Musketeer Space Part 31: Musketeers at War

Fleur_Dis_Lee_startled_S2E09It’s Musketeer day again! A bit of a milestone today, because we’re officially halfway through the story. If you haven’t been reading along each week, this is a great time to get started from the beginning. Later this week, I’ll be launching daily posts of the “Christmas” prequel novella: Seven Days of Joyeux, finishing up on Christmas Day. In extra exciting news, the story will be illustrated with a fantastic piece of art by Katy Shuttleworth.

If you’re not planning to start reading Musketeer Space until there’s a finished novel for you to read (valid life choice!) then you can absolutely read Seven Days of Joyeux anyway – apart from a few details of backstory that have slow reveal in the novel, there are no spoilers for the main narrative. Sadly there’s no D’Artagnan either, as the Three Musketeers haven’t met her yet, but hopefully there will be enough Joyeux festivities, sinister happenings, banter and snogging to make up for that.

Thanks to those who have been reading along every week! Sometimes the stats are what keep me going. Special extra thanks & kisses to my regular Patreon supporters – I appreciate you so very much. Taking a monthly wage for this story helps me to justify all the time I spend on it. If you’ve enjoyed the story so far, please consider signing up as a Patreon supporter, for as little as $1 a month. You can sign up at any time – and all supporters will receive the complete ebook of Musketeer Space at the end, plus other rewards depending on the tier you choose.

Check out this week’s Musketeer Media Monday post, Musketeers in Technicolor (1948) in which Gene Kelly does not sing or dance, but still manages to throw in some fancy footwork, and Lana Turner’s beauty spot deserves an Oscar.

In the mean time, let’s throw some interplanetary politics and Dana angst at you! I’ll be back in two weeks to kick off the second half of Musketeer Space – 31 weeks down, 31 to go!

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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: Since leaving her home of Gascon Station to find a new life for herself as a (maybe future) Musketeer on Paris Satellite, Dana D’Artagnan has tripped over a conspiracy, been robbed, sold her ship, failed to get the job of her dreams, learned to pilot a mecha, acquired an engie, foiled a secret agent, mostly rescued Conrad Su when he was kidnapped that time, rented a room from a suspicious landlady, prevented an interplanetary sex scandal, flirted with a politically obsessed possible criminal mastermind, crashed a spaceship, failed to rescue Conrad Su when he was kidnapped that other time, embraced the Duchess of Buckingham, been rewarded by the Prince Consort Alek of Auster, and most importantly of all: found and lost and found again the Three Musketeers, three of the dearest friends she has ever had in her life. Also there’s been quite a bit of drinking and sword-fighting.

NOW READ ON.

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Chapter 31: Musketeers at War

As Dana stared at the viewscreen where the Regent’s declaration of war still hung in the air, her first thought was of Athos, of the terrible look in his eyes when he confessed to her that his husband had been a spy for the Sun-kissed. That he had loved one of them, an alien, without even knowing it. But he showed no sign of falling apart again, not right now. His jaw was tense, and he muttered to Aramis, “Hell of a time to be without a ship.”

“You’ll have time to acquire a new helm and harness,” Aramis said. “And a hull to wrap around it.”

“Not a lot of time,” Athos grated back. But then his eyes flicked to Dana, and the look in his face had nothing to do with that deep misery he had spilled out to her on the floor of the cellar of the Gilded Lily.

It was pity, she realised with a sinking feeling. It was – he was looking at her as if he expected her to be the one to fall apart. Why would he think that? Her three friends might be going off to war without her, but she was part of the Mecha Squad, it was hardly as if she would be left out altogether…

Then she realised that the screen had shifted from the press conference to show the recent attacks that had inspired the Regent’s declaration of war, and Dana’s mouth went dry so hard that it stung the inside of her cheeks.

Gascon Station. That was Gascon Station.

She watched the broadcast in silence, taking in the details. Six incendiary bombs, planted in secret across the station, detonating at ten minute intervals. Emergency response thrown into disarray. Life support disconnected across whole sectors of the station.

Ten thousand casualties. Even taking into account passing trade and miners on rec leave, that was a third of the normal population of Gascon. She couldn’t even start thinking about specifics, about which areas had hit and which people she knew were most likely to have been where at that time of day. All she could hear was a faint buzzing sound in her ears. Her feet were numb.

Aramis squeezed Dana’s hand.

