Musketeer Space Part 41: Driving the Arquebus

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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan has been thwarting the Cardinal ever since she set foot on Paris Satellite: protecting the Prince Consort from the diamond stud plot, teaming up with her friends the Musketeers, and basically making a nuisance of herself. Somehow that’s earned her a job offer.

NOW READ ON!

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Chapter 41 – Driving the Arquebus

Dana opened her mouth, but nothing came out. The Red Guard.

She was so used to thinking of the Cardinal as her enemy. Could this offer be genuine?

“You would of course be flying a Sabre into Truth Space within the week,” said the Cardinal, holding her cup of tea with the same elegance she did everything else. “I know Treville brushed you off with some grunt work – supplies transport? Far beyond your capabilities, I would have thought. But then, my dear Jeanne so often displays a remarkable lack of imagination.”

Dana’s own teacup rattled against its saucer, and she put it down in a hurry. The last thing she wanted was to break some antique crockery in this ridiculously beautiful room.

“I see potential in you, D’Artagnan,” said the Cardinal, as if Dana wasn’t staring at her like a gaping goldfish cartoon. “I only recruit the most talented, the most energetic, the most courageous young pilots. You will accept, of course.”

It wasn’t even a question. If Dana didn’t say something soon, she would be signing a contract in pastry crumbs and icing sugar right here at the table.

“I – no,” she said faintly. “I’m sorry. But I’m happy where I am.”

And there was the Cardinal Richelieu that everyone sounded so afraid of. The woman’s face didn’t even change; there wasn’t a twitch of difference to her expression or her body language. But it was as if the light had died in her eyes, leaving her flinty and carved out of stone.

“I cannot think why you would refuse,” she said in a perfectly even voice. “Don’t you know that an offer like this is what great careers are built upon?”

“I serve the Crown, however Commandant Essart and Amiral Treville choose to employ me,” said Dana, her voice sounding remarkably normal considering that she was almost certainly going to be stabbed with a cake fork.

“You realise, of course,” said the Cardinal with all politeness, “That the Church Fleet serves the Crown. If you fly for Paris, you fly for our beloved Regent, no matter who is your commanding officer.”

“I know that,” Dana said desperately, “But -”

But I don’t know enough to trust you. I don’t know if you truly serve the Crown, or if you would ever put the Regent ahead of yourself. All I know is that you and Milord have worked together, and that means you could be allied with the Sun-kissed.

“I made this offer for your own protection, young D’Artagnan. I have had reports of your activities – your adventures – and it seems to me that you have spent many days and nights doing the precise opposite of serving our beloved Regent Royal.”

The chill against those last few words was intense, like staring into the face of an ice comet.

“You see now,” said the Cardinal gently, after a silence that was far too long to be considered polite. “Why I offer my protection.”

For one fleeting, shameful moment, Dana considered the possibility of how she might look in the smart, red-and-gold livery of a Sabre pilot.

“If I may speak frankly,” she said, playing for time.

“From what I hear, Arms-Sergeant, you do not usually hold back your opinion.”

Dana took a deep breath, trying to construct her thoughts in the formal, political language that everyone seemed to employ in the Palace. “Nearly every friend or ally I have made since coming to Paris has been associated with the Musketeers, or Commandant Essart’s Mecha Corps. And while I have not tried to make enemies – I now have several, and all of them have at one time or another been in your employ.”

The Cardinal raised one highly sarcastic eyebrow, as Dana hesitated. “Oh, do go on. This is fascinating.”

“If I accept your offer, I will have nothing but enemies, both here and there. Perhaps after the battle, if I acquit myself honourably, I would deserve such a promotion and it would seem to the world far less like a convenient bribe for my loyalties.”

The Cardinal smiled with all her teeth. “Ah, I forgot that you are so young. Who but a child would deny herself a career of the highest honour because of what her friends might say?”

My friends would tell me that taking your offer was in my best interest, Dana thought fiercely. That is why they do not get a vote.

“That is my answer,” she said simply.

The Cardinal stood swiftly, making it clear that their interview was at an end. “When you fall into misfortune, young D’Artagnan – and you will – I hope you will recall that I extended the offer of friendship and forgiveness to you, and that you rejected my help.”

“I am grateful for your generosity,” said Dana, the words feeling like mining grit in her mouth.

When she left the salon, she found Agent Rosnay Cho leaning casually against the wall of the gallery, waiting for her. “Should have taken the offer,” Ro said in a low, considering voice.

Dana met her gaze steadily. “I’m not so easily bought.”

Ro rolled her eyes. “She was right. You’re a child.”

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That night, in the Abbey of St Germain, surrounded by what felt like every Musketeer in Paris, Dana shared the story of what she and the Cardinal had said to each other, over many cups of wine with her closest friends.

Aramis and Porthos, distracted though they were by the farewells they needed to make to their various lovers, both gave Dana supportive hugs and insisted she had made the right choice.

Only Athos, who had no one to farewell except an excellent vintage bottle of brandy, gave Dana’s refusal more serious thought. “You did what you had to do,” he said finally, his eyes fixed on his cup. “I would have done the same. And yet – that doesn’t mean it was the right decision.”

Drunk enough to be daring, Dana leaned in and gave him a smacking and only slightly sarcastic kiss on his forehead. “Athos, you always know exactly what to say.”

“It’s a gift,” he agreed.

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“Welcome to Supplies Team Delta!” said a cheerful young man with a shaven head and whorled tattoos that covered him from scalp to shoulder. “I’m Bass and this is Chantal.” He indicated a remarkably short and cheerful white woman with pierced fingernails and two dainty silver horn implants protruding from her forehead. “We’re your team leaders. I’m a Maintenance Specialist, while Chantal is Printing and Inventory.”

