41501 / 50000 words. 83% done with Nanowrimo!
PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana lost her friends somewhere in the Solar System, during the mission for the Prince Consort. Now she’s picking up the pieces – and that means locating and rescuing each of them from whatever mayhem they’ve got themselves into. Porthos was drunk, wounded and in debt on Chantilly Station, and now they’re out to find Aramis, before she gives up the Musketeer life altogether.
NOW READ ON.
Chapter 28 – For Love of Aramis
The plan to find Aramis ran aground on Meung Station. Dana, Planchet, Bonnie and Porthos split up across the station, checking every cathedral and religious space before admitting that she was likely not here at all. She had spent several days at a hospice on Meung, but had disappeared off the grid shortly after checking herself out.
“I’ll meet you back at the dealership,” Porthos said gruffly over the comm.
They had found the Morningstar earlier that day, in a corner of a dodgy spaceship dealership reserved for crafts in hock. Aramis hadn’t sold her ship outright, which was vaguely reassuring, but she had obviously been desperately need of funds to pawn it at such a disreputable establishment.
“But the manager said he couldn’t release contact information,” Dana protested.
“Yes,” said Porthos in a voice so chilly that it could have belonged to Athos. “And I was happy to let that go when I thought we would pick her up at one of the nearby cathedrals. But we’re running out of options, and I’m prepared to give it another shot.”
Another shot, as it turned out, meant Porthos slapping on pearls and a high scarlet beehive of a wig before returning to the dealership and trying every single craft they had available to pick exactly which one her fake husband (whom she always called ‘my darling Coquenard’) should buy for her. Dana trailed in her wake in the role of assistant, making the occasional apology on behalf of her ‘boss’ as Porthos readjusted every screen and seat in the place, and managed to smear lipstick on nearly every smooth surface purely by “accident”.
The salesman, who was more junior than the manager who had been on duty last time they swung past, was obviously conscious of being the only one there during the siesta break, and thus responsible for any potential damage that this troublesome customer might inflict upon the vehicles.
All of this created a mighty distraction, epic enough to prevent anyone from noticing Planchet and Bonnie as they broke into the back office with a handful of connection cables and a pack of empty data studs.
“Let’s try the red one again!” Porthos shrieked, playing up an accent that tilted between ‘New Aristocrat’ and ‘Holo-soap Diva’. “My darling Coquenard loves to see me in red, and I have the perfect shoes to match.”
“There aren’t any red ones, madam,” said the salesman, sounding rather desperate.
“That’s a terrible state of affairs, my good fellow. Which ones can we make red?”
There was something about the coffee printers on Meung Station that made every liquid taste like it had a faint film of oil on its surface. Porthos refused to even try printing tea until they were back on the Hoyden.
“Aramis used a false name to pawn the ship,” said Planchet, cracking open the clamshell to show the files she had stolen.
Porthos glanced over her shoulder as she placed a large, genuine china teapot and several small cups on the floor of the cockpit. “Oh no, sweet pea, R. de Herblay is her birth name.” A look of distress flitted across her face. “That’s bad.”
“Why is that bad?” Dana asked, pouring tea for everyone. She was sure Porthos would have done it herself by now if she wanted it to be done perfectly.
“Because she hates her name. If she’s using it, that means – she needs her legal identity.”
“Probably to join the seminary,” said Planchet, helping herself to a cup. She rocked back, startled as Porthos and Dana turned identical looks of fury upon her. “What, sorry, what did I say? Help?”
Bonnie reached out and prodded both Porthos and Dana back a few inches so that they loomed less threateningly over the engie-in-training. “Breathe,” she commanded to them all.
Porthos did actually take a few deep breaths, and knocked back half a cup of scalding tea to calm herself. “Why did you say that about a seminary? What seminary?”
“The contact information Aramis gave the dealership is Crevecouer Abbey,” said Planchet, shuffling back awkwardly to add more distance between them all. Dana didn’t blame her. Porthos looked positively murderous. “It’s on Dover Satellite, attached to the university there. It’s a seminary for new priests.”
The words that next came out of Porthos’ mouth were anything but religious.
“Are we bad people?” Dana asked, a few hours later. They had retreated swiftly from Meung Station, flying the Hoyden to Dover Satellite and finding a cheap dock to leave her in. Bonnie and Planchet had elected to remain on the ship, perhaps suspecting that Porthos and Dana were about to do something they shouldn’t.
Dover Satellite used almost as much Artifice as Paris Satellite, perhaps more. They currently stood on a wide, grass-lined avenue with a starscape above them which gave the illusion of being dirtside, except for the visible rotation of the stars.