Dana heard Athos and Porthos arguing about which of them were going to take over the helm from Bonnie. Athos insisted that he was faster, but Porthos overruled him on the grounds that the Hoyden was her damned ship.

Dana wondered if Athos was even capable of flying. Had Grimaud given his last ampoule of nexus to Dana when they were busy crashing the Parry Riposte, or did she have further supplies with her?

The broadcast flicked from the damage done to Gascon Station to a repeat of the Regent’s declaration of war, then the edited highlights of the questions she had answered afterwards.

“I need to contact my family,” Dana said aloud. No one heard her in all the arguing, so she repeated it again, louder.

Porthos turned to her, nodding. “I have subspace credit. Give Bonnie your residential codes and she’ll try to get the call through. Athos, I see you, if your butt even touches my chair I am going to kick you in it.”

Bonnie relinquished the helm to Porthos, and drew Dana back into the cabin so they could connect the call. It didn’t work the first time they tried, or the second. None of Dana’s family comms were working, not her Mama or Papa’s personal studs, nor the home mainframe, or any of their work numbers. Neither of her sisters replied. The emergency contact line was running hot, and they were unlikely to make it to the front of the queue before they got back to Paris.

“I’ll keep trying,” Bonnie said finally, taking the tablet out of Dana’s shaking hands. “I’ll get Planchet on to it, the kid is a genius with communications. Give us a little while, we’ll get you through.”

And she did, but it took an hour, and an hour is far too long to be thinking that your family might not exist any more.

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By the time the call came through, tensions were running high in the Hoyden. Whoever’s idea it had been to cram all three Musketeers and Dana in one Musket-class dart had been a dumbass. Aramis and Athos were sniping at each other about religious doctrine, of all things, both equally frustrated at their inability to make the ship go faster by mind control alone.

The newsreels only stopped showing the endless clips of the destruction on Gascon Station and the Regent’s speech in order to report that fifty alien ships had unfolded in Truth space, rendering the planet and its many orbital cities (Artemisia, Valentine, Lucretia, Rochelle) effectively under siege. No shots had yet been fired, but it was clearly a message, as much as the attack on Gascon and Freedom had been: one planet at a time, we are coming for you.

Porthos, who was flying as fast as she reasonably could thanks to the wonders of spaceship design and long-lasting power globes, refused to speak to either Athos or Aramis any more except to say ‘shut up, both of you, and stop acting like children’ and ‘I will make you walk the fucking plank, I swear to God.’

“Boss,” Planchet said suddenly, her voice coming through Dana’s ear from the Morningstar as if she was right next to her on the bunk. “I’ve got your call, standby.”

Dana caught her breath and then she heard her mother’s voice, business-like and firm over the subspace comm line. “Dana, is that you?”

“Mama,” Dana burst out. “Are you – is everyone -” But no, asking about everyone was too much. She had been watching list of known fatalities grow every time it was repeated on the smaller vid screen in the cabin. So many names that she knew, friends and extended family and acquaintances. People she had grown up with. “Are you all right? Is Papa?”

“It’s bad, darling, but we’re holding on,” said Mama, and that assurance was enough to make Dana sob out loud, to beg forgiveness for leaving home, and to swear to kill all Sun-kissed, one at a time.

But she stayed calm, and asked sensible questions, and tried not to break too hard as her mother reported what had been destroyed, and who was dead, and what was happening now in the wake of the disaster.

At one point, Mama stopped talking altogether, and after a scrabbling frequency sound, her elder sister Debo came on instead, sounding stiff and robotic. “Di and Pippa were missing for six hours,” she said, referring to the middle D’Artagnan sister and her wife. “The kids are okay, they weren’t in the school that was hit. And Papa didn’t want you to know, but he’s been evacuated to a hospice ship – we can’t do more than field treatment on station. He was caught in one of the explosions. His burns are superficial but extensive.”

As Dana talked, and mostly listened, burying herself in the sound of her older sister’s familiar, no-nonsense voice, Athos and Aramis came to sit near her on the bunk.

Athos patted her briefly on the shoulder, in a ‘if only we had swords I might be willing to talk about your feelings but probably not’ kind of way, but he sat close enough to Dana that she could feel the warmth of him. Aramis had no such restraint – every time Dana’s voice stumbled over the very basic task of exchanging words with her sister and then her mother again, Aramis would reach out and rub small circles against the base of her spine.

They were here, and her family were alive, and there was more to think about.

War, and what it meant for all of them.

