Musketeer Space Part 49: I Just Called To Say I’m Grounded

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PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE:

Dana D’Artagnan met Conrad Su when his wife (her landlady) set her on a quest to rescue him after he was kidnapped… and Dana’s life has never been the same again. Since then, she has become tangled up with political intrigues, more kidnappings, terrorism, a space war, and an ill-advised love affair with an alien spy. Luckily for Dana, she has her friends the Musketeers to keep her sane, and provide her with cake along the way. Also swords. Swords and cake.

NOW READ ON!

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Chapter 49: I Just Called To Say I’m Grounded

The four of them hustled away, off the bridge and along a series of grey corridors on the Bastion, which mostly went around in circles. Dana was pretty sure they weren’t heading anywhere in particular at this point, but Athos was moving for the sake of not punching walls.

“She wouldn’t let us go after Buckingham?” Porthos asked.

Athos growled under his breath. “Need somewhere we won’t be overheard. In here.” He lurched them towards a storage room that turned out to be more of a cupboard than a room, but Aramis, Dana and Porthos pressed obediently into the small space, surrounded by humming printers.

“Is it me?” Dana asked quickly, trying to stave off the swoopy feeling in her stomach. “She wants me to go back to my duties on the Frenzy Kenzie?”

“No, you’re definitely off that detail for now,” said Athos with a vague wave of his hand. “Porthos and Aramis are to return to their own ships in the armoured shuttle after the next ceasefire. But you and me, Dana, we’re assigned to the Bastion for the foreseeable future.”

Aramis and Porthos were both staring at Athos with wide, startled eyes. “Athos, what did you say to her?” Aramis asked in alarm.

“The truth,” he said impatiently.

Now it was Dana’s turn to go all wide-eyed and startled. “How much of the truth?” she demanded.

“Pretty much all of it. I was trying for honesty points.” Athos looked weary, as if he was a living example of why honesty helped no one.

“And how did that work out for you?” asked Porthos.

Athos winced visibly. “I made a major miscalculation. Well, two miscalculations, but at least one of them was based on information I didn’t have at the time.”

Aramis leaned into Athos, one hand stroking his hair. “Breathe, darling, and try to talk at human speeds for the sake of us mere mortals. What’s the problem?”

Athos visibly calmed down at Aramis’ touch which did indeed seem to slow him for a beat or two. “Fine. Good point. The problem is that Treville doesn’t give a fuck about whether the Duchess of Buckingham lives or dies. She thinks the Cardinal’s plan to squeeze more ships out of Valour is stupid and won’t work, but she’s not willing to let all four of us abandon the war in order to scupper it.”

“But she knows now about Milord,” Dana burst out. “Surely she must understand how important it is to stop him, and discredit him in the eyes of the Cardinal…”

“… And get him out of play,” Porthos added grimly.

“Yes,” said Athos, and he looked utterly miserable. That couldn’t be good. “She does understand that. But Treville has her own priorities right now. It turns out that the Sun-kissed have made diplomatic overtures. In twelve hours, the Regent and the Cardinal and Amiral Treville will be communicating directly with whoever is in charge of all those shape-shifting red blobs in their shape-shifting grey teardrop ships, and we get to find out if there’s anyone still alive down on Truth.”

Aramis’ hand stopped stroking Athos’ hair. “Yes,” she said in a strangled whisper. I can see how that is slightly more important than an assassination attempt on Valour.”

“But that has nothing to do with us,” repeated Dana. “Not directly, at least. Right?” She was still trying to get her head around the part where she had been released from her duties on the supplies transport. For what?

Athos gave Dana an apologetic look. “The problem is – the other problem, on a very long list of problems – is that I just revealed to Treville that you and I have both had recent personal experience with a Sun-kissed spy. So she wants to keep us here on the Bastion, in order to answer as many intrusive and embarrassing questions of military relevance that may or may not come up during the conversation with the Sun-kissed.”

Dana sighed and let her head fall back against the nearest printer with a thunk.

“You know,” Porthos said after a moment of long and awkward silence. “I always thought if one of us ended up entangled in a highly political and sensitive alien sex scandal, it would be Aramis.”

Dana kicked her in the ankle.

“What now?” Aramis asked with a sigh, her fingers continuing to scratch lightly at Athos’ scalp since he didn’t have as much hair to play with these days. “How long before Porthos and I have to be back on regular duty?”

