Musketeer Space Part 45: Anjou Wine

fleur-lis-knobstopper-lHappy Musketeer Day!

Yesterday was a bit of a milestone for me as I finally found myself plotting out the last chapters of the book. Yes! I know how it ends! For those following along at home, it’s looking like it will come out to 61 chapters which is about 5 less than the original book, which means that Musketeer Space will be winding up in late July.

If you’ve been thinking of supporting the Musketeer Space Patreon campaign, with only four months to go now would be a great time to hop on board. All supporters will receive the combined e-book of Musketeer Space chapters as an exclusive edition – I’m not planning to put it up for direct sale, so becoming a Patreon supporter is the only way to get hold of the original serial as an ebook in 2015.

Eeeee part of me wants to just keep writing Musketeer space shenanigans forever, turn it into an endless space opera epic, but I promised myself I would commit to Dumas’ structure, so here we are, counting down through the last third of the story.

Hang in there, it’s going to get bumpy.

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Read a festive Musketeer Space prequel, “Seven Days of Joyeux.”
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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: The mysterious alien race known only as the Sun-kissed blew up Gascon Station and besieged the planet Truth, leading to a second war between themselves and the United Royal Fleet of the Solar System. Dana D’Artagnan accepted a position piloting a Musketeer supplies transport so she could be near her best friends instead of stuck on home guard. She also had an affair with an alien spy who wants her dead, thanks partly to the escape of Dana’s other sort-of boyfriend from his own abduction. I’m not even going to start on Athos’ tragic backstory, but that’s relevant here too.

NOW READ ON.

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Chapter 45: Anjou Wine

The supplies and support vessels Frenzy Kenzie and La Konstantina were left in position at the edge of Truth Space, close enough that ships and personnel would be able to reach them for medical assistance and supplies, but not so close that they were at risk of being taken out by long range shots from the Sun-kissed fleet.

Dana had known when she chose this assignment that she would not be going into battle herself, but she had not realised quite how far she would be stationed from the front line.

Communications were patchy at best, because assuming that the Sun-kissed would not be able to tap into their most secure military frequencies was a mistake that had been made during the last war, and never again. Fleetnet and personal comms had all been blocked for everything but official notifications from the command posts. While Dana had been driven up the wall by the constant flippant chatter of her Musketeers friends on the journey here, the silence was worse.

She would do anything for a single snarky tweet about Porthos’ love life right now.

The crew of the Frenzy Kenzie only discovered that the first shots had been fired when three Sabre-class darts arrived unannounced, their hulls scarred with laser burn, to be taken on board St Konstantina for medical attention and repairs.

What followed was eight days of hell.

Ships – mostly darts of Sabre and Musket-class – might appear at any time of the 24 hour clock, often in packs of at least three, sometimes with multiple crews crammed into them, depending on how badly other ships had been damaged.

Bass and his engie interns, and Chantal with her supplies assistants, were run off their feet, printing and fixing Musketeer hardware to send ships back into the field. Dana, left with little to do but monitor the Frenzy Kenzie’s drift, found herself conscripted into the medibay to help Wheels to manage and monitor the wounded alongside her squadron of medical androids.

The technology did most of the work, but an extra pair of human hands was always useful, and Dana’s main responsibility quickly became supervising the movement of damaged pilots from the airlock to medibay so they didn’t keel over in a corridor en route.

The Frenzy Kenzie and the St Konstantina weren’t the only supply transports – there were at least two others based on the far side of Truth Space – and that meant that even if the Musketeers Dana knew well were injured or dented, they wouldn’t necessarily end up here.

As much as a base for supplies and repairs, the Frenzy Kenzie quickly became an unofficial gossip hub, with every tale of Sun-kissed action hoarded to be passed on to the next wave of patch-jobs. One wall of the main airlock was given over to scrawled messages from the pilots and engies to their loved ones and comrades because it was assumed that everyone would pass through here sooner or later.

