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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan became a Musketeer the long way around. She also accidentally had sex with an alien spy who used to be married to one of her best friends. Well, not entirely accidentally. It’s not like she tripped and fell on him. Anyway. There’s a war now, between the humans and the Sun-kissed, which makes things super awkward. Also, they’ve been forbidden to fly off to Valour to prevent an assassination, because intergalactic diplomacy. Even cake didn’t help.
NOW READ ON!
Chapter 50: Sunrise at the Siege of Truth
Athos was wrecked after his private call to his former (current?) dead husband’s sister-in-law. Dana felt equally wrecked after the unexpected conversation with Conrad, closely followed by the emotional tennis match that was her call to Mama.
Every silence between their words was heavy with her Papa and how much the whole family missed him, and how Dana hadn’t been there, not only for the disaster on Gascon Station and the medical fallout that came after, but especially the hard work that was going on right now, to restore the station and save the community from disintegration.
They all seemed so far away, even though being in Truth Space meant she was technically closer than she had been since she first left home. But there were whole hours, entire days, when Dana’s chaotic life had distracted her so sufficiently that she forgot that her Papa was dead and her childhood home in ruins.
Because of them. The Sun-kissed. It always came back tothem.
Even with the good news to share about her promotion (your Papa would be so proud, your Papa always believed you would make it) to the rank and status of ‘proper Musketeer,’ Dana could not help but feel a stab of guilt as if her Mama knew from their stilted, painfully polite conversation that Dana did not spend nearly enough time thinking about home.
When it was over, and they emerged from their respective privacy booths, Athos and Dana looked at each other, and both said ‘you look like shit’ practically in unison. They calculated the time, and decided that since they were officially off duty until this damned meeting with the Sun-kissed, they could afford two hours to get filthy, stinking drunk and another six hours to sleep (if sleep was even possible) in the basic bunks Treville had assigned them on the Bastion, before slapping on all the Sobriety patches in the Solar System and pretending to be respectable members of the Royal Fleet.
It was not the most responsible decision that Dana had ever made, and she was well aware of her hypocrisy at enabling Athos in his ridiculously self-destructive behaviour, especially when she had been so very angry at him back on the Frenzy Kenzie.
But damn, she needed it.
They woke up tangled together in a single bunk, fully clothed and feeling like death warmed up.
“Why didn’t we use the Sobriety patches before we went to sleep?” Dana groaned with her head pressed underneath a newly-printed pillow that was so stiff it might give her a paper cut.
“Wouldn’t have slept,” Athos grumbled.
After a brief tussle in which they discovered that old age and treachery was indeed superior to youth when it came to fighting over who got to use the sonic shower first (honestly, who knew that Athos had quite so many elbows?) they managed to dress themselves in flight suits and jackets. Dana still had the one Aramis had given her, while Athos had to suffer a newly printed one after some sort of mishap at Dovecote Red that he would not discuss. They buzzed each other’s hair short, and stepped back to eye the results in the mirror.
“The pride of the Royal Fleet,” Athos said with grim satisfaction.
Dana trod on his foot. “Don’t be bitter. We scrub up okay.”
The first day of intergalactic diplomacy was indescribably dull. Athos and Dana were not needed, for the most part, and found themselves relegated to a side gallery where they could observe and be called upon if necessary.
It was not necessary.
The centre table was taken up by the Regent, the Cardinal, and Amiral Treville. Surounding them were what turned out to be a team of expert linguists, xenobiologists and code-breakers, who were all there to aid communication between the Sun-kissed and the representatives of the human Solar System.
Three Mendaki were present among the ‘alien experts’ presumably because they were aliens themselves, though Dana was not sure how that meant they had any particular perspective on the psychology of the Sun-kissed. Still, they had brought a hefty array of translation units with them for demonstration and/or practical use.
Five minutes before communications formally opened, a messenger arrived and had private words with Cardinal Richelieu, before climbing the short stairs to join Athos and Dana in the side gallery.
Dana didn’t even feel surprised that it turned out to be Agent Rosnay Cho, almost unrecognisable with her usual sweep of hair tucked under a black Raven cap, and a flight suit to match instead of the usual candy colours. Dana had grown accustomed to the idea that Ro would turn up anywhere, at any time, for no reason that she could readily understand.
“What are you doing here?” Dana asked nevertheless. “Who’s in command of the Frenzy Kenzie now?”
“Classified,” said Ro, placing a finger to her lips. “And also, I don’t remember. A Sabre, I think. Jussac?”
“That’s worse than you,” said Dana in horror.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” preened Ro.