“Two hours until the next shuttle back to Chaillot Station,” said Athos. “Until they give us a real mission, we are going to devote all out time to figuring out how to save the Duchess of Buckingham’s life and screw over Milord De Winter without leaving Truth Space. Any objections?”

“Chevreuse, obviously,” said Aramis. “She can help.”

“Not close enough, but yes, said Athos. “She can warn Buck, at least. Maybe send support. Who do we know on Valour?”

“The Countess of Clarick,” said Dana thoughtfully.

That took Athos aback. “You mean the one with all the New Aristocrat wanker friends we had the duel with?”

“She’s his sister-in-law. And she’s crazy loyal about her family, but – I don’t know if she’d still be on his side if she knew the truth about what he is and where he comes from.”

“Devious,” Athos said admiringly. “I like it. There’s also the highly embarrassing possibility that I’m still married to the bastard, which means I get to have a delightful conversation with her about breach of contract and bigamy. Meanwhile, Porthos. Got any convenient boyfriends in positions of power, influence or really sharp swords anywhere on Valour who could get to Buck before Milord does?”

“All my boyfriends tend to be conveniently located around Paris,” said Porthos. “Not that it’s not still faster to get to Valour from Paris than from Truth Space. But…” And she looked at Aramis, who rolled her eyes and groaned with genuine pain.

“No.”

“It’s not a bad idea.”

“It’s a terrible idea.”

“Well, if you will go having affairs with married women who storm off to become important people on other planets, sooner or later that’s something we’re going to have to take advantage of.”

“But she hates me.”

“We’re not talking about Chevreuse again, are we?” asked Athos, frowning.

“Felton,” sighed Aramis. “We’re talking about Jan Felton. Who quit the Red Guards to take up a position as the Marshal of Castillion, two years ago.”

Athos blinked again. “But she hates you.”

“She hates me so much,” Aramis agreed.

“We’ll bring her in anyway. Porthos is right, we can’t afford to be choosy. Comms room, let’s get messaging.” Athos made a shooing motion, and pushed Aramis and Porthos out of the printer cupboard. He glanced back briefly over his shoulder at Dana as he went. “Oh, and we have to call D’Artagnan’s mother.”

Now Dana was worried. “Mama? Why?”

Athos was impatient that she would even ask. “Because Treville finally promoted you to Captain-Lieutenant, which makes you a full Musketeer. Mothers like to know that sort of thing.”

Aramis and Porthos crowed with delight, but Athos grabbed each of them by the neck and propelled them along the corridor, leaving Dana gaping on her own in a cupboard full of printers.

“What,” was all she could think of to say. “No, really. WHAT?”

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The Saint-Gervais, AKA the Bastion, had many facilities and resources not enjoyed by standard Fleet ships – not only the impregnable shielding (balanced out by a complete inability to use any offensive weaponry) but also a state-of-the-art comms room.

Athos had been right to bring them here. The Bastion had been designed to be the final hold-out for high-ranking personnel, and not only featured highly secured military frequencies (those very lines of communications that made jump engines feasible) but also the luxury of privacy booths and access to those same securities for personal calls.

Aramis and Porthos had stayed long enough for Aramis to make discreet calls to Chevreuse at her office on one of the Daughters of Peace, and to Marshal Felton on Valour. They were gone now, queuing for the shuttle back to Chaillot Station so they could return to their ships and the Fleet.

Dana knew that it wasn’t more dangerous for them to fly back on the official shuttle than it had been with Athos in the Pistachio, dodging and weaving the laser blasts from the Sun-kissed on their way here, but it felt more dangerous somehow, whenever the four of them were separated.

Not Dana and her three Musketeers. They were four Musketeers now. It might take her a while to get used to that idea.

Athos was now enclosed in one of the privacy booths, continuing a long and possibly painful conversation with Bianca “Bee” De Winter, the Countess of Clarick. Dana had squeezed in there with him long enough to make the introductions – should Bee fail to recognise the man who had so effortlessly kebabbed one of her friends with a rapier-length Pilot’s Slice back on Paris Satellite – but withdrew once Athos began telling his story.