Dana saw all manner of familiar faces come through her ship, including Amiral Treville at one point, escorting the Regent herself after a nasty sortie. Lalla-Louise Renard Royal had flashburns down one side of her face, and was discreetly lodged in a private room behind the medibay until she had time to heal up properly.

“Are we winning?” Dana could not help but ask Treville in a low voice, as she handed over fresh supplies for the flagship, including a crate of meal bars and newly-printed uniforms for the Regent to wear in the formal vids.

Treville was exhausted, wiping sweat from her face with a cloth. She downed a whole tube of chilled water without pausing for breath. “We’re not losing,” she grunted, which wasn’t the same thing at all.

On Day 6, Dana found herself climbing into a familiar dart to slice Captain Tracy Dubois out of her helm and harness, after the metal had been fused to the dashboard by some kind of unknown Sun-kissed weapon that scared the hell out of everyone.

“I saw Aramis two days ago,” Dubois reported quietly. Dana could have hugged her, if she wasn’t busy trying not to cut her skin off along with the melted cables. “She was doing well – the Morningstar’s barely even been grazed so far. I saw the Hoyden at a distance this morning, Porthos was in the thick of it. Took out three Teardrops in under a minute. And Athos’ wretched green thing has been all over the place, he’s impossible to miss.”

Small fragments of information like that were better than nothing, Dana told herself, except of course that ‘two days ago’ didn’t mean anything if there had been battles today, and how could she be sure that the ship Dubois had seen was even the Morningstar?

She worked, and she worried, and one day melted into another, as the Siege of Truth wore on.

On the eighth day, a Musketeer that Dana barely knew handed her a package on the way to medibay. “I had it from Juillet, who had it from Valentin, who had it from Borlois who had it from Treville,” she said, barely glancing at Dana as she stepped into the bright white room. “Hey, Wheels, here I am again.”

“Didn’t I just patch you up, Mikhail?” complained the stern, grey-haired medic, spinning around in her hover chair.

“Yeah, but this time it’s my left leg.”

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Dana didn’t have time to open the package until much later, as she lay down in her bunk at the beginning of a regulation six hour shift, hoping something like sleep was going to turn up soon.

The box was lightweight and fell away to reveal two vacuum flasks of well-packed wine from Anjou, one of the finer vineyard countries in Honour, far north of the equator.

Dana wasn’t sure who might have sent them. Her first guess was Minister Chevreuse, given her recent habit of mysterious communications. Maybe even Conrad, who was supposed to be staying with her? But the truth was better. A holo-card had been included that made Dana grin ridiculously, all over her face.

It was a pic of Porthos, Aramis and Athos, all squeezed into the same bed in an unknown medibay – aboard the Sherwood, perhaps, or the Belizze – with medipatches wrapped around every visible limb.

Still, they were alive and recuperating. The message on the back read DRINK IT FOR US, WE’VE BEEN BANNED. 🙁

Dana considered it, because God knew she was unlikely to sleep without some kind of chemical assistance, but eventually she packed the flasks under her bunk to keep them safe, and let the feeling of relief wash over her like a blanket.

All three of them, alive and safe, for at least a couple more days by the looks of those medipatches. She could breathe.

Surely it would all be over soon enough that waiting to drink the wine with her friends would be no hardship.

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Over the next 24 hours, Dana thought about that Anjou wine a lot. She had been dragged out of her bunk after the fourth hour, because a dozen or more darts appeared all at once, and it was all hands on deck to separate the damaged ships from the damaged pilots.

An hour later, another three ships turned up, and then more again the hour after that.

Dana was all but hallucinating about the Anjou wine at that point, and she promised herself that as soon as there was a lull, she would drag Planchet or Chantal or anyone she could find back to her room and make them drink with her until their skulls were ready to float into space.

The next wave of ships included the Pistachio.

Dana didn’t realise at first. Bass was on a sleep shift, and so his assistants and Dana were run off their feet fitting out several darts to be spaceworthy again, and free up some space in the cavernous docking level.

Dana and Planchet waved the last of these into Airlock One and watched them punch out in military formation, only to turn around and watch three more power slowly into Airlock Two, ready to be rolled inside.

