very much hope that your presence will smooth these matters over.” She gave that totally-not-a-smile expression again.
Dana hesitated. She could probably cover the bill right now, but she wanted to hear what was going on with Porthos first. “I will visit with my friend,” she said. “And then I shall discuss her account with you. In about an hour. How does that sound?”
“That would be most satisfactory,” said Madame Gsaoid, and this time, when she made the expression that was certainly not a smile, her tendrils all stood to attention as if everyone in the hotel should be very, very afraid.
“Dana!” howled Porthos in delight, grabbing her friend around the neck to haul her into the hotel room. “You’re here! Finally. Something to eat?”
For a moment at least, Dana put aside her questions and simply enjoyed the fact that Porthos was alive and in one piece. “Are you drunk?” she asked as Porthos tugged her on to an oddly-shaped couch that was made of several circular tiers. Perhaps it was designed that way so the Mendaki could rest their tendrils on a different level to the rest of them.
“I am so drunk it’s not even funny,” Porthos agreed, burying Dana in a deep, bosomy embrace. “There is nothing else to do around here, and the food printer keeps making these lovely cocktails just for me.”
“Hi, Bonnie,” Dana said, barely able to disentangle herself from the hug with Porthos. Her friend was wearing bright green silk pyjamas, and a slightly askew beehive wig with jade hair pins.
Porthos’ engie, sprawled out on an enormous heart-shaped bed, glanced up from her clamshell and nodded politely then returned to whatever she was reading. “About time,” she said. “I want to get back to my kitchen and my real life. Have you paid the bill yet?”
“Not yet,” said Dana. “Porthos, what on earth happened after the Calais?”
Porthos immediately pulled up her pyjama top to show off a flawless brown stomach. “I got stabbed,” she said proudly. “Twice, with swords. And arc-ray burn here, under the ribs. Hurts like a bastard, arc-ray burn.”
“You look all right now,” Dana said, reaching out to tug Porthos’ clothes back into some semblance of order.
“The hotel sent up medipatches,” volunteered Bonnie. “We couldn’t go to a hospice because our credit studs were scoured by the red guards in the fight, so we couldn’t pay for anything.”
Porthos nodded, looking sadly around the hotel room. It was obviously designed for Mendaki and not humans – the surfaces were smooth and cool, and the bathroom that Dana could see through the doorway was twice the size of the bedroom, with a sunken pool. “A close friend of mine used to own this place,” she said. “Thought we could hole up for a week or two, and not have to worry about the bill.”
“By the time we realised it was under new management, we already owed them far too much,” Bonnie chipped in. “It didn’t help when Madame here slipped out to an underground gambling den or three and ran our debts up even higher.”
Porthos looked guilty. “Champagne?”
“No more drinking!” Dana chided. “Or gambling. We’ve got work to do, and two other Musketeers to find.”
Porthos leaned against her happily. “Missed you, pup. Where’s my Aramis? Missed her too.”
“I don’t know,” Dana sighed.
“And Athos. Is he sad without us? He gets grumpy when he’s left alone too long. I bet he’s grumpy and sad.”
“I hope not.” Dana extracted herself from Porthos’ octopus-like embrace and went to the door, calling up the final total for the room. “This has gone up since the manager spoke to me in the lobby!”
“Needed more champagne,” said Porthos, looking guilty.
“What you need is a dose of Sobriety.”
“Way ahead of you,” said Bonnie, holding up an ampoule between finger and thumb. “I had this printed three days ago, all ready for our exit. Got the good stuff because I don’t think a basic patch will actually hit the sides.”
Porthos sulked. “I’ll take it when we’re about to leave.”
“If we’re not about to leave right now, I may shoot you,” her engie replied.
“Damages,” Dana read out of the extensive list of items. “Porthos, really? You damaged the lift, a mirror and a bar stool?”
“They may have asked me to settle the bill at a tactless time,” Porthos admitted. “And my trigger finger was a bit – triggery, after the Calais.”
“And you threw a tantrum in the sphere-lift when that rich boyfriend of yours refused to settle your bill because his business manager wouldn’t let him,” Bonnie put in.
“Shut up, you. Also not on that list, I owe ninety credits to a local loan shark,” Porthos said helpfully. “He’s called Harry the Hand. Lovely bloke. Showed me pictures of his kids and promised not to break any of my limbs for at least a month as long as I stick to the payment plan.”
Dana finished reading off the damages, and sighed loudly. “I just hope we’re not going to need much credit to get Aramis out of wherever she is.”
“I tried contacting Bazin,” said Bonnie. “But all he sent me was some meaningful quotes about service to God.”
Porthos’ eyes went wide and she held out a hand urgently in Bonnie’s direction. “You never told me that. Sobriety, now. Give it.”
Bonnie gave her the ampoule and Porthos snapped it open with her teeth, swallowing the dose hard. “Aramis is alone with Bazin, away from Paris Satellite,” she said, her eyes already more alert than they must have been in more than a week. “This is bad. We should have prepared for the possibility.”
“I don’t understand,” Dana frowned. “He’s her engie, can’t he be trusted?”
“He’s had a week to work on her without the rest of us around,” Porthos hissed. “She’s probably a bloody Cardinal by now.”
Dana blinked. “Aramis wouldn’t throw away her service to the Musketeers to join the Church, would she?” She knew that her friend often talked about her time in the Musketeers being temporary, but she had assumed the day she would leave was a long way off.
“Not unless she was feeling especially sad and lonely and oh I don’t know, maybe someone had broken up with her recently?” Porthos snapped. “When Aramis gets dumped, she wallows in self pity and theological poetry and then, if Athos and I aren’t around to stop her, she almost always ends up trying to quit the service to become a priest. Every. Single. Time.”
Dana groaned. “Fine. I’ll pay the bill and we’ll get out of here as quick as we can. Planchet, do you still have that trace on the Morningstar?”
“It hasn’t moved from Meung since I first located it,” said Planchet.
Meung Station. Dana shuddered a little about the idea of returning there. But this time, she would have friends at her back. She had a sudden memory of Athos at the helm of the Parry Riposte, with pursuit ships coming at them from all sides.
“Three cathedrals on Meung Station,” she said aloud.
“Bugger it,” said Porthos, pushing her aside from the door. “We’d better move fast, before she signs something she’ll regret and gets herself all spiritually enlightened.”
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.