Welcome back to Musketeer Space! My Patreon campaign is up to $160 per month, with 41 supporters, which is very cool for a project that’s only been running a month. I do hope we reach the $200 level, as I have great plans for a Musketeer Christmas story (in a galaxy without Christmas, hmm, no one can say I’m not up for a challenge). I’ve also added a couple of dreamy, swoonworthy new milestones to the page, to show the point at which I’ll be able to fund professional cover art and paid editorial work for the final book.
In other news, I have readers! This is exciting to me. Mieneke in the Netherlands wrote an enthusiastic post about Musketeer Space this week, all about her love for Dana and the story so far. It absolutely made my day.
I also wrote a guest post this week at SF Signal, about my love for serialised stories, with particular reference to Charles Dickens and his many fanzines, and The Three Musketeers of course.
But you’re not here for links, you’re here for Musketeers in Space.
PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan travelled to Paris Satellite with dreams of becoming a Musketeer pilot. Instead she has no ship, no job, and a nemesis who doesn’t seem to even know she’s alive. Oh yes, and she’s got herself challenged to three duels in one day as well, behind something called a Luxembourg…
NOW READ ON.
PART FIVE: The Mending of Athos
“The Luxembourg on Level 5,” turned out to be a Church of All. Dana had not expected that. Was it seemly to take brawling drugs and play at duels with brain-altering spaceship games so close to a house of God?
Then again, the Musketeers were up for all manner of other vices and sins, why not add a little sacrilege into the mix?
It was a lavish installation compared to the cathedral booths she had seen down on the main shopping plazas: a pure white structure behind a storage bay, with bright plexi-glass windows which flicked through a rotation of holy images: the solarnauts, star fields and other images from early astro-travel. There were no pointed roofs or gables in space station architecture, but the windows told you this was a place of worship.
The tourist visa stud in her collar sparked into life as Dana approached the church, informing her that if she registered her palm print at the door, the church would present her with her own personalised religious imagery, based on past preferences.
For a moment, feeling lost and far from home, Dana considered it. But she was about to take part in a highly illegal ritual, so now was not the time to be leaving a trail of her presence on Paris Satellite.
Later, there could be absolution, and comfort. For now, she had to keep alert and be ready to run if there was trouble.
Trouble other than three Musketeers waiting to burn her synapses out, obviously.
Dana had assumed the spot behind the Luxembourg that all three Musketeers were so keen to use for Duelling purposes would be a spare storage space, or some other generic empty room with metal walls. Instead, she found that the corridor behind the church opened out into a meadow.
Grass. Trees. Sky. Tiny fucking daisies bursting up out of the alarming greenness of it all.
Possibly this time the brain damage had kicked in before she even shot up a dose of Duel?
But no, as Dana walked across the soft, spongy grass, she spotted the bleeding edges of the scenery. The colour degenerated into random pixels here and there, making an occasional ragged flaw in an otherwise perfect design. This meadow was Artifice all the way, the same technology they used to make churchgoers feel that they were stepping into the sacred building of their choice.
Everything about satellite or station life came down to two things: conservation of space, and the sanity of residents. Artifice helped with both, though as each generation passed, it became less and less necessary to mimic dirt-side conventions with any degree of accuracy.
When humans first came to live among the stars, they had very conventional ideas about what they needed to retain their sense of cultural identity: the romanticisation of grass and sky, for example. The first artificial environments had been too accurate, literal uncanny valleys that made the station residents feel more homesick than ever. The fantastical and creative artificial environments, however, swiftly became popular precisely because they weren’t a pale imitation of “home.’
Dana had never before walked across an Artifice environment that was trying so hard to look genuine. The rec ground that ran across the top of the power plant in the centre of Gascon Station had been hacked by generation after generation of teenagers, so the sky was a multi-coloured jumble of graffiti tags and dirty jokes, and the ground only pretended to be covered in grass for the annual Locals vs. Incomers cricket match. The rest of the time it displayed random artistry, as far as you could get from a plain old fashioned dirt side landscape.
Perhaps Paris was different. This was the Honour and Valour end of the solar system, after all. There might be more residents here who craved white bobbly clouds in a clear blue sky, and grass, and what appeared to be an ancient stone circle.