One of them was green.

Planchet moved first, calling for three support droids to crack open the other ships, and for the other engie assistant – Dana couldn’t even remember her name, something beginning with Z? – to check their crews for medical triage.

But Planchet herself went straight for the Pistachio, beating one fist on the chassis before scrambling for the external lock release. Before she could get to it, the hatch folded open, and an exhausted-looking Grimaud hovered at the top of the steps.

“Superficial damage only to the ship,” she said. “Minimal repairs needed to get her back in the field.” Then she turned her head and shouted “UNLIKE THE PILOT, WHO IS A COLOSSAL ARSEHOLE!” in a furious voice.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” said Dana, running up to her. “What’s wrong with Athos?” Apart from the arsehole factor, which she took as read.

“See for yourself,” Grimaud muttered, then started discussing technical specs with Planchet, making it clear that she had no interest in talking to pilots today.

Dana let herself into the Pistachio and found Athos not in the cockpit at all, but stretched out on his bunk, looking far too pale to be healthy.

His eyes were open, but he didn’t seem aware of her presence. “Are you drunk?” Dana demanded, leaning in, but that didn’t seem right. His pupils were blown wide, though. “Are you high?” she growled.

Nexus, of course he was still taking pilot drugs, she took that as read. But this reaction was too heavy for just that. She went back to the hatch and called Grimaud over. “So, how many different stims is he on just now?”

The engie stared back at her, silent.

Dana was prepared to wait all day if necessary. “Medical treatment is confidential, but you can’t not tell me.”

“You use automated medical systems on this base,” Grimaud said calmly. “Medipatches and medipacks mean sealed records, but in military hospices androids automatically report inappropriate drug usage found in patients.”

Dana winced. “Shit. Is a Sobriety patch going to make a difference before I get him to medibay?”

“He’s had three, but I think they reacted badly to the caffeine implant. And that’s not even considering the three different strains of pilot drugs he has been bouncing between for the last two days.”

Anger stabbed through Dana’s chest. “Is there a chance that me smacking him upside the head would make the situation worse right now?”

“That possibility is the only reason he doesn’t currently have a black eye from me.”

“Grimaud, I don’t know how you do it,” Dana sighed.

“Believe it or not, most pilots are idiots,” the engie said flatly. “The trick is finding one you’re willing to take stupid risks for.”

“And Athos is really that pilot for you?”

“He doesn’t make small talk. That goes a long way, with me.”

Yes, Dana had to admit that the two of them were well-matched. “I’m taking him somewhere quiet for a proper med assessment,” she sighed. “I’ll keep the androids off him if I can, but honestly – if he’s being this dangerous about stim usage, maybe we should let them report him.”

Grimaud shrugged as if she didn’t care, but gave a short nod to concede the point.

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The walls of Medici College were butter-yellow, as if they were doused in sunshine even on cloudy days. Olivier Armand d’Autevielle sprawled in a window alcove with a text-reader spread across his knees, paying little attention to the revision he had to do.

“You could come home with me,” he suggested.

Auden, a beautiful, too-thin boy with silver hair and cut glass cheekbones, leaned against the glass of the window at the other end of the alcove, as if he could soak up the sunlight through the glass. “You want to turn up for the holidays hand in hand with a no-name scholarship kid and announce that we’ll be sharing your fancy four poster bed or whatever it is that rich families sleep on – gold-plated sheets and caviar throw cushions? I’m sure that will go down marvellously, sweetness.”

Olivier hated that. He hated that Auden could be so cutting and funny while putting himself down, as if he was accustomed to thinking of himself as entirely worthless and he still wanted to entertain everyone while doing so. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m the Count de la Fere now. I don’t care what my family thinks.”

“You’ve been the Count for years, and you’ve always cared.” Basking in melancholy was very high in Auden’s skillset, up there with sarcasm and dead languages. All things that Olivier loved about him.

Love. So, there was that.

