Musketeer Space Part 44: The Boys From Auster

hatIt’s Musketeer Day again! This is an exciting week for me because I was finally able to announce officially that I have signed with a US agent: Fleetwood Robbins of Waxman Leavell. Looking forward to our collaboration this year, and hoping madly for some book sales. (not to mention working madly to finish the books he is hoping to sell for me)

I’m back teaching as well this year – some of you know that I spent many years teaching writer’s workshops for Adult Education, as well as occasionally for the TWC. I’m back this year, taking part in the A Novel Journey series, where people can sign up for a nine month stint of monthly technique-specific workshops while they write their novel, or single sessions. I’m doing the July session on Setting/Place, and the August session on Style/Rhythm/Pace, and the other Hobart workshops include several other genre-friendly authors like Lian Tanner and David Owen.

Now, I hope you’re all wearing your hats and swords, because this week’s chapter is a little light on Musketeers, but reintroduces us to some old friends.

All for one and one for all!

Start reading Musketeer Space from Part 1
Missed the last installment? Track back to Part 43
Read a festive Musketeer Space prequel,
“Seven Days of Joyeux.”
Main Page & Table of Contents

PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Conrad Su has been kidnapped several times because of palace politics, and his employer Prince Alek’s complicated love life. Despite all the drama of the past, their mutual friend Chevreuse is certain that the Duchess of Buckingham’s private estate on Valour is the safest place to hide Conrad until all the fuss dies down. What they don’t know is that Buck has been thoroughly compromised by the same spy who kidnapped Conrad in the first place: Milord De Winter.

NOW READ ON!

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Chapter 44 – The Boys From Auster

“Well,” said Conrad Su, his arms folded comfortably behind his head as he settled into the co-pilot’s seat. “I can’t say I’m not disappointed.”

“I am sorry it’s not up to sir’s usual standards,” replied his rescuer with far too much sarcasm. “Sonic shower not hot enough?”

“It was tolerable,” Conrad said with a smirk. “But you’d think a fancy crate like this would run to a proper claw-foot tub. And maybe a spa.”

Prince Alek rolled his eyes, and punched his friend lightly in the shoulder. “I’ll have one put in for Sir’s next voyage.”

There were many things that they were not going to talk about. Like the weeks and weeks of of imprisonment that Conrad had endured in the abandoned asteroid base that felt every inch the medieval tower.

Like the interrogation at the hands of his kidnapper, the grey-eyed man who called himself Slate.

Like the fact that Conrad was now certain that his wife Jingfei – with whom he had entered a pragmatic marriage contract that he assumed was based on mutual trust and friendship – had been selling secrets to the Cardinal, and working directly against the Crown.

Like…

He closed his eyes for a minute.

“You all right?” Alek asked hesitantly.

“Blocking out the fancy decor, it’s giving me a headache,” Conrad muttered.

He had never seen this particular ship before. The Jacaranda was a moth fighter, sleek and ordinary on the outside, but decorated inside with the lavish attention to detail worthy of a Palace boudoir.

The main colour signature was matte purple, with highlights of glossy purple, shot through with contrast details in violet, iris, lavender, and at least another dozen shades that Conrad would call something other than ‘purple’ if he was talking about bolts of cloth. The walls were lined with actual satin, and punctured with the occasional cluster of what looked like genuine pearls.

The Jacaranda was the very image of the frivolous gift one might give a prince if one knew absolutely nothing about him except for his title.

When Conrad took himself off to clean up in the cabin, he had discovered that the back part of the ship was far less objectionable – someone with more modest taste had stripped the soft furnishings off the walls and replaced them with a more restrained wood-panel lining, along with holographic windows that displayed familiar scenery from home.

The country of Auster, in the southern hemisphere of Honour, with its scalded red hills and dry, grey-green foliage with the occasional, yes, flutter of purple flowers among the dryness and the heat. A place where having a pattern of scales down your amber-brown neck didn’t mark you out as an exotic freak.

Conrad had been wrong. This half of the spaceship was worse. It made him homesick in a way he hadn’t been for years.

He didn’t want to think about Auster. Not now, when they were travelling to entirely the wrong planet. Valour, of all places. Chevreuse had laughed at the expression on his face, when he realised he wasn’t being sent back to Paris.