No one ever wanted to replicate an image of the planet of Freedom with its ice and rock and engineering installations. Dana had, however, lost her virginity in an underwater simulation of the ocean world of Truth, so she did understand something of the planetary appeal, if only as a novelty.
This ridiculous meadow had to be a Valour simulation – from what Dana had heard, the terraformed planet was obsessed with recreating imaginary histories from the olden days of Honour, the planet of origin, in the days before the Warming turned even the northern hemisphere into a place of desert and bushland and dry creek beds. No one had lived on Valour further back than than eight generations, so it seemed unlikely that it would have genuine stone circles – did that make this Artifice meadow a simulation of a simulation? Or just another example of humans kidding themselves that they belonged anywhere but the stars?
The grass made Dana’s feet itch through her boots. She was certain she would not like Valour at all, if it looked anything like this faux-medieval cartoon. Her eyes longed for the plain flat grey walls that were everywhere, back home. Gascons didn’t need to pretend that grass was growing underfoot – they just got on with living their lives in practical, everyday environments.
It wasn’t just the meadow. All of Paris Satellite was trying too hard to impress her, and Dana was over it.
Her would-be murderer, the first of three, lounged against the stone circle. Athos the Musketeer looked less like a pilot and more like a history-themed burlesque performer with those long, luxuriant blond locks and matching beard.
This was so much worse than the pilot from the Moth. How was all that hair not a major safety hazard, with all the cables and plug-ins required for basic flight conditions? Dana glared at him as she approached.
“Ah, the girl from Gascon,” Athos said with a vague sort of wave, not bothering to stir himself. “Forgive me for not rising to the occasion, but my latest med-patch still needs two minutes to complete its clever work. It’s not quite the hour, in any case, and I’m still waiting for my seconds to arrive.”
There was an open bottle on the grass beside him. Was she expected to duel a drunk? Then again, perhaps it might give him an unfair advantage, if he were anaesthetised against the sharp flashburns caused by Duel. The med-patch was a worry too. Much though Dana wanted to survive this encounter, she also didn’t want to end up with a dead Musketeer on her hands.
Dana drew close to him. “If your wound still troubles you, we can postpone…” she suggested.
“None of that, I have my honour to think of!” Athos sat up slightly, grimaced, and lay down again. “That wasn’t two minutes yet, was it?”
“Not even slightly,” she said, not wanting to smile, not at all. God help her if she started to like this fool.
“I hate waiting,” he grumbled.
His comment about seconds only just sank in. Dana glanced around. “You invited others, did you say?”
More people to witness her shame and potentially steal her identity studs if she lost consciousness. Marvellous.
“Of course. You need a second to duel. I always invite two, because my friends are terribly unreliable, and apt to get distracted. Or perhaps that’s just me.” Athos gave Dana a sharp look from beneath his lidded eyes. “You didn’t bring a second?”
“I don’t know anyone on Paris Satellite,” she confessed.
“No one at all?”
“I just got here. I met Amiral Treville…”
A look of mild alarm shot across Athos’ face. “Yes, well, don’t invite her. It’s illegal, you know, for us to have these little exchanges.”
“I’m new on station, not an idiot,” Dana snapped.
The med patch made a chiming sound, and Athos leaped to his feet, making a few experimental lunges. “Excellent, all better now!” he exclaimed, then doubled over in a fit of pain. “Fuck it.”
“Sit down,” Dana ordered him, pushing him back down on to the Artifice grass. She flicked open his shirt and peered at the med patch. “Where did you get this thing? Not from the hospice.”
“I may have found it lying around somewhere.” Athos reached for the bottle, but Dana lifted it up quickly and moved it out of his reach. He made a low growling noise in the back of his throat.
“It’s dodgy, however you got it.” She tapped a few experimental codes into the flat patch. “If I put in the code for anti-inflammatory, it reads as a lung purge. There must be a crossed circuit.”
“Are you some sort of doctor, girl from Gascon?” Athos asked her, his face uncomfortably close as she fiddled further with the med-patch.
“No, but I’m good at rewiring bad tech to make it work,” Dana said, biting on her lip as she concentrated. “We have to be, out on the rim. Supply ships don’t come that often, and everything costs – four times as much – THERE.”