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24 hours later, Dana stared at the mecha-suit. She had been immersed in ships – and darts in particular – for so long that it seemed completely impossible that she had once known what to do with one of these.

Still, she was going to have to remember fast.

“Cadet D’Artagnan,” said a voice behind her. “Good to see you back from leave.”

Dana turned, startled, to find her commanding officer standing behind her. Commandant Essart was a short, solid woman with greying hair. There were times when she seemed almost motherly to her cadets, but she could yell as loud as Amiral Treville when she needed to.

“Ready for service, Commandant,” Dana said, saluting.

“Good to hear. The rosters for the next two months will be posted in the mess later today. Two mecha units will remain here on Lunar Palais for city security, and other two will be shipping out with the Royal Fleet to deal with the Siege of Truth.”

Dana did not want to stay. The thought of staying here when the Fleet were going to war was awful beyond words, but she understood that they couldn’t leave Paris and Lunar Palais defenceless at a time like this. She nodded, without saying anything.

Truth was as close to Freedom and the remains of Gascon Station as she was going to get while she was still signed up with the military. Would it feel worse to be so damned close and still not there?

“You, however, will not be with any of them, if you accept this,” said Essart, and she handed over an envelope with a familiar blue fleur-de-lis seal upon it. “Amiral Treville is short on pilots for supply transport. She’s offered you a position, if you want it. Your crew would be printing and ferrying supplies for the troops, providing parts for repair and replacement weapons. When things get quiet, you’ll be boosting them closer to Freedom for help with the Gascon relief effort.”

Dana opened her mouth and closed it again. Treville wanted her. She’d be with the Musketeers, even if she still wouldn’t be one of them. She would have her own ship even if it was a supplies venturer rather than the musket-class dart she still longed for.

If anything happened to Aramis, Athos or Porthos, she would be in the midst of the action, she might hear about it first. She wouldn’t be left behind, out of the loop. And there was a chance she would actually get a glimpse of home.

But if she stayed with the Mecha Squad, she had a 50% chance of combat action, might actually have an opportunity to take her revenge against the bastard Sun-kissed.

“Can I think about it?” she asked, not realising she was going to say those words until they were spilling out of her mouth.

Essart looked almost sympathetic. “Take three hours,” she said. “Get your head on straight. Then report to me with your decision.”

“Yes, sir.”

Dana breathed in and out, letting the mecha respond to her thoughts and movements. She had been a long time away, but she was still more attuned to the machine than she had been when she first started. It would come back.

She thought about taking a mecha into combat, of blasting the Sun-kissed ships out of the sky of Truth.

She thought about her Papa, lying in a hospice ship and complaining about being made to stay immobile while they worked on replacing his skin.

She thought about how being here, protecting the Regent herself, was a vital job.

But surely she had done enough for the Crown lately. It was time to think about the solar system, and how she could actually be of most use to the war effort.

Dana decided.

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Milord Vaniel De Winter was not a loving man. Love was for fools. He had no particular feeling for his child, the De Winter heir, who had been neatly packed off to a boarding school as soon as it was convenient. His most recent wife, Delia De Winter, had not inspired much in the way of love before her untimely death. He tolerated her sister Bianca because she was amusing, and loyal, and played a mean game of cards, but he would not blink before sacrificing her if it proved necessary.

Romance was a political tool like any other. Milord allowed himself the occasional obsession, like his current hunger for the fascinating Marquise de Wardes, but only after he had formed a strategy for how that romance would be useful to his current plans.

If he loved anything at all, it was his ship.

The Matagot was a masterpiece of hidden depths. She was a dagger-class raven scout, polished black and gleaming on the outside. If you weren’t paying attention – and people rarely did pay sufficient attention – it looked like any other messenger ship.

If you knew what to look for, you might notice how well preserved the ship was, without the usual wear and tear of anything piloted by a Raven. The shell was glossy and smooth, and the engine purred like the cat of legend from which the ship had taken her name.

A lot of money had been spent on keeping this ship in the kind of prime condition that a Raven messenger could rarely afford.

Officially, Milord and his sister-in-law Bianca were staying at the Julien, a five star hotel on Lunar Palais. Bee certainly spent much of her time there, with her ridiculous friends who were currently indulging in their usual riot of gaming, carousing and competitive sports. She also had a suite on Paris Satellite itself for easy access to the rec centres and TeamJoust tanks.

Bee’s friends were not the only reason that Milord avoided both hotel suits. The Matagot had everything he needed – but most particularly, a double office allowing for himself and his assistant Kitty to work in separate spaces so that her cheerful chatter did not drive him up the wall.