“We can’t afford to have the Prince Consort of the Solar System regularly disappearing on rescue missions, you know,” she chided. “He’s supposed to be keeping the home fires burning on Lunar Palais while the Regent gets all the military glory.”

“You don’t know I’d get kidnapped again,” Conrad sulked in reply.

Chevreuse had laughed again, and wrapped her arms around both of “her boys” until their shoulders relaxed into the friendly embrace. It was so long since they were all together, the three of them, without a fresh drama to worry about.

Conrad missed the days before last Joyeux – when he and Chevreuse and Alek were a fleur-de-lis team who were also friends. Practicing TeamJoust was the only time that he and Alek could be equals and friends instead of master and servant.

He should be used to it by now. Conrad’s family had been serving Alek’s since they were both children. But it was hard-going when the oldest friend you’d ever had had the power of life and death over yourself and your family.

“Valour will be good for you,” Alek said now, breaking the silence between them. “You haven’t had a holiday in years.”

No, because I couldn’t afford to leave you unsupervised, Conrad thought but did not say aloud.

“I don’t like the idea of you back in Paris without friends close by,” was what he did say. Between the Regent and the Cardinal, Alek had slowly but surely been isolated from his own allies in the court – first the companions and servants who had accompanied him from Honour, and then the new supporters like Chevreuse whom he had befriended after his marriage.

Conrad was the last of them, and he couldn’t do a lot of good for Alek hiding out on some country estate with the Duchess of frigging Buckingham.

“I wish I was coming with you,” Alek said with a twisted smile.

“Oh yes, no way that could go terribly wrong,” Conrad said dryly. After all the trouble he and Chevreuse and the Musketeers had gone to – after all the risks they had taken to enable Alek and Buck to be together, however briefly. No, letting the two of them near each other again was the ultimate bad idea.

“That’s not the reason,” Alek said, sounding remarkably serious. “I mean – yes, obviously, that’s the reason. I promised I would keep my distance from Buck for the remainder of my marriage contract, and I mean to keep my word. But that’s not the reason I have to return so hastily to Paris.”

“Go on, then,” said Conrad, his eyes fixed on his friend. “Surprise me.”

Alek relaxed his hands from the ship controls, and unfastened his embroidered jacket, letting it fall open. Underneath, he wore what looked at first to be a tactical armour vest, though it had no military identification marks on it.

Conrad leaned in, curious about the unfamiliar garment, and then jerked back when he realised what the flat silver pouches in the front of the vest must be. “Are those -”

“The future Regents of the Solar System?” Alek said with a wry smile. “God willing, they are.”

Conrad pressed his hands to his mouth. “But I thought – didn’t she agree to try body pregnancies first? It was in your marriage contract.” Because yes, there had been nights where he scoured that marriage contract, checking over the precise meanings of words and phrases, because he was terrified his friend was going to start a civil war by breaching it.

“It was never going to happen that way,” said Alek in a flat sort of voice, which made it clear he did not want to discuss the details. “The Cardinal would not support the Regent uniting the Fleet and going personally into battle without some insurance left behind, for the future of the Crown. Lalla-Louise has agreed to fake a body pregnancy to placate my family and the Elemental factions on Honour who already think I have betrayed them through this marriage. It’s not a bad idea for security reasons, anyway.”

Conrad was tempted to reach out and touch the silver pouches, but kept his hands to himself. The enormity of Alek’s sacrifice crashed in on him. Conrad himself was not a particularly devout Elemental, but it had always been so important to Alek to follow his family’s faith as closely as he could, even when his marriage to the Regent meant that he had to publicly join the Church of All.

Damn it all, the future sovereign of the Solar System was sitting on Alek’s chest, and he had still thrown himself into a physical fight to rescue his friend.

“Why on earth would you risk them to come after me?” Conrad blurted, horrified.

“Well, I wasn’t going to leave them behind,” said Alek, which didn’t answer the question at all. He reached out, and cuffed Conrad lightly on the back of the head. “It’s fine. This stuff they’re wrapped in is like armour, built to withstand laser fire and sword thrusts. Anyway, it’s supposed to be good for them to experience different sounds and vibrations while they’re gestating. Develops the brain better, or something.”

“Sounds and vibrations like you punching that bastard kidnapper of mine in the head?”

“Exactly.” Alek looked far too smug about this.

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The Jacaranda was supplied with all kinds of discreet New Aristocrat protocols which meant it could bypass most of Valour’s security requirements. They landed in a green field, instead of an official air dock.