Dana was ridiculously proud of him, though she couldn’t help but worry. He had concealed his true identity for so long, keeping Athos the Musketeer as far as possible from the troubled and officially deceased Comte de la Fere. Now it was all spilling out, for the sake of Crown and Solar System and the life of the Duchess of Buckingham.

Yes, she worried. What would Athos do without that layer of secrets hugged to his chest?

In between the calls that Aramis had made, Porthos had attempted to get a call directly through to Villiers House, where the Duchess of Buckingham was supposed to be. Dana had run through the app Planchet had made for her a million years ago, which gathered all of Buck’s appearances on social media, but the athletic duchess had become something of a digital hermit in recent weeks.

Still, there was no hint that she had stepped outside her home in days. Why wouldn’t she accept the call? They kept trying, Dana taking over the job after Porthos left with Aramis.

Perhaps Chevreuse would have better luck getting through.

Dana leaned back against the smooth, white curve of the privacy booth wall, wondering if Athos was done with his own call yet, and if Bee would prove to be an ally. They had decided it was worth the risk to try and tell her the truth – after all, it wasn’t like Athos had not already tipped Milord off that they knew his plans.

And at least – it was a small thing to be grateful for – but at least Milord did not have that sealed stud from the Cardinal, promising amnesty for any crime he cared to commit. At least Athos had secured that.

Dana had been trying very hard not to think about the fact that Milord wanted her death as a personal reward for the latest assassination he had been requested to carry out.

Worst rebound fling ever.

She hit the call key again and watched a still image of Villiers House, in the duchy of Buckingham, on the continent of Castillion, on the planet Valour, fill the screen as she waited for the signal to tell her for the fourth time, that the call had not been accepted.

Instead, the screen flickered and gave way to a friendly amber-brown face with gold scales running down the edge of his face and neck, and blue-tipped spiky black hair.

Goddamn, she had forgotten how beautiful Conrad Su was. He wore loose practice gear, and was grinning as if she had caught him in the middle of laughing at someone else’s joke. “Villiers House,” he said smoothly in his courtier’s voice, then did a double take at the screen. “Holy shit.”

“Hey,” said Dana, laughing at him, because he looked mortified at losing his cool in front of her, and that was kind of adorable. “Miss me?”

“Always,” he said, recovering a little of his usual swagger. “How did you even know I was hiding out here?”

“I didn’t. I called for Buck.”

“Well, now I am disappointed.” And Conrad made a disappointed face that made her want to reach through the screen and smack him, or possibly kiss his face off.

Yeah, who was she even kidding with those options.

“I’m actually being serious now,” she told him sternly. “This is my serious expression. Has anything unusual happened lately?”

“Buck keeps to herself most of the time. I’ve hardly managed to get her to joust with me at all, though she has a kickass zero-G practice tank in her back garden. Luckily she seems to hire security guards who like their sport, so I can usually find someone off duty to play with me. Keeps me from going completely stir crazy.”

Dana grazed her lower lip with her teeth. “No security issues to worry about?”

“We’ve had word from the local Marshal to be on alert, and we’ve stepped up house and perimeter patrols,” said Conrad, his face losing some of its customary humour. “You had something to do with that?”

Felton was on it, then, after being alerted by Aramis to the situation. That was good to know.

“There’s been an assassination threat,” said Dana, and she hesitated to say it out loud, but these comms lines were the best they were likely to ever have access to, it wasn’t as if they wanted it to be a state secret. Still, part of her felt that if she said the name out loud, then Conrad would figure out everything – her ridiculous behaviour around Milord, for a start – and she hadn’t realised until now that she really, really did not want him to know what an idiot she had been.

Huh. That was probably something to emotionally unpack at some point. But not right now.

“To Buck?” Conrad asked, switching quickly from flirtatious to businesslike.

“Given your history with the assassin in question, you’re probably both at risk.” A stab of worry went through Dana, but it wasn’t like she had any right to tell Conrad to leave Villiers House, to put as much distance as he could between himself and the Duchess of Buckingham.

“Ah,” Conrad sighed, tilting his head tiredly to one side. “Our silver-haired friend?”

“He doesn’t always look the same,” said Dana, and bit her lip again, hard. “And I don’t just mean that he wears brown hair half the time, especially when he’s on Valour. I mean, he could look like anyone, Conrad.”

The tailor whistled beneath his breath. “I’ve heard of tech like that.”