Porthos had changed from her usual civilian glamour into Musketeer battledress – her blue flight suit and fleur-de-lis jacket, with her shorn hair bare to the false sky. She had even wiped off her lipstick.
Dana wore Athos’ not-a-Musketeer blue jacket over her own charcoal grey flight suit. Both of them wore their Pilot’s Slices slung from belts, and sensible boots. Ready for action.
“I have no idea what you mean,” said Porthos. She leaned against a wall, staring at the pretty, fluted tower of Crevecouer Abbey. The Artifice was so detailed that it even had what looked like green ivy clambering all over the pale golden stonework.
“I mean,” Dana sighed. “If Aramis really wants to sign herself up to the priesthood – and we know she’s always talking about how she plans to someday – shouldn’t we let her get on with it? Are we bad people for stopping her doing something that might make her happy?”
Porthos’ eyes went darker than usual. “I don’t care if it’s selfish,” she said after a long moment. “And I don’t give a flying frig if it makes us bad people. I want her back. She’s my best friend, and they can’t have her. Also, she owes me money.”
Dana felt relief wash over her. “Okay,” she said with a biting grin. “Let’s be terrible people, then.”
“It’s what we do best,” Porthos replied.
Crevecouer Abbey was not letting Aramis go without a fight. Their opening salvo consisted mostly of nuns. Several elderly, sweet-faced old dears met Porthos and Dana at the door, politely explaining why it was that ‘Novice de Herblay’ could not receive visitors during the period of contemplation, as she was in consultation with several advisors about the thesis she was to present to the Abbott. The Abbott would then decide on her suitability to join the Church as a novice priest.
Every time one of them referred to Aramis as Novice de Herblay, Porthos gritted her teeth and corrected them with ‘Captain’ until she looked about ready to explode.
“I’m afraid you don’t understand,” Dana put in when there was finally a gap in the conversation. “We have brought some papers for Captain de Herblay that she greatly needs to reference in her thesis proposal.”
“Oh, that’s all right then,” the nuns said happily, and offered them fresh-brewed tea.
“Maybe later,” said Porthos. It was a sign of how desperate things were that she only twitched a little about turning down the offer of tea that had been brewed instead of printed.
One of the more elderly nuns led the Musketeer and her friend up a winding staircase which served no purpose other than the aesthetic, and along to a library. Dana knew they were in the right place, because Bazin the android stood to stiff attention, guarding the door of his mistress.
As he saw Porthos and Dana approach, the android looked more dismayed than Dana had thought was even possible, on the face of an artificial person.
“Please, Captain-Lieutenant Porthos,” he moaned. “It’s so calm here, and no one ever tries to shoot at us, and Novice de Herblay is planning a most excellent thesis that will confirm her brilliance in the scholarly arts of theology…”
“Modesty in all, Bazin,” said the nun, chiding him. “We have no need for pride here.”
The android’s stiff metal shoulders slumped. “Yes, Sister,” he sighed. “I would prefer not to let these people in to interrupt Novice de Herblay.”
“We serve God and All, Bazin, not our personal needs,” said the nun, moving him aside.
“I dislike spaceships so much,” the android engineer muttered. “A few centuries of religious contemplation and not being shot at, is that too much to ask? We were so close.”
Porthos gave him an unsympathetic clap on the shoulder as she was ushered into the library by the elderly nun. “We’ll have a talk about loyalty to the Royal Fleet later, Bazin.”
“Yes, Captain-Lieutenant Porthos,” Bazin sighed.
Dana slipped into the library after Porthos, and almost crashed into her back because her friend had stopped still in the middle of the room.
There, at a table strewn with antique books, was their Aramis. She wore a flowing black robe and a full star-scarf wrapped around her hair. Her eyes were alight with animated intelligence as she argued with two priests about the nature of God and All.
“But surely it is not heresy to acknowledge one’s occasional reluctance in choosing to serve God…” In that moment, Aramis saw her visitors. She broke off her earnest debate, and smiled with dazzling warmth.
Dana’s old crush on her friend smacked her hard in the chest again. She had somehow lost her immunity to Aramis’ beauty in the time they had been apart. Aramis glowed with happiness, still fired up from the intellectual debate she was enjoying.
“Oh, we’re terrible people,” Dana whispered.
“I can live with that,” said Porthos.
“My friends,” said Aramis, her joy filling the room. “I am so glad to see you are unharmed.”
“Mostly,” said Porthos. “I took a wound or two but it’s all fixed up now, and Dana’s barely dented. How about you?”
Aramis pressed her hand to her chest and smiled. “You’ll laugh at me for giving God the credit and not the hospice, but this time I do believe I was saved for something more, Pol.”