He liked his office very much – it was less spacious than the one he used back on Valour, but it had a desk and a comfortable couch and every communication frequency in the solar system. There was even space to pace back and forth, when his nervous energy got the better of him.

The dagger-class scout was roomier than most variations of this kind of ship. There were several cabins, a basic kitchen and a gym. More space than most hotels had to offer.

Kitty’s office was – something that Milord suffered, because good assistants were hard to find and while Kitty was bossy, overly talkative and deeply irritating, she would work twenty hours non stop if he needed her to, she was unflinchingly loyal, and she did a good line in sarcastic banter which was, he had to admit, his greatest weakness.

In exchange for Kitty’s relentless work ethic, her ability to remind him to eat and sleep at regular intervals when he was particularly caught up, and the fact that she had worked for him for five years without reporting any of his more illegal activities to the Crown, Milord paid her very well and allowed her to decorate her own office.

It was a constant source of distress to him, her office, but if he kept his eyes straight ahead and walked through very quickly on his way to his own space, he did not have to get overly distracted by the childish, bright pastel wall decorations and the collection of flying glitter pony toys that littered her desk.

The whole thing had become more tolerable once he installed a second coffee printer in his own office. No one should ever be faced with rainbows and sparkly plush space unicorns when they were in search of coffee.

Today he was in the gym, walking on the treadmill while answering correspondence from the office back on Valour when Kitty’s bright, cheery voice broke in on the music in his headphones. “Your smoking hot 1500 appointment is here early, Milord. Shall I show her to your office to wait for you, or can I flirt with her while you make yourself ready?”

“Whichever my guest prefers,” he said, maintaining the usual affable charm that he used around his assistant. It was good practice for him, the illusion of an intense but gentle politician. Kitty’s perception of him often influenced how others saw him, and the cover of Milord Vaniel De Winter was too useful to risk. Vaniel De Winter found Kitty deeply amusing, and allowed her to push him around because it made her feel useful. Milord simply hoped he would not have to kill her some day, because how the hell did one dispose of that many glitter ponies?

“Any word from the Marquise de Wardes’ people?” he asked.

“She has definitely taken up the Regent’s offer to stay in residence at the Palace for some time,” said Kitty. “Still working on that personal appointment, though. She’s wily, and everyone wants a piece of her. Might take more than a bunch of flowers and a pair of designer heels in a gift box, if you know what I mean.”

Milord felt his mouth press into a thin line. The Marquise de Wardes would be a fascinating political ally to add to his collection, but so far his overtures had been met with polite reserve.

If he couldn’t win her politically, he might have to try an actual seduction which was far more time-consuming.

He took a brief sonic shower and dressed in business clothes for the appointment. As he straightened his tie in the mirror, he shifted his hair from comfortable silver-blond back to slightly dishevelled brown. Not that his guest didn’t know both sides of him, but it was a code to himself as much as to her. Silver meant flirting, espionage and pretending to be equals. Brown meant Valour politics, New Aristocracy, and business all the way.

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Kitty was alone in her pony paradise when Milord walked through. Slurping her way through a foaming green tea frappe the size of her forearm, she gave him a brief finger wave as he walked through.

Special Agent Rosnay Cho awaited him in his office, her large black boots propped up on his desk and a cup of black coffee balanced precariously on the arm of her chair. “Not interrupting anything, was I?” she asked, sounding thoroughly amused by herself.

Milord frowned at her, unsettled by her early appearance. Appointment times should be sacrosanct. “What’s so urgent that it couldn’t wait another hour?”

Ro surveyed him thoughtfully from beneath her dark sweep of hair. Her flight suit today was a bright aqua, as frivolous as always. It was one of many small things she did to make people underestimate how dangerous she was; Milord appreciated that about her. It was a technique he often used himself, and there were times when he wondered if Kitty, with her purple hair and sugared drinks and ridiculous pony obsession, was actually doing exactly the same thing. Possibly she was an assassin in disguise.

“I was at a loose end, and there’s a lot to do today,” Ro said after a moment. “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

Milord rolled his eyes at her. He allowed a certain amount of teasing, for the same reason that Ro wore candy-coloured flight suits. It didn’t hurt to let other people think you were fair game. Intimacy was like anything else – a tool to be carefully distributed, and then exploited. “How can I be of use to the Cardinal today?”

