Musketeer Space Part 38: All Cats are Grey (in cyberspace)

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The NSFW poor life choices of Dana D’Artagnan continue in this chapter. Be aware that some scenes in this chapter depict violence and sex in fairly close proximity to each other, so you might want to skip this one if that’s likely to be distressing.

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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan has had a busy few months befriending Musketeers, training in space mecha, saving the Prince Consort from a terrible scandal, romancing a slightly married tailor (now kidnapped), drinking, duelling and generally getting into trouble. Meanwhile, aliens exploded half of the space station where she grew up and are hovering in Truth Space waiting for war.

Flirting under two different identities with Milord, the agent she suspects to be behind Conrad Su’s abduction, was a mistake, but at least she wasn’t stupid enough to fall into bed with him – right? RIGHT? Oh, Dana.

NOW READ ON.

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Chapter 38 – All Cats are Grey (in cyberspace)

Dana awoke slowly, groaning as the soreness of yesterday’s bruises made themselves known again. She was an idiot for refusing to heal them. But then the secondary pain hit, the realisation all over again that her Papa was gone.

The fact that she was alone but unmistakably naked in the decadent, king-sized bed of the man who had kidnapped Conrad Su was only the third disastrous thing that swum into her consciousness. Because now she didn’t just have an inappropriate crush on Milord Vaniel De Winter, she also had the intense, visceral memory of his mouth and his hands and the hot, slick feel of his body pressing hers into the bed.

Athos had officially lost his ‘king of poor decisions’ crown.

Dana found a shirt which was not hers in order to cover herself, then took a deep breath before committing herself to the mildly embarrassing process of locating every item of clothing she had discarded between the antique desk and the bedroom.

Milord actually sat at that desk in the living area of the hotel suite, tapping away at a shiny black clamshell. His eyes followed her as she made the rounds of the room, and his mouth creased into a small smile. Dana could not help returning it, rolling her eyes at him.

Would the situation be funnier if he knew that she knew that they were enemies?

“I’m just going to -” she said, jerking her elbow and her armful of clothes in the general direction of the bedroom.

“Take your time,” he said, as if this was any other random hookup.

Keep it light, Dana. Don’t get weird. Just because he dragged you home from a bar fight does not mean he trusts you.

Asking about Conrad Su right now would be far too obvious, but when was she going to get another chance? It wasn’t like she was going to let – this – happen again.

Dana left the bedroom door ajar as she dressed herself, tossing Milord’s shirt back on to the bed. She could hear his fingers tapping over the clamshell, and couldn’t help wondering if he was attempting to contact the “Marquise.”

“Hot piece of correspondence that couldn’t wait?” she asked as she strolled back into the room, attitude firmly back in place. She was the brash young wannabe Musketeer with a crush on him, time to act like it.

“A correspondent who won’t write back,” said Milord, frowning at the screen.

“Sucks to be you,” Dana said unsympathetically.

He rolled his eyes at her. “So kind.”

“I’ll be -” she started to say, because extracting herself from this hotel room with the minimum of ‘walk of shame’ cliches was her highest priority right now. The door chimed.

“Enter,” said Milord before Dana could protest, and in strolled Miss Kitty Columbina.

Kitty wore lavender today, a tulle skirt beneath a tiny crop top that stretched the image of a space unicorn around her impressive cleavage. On anyone else, that shirt would look entirely ironic. Kitty didn’t bat an eyelid at Dana’s presence, but held her empty hand out to her boss, making grabby motions. “Since apparently a Raven isn’t good enough for your highness?”

“This gift requires the personal touch,” Milord said calmly, and placed a small box wrapped in gold tissue into Kitty’s hand.

“Just reminding you that I have this afternoon off,” she said and trotted back out the door, her heels clicking against the polished floor. “This is non-negotiable, because pedicures are involved. Don’t call me!”

The second she was gone, Dana gave Milord a sheepish grin. “I should go too.”

“I highly recommend it,” he said, his voice as impersonal as if she had stopped in for tea. “My sister and her awful friends will be coming back to the suite shortly.”

“How’s Sheffield doing?” she asked, not entirely caring except that she didn’t want Athos carted off for murder. Not everything could be fixed by medipatch.

“He has been cured of his interest in authentic Parisian duels,” said Milord with a smirk.