“Something more than being a Musketeer,” Porthos repeated. “Something more than Paris and friendship and serving the Crown?”
“I hope you don’t mind the interruption, superiors,” Aramis added to her new companions, who eyed Porthos and Dana as if they had rolled in drunk from the nearest tavern. “I have not seen my friends in a terribly long time. Porthos, D’Artagnan, perhaps you can help me with your perspective.”
Porthos let out a short laugh, but pulled up a chair to the table. “If it’s about your thesis, darling, I doubt I can contribute much.”
Dana followed her lead, sitting beside Porthos. “Unless your thesis is about swords or spaceships,” she added, happy to play along. “We’re good at swords and spaceships.”
Aramis’ eyes gleamed, and she continued with unironic enthusiasm for her topic. “Ah, but you see, it’s all about dogmatism versus idealism, and I am sure you have an opinion as to which most accurately reflects the kind of priest I should become upon my ordination…”
Dana saw Porthos grip the chair arms, her knuckles standing out as white against the usual brown skin of her hands.
“You actually mean to go ahead with this?” Porthos asked softly.
“It is the life I have always wanted, dear heart,” Aramis replied, breaking off further discussion about dogmatic theory to smile at her friend. “And – it is the right time, for me.”
Porthos had an awful look on her face, and Dana realised that she was giving up. Her face actually seemed to be pulling itself into an ‘I am happy for you’ expression instead of the more expected ‘if you do this I will burn this abbey to the ground’ expression.
“I think perhaps,” Dana broke in, making the priests and Aramis all suddenly look at her with avid attention. “Before you make the final decision about this thesis of yours, Aramis, you should consider all the relevant source material.”
The priests blinked at her. Aramis had an odd smile on her face. It was sad, without the warmth she had turned upon her friends earlier. She was still so beautiful that it made Dana want to cry. “Did you have something in mind, pup?”
Dana slid the letter from Captain Dubois out of the inner pocket in Athos’ jacket. “Like this, for instance.” The paper crackled as she handed the envelope across, placing it into Aramis’ outstretched hand.
Aramis gripped the envelope a little too firmly. It crumpled in her fingers with a sharp sound before she seized control of herself and flattened it out against the surface of the table. After contemplating the envelope for a moment, she tore the letter open and read it silently to herself.
Dana did not dare look at Porthos. She stared at Aramis and waited, well aware that everyone in the room was also staring at Aramis and waiting for her to finish reading her letter.
No pressure, or anything.
“Superiors,” Aramis said after a moment. “You will excuse me, please. I must – commit myself to private contemplation for an hour or two. May we pick up this discussion after Matins?” She rose, ushering the priests to the door with a smoothness they found it difficult to argue with, though both fellows were evidently well practiced at arguing. “Bazin, see I am not disturbed,” Aramis added, and then closed the door firmly behind the representatives of the seminary.
Porthos turned to look at Aramis, hope alight in her eyes. Dana realised they were both actively holding their breath. This was ridiculous, and yet…
Aramis pressed the letter to her chest and grinned the wickedest of grins. “She loves me. Tracy Dubois loves me.”
Dana let out a long huff of air in relief.
“Well, of course she does,” said Porthos, as if she hadn’t doubted for a minute. “Wants you back, then?”
“How quickly can we get home to Paris?”
“That depends,” said Dana. “Do you want to get your ship before you go? Because we might not have enough credit to get the Morningstar out of hock.”
Aramis pondered this for a moment and then laughed carelessly. “We’ll work something out.”
Porthos leaped to her feet and gave Aramis a rough hug. “You scared me for a minute there, you rotten cow.”
Aramis kissed her hair. “All for one and one for all, you silly bitch.” She looked over Porthos’ head to Dana. “Where is he?”
Dana might not be smart enough to contemplate a pre-ordination thesis in theology, but she knew exactly who Aramis was talking about. “Athos is down on Valour. We crashed the Parry Riposte more than a week ago, and I had to leave him and Grimaud there to salvage the ship while I completed the mission.”
“He’s down on the planet?” Porthos exclaimed. “You never told me that. That’s not good, Dana. We should have collected him first.”
Dana wanted to point out that they might have lost Aramis to the Church forever if they hadn’t picked her up today, but she knew better than to protest.
Aramis paced back and forth in front of the door. “This is bad. Athos and Valour do not do well together.”
“I’m aware,” Dana said sharply. She wasn’t an idiot.
“Either he’s dead, or there’s no wine left on that planet,” announced Aramis. “I know which option I’d bet my money on.” She tucked the love letter from Tracy Dubois inside her flowing black robes. “Let’s find out where Bazin has hidden my flight suit, and go bring home our boy.”
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.