Ro blinked steadily at him. “I’m not here on behalf of her Eminence at the moment. Or at least – not entirely. The Regent has given me a mission, and I thought you might have some intelligence to offer.”

Very interesting. It wasn’t unlike Ro to roll where the weather took her, but it surprised him that the Cardinal was allowing her loyalties to be shared like this. Milord let his voice drop into a low, amused drawl. “I’m honoured. How can I help the Regent?”

“I’m on the lookout for an asset that the Prince Consort is rather upset about losing.”

He laughed at that. “Not the little tailor?”

“He’s been kidnapped.”

“I hear he makes a habit of that.” Milord threaded his fingers together and raised his eyebrows at her. “Usually it’s you.”

Ro scowled. “Not this time. Do you know where he is, or not?”

“I couldn’t begin to imagine. But I promise I’ll keep an eye out for him on my travels. People often turn up in the strangest places.”

Ro gave him a knowing look. “The reward is very generous.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Anything else?”

The stare he got from her was intense and thorough, as if she was trying to pull the knowledge of Conrad Su’s whereabouts directly from his mind. “D’Artagnan,” she said, after a moment.

Milord batted his eyelashes at her. “Who?”

Ro looked impatient. “She’s a new favourite of the Prince Consort, and by extension, the Regent. Hangs around with Musketeers.”

“I don’t believe I know anyone by that name,” Milord replied with his sweetest smile. And it was true, to a point. The woman he had met on that train back on Valour had gone by an entirely different name.

“The Cardinal doesn’t want anything to happen to Dana D’Artagnan,” Ro said firmly. “Not in retaliation for – recent events, or anything else. Her Eminence is all for a unified front with the Crown these days. So D’Artagnan is off limits.”

Neither of them mentioned diamonds, as the obvious reason why someone might wish to retaliate against the young pilot who had been making herself so very troublesome lately.

“D’Artagnan is off limits,” Milord agreed. “Got it.” He continued to smile, his gaze fixed on Ro;s beautiful scarred face until she stood and took her leave of him.

“Always a pleasure, Milord,” she sighed.

“You too, sweetness,” he said, and they kissed the corners of each other’s mouths in a polite pretence that they weren’t now on opposing sides of a very interesting game.

He waited until he was absolutely sure she was gone, and then chimed through the comm to Kitty. “Any more appointments this afternoon?”

“No, Milord de Winter,” she said cheerfully.

“Good. I think we might take a little joyride. File a flight plan for the Tower. I want to check on our guest.”

“Whatever you say, boss. Will we be back by tomorrow night? It’s Karaoke night in the South quarter, and some very cute engies offered to buy me drinks.”

“Oh, you know how I hate to interfere with your social life. It will be a short trip this time.”

“Right you are, boss.”

Milord closed the door between their adjoining offices and looked at himself in the mirrored surface. He straightened his tie and the collar of his shirt. It had unsettled him, to break off his exercise routine. Ro knew him too well. The only reason for her to have arrived early was to rattle him – to make him feel off balance.

He would not allow it. “Kitty, scratch that,” he called through his comm. “We’ll stay with the original plan. Our guest can wait a few more days.” The last thing he wanted was to be followed to the holding location of his prisoner, because a friend had made him nervous. “Order a security sweep of the Matagot, from top to tail. Let’s be sure Captain Cho didn’t leave us any small, blinking gifts.”

“Isn’t she a friend of yours, Milord?” Kitty said in surprise.

“Oh, she is,” he agreed, gazing at his reflection in the mirror. He stretched his neck casually and let himself fall for a moment into his natural shape. Red blossomed across his skin, highlighting his cheekbones and the soft creases in the corners of his eyes. His eyes darkened to blown black pupils with tiny darts of golden light flecked through them. His skin flooded with the warmth that smelled like home.

In this moment, he was not Winter or Vaniel or Milord or Auden or Slate or Gray or any of the other names he had worn in service of his long career of pretending to be human. For a few precious seconds, he was gloriously himself.

Then he blinked back to Milord Vaniel de Winter, Secretary of the Interior on Valour, political obsessive, father and brother and good person to have in your corner. Tousled brown hair, pale skin, grey eyes.

“Rosnay Cho is a very good friend of mine,” he assured Kitty, adjusting his cuffs and smoothing out the soft lines of his jacket. “That’s what makes her so dangerous.”

He would allow no more personal indulgences. There was a war on, after all.

A war against the human race, and the solar system they held so dear.

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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.

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