Musketeer Space Part 46: Dovecote Red

red dovecoteIt’s Musketeer Day!

Never mind the war, it’s time for nightclub shenanigans because the Musketeers are nothing if not party animals.

Thanks to all my Patreon supporters, who have made this project viable. If you haven’t sponsored Musketeer Space yet, please consider doing so for the last four months that the serial will run. I would really love to hit the next milestone.

I’d like to draw attention to a couple of other crowdfunded projects that are dear to my heart:

Night Terrace Season 2 is the follow up to last year’s terrific Night Terrace, a Australian SF comedy series on audio, created by Ben McKenzie, John Richards, Petra Elliot & others. Starring Susan from Neighbours. Run don’t walk to watch their vid which funny and sharp and shows what their fantastic project is all about.

Defying Doomsday is a new Twelfth Planet Press anthology, edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench. Following up from the success of Kaleidoscope, this new book is about disabled protagonists dealing with the apocalypse – because the most interesting stories are not always the ones about survival of the fittest.

Now on with the drinking and the card games and the sneaky plotting of Musketeers in back rooms!

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Start reading Musketeer Space from Part 1
Missed the last installment? Track back to Part 45
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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: There’s a war on and after turning down a suspicious job offer from the sinister Cardinal Richelieu Dana D’Artagnan has been doing her best to help the United Fleet. But who sent her the mysterious flasks of wine in the name of her friends the Three Musketeers?

NOW READ ON!

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Chapter 46: Dovecote Red

There was nothing about the flasks that offered a clue – they held the stamp of the Cotillard Vineyard in Anjou, and a postal seal to show they were authorised for interstellar export. There was no sign that they had been tampered with, since leaving the vineyard.

But Athos had taken over Chantal’s testing chamber with a surprising amount of charm, long enough to learn that the contents of the “Anjou wine” contained enough poison to wipe out a whole platoon of Musketeers, let alone a single Arms-Sergeant.

Now, back in Dana’s cabin, Athos sat on her bunk poring over the holo-card that had accompanied the poisonous gift. “I remember this picture, it’s from over a year ago. Chevreuse took it in the hospice after the three of us were involved in a training accident, when I lost the Merci Beaucoup. She posted it on Fleetnet with the caption ‘Inseperable in Idiocy’ – Treville had a copy on her dartboard for at least a month. Anyone could have got hold of this.”

“How many ships have you actually lost, Athos?”

“I’m hoping my luck changes with the Pistachio. No ship that ugly is ever going to be blasted out of the sky.” He blinked, and looked up at Dana. “She is all right, isn’t she?”

Dana was almost touched by his alarm. He pretended he wasn’t ridiculously soft about his spaceships, but she knew true love when she saw it. “The Pistachio is fine, nothing we can’t patch up here. Grimaud is also fine, by the way, though I doubt she’ll be speaking to you by the time you ship out again.”

“That’s just the way I like it,” Athos mused, his attention drawn back to the holo-card. “Really, you couldn’t tell this was ages ago? It’s from before I grew out my beard.”

“Well, since you started shaving it close again it looks exactly the same.” Dana fiddled with one of the flasks, and Athos moved quickly, his hand covering her own.

“Keep your fingers to yourself. We don’t know what other little surprises your murderous friend has in store for you.”

Dana’s hand stuttered on the flask. “Point made.”

“I’ll take them with me when I ship out,” he said. “This is a matter for Amiral Treville, not for us.”
“There’s more,” said Dana, and quickly told him about Conrad, and the transmission Aramis had shared with her, via Chevreuse. Athos went very still when she confessed that it was Prince Alek who had staged Conrad’s rescue.

“This is bad,” he said in a low voice, once she was finished. He tapped his comm stud. “Grimaud, when will she be ready to return to base?”

“I hate you, I hate your face, I hate your ship,” his engie said, very calmly. “Six hours, if it’s an emergency, but only if you can prove you’ve had actual sleep in the mean time. And you’re not allowed at the controls, I’ll be taking her in.”

“See you in six hours.” Athos cut her off without further conversation. “See? Grimaud’s fine. Practically back to normal.”

“Just don’t tell her you’re bringing poison on board, it would be far too much of a temptation,” said Dana dryly. “Are you really going to take this to Treville?”

“Oh, yes. All this -” Athos waved a hand at the flasks with a troubled look upon his face. “This feels personal. The Cardinal has lived too long and survived too much political bullshit to indulge in personal revenge, and if she wanted you dead you wouldn’t stand a chance anyway. So who else is angry enough at you to want you dead? Should we consider that pilot with the eye-scar and the fierce hair?”