“So have I,” Dana said pointedly. “But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have to use it.”

And there it was, his expression freezing over as her information finally got across. There were only one known race who could change their faces as easily as their clothes, and the Solar System were currently at war with them.

“Fuck,” said Conrad.

“I know.”

“I mean, fuck. If he could look like anyone – we took on new security today, Dana.”

“He’s not there yet,” Dana assured him. “He can’t be. He was on Chaillot Station less than six hours ago. Even if he uses jump, even if he switches ships at Peace so there’s no waiting, it will be at least another day before he gets to Valour.”

“But when he gets here,” Conrad said sombrely. “He could look like anyone.”
She could see his brain working behind his eyes. He was already figuring out the best way to keep Buck safe. He had spent his whole life doing this for Alek, and now he had another selfish, privileged New Aristocrat to babysit.

“You could just get out of there,” Dana said quickly. “Hop a transport for Paris, you’re not his target right now…”

But if Milord turned up at Villiers House and found Conrad Su there, so soon after Prince Alek had freed him from captivity… it was impossible to believe that he wouldn’t take a moment to enact a personal revenge.

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” said Conrad with a biting smile. “Anything else I should know?”
Dana hesitated. There was something else, something that had been churning around in the back of her head since her own first trip to Valour. She hadn’t articulated it to Athos and the others, because she wasn’t sure if it was too crazy for even them to accept.

“When I met Buck,” she said slowly. “You know, when I went to collect – that mission you sent me on.” Secured line or no secured line, she was not going to say the words ‘Prince Consort’s diamond studs’ aloud.

“I remember,” said Conrad, his mouth curving into a soft smile that made Dana feel warm all over.

“She was having a kind of breakdown. She seemed to think – she called him Winter, but it was him. She seemed to think that a version of him, the scary silver-haired assassin version of him, was actually inside her head. Watching her. She kept herself drugged or drunk or both, to keep him at bay. And – it could just be paranoia…”

“But she could be compromised,” Conrad said slowly. “I get you.”

“I mean, it couldn’t be real. A person can’t just climb inside another person’s brain…”

“Can’t they?” said Conrad, his dark eyes fastening on hers. “I’ve got this, Dana. You’re saying that I can’t necessarily trust that Buck’s decisions will be in her own best interest.”

“Yes,” said Dana, blowing out a sigh of relief. “That’s what I’m saying.”

“Good to know.” He gave her a small smile. “You won’t be riding in to save the day, though?”

“No.” Guilt rose up in her. “We want to, but we have to follow orders. Hopefully – he won’t even get near the house. If it comes off the way it’s supposed to. But keep your guard up.”

“Always do.” His face lit up with humour. “Don’t suppose you have a comms code I can use? To keep you in the loop.”

Dana hadn’t even thought of that – this was how unsettled she was, just from seeing him. She leaned in and pressed her wrist to the transmission screen, giving Conrad the code of the Prince Consort’s opal that she still wore there. She and Athos had pawned the De La Fere sapphire to fund the restoration of the Pistachio and the Buttercup, which meant she was free to hang on to the opal for the time being.

It felt appropriate to let Conrad communicate with her that way, and it would not be a bad thing to keep him off her general comm stud, from which she received Fleetnet communications as well as those (when not blocked by military protocol) of her friends.

Conrad grinned as he received the code. “I like the jacket, by the way,” he observed.

Dana felt her cheeks grow hot. “It belongs to Aramis. I – haven’t had a chance to print one of my own yet, and she didn’t want me to wait.”

“Still, I assume that means congratulations are in order,” Conrad said slyly. “Captain D’Artagnan. I knew you were going places the first time I laid eyes on you.”

“Oh?” Dana teased. “Was that before or after I tackled you to the ground?”

“Definitely during.” He gave her a steady, measuring look, and then kissed his palm and pressed it to the screen. “Take care of yourself. You know, what with the whole interstellar war thing you’ve got going on over there. Come home, yeah?”

“You too,” she said, her throat feeling dry, because there was something ridiculously intimate about ‘come home’ which meant Paris, it had to mean Paris, and not anything more than that. Slowly, she leaned in and kissed the screen. “Keep in touch, Conrad.”

“You too, babe. Bring me back something pretty from the war.”

End call.

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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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