The medpatch chimed sweetly. “Skin and blood vessel repair continuing, complete in three minutes, twenty eight seconds,” it announced in a babyish voice.
“Three minutes,” groaned Athos, swooning again. “I might as well be dead.”
“You’re welcome,” said Dana, moving away from him so he could do up his own damned shirt. He had a tattoo of a sunflower there, not far from his wound, and she didn’t want to be caught staring at it.
His eyes brightened as he looked past her. “Ah, there are my seconds now. You’ll like them. Everyone likes them.”
Dana braced herself before she turned, only to discover that the sinking feeling in her gut was justified. It was her lucky day, apparently. Two female pilots – one tall and slender, one short and round, strolled along the grass towards them, with the bright white shape of the Luxembourg Church looming behind.
“Excellent,” said Athos. He waved cheerfully at his friends from where he remained lying on the grass. “Good news, chaps! We can get started as soon as I stop bleeding internally!”
Aramis and Porthos gave odd looks to Athos and then to Dana herself.
“A little early aren’t we?” Porthos drawled.
“Quite a lot early,” Aramis corrected.
“You don’t mean to say -”
Athos jumped in now. “What are you two playing at? You’re acting like a Love and Asteroids double act.”
Porthos broke first, laughing uproariously. Aramis was a little more reserved. “Don’t tell me this is the same young clod who crashed into you, Athos? And the one who damaged your new belt, Pol? My, baby doll, three challenges in one day. You have been busy.” She eyed Dana up and down as if she had underestimated her, or possibly as if she were checking her out.
Dana bristled at that. “I challenged no one, Captain Aramis. I simply accepted…”
“You don’t mean you’re fighting all three of us?” Athos broke in.
“Not all at once,” she said impatiently. “I wasn’t expecting Captain Porthos for another hour, and Captain Aramis for two. It’s not my fault no one can keep to a schedule.”
“I think my feelings are hurt,” said Athos after a long moment. “Didn’t you think I’d give you a good enough challenge on my own?” His beard twitched.
Dana scowled, hating the way they made her feel so flustered. As if she was nothing but a joke. “Shall we get started? Or haven’t you finished cooking yet?”
Athos tapped his med-patch. “Almost done. So you’re fighting three of us, without seconds. Aramis my love, you might as well put your feet up, it’s hardly likely you’ll get your turn.”
“I can think of somewhere to put my feet,” Aramis said, nudging him with her boot. “Are you getting up, or is the kid going to have to fight you from there?” She frowned down at him. “You are mended, aren’t you?”
The med-patch beeped its approval.
“Up I come!” Athos whooped, leaping to his feet with a smoothness that belied his previous damage. He gave Aramis a smacking kiss on the mouth, then looked past her to Dana. “Good patch up, sweetness. I can see you’d be useful to have around if I weren’t honour bound to give you a right smacking.”
“Manners,” said Porthos, arranging herself against one of the stone monoliths as if it were the most comfortable of armchairs. She reached around for Athos’ abandoned bottle, and took a swig. “What’s your name, little one?”
Dana was sick of being talked to like she was a child. “My name is Dana Amelie D’Artagnan of Gascon Station,” she said between gritted teeth. “Can we get on with this, please?” She looked from one Musketeer to another, wondering which of them had brought the equipment with them. “Well? This is a Duel isn’t it?”
“So it is,” said Athos in a low purr that reminded her he was more than the lazy buffoon he had pretended to be. He had to be more than that, to fly Musket-Class here in the centre of the solar system, even if his parents had bought him a posh accent. “En garde then, little one. Let’s see what you’re made of.”
His hand flicked against his belt, catching up the baton that swung there, and to Dana’s horror it flickered into life, revealing a long, silver streak of metal where empty air had previously been.
A sword. A genuine sword. These crazy bastards didn’t take pilot drugs and throw imaginary spaceships at each other. They fought their duels with actual edged weapons. Which explained, of course, where Athos got that wound of his, and why Treville was so pissed off about it.
She was going to die right here today, with a long stabby weapon impaled in her body.
It was impossible to guess what Paris Satellite was trying to tell her now.
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, visit my Patreon page. Pledges can earn rewards such as ebooks, extra content, dedications and the naming of spaceships. My next funding milestone ($200 a month) will unlock a special Christmas story.