“You still don’t get to complain about ridiculous hair, given how you looked when we met,” said Dana, reaching over to rub her palm over the blond stubble of his scalp. “And no, I don’t think – Ro and I have come to an understanding. She’s all business. If she did want to kill me, I honestly think she’d prefer to be in the room at the time.”

“Such a romantic,” Athos said sarcastically. “Well, then. I can think of one suspect.”

“So can I.”

They didn’t say it – any of the names by which they knew Milord. They could not speak of the alien spy without feeling him there in the room with them.

“I can believe it,” Dana said finally. “He was furious before Conrad escaped. After – everything in Paris, I can well believe that he is taking it personally, about me.”

Athos nodded, and sat in silence for a moment. “It was better when he was working on the Cardinal’s behalf,” he said finally. “More predictable. Now – yes, now I have to have a very detailed and very uncomfortable conversation with Amiral Treville. It’s long past time that we put this Sun-kissed creature in the ground.”

Dana felt a painful tug at her stomach. “Do you have to go so soon?”

Athos smiled as if he knew what she was thinking, and tapped her lightly on the nose. “The war won’t last forever, D’Artagnan. We’ll be back, drinking in Paris with Aramis and Porthos before you know it.”

Dana said nothing. It felt a terribly long way away.

“Six hours,” Athos said, after a long pause. “I can crash here, yes? Might as well see if this sleep thing is as good as everyone claims.”

“Fine,” Dana groaned, looking at the narrow bunk and wondering how on earth they would both fit. “But take your damn boots off first.”

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Forty eight hours after Athos and Grimaud left on the newly-restored Pistachio, the Hoyden rolled into the main dock of the Frenzy Kenzie.

Dana stared at it for a full minute, gathering her courage to check on whether Porthos was alive and well inside her familiar dart – but in fact, the Hoyden didn’t look like it had taken any damage at all.

Bonnie was the first one out, and she waved off the intern that Bass had sent over for a damage report. Then she caught sight of Dana across the wide expanse of space, and crooked her finger.

Huh.

Dana headed towards the Hoyden, wondering what on earth was going on, only to stumble over her feet when a tall and elegant figure in a violet flight suit stepped out, instead of Porthos.

Rosnay Cho gave her an enigmatic smile, and held out her wrist. “Captain,” she said lightly.

Dana leaned in, her wrist brushing against Ro’s, and her comm stud immediately hummed as the new orders rattled in.

“What happened to your Moth?” she couldn’t help asking, because there was something about Ro that made her blurt out the first thing that came into her mind, every single time.

“Crashed and burned in the last sortie against the Sun-kissed,” said Ro, and then laughed out loud at the horror that crossed Dana’s face. “Oh, honey, I didn’t know you cared.”

“That was a beautiful ship,” Dana muttered.

“I’m sure the Cardinal will present me with a brand new one for recent services rendered.”

Remembering why it was that she had always disliked Ro, Dana glared at her. “So what are these orders?”

“Oh, I’m relieving you of duty for 48 hours,” said Ro in an offhand sort of way. “You don’t have to show me the way to the captain’s chair – I’m sure I remember it.”

Dana blinked. “You’re what? I’m – what?”

Rosnay Cho was already walking away, a knapsack tossed casually over one shoulder. “Read your orders, D’Artagnan,” she called out behind her. “I’m sure you’ll find them enlightening.”

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Porthos explained everything on the way to Chaillot Station. She made Bonnie pilot the Buttercup, so that Dana – still sadly without an engie of her own given Planchet’s continuing duties on the Frenzy Kenzie – could share the Hoyden’s cockpit and they could talk without the use of comms.

Though ‘explain’ wasn’t entirely accurate, given that Porthos had no real idea what was going on, and why Rosnay Cho of all people had been rotated on to cover for Dana on the Frenzy Kenzie.

“Athos is cooking something up with Treville, and they want us part of it,” was all she had to share. “Spy stuff, I guess.”

Dana nodded miserably. It had been categorically proven that she was terrible at spy stuff, but if Athos thought she could be useful, she wasn’t going to let him down. “How’s he doing?”

Porthos gave her a cagey look, as if trying to work out how much she already knew. “Grimaud has threatened to quit if he doesn’t cool it with the pilot drugs and the stims,” she said.

“Grimaud threatens to quit every week,” Dana sighed.