Oh no, not this. She couldn’t let herself like him again, not even a little. Dana gave him a small wave, oh let’s be so casual about this, and let herself out of the hotel suite.

Well, that was actually less awkward than it could have been.

“Sergeant D’Artagnan!” called out a voice, not three paces from the hotel entrance. Spoke too soon. Dana spun around and realised too late that she should have kept on walking.

Kitty Columbina stood leaning against a decorative pillar. She looked utterly unimpressed.

Dana could see her point.

“Playing with fire, aren’t you?” was all Kitty said.

Dana winced. “It’s complicated.”

“I’ll bet.” Kitty marched forward and handed the small parcel to Dana.

Startled, her fingers curled around it. “What’s – I don’t understand.”

“Milord de Winter sent me to present this to the Marquise de Wardes, as a token of his ongoing affection and interest,” said Kitty, reciting it as if it was a poem. “But I’m not an idiot, so.”

“So,” Dana repeated, because apparently she was an idiot. “Hang on, what?”

“I know,” the assistant said slowly. “You ended up with that clamshell, didn’t you? The Matagot screens all electronic devices taken on and off the ship. You’ve been carrying on some kind of – weird fake romance with Milord via text message as the Marquise and to top it off you decided to jump his bones as yourself as well.” She batted her glittery eyelashes at Dana. “Don’t freak out, I’m not going to snitch. But I am going to judge you very hard, just so you know.”

Dana shifted on her feet. “Why would you keep my secret?”

“I told you. Little rebellions, that’s how I sleep at night.” Kitty crossed her arms under her unicorn boobs and pouted. “Also, you’re not a completely terrible lay.”

“Thanks, I think.”

Kitty leaned in. “If he catches you out, don’t you dare take me down with you. I need this job, and I also quite enjoy breathing in and out on a regular basis. If it ever comes down to you or me, I will sell you out in an instant.”

“Understood,” said Dana, swallowing.

“Fine, then,” said the assistant, turning around with a sniff. “My work here is done. Enjoy your present and don’t feel super guilty that you basically stole a priceless gem under false pretences.”

Once Kitty was out of sight, Dana tore the tissue off the little box and stared at the gleaming blue stud inside. Apparently, Milord was so enamoured with the false Marquise that he had decided to express his affection via an antique sapphire.

Dana’s fictional love life had turned out to be embarrassingly profitable.

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Dana headed for the Musketeer dock, rather than going directly home which would have been the more sensible choice. It was early, and she didn’t see anyone she knew on her way. Even Treville was not yet ensconced in her plexi-glass office.

The dock was deserted. Dana kept walking until she reached the four familiar ships, lined up in berths next to each other. Morningstar. Hoyden. Pistachio, freshly restored and ready for war. Buttercup.

She walked all the way up to the ship that her friends had found for her, and leaned her chin against the hull, like she used to when she was a little girl, getting underfoot and begging Mama and Papa to tell her stories of the old days, of the Royal Musketeer fleet.

A discreet cough alerted her to the fact that she was not alone. Athos stood at the open hatch of the Pistachio, holding a freshly brewed pot of coffee. “Breakfast?”

For the first time in two days, Dana thought she might be capable of letting herself cry without the solar system coming to an end. Not in front of Athos, of course. That much emotion might damage his circuits. But soon, perhaps.

She gave him a wavering smile instead. “When you say breakfast…”

“I basically mean coffee, yes.”

“Works for me.”

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Dana sat on the narrow bunk in Athos’ aft cabin, holding a cup as he poured the coffee for her. “I am obliged to tell you,” he said formally. “That Porthos and Aramis and Engineer Pigtails are all rather concerned that they upset you yesterday. I present this information without comment.”

“Noted,” said Dana, sipping the hot, black coffee gratefully. “You know her name’s not actually Pigtails, don’t you?”

“I’m using it as a placeholder until I care who she is. Do you need medical attention?”

“No, I’m good,” said Dana, flexing her bruised hands. “Not good. I’m – medically attentioned, though. Not running off the rails any time soon.”

“Fine.”

She leaned her head against the curving outer wall and grinned at him. “You are so terrible at this.”

He nodded gravely. “It is a crime and a tragedy that I found you first, but we shall have to make do. There will be no hugging.”

“Understood. That’s what Aramis is for.”