“Behold the beauty and glamour of the prettiest planet in the Solar System,” said Alek with a wave of his hand.

“I’d prefer desert and eucalypts any day of the week,” Conrad muttered as the hatch slid open. Valour even smelled wrong. It was all – grass and buttercups. Elemental, yes. The planetary gravity was heavy but welcoming. He knew that feel. But this whole sunshine and rolling green pastures business was going to take a lot of getting used to.

“You’re so fucking spoiled,” Alek laughed. “Go braid some daisies for a while.”

“Such a productive use of my skills,” Conrad sighed. He didn’t want to go. Alek might have pod babies to protect, but he was terrible at looking after himself. “We should go on to Paris together.”

“Nope,” said Alek, leaping up from the pilot’s chair and physically manhandling Conrad out the hatch. “Embrace the dirtside. I hear they even grow their own vegetables down here.”

Conrad butted his head lightly against that of his prince. “Vegetables are overrated. You’re going to end up assassinated, or worse – badly dressed. You need me.”

“Yeah,” Alek said, his voice dropping its usual archness. “I need you, mate. So keep yourself alive until that cute little Musketeer of yours comes to rescue you.”

“She’s not a Musketeer,” Conrad muttered. “And she’s not cute, either. She’s – kind of amazing.” Dana D’Artagnan. He could wait a long time for a woman like her. “Fine, I’ll find myself another fucking tower to wait in, start growing my hair like the damsel I obviously am.”

Alek’s eyes danced with amusement. “Or you could find yourself some decent fleur-de-lis players to practice against. They’ve closed the leagues for the war, so we don’t even have to worry about forfeit fines, but next year – next year is OURS, baby.”

Conrad couldn’t help grinning at that. “Okay, I’ll work on staying alive, you grow some fetuses and work on getting Chevreuse back to Paris. We’ll have the old team back together by next year.”

They exchanged manly punches, and then Prince Alek stepped back into the Jacaranda and flew away.

Conrad stood on his own in a green field, surrounded by buttercups and what had to be bluebells. In the far distance, he could see a large manor house that had to be Buck’s formal residence.

“Right,” he sighed to himself, beginning to walk. “A package holiday on the wrong planet, in the middle of nowhere, with the Duchess of Buckingham. Could be worse.”

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Buck swam. She hadn’t used this pool in years, except as a site for decadent parties, and even then she preferred to swan around in whatever amazing outfit she was modelling that night instead of actually getting wet.

But over the last few days she had come here regularly, to swim methodical laps. There was something about the exercise, the burn in her muscles and the drugging sensation of keeping her head under the water as long as she could that made her think that maybe, maybe she could get through this.

Except of course that if she held her breath too long, allowed herself to flirt with the possibility of drowning herself and being free of it all, the first thing she would see when she burst clear of the surface would be Winter.

Slate. Winter. Milord De Winter, of course, though this version was not the same as the Secretary of the Interior. She had watched footage of the real Milord, and while they were similar in so many ways, she knew that the version of him that lived inside her head was a different creature altogether.

Weapon. Creature. Weapon.

If she swam hard and fast enough, until her limbs shook with exhaustion when she finally clambered out of the pool, then sleep without dreams seemed like an actual possibility.

Not today. Because today, there was a pretty young man with amber-brown skin and dark eyes, grinning at her from across the pool. His hair had been electric blue last time she saw Conrad Su, but it had grown out to its natural shiny black with blue at the tips. A pattern of gleaming gold scales ran down the side of his neck and under his shirt.

“Hey,” said Buck, spitting out a mouthful of water, because she was cool like that.

“Thanks for letting me crash here,” said Conrad, shielding his face against the bright sunlight. “You sure it’s okay?”

As Buck stared at him, she saw Winter approach Conrad on his silent bare feet. His hair blazed silver in the same bright light that was affecting Conrad’s vision. Winter leaned in and licked the side of Conrad’s neck, looking ridiculously pleased with himself.

Of course Conrad did not react because he could not feel the touch of the other man – Winter did not exist except inside Buck’s head.

He could not touch, but that did not mean Winter was not a danger to Conrad, to them both.

Buck shivered, the sun-warm water around her body suddenly dropping in temperature. “It’s fine,” she said, with a cheerful grin of the kind that used to be second nature to her. “Glad to have you. We’re going to have some fun together.”

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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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