“She means it this time. She showed him a job offer she received from Claudine Jussac of the Red Guard, and he promised not to call her bluff.”

Dana was still skeptical. Grimaud had been enabling Athos for a long time, just like the rest of them. It was hard to imagine he would actually let her force him into a corner about changing his behaviour. “And is he actually cooling it with the pilot drugs and the stims?”

“He’s still hopped up on caffeine, but I haven’t seen him drunk since he got back from his near miss,” Porthos said. “But he’s spent most of his time behind closed doors with Treville, so maybe he hasn’t had time to drink.” She hesitated to continue, her fingertips tapping idly against the cables of her harness. “He’s taking this Milord business pretty damned personally.”

“Wouldn’t you?” Dana demanded.

Porthos gave her a long, hard look. “He’s acting like it’s his fault the bastard tried to poison you.”

“Oh,” Dana groaned, because of course Athos would blame himself rather than admit that Dana had got herself into the whole sticky mess. “Typical.”

“There’s also the problem with the Prince Consort,” Porthos went on. “Prince Alek is supposed to be back safely on Lunar Palais – leading the home guard, or tattooing the nursery walls or whatever else an expectant father does while his wife is out winning a war against aliens. Instead, he’s bombing around the solar system, punching spies in the head and rescuing his tailor from sinister asteroid prisons.”

“Does Athos blame himself for that too?” Dana asked tiredly.

“Nope,” said Porthos, hiding a grin. “But I’m pretty sure Treville is going to blame you.”

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Dana expected to be taken to the Regent Royal’s flagship, or even the armoured command base, the Saint-Gervais. Failing that, she assumed that Treville must have commandeered an office somewhere on Chaillot Station. Instead, Porthos led her directly back to the nightclub they had spent the evening in before the proper battle began – Dovecote Red.

“This is official business, right?” Dana said dubiously as they made their way through the grinding bodies, pulsing music and spotlights that turned everything blood-red. “You haven’t just kidnapped me to show me a good time?”

“Such trust,” Porthos laughed, catching her by the hand and pulling her onwards through the club. At the far end of the bar, she gave a discreet password, and was led through to a mostly sound-proofed back room.

There, surrounded by barrels and bottles, two Musketeers sat at a game of cards, with a bottle of wine between them: Aramis and Athos.

“About time you showed up,” said Athos, not even glancing in their direction as he laid down his hand.

“It’s been forever,” said Aramis, giving Dana a friendly hug and hooking her arm around Porthos’ neck.

“No Treville?” Porthos said with a frown, pushing Aramis off and pouring herself a drink. “I thought she would have been here by now.”

“Is this or isn’t this official business?” Dana asked, unsure whether to sit and make herself comfortable. There was an odd tension in the air.

Athos looked up, finally, his eyes locking on to hers. “Not all councils of war can be held in the open,” he said finally.

There was a knock at the door.

All three of Dana’s Musketeer friends froze, their hands going to their belts. Athos’ fingers hovered at his Pilot’s Slice, but Dana noted quickly that both Aramis and Porthos were reaching for stunners.

“So we’re not supposed to be here?” she hissed. She had been right to be suspicious.

“That isn’t Treville’s knock,” Aramis said in the quietest breath of a whisper.

The door spun open, and the bright red-gold lights of the club poured across the threshold, along with the thumping beat of the music. Six soldiers of the Red Guard filed into the room, lining up against one wall, and then a mild-looking woman in full battle dress and steel-grey hair stepped in after them. The door slid shut behind her, keeping out the music and the blazing lights, though the thudding backbeat continued to vibrate through the floor.

“Musketeers,” said Cardinal Richelieu. “How fascinating.”

There was a long and strangled pause. Athos moved first, one hand curling around the neck of the nearest wine bottle. “Your Eminence. May I offer you a drink?”

Dana thought for a horrified moment that she might burst into laughter, but she kept her eyes straight ahead and managed to swallow it down.

“Too kind,” said the Cardinal. “I am here for a meeting, but I seem to have been shown to the wrong room. A glass of wine would be most hospitable.” She came forward to take the empty seat at the table, the one that Dana had not taken for herself.

Aramis hastily scrabbled the cards and coins out of the Cardinal’s way. Athos poured a glass of wine and handed it to their visitor with the aristocratic manners that he only occasionally liked to show off.

The Cardinal sipped, for all the word as if this was another tea party. “It’s the Count de la Fere, is it not?” she said, eyes on Athos and his bright blue jacket.