“Exactly.”

“Papa died,” Dana blurted out, all at once, not making eye contact with him. “I didn’t – but the ship – that’s why – it’s all still sort of recent. But I’m fine, or I will be, I just.” She stopped talking.

Silence came from Athos. After a moment, Dana risked a look in his general direction. His face gave her no clues as to what he was thinking.

“I was wrong,” he said eventually. “I am the right person for this one.”

“Really?” she said in astonishment.

Athos joined her on the bunk, setting down the pot of coffee between them in case she tried to change her mind about the hugging thing. “Dying was the worst thing my father ever did to me, too.”

“Oh,” Dana said softly. She had not expected that.

Silence unfolded between them, like a coffee-scented blanket.

“I don’t think the others would understand,” Athos added. “They’d try to be sympathetic, but Aramis’ family were terrible to her; she was relieved when she finally cut off all contact. Porthos never had a family to speak of in the first place. But believe it or not, I once had a father that I loved very much.”

Dana nodded. This was useful information. “When did he die?” she asked.

“I was twelve. Away at school. Suddenly he was gone, and I was expected to be him. To be…”

“The Count?” she supplied, remembering what she had learned about the Count de la Fere in the basement of the Gilded Lily.”

“I won’t talk about that side of it,” Athos said sternly. “But yes. I hated him for a while. And I’m well aware that he would hate the person I have become. Yours wasn’t like that, I expect. But I can share the general father-mourning experience, if empathy is at all useful.”

“Papa would be proud of me, even if I’m not really a Musketeer yet,” Dana admitted. “He’d – be happy to know you got the Buttercup back for me. I’ll pay you for her,” she added firmly. “I have the opal, and a sapphire now too, I suppose. I know the three of you didn’t let Planchet bankroll the purchase.”

“It’s probably a good thing you’re keeping the ship. Pigtails is attached already, and I’d hate to see her cry.”

Dana stared at her hands, tracing the bruises with one finger. “Athos, I’ve done something really stupid.”

“What are you, twenty?” he scoffed. “You’re barely getting started.”

“No, I mean specifically today. Last night. I made a mistake which I probably can’t even count as a mistake because I knew what I was doing the whole time and I still did it.”

“And yet you’re richer by a sapphire? I should make such mistakes.”

“It was a present.” Frowning, she showed him the new stud on her wrist. “You remember how you told me not to sleep with the bad guy?”

But there was something awful about Athos’ face as he saw the square-cut sapphire set into her wrist. He reached out, his hands closing around her forearm as if he wanted to snap it in two.

“Athos,” she whispered. “Athos, breathe.”

He gasped once, and squeezed her arm painfully tight. “D’Artagnan, where did you get that thing?”

“From last night’s mistake,” she said, still not understanding what had got into him. “I spent the night with Milord.”

“Oh,” he said, and there was an odd twist to his mouth, not a smile, but something cruel and self-mocking. “Your pretty Milord de Winter. Yes, that makes sense. Sorry, I just – I had one like it, once. Don’t mind me.” For a moment, he leaned into her, his forehead resting against hers. “You have to stop this. Throwing yourself at dangerous men is not a solution to anything. We have a war to fight.”

“So what?” Dana said, her voice shaking. She would not cry in front of him, she had promised herself that. “I should just let Conrad go?”

Athos tugged her sleeve back down, so he didn’t have to look at the sapphire in her wrist. “No man is worth this. If Conrad Su is still alive, let him damn well rescue himself.”

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Some time later, over-caffeinated and swamped with emotions that she really wanted to jettison directly into outer space, Dana returned the Buttercup.

It wasn’t the same – there had been some work done here and there, and a few panels had obviously been replaced. She wondered how many hands the musket-class dart had passed through, between Meung Station and Paris Satellite.

The sonic shower worked, which meant Dana could clean her clothes and remove the last traces of her night with Milord. She refused to let herself dwell on it, every kiss and touch and groan, though it was nearly impossible to think of anything else.

After that, she lay on the familiar old bunk and composed the chilliest, least-affectionate break up text that she could summon. Not for herself – he would not expect to hear anything from Dana D’Artagnan, but from the woman he was actually fascinated with.

Athos was right. It was time to let this ridiculous game go. She had come too close to disaster, and Kitty knew too much, and it wasn’t like Dana had managed to acquire any useful information at all, except that Milord was more dangerous to her than she had ever imagined.