“But now I’m of age,” said Olivier, speaking lightly so that Auden would not catch on that he had just been struck by a life-changing, lightning strike of a personal revelation. “So they can’t stop me doing whatever the hell I want.”

When Auden smiled, really smiled, it was like the sunlight of the ivy-draped courtyard outside was suddenly here in the room with them, warming the walls and lighting up the ancient bookshelves and wall portraits. “And you want me?”

Olivier grinned in return, pulling his boyfriend into his lap and to hell with the text reader, which fell to the floor. “I always want you,” he said honestly.

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It was a dream. Of course it was a dream. He hadn’t let himself remember the good times, the happy parts of their ridiculous romance in years, but his subconscious mind was a traitor and a lovestruck fool, so it wasn’t unusual for Athos to find Auden – young and snarky and thoroughly human – in his dreams.

Other dreams weren’t nearly so pleasant.

Athos dreamed of his ship crumbling around him, of the gravity of Valour ripping through the Parry, Riposte on their way down to the surface. He dreamed of getting D’Artagnan killed in that stupid crash, while the pursuit ships fired upon them. He dreamed of Grimaud, wounded and limp in his arms.

He dreamed of the planet that he had always thought would swallow him whole, and the mountain that he had once thought would be his eternal resting place.

Valour.

Athos.

The ship exploded around him, metal scattering in vicious shards. Athos saw Grimaud dead, and D’Artagnan, and he could not save either of them.

He stared down at his feet, where the soft green grass of Valour curled gently around his ankles. Bare feet. When he looked up, he saw the face of his husband, beautiful and sad, with bright silver hair tousled around his slender neck.

“You’re not going to do this,” said Auden in a low voice, the voice that had always made Athos – Olivier – shiver with want. “You’re not going to give up what we have. I love you.”

Olivier Armand d’Autevielle, the Count de la Fere, spoke without a hint of emotion. “There’s only one way to kill a devil.”

“Is that honestly what you think I am?” Auden’s voice was a howl, a screech, several octaves too high. An alien, unfamiliar sound.

Alien, oh yes. There was that.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Olivier ground out between his teeth. “I lost the right to happiness when I lay down with the enemy.”

The sword was real, a family heirloom. It felt heavy and metallic in his grasp, warm to the touch. None of that cool, perfectly distributed weight of a Pilot’s Slice.

Humans knew so little about the Sun-kissed, even after surviving a war against them, and yet one fact stood out from all the rest: to kill them, you had to take the head.

Auden tilted his own head to one side, basking in his own beauty. Of course he was beautiful. His face had been manufactured, everything from the pale grey eyes to the sculpted face. He was designed to be admired, to be loved, to make humans weak at the knees for desire of him. “Kill me then, sweetness,” he breathed. “Let’s see how much better it makes you feel.”

Olivier swung the sword himself, severing his husband’s head from his neck. His duty, he reminded himself as the ugly thud vibrated through his arms, and his heart. Always duty, above everything. It had to be him who struck the blow. How could he trust it to anyone else?

His hand closed around a cold glass, relishing the way that it felt against his palm before he poured the contents of the glass down his throat.

That didn’t help, either.

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Athos’ eyes snapped open. He hadn’t dreamed of that in years – oh, there had been dreams, terrible torturing dreams that regularly ripped his heart out of his chest, but not that, not the moment when he performed the execution.

The failed execution.

Cutting off their heads doesn’t work. I should warn someone about that.

“Where am I?” he muttered. “Grimaud?” It came out as more of a slur of unrelated consonants, and he realised too late that this wasn’t his bunk on the Pistachio. Damn it, had he totalled another ship so soon?

He found a flat white medipack fastened to his bare chest, and sat up in a hurry, groaning as his head churned and the bright lights of the hospice hurt his eyes.

“You’re alive, then.” It was a chirpy voice, and Athos glared at it until the blur resolved into a familiar person.

“Pigtails,” he said flatly.

“You know that’s not my name,” the teen redhead said, not remotely offended. She passed him a cup full of what turned out to be ice chips. “Dana would have hung around but she said she was likely to smother you in your sleep if she did, so she’s gone back to work.”