“And you’re the pilot,” Chantal added helpfully. “Welcome to the Frenzy Kenzie, Arms-Sergeant D’Artagnan!”

Dana had never met two less military people in her life. “I guess you can call me Dana?” she offered, unable to phrase it as anything but a question.

Bass gave her a remarkably friendly hug. “See, we’re going to get along great! Sorry that your orientation is so last minute – we ship out in three hours – but the boat was still being rebuilt until early this morning.

“Acidsplosion,” Chantal said gravely.

The ‘boat’ was a massive, dark blue tube of an arquebus-class venturer. Dana had piloted something similar once or twice when she was still a trainee back on Gascon Station, because Freedom still used arquebus-class venturers for supplies and trading. This one looked newer than the one Dana had practiced in, though it was clear from the specs that the back half was a lot newer than the front half – it had been all but printed from scratch in the rebuild.

It was traditional for a new pilot to walk entirely around her ship before setting foot aboard. With the size of the Frenzy Kenzie, that wasn’t practical, but Bass and Chantal dragged Dana into a storage buggy instead so they could drive her around the perimeter.

For the first time, all this started to feel far too real. They were going into a war zone. An war zone where no shot had (still) been fired, but still. It was overwhelming.

It was just so bloody huge. The ship, not the situation. Yes, also the situation.

When she saw the tail end of the ship, Dana let out a surprising bark of a laugh. “Who designed the tattoo?”

“It’s mine,” said Chantal, looking pink with embarrassment. “I mean, my kids drew it. You can put your own on if you’d prefer.”

“No, I like it,” Dana said quickly. It was a children’s drawing, all right, of three people waving madly under a slightly squiggly rainbow. “Is it really just the three of us crewing her?”

“There’s also Wheels, our med-tech, she’s inside kitting out the hospice,” said Bass. “But she hates people, so don’t expect to talk to her unless you’re bleeding. Chantal hired two assistants to help with the fetching and carrying, and I have a couple of baby engie interns to train up, they’re coming too.”

“I don’t suppose I get an assistant to pilot the ship while I’m sleeping?” Dana asked dryly.

“Ha!” said Bass appreciatively, then realised that she hadn’t been entirely joking. “Oh. Ah. This is awkward.”

“Nope, it’s just you and the autopilot,” said Chantal with a smile. “But you can borrow our assistants sometimes. If you ask nicely.”

“I did pick baby engies who claimed to be able to pilot boats this big,” Bass said, as if it had been an afterthought rather than a major requirement.

“Oh,” said Dana, feeling even more swamped than she had ten minutes ago. “That’s… good.”

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The helm and harness of the Frenzy Kenzie were heavier and more old-fashioned than the set up Dana was used to from darts, or even the transporter she had been piloting to and from Luna Palais for so many months.

She hesitated for a moment, not sure where she should even start with all the cables and attachments.
“Let me help you, boss,” said a familiar voice and of all people, Planchet popped into her field of vision.

The girl wore her red hair in its usual pigtails, but she had found a Musketeer-blue coverall from somewhere, with the ship’s name embroidered on the chest.

“Planchet!” said Dana, half alarmed. “Did you actually stowaway on board this ship? I’m pretty sure that’s treason.”

Planchet laughed. “Don’t worry about it, boss. Stowaway is a misdemeanour at worst, and it doesn’t even count as a crime until you leave dock.”

“Planchet.”

“I’m kidding,” the teen engie said, wide-eyed. “I signed on with Arms-Sergeant Bass as an intern. It should look good on my resume when you finally become a Musketeer and need a proper engie to look after Buttercup. Can you believe they’re still keeping an old antique like this running? I can’t wait to get my hands on her insides.”

Dana blinked. She was pretty sure that what Planchet was doing right now was tantamount to stalking, but she wasn’t going to complain. Having Planchet here helped with the overwhelming sense of loneliness she had been feeling ever since she parted ways with Athos, Aramis and Porthos the night before.

“Quick, help me get into this helm and harness before the rest of the team figures out I have no idea what I’m doing,” Dana begged.

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Fifty gleaming red sabre-class darts in perfect spiral formation exploded out of the Church Dock of Paris Satellite. They hung in the sky for what looked like a slow, deliberate pause before boosting in a co-ordinated jump across the solar system.

Next came thirty blue musket-class darts – the Musketeers of the Royal Fleet, pouring forth from Lunar Palais.

“Must be true, then,” muttered Bass, who had joined Dana and Planchet in the cockpit of the Frenzy Kenzie with what looked like a larger-than-regulation tub of popcorn. “The Regent herself is flying out with this wave.”

“Into battle?” Dana said in surprise. “No one expected that of her, surely.”

“Rumour has it that her siblings have been sniffing around to be forgiven and allowed back from exile,” said Chantal, who was flipping through a gossip app on a large clamshell. “The tall one who had all those medals. I guess the Regent wants to prove to the solar system that she has military cred.”

“The Cardinal’s definitely with this wave,” said Bass. “Saw footage of her waving at the crowds on the way to her dart after breakfast. Must have left the dragon prince at home to watch over Paris.”

Dana frowned at the slang term for Prince Alek. “Less chatter,” she said sternly. “We’re about to -”

Her dash lit up with the command cue to detach from their own berth and take to the sky.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Chantal. “War involves heaps of waiting around in between the exciting parts. There will be time for gossip.”

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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 2014. My next funding milestone will unlock GORGEOUS COVER ART.

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