She had to get her head into the war, or she wouldn’t last long. Conrad and Milord were distractions from the one thing she had come to Paris for, so many months ago.

To serve Crown and Solar System.

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Milord De Winter.

I thank you for your gift, though I hardly think our acquaintance so intimate as to make jewels appropriate. I think perhaps you have misconstrued our recent correspondence.

I shall consider the sapphire an appropriate parting token.

Yours,
Marquise Illehandra Concita Mullholland de Wardes

It was the meanest thing Dana had ever written. She kept reworking it, trying to soften the words, before remembering that Milord was basically (probably) evil, and it wasn’t a real relationship she was ending here. Athos had been right all along.

There was something genuinely sinister going on here, and it was time for Dana to stop screwing around with what she did not understand.

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When Milord did reply, a full 24 hours later, it wasn’t a reply at all, in that he communicated with Dana rather than “the Marquise.”

It was a stark command for Dana D’Artagnan to attend him on his ship. Dana stared at the blinking message for a long time. It didn’t make sense for “Dana” to blow Milord off too, and it might be suspicious if she did it too soon after the epic breakup.

She would have to keep up the pretence that she was still crushing on Milord for a while longer, maybe until the Musketeers went to war. Any day now. One more visit, to throw him off the scent, that couldn’t hurt.

And no sex. Their night together still gave her the shivers to think about, but Dana was only willing to give herself one pass on sleeping with the enemy. More than that and it became a very embarrassing pattern. One visit, no sex. Easy.

Dana hid the sapphire stud and the mother of pearl clamshell in a storage compartment on the Buttercup (having her ship back felt good, now she had come to terms with what it symbolised to her; she felt more herself than she had in months).

With her valuables concealed, she set out to play Dana the Admirer one last time. Her only concession to personal safety was to dress as much like Dana the Musketeer-in-Waiting as possible – a tunic and cargo pants, and her fleur-de-lis dogtag, with the pearl stunner in her pocket and the Pilot’s Slice swinging in a business-like fashion from her belt.

She would have worn the blue Arms-Sergeant uniform if she thought she could get away with it, but it was hanging freshly-printed in her rooms, waiting for the final order to come through. Dana didn’t want to risk not being ready when the call came to fly to Truth Space.

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“He’s not in the best mood,” said Kitty. She wore three star-shaped piercings in her lower lip today, and worried at them with her teeth as she showed Dana into Milord’s private parlour on the Matagot. He must have evacuated the hotel suite again to avoid his sister and her New Aristocrat entourage.

“He asked to see me,” said Dana, deliberately not saying ‘he clicked his fingers like I was a German Shepherd and look at me, I came running.’

Responding to his summons was a terrible idea. Why hadn’t she thought of saying she had a cold?

Milord was a streak of fury in a beautiful suit. He paced up and down in front of an exquisite false fireplace (a vintage fireplace, on a spaceship, who even does that?) and waved his hand impatiently when Kitty announced Dana as if he could not even bother speaking to his assistant.

His eyes gleamed with anger and for one awful moment, Dana thought he knew exactly what she had done. Kitty disappeared around the door in a swish of glitter and hairspray, closing it behind her.

“You like duels,” Milord grated out between his teeth, barely even looking at Dana. “Would you take on a celebrity for me? I have someone I want publicly humiliated.”

Dana approached him cautiously. Damn it, she could feel the danger rolling off him as if he was a snake about to bite. And yet… she still wanted to stroke his head and make him feel better.

“I’d do anything for you,” she murmured, and didn’t have time to think about whether she meant it or not (in too deep, Dana, get out while you can!) because he had grabbed her around the waist, and was kissing her with a savagery she could not help but respond to.

All her good intentions fell away as Milord pushed her into a ridiculously uncomfortable antique chair, and began to kiss her out of her clothes, one piece at a time.

Damn it all, but he was good with his mouth.

It wasn’t until she lay sprawled and naked in the chair, with Milord’s tongue opening her up, his fingers pressed hard into her inner thighs, that it occurred to Dana that this was it, her last chance to find out what she needed to know.