“Grimaud?”

“Much the same only she said ‘break his limbs’ instead of ‘smother him’ and she’s overseeing the repairs of the Pistachio.”

Athos nodded slowly. He didn’t hurt as much as he might have expected, but he still felt shaky. “Have I been grounded?”

“Inappropriate stims usage in the field, three days out of combat,” said a different voice, breaking into their conversation. “You’re to report back to Treville at Chaillot Station as soon as you’re fit to travel so she can shout at you in person.” A fifty-something in a hover chair whirred over towards them, peering at Athos through her thick glasses with professional interest. “You’re getting off lightly, kid.”

Athos had a long history with Wheels, the Musketeers’ longest-serving medic, and he was well aware that things could have gone much worse for him.

“Always a pleasure, sweetness,” he drawled at her.

Wheels gave him a dirty look. “Don’t even think about trying to flirt with me, Mr Posh Accent. I haven’t slept for forty eight hours, and I have no sympathy for self-destructive pilots. Were you actually trying to kill yourself? Suicide by Front Line?”

Athos was taken aback. “No,” he said, and meant it. There was times he had come close to that, but no – Aramis and Porthos would never forgive themselves, if he let it get that far, and they had enough of a hold on his heart that he allowed it to curb his more self-destructive impulses.

Perhaps he was due for some recalibration about what exactly counted as ‘more self-destructive.’

“Good to know.” Wheels made a check mark on the clamshell that rested on the arm of her hoverchair. “You will remain here for three more hours under my observation, and then you can get the hell out. Planchet said the Cap will let you bunk with her while you’re on enforced downtime.”

Athos blinked, not used to the idea that baby-faced D’Artagnan was a Captain now. “Am I allowed to know what happened to my pants?”

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Dana was dog tired, worn to the bone, and while she wanted to check in on Athos in the hospice, she also didn’t have any energy left for the angry rant she had been building inside her head. Sleep first, shouting later.

She let herself into her small quarters and toppled head-first on to the bunk. She lay there still and silent for at least ten minutes, trying to work up the energy to take her boots off.

If she sat up, she could get at that wine, too. She would probably need to hide it when Athos was well enough to bunk with her. But she was going to drink some of it first, and to hell with hypocrisy.

In order to drink, she had to get up.

Her door chimed once, twice, three times, and even before she could react to it, she heard an urgent thumping against the door.

Damn it all to hell and back.

Dana rose slowly, staggering with exhaustion, and thumbed open the door.

Athos stood on the other side, wearing some sort of hospice-printed pyjamas and an agonised expression.

“What?” Dana snapped.

“Pigtails told me about the Anjou wine,” Athos blurted out.

Heat surged through her body, and all the anger and fear about what the fuck he had been doing to himself resolved into a single, furious punch.

Athos went down like he’d been felled by a cinquefoil pole, and Dana didn’t even feel guilty about it. She stood over him, letting her rant pour all over him – yelling about how much his friends loved him, and how he was a stupid, selfish addict who was going to break all their hearts when he got himself killed out of sheer drug-induced idiocy.

When she paused to take in a shaky breath, he tried to speak. She cut him off with another round of ranting, then sat on his chest, and hit him a couple more times around the arms.

Finally, she ran out of words and anger and just stared wordlessly down at him.

“D’Artagnan,” Athos started to say. Dana raised her hand to smack him again. He caught her hand and flipped her on to the ground, leaning over her with her wrists pinned hard above her head. “Dana, this is all very touching,” he snarled into her face. “But if you would stop emoting at me for half a minute, I didn’t come here because I was thirsty.”

Dana glared up at him, breathing hard. “Then what?”

Athos sighed, still not relinquishing her wrists. This was probably a good call since Dana was getting the urge to hit him all over again. “Aramis and Porthos and I have not been inside the same hospice or medibay since this damned war began. We’ve barely been in each other’s company since Chaillot. We never sent you any fucking wine.”

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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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