“I prefer Athos,” he said, as if he didn’t want to stab her for using that other name. “The other man you mentioned died a long time ago.”

“Of course, Athos. A simple name for a simple fellow.”

“I like to think so, your Eminence.”

Her eyes flicked around the room. “And young D’Artagnan, I see you there. Are you enjoying your worthy work on the supply line?”

“It keeps me busy, your Eminence,” Dana said, keeping her tone even and polite.

“I suppose you all know each other,” said the Cardinal, waving a hand at her stony-faced Red Guard. Two of them wore the uniforms of Sabre officers, while the others were general grunts.

“Paris may be the greatest city in the Solar System, but those of us in the same line of work do tend to find each other,” said Athos, with a charming smile that Dana had never seen him use before. Was he being sarcastic? It was nearly impossible to tell. “Indeed, your man Boisne there had a friendly altercation with Aramis only a fortnight ago. Not with blades, of course, because duelling is illegal. Arm-wrestling, though, is a time-honoured way of settling grievances while keeping things friendly.”

“How thrilling,” said the Cardinal, sounding genuinely amused. “Who won?”

“It was a draw, your Eminence,” said Aramis with a smile that matched the one Athos was still displaying. “I took a slight paper cut in the arm which was easily fixed, and I believe that Boisne regained the full use of his legs within 24 hours.”

“Thank goodness for today’s medical marvels,” said the Cardinal. “But really, Boisne, you know I disapprove of fighting between the ranks. We’re a Fleet United now, you know. And it seems that even… arm wrestling has its dangers.”

The Red Guard in question seemed well aware that this conversation was a trap, but managed to say “Yes, your Eminence,” without shifting his steady gaze from the Musketeers.

“All in the name of friendly rivalry, of course,” Athos went on. “You wouldn’t want your pilots to be lacking in fighting spirit, would you, your Eminence?”

The Cardinal’s eyes darkened a little. “I’ve never heard it put so succinctly before,” she said. “Of course, we also value restraint.”

“You’ll be glad to know that your own pilots are paragons of restraint,” Athos agreed. “Why, last time Captain Hardoin and I had an informal sparring session, we didn’t even try to draw our swords, did we, Yvonne?”

One of the Sabres, a muscular woman with the shape of two crossed knifes shaved into the side of her scalp, gave Athos a grin that was all teeth. “Nope,” she said. “You threw me out a window instead.”

“But I paid for the damages,” he replied. “And dinner.”

“And dinner,” Yvonne agreed.

Oh, God, were they flirting? Dana could have done with this particular insight into Athos’ love life. She also had a horrible feeling that there was no way this conversation could not end without extreme violence, and/or multiple arrests. It was all so civilised, and yet the tension was unbearable.

“But you, Captain Porthos?” said the Cardinal. “Surely you have never come to blows with any of my guards?”

Porthos ran her eye along the line of them, as if considering. She lingered on the smallest Red Guard, a man who had to be younger even than Dana, and he actually blushed under her gaze. “There may have been an incident involving a tavern bench, but the guidelines on duelling with tavern furniture is more of a grey area than where swords are concerned.”

The Cardinal laughed, a bright and happy sound. “You are all such entertaining company. I can see why young D’Artagnan is so attached to you.”

Athos’ grip on his wineglass grew a little tighter.

Another knock sounded on the door, and everyone flinched except Athos and the Cardinal.

One of the bar staff opened the door a few inches, looking mortified. “Your Eminence, I am sorry, I believe your appointment is – waiting for you in the upstairs lounge.”

“Ah, I thought it must be something like that.” The Cardinal drained the last of her wine glass and set it on the table. “I apologise for intruding on your evening, my dears.”

“It was a pleasure and an honour,” said Athos, rising with her. After barely a breath of a hesitation, the Cardinal held her hand out to him, and he bent over her ring, kissing it.

“Good evening all,” said the most powerful religious leader in the Solar System, and made her graceful exit.

The Red Guard all filed out behind her, and the door closed.

Dana let out a shaking breath, and noticed that Aramis and Porthos did the same.

“What the fuck was that?” Aramis said incredulously, and then swung around to point an accusing finger at Athos. “And who the fuck are you? With the manners and the charm and the…”

“The smiling,” said Porthos with a shudder.

Dana said nothing at all, but like the others, she was staring at Athos.He looked – well, she had seen that manic gleam in him before, usually when he was about to throw the first chair or stab the first attacker in a bar brawl. He practically glowed all over.

“Ladies,” said Athos, purring his words. “This war just got interesting.”

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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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