She was never going to let herself set foot on the Matagot again. She would stage her own intervention if she had to, call in Athos and Aramis and Porthos to ensure she kept her word, that she stayed away because obviously she couldn’t – couldn’t be trusted – ohh – and there –

Was he vulnerable during sex, or twice as dangerous as at any other time? There was only one way to find out.

A minute later, she dragged him into the chair and rode him hard, gaze locked with his. It was the first time they had actually made more than perfunctory eye contact during sex.

“Does she look like me?” Dana breathed in short gasps against his mouth. “The woman you’re feeling so vengeful about. The one you want me to – challenge.”

Milord flexed his fingers hard against Dana’s scalp, as if he wished she had hair that he could pull. “What makes you think it’s a woman?”

She tipped her head back, moaning quite genuinely as he pulsed inside her, though it saved her from covering her mistaken reveal, that she knew exactly who he was angry about. “You want me to challenge someone in a duel, to humiliate them, shouldn’t I know more about who they are?”

“I don’t see why,” he said, grazing the dark curve of her shoulder with his teeth. “You don’t need to know someone to pierce their heart with a sword.”

He genuinely thought she would act as his assassin? Damn, she had been convincing.

“Who – is – it?” Dana asked, her breathing speeding up as they quickened their pace together.

“The Marquise de Wardes,” he said, with deep venom.

Dana laughed as she came, the vibrations hitting them both, and Milord was only a minute behind her, groaning into her breasts so that she could not see his face.

Interesting. Dana caught a handful of his brown hair and tipped his head up, catching a flash of an unexpected colour in his pupils – bright red, of all things. Even as they settled back to their usual grey, there was a brightness to his face that wasn’t entirely normal. “What will you give me, if I kill her for you?”

Dana still held him in place with her thighs, though she knew he could push out of the hold if he wanted to. She had more muscle tone, but she had learned from their previous dalliance that he was surprisingly strong for a man who spent most of his life at a desk.

“Anything,” said Milord, and kissed her almost politely on the mouth.

It was that final courtesy that reminded Dana that he wasn’t the only one who was angry. She was so damn tired of pretending to be someone that she was not. “The only thing that I want, you can’t give me,” she said, and her voice came out hard.

He tilted his head back, curious. “What is it you want, Dana D’Artagnan?”

She pushed off him, backing away on bare feet, the frustration and resentment rising up all over again. “I want Conrad Su, alive and well.”

Milord’s face changed, and for a moment she could see nothing of the gentle, sarcastic Vaniel De Winter. His eyes blazed silver, and he looked her up and down with an expression of contempt that he had never allowed her to see before. “How much do you know?”

“I know everything,” Dana snarled, and punched him because what the hell else was she going to do at this point? She was naked and her weapons were – much like her clothes – scattered half across the room.

It was a good hit – she had been aiming for the jaw, but over-compensated for the height difference and got him in the nose. He doubled over in pain, hands shielding his face for a moment.

Again, that flash of red, though it wasn’t blood. Lights reflected in tiny motes from his skin – no, the lights were part of his skin. For an instant, he lit up like a constellation of stars against a scarlet sky. A terrible, overwhelming realisation rushed Dana like a sonic engine to the face.

Milord lunged for her, and she was ready for him, her calculated punches jabbing at his throat and solar plexus even as he slammed her to the ground. She clawed at his face, going for the sensitive parts of his mouth and eyes, and there, where her short nails dug into his lip, she saw it again.

“I know what you are,” she choked out as red and silver burst across his skin, like she had thrown boiling water on him, like there was an explosion inside him trying to get out, like he wasn’t human.

He wasn’t human.

Sun-kissed, sun-kissed, sun-kissed.

She could no longer deny it. It made too much sense. Milord was one of them, an alien spy, just as Athos’ husband had turned out to be. Dana had known she was sleeping with the enemy but this – this was worse than she had ever imagined.

“Do you think I won’t kill you to protect my secret?” Milord hissed at her, his body pinning hers to the floor.

Dana stared at the silver hair pouring out of his scalp, at his bright red skin from hairline to fingertip. His eyes burned with hatred.

“Well,” she said reasonably. “You can try.”

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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 “Seven Days of Joyeux,” a special Christmas prequel novella which was released in December 2015. My next funding milestone ($300 a month) will unlock GORGEOUS COVER ART.

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One reply

  1. Carlammm says:

    Wow… Nooooo… What a cliffhanger…

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