“The Frenzy Kenzie is a Musketeer supplies transport, why would they put a Sabre in command?”
Ro lifted one shoulder in a lazy shrug. “Perhaps the Regent has finally accepted that the world would be more efficient if the Church ran everything?”
“Let me guess,” Athos drawled. “You’ve been hauled in here because you’re another member of the ‘I have intimate knowledge of Milord De Winter’ club.”
Ro raised her eyebrows and smirked as she took a seat a little way from them both. “Well,” she said. “Not as intimate as either of you, as it turns out.”
Athos glared at her. Ro stared back, her mouth still curved up, and the two of them faced off against each other in a long, silent challenge.
The only thing that stopped Dana beating her head against the wall was that she had been doing too much of that lately, and was starting to worry about brain damage.
It didn’t get any better once the Sun-kissed delegation deigned to appear on the bright digital screens of the meeting room, largely because they refused to communicate in any known language.
There were sounds, and bursts of light, and some kind of static chatter, all of which the team around the table were scrambling to identify.
“Well, we know something new about the Sun-kissed,” Athos said quietly as he observed the chaos.
“Yes, they’re arseholes,” Ro said, deadpan.
Athos gave her a look that was half surprise and half appreciation.
Dana stifled a laugh. “How do you figure that?”
“Well, they speak our language,” said Athos. “We know they do. Au – Milord isn’t the only one. The last war had at least forty or fifty spies dropped among the Fleet itself, and seeded in the various planetary communities – and that’s only the ones we know about. They looked like us and they damn well spoke like us. So they can do it any time they like.”
“The Amiral and the Cardinal were both active during the last war,” Ro observed. “They’re well aware of this.”
“That must be why her Eminence is twitching so much,” said Athos.
“She’s very keen on the value of time,” said Ro. “Wasting time is up there with Elementalism on her Eminence’s list of personal hates.”
“It’s not really wasting time, though, is it?” Dana mused. “I mean, surely it’s better for us to learn how to communicate with them properly now if we’re going to have any kind of long-term diplomacy with their people.”
Athos and Ro exchanged a weary look.
“She’s very young,” Athos said conversationally.
“Tell me about it,” agreed Ro.
Dana was indignant. “I don’t need you two ganging up on me! Besides, you’re only cranky because you know I’m right.”
Six days later, Dana was prepared to admit that she was wrong. She still maintained that it was important that humans learned to communicate with the Sun-kissed in their own language. On the other hand… was there seriously no way to hurry the process up?
Some progress had been made, that was for sure. The last two days had featured a lot more in the way of muttered, excitable conversations among the translation team, and less of the glazed eyes and desperate panic that had featured in the first couple of sessions.
For Dana, Athos and Rosnay Cho, it had been an interminably dull week in which lights flashing on screens and experts getting excited about sound frequencies were not nearly the most interesting thing.
No, the interesting thing was the endless tournament of noughts and crosses that the three of them had been playing, and the elaborate system of rewards, forfeits and handicaps they had devised to make the game more of a challenge.
Dana might or might not have lost too many matches because of the deeply unfair ‘lose a mark off the board if you smile at a cute text from your not-boyfriend in exile’ rule. She was dangerously close to earning the dread ‘truth or dare’ forfeit when they were interrupted by a grim-faced Treville.
“Fruit break already, boss?” Athos asked languidly, not even looking up from where he was sprawled on the bench. “You do spoil us.”
Treville looked at the three of them with a mixture of impatience and resignation. “I don’t suppose any of you were paying attention to today’s work?”
“We did try,” said Ro, who had something of a startled school child expression on her face, obviously less accustomed to Amiral Treville taking notice of her, let alone disapproving of her behaviour. “But the effects of paying attention are so similar to the effects of a migraine, that…”
“Yes, I get the picture. What about you, D’Artagnan.”
“I wasn’t napping?” Dana ventured, which was true if unhelpful. “What was it you particularly wanted our feedback on, boss?”
It was the first time she had called Treville ‘boss’ since becoming a Musketeer, and it sent a little thrill through her.
Treville cross her arms. “We’ve been making substantial progress, and the latest breakthrough in communications has revealed something of our adversary’s motives.”
Athos looked at least slightly alert. “Do we know about Truth?”
“They’ve promised us that they will open a channel to the planet to prove that the majority population are still alive down there.
“That’s good,” said Dana carefully. “Isn’t it?”
“That depends,” drawled Ro. “On what it cost us.”
Treville flicked her gaze in Ro’s direction, and nodded. “They want something from us as a gesture of good faith.”
“Is it something within our power?” Athos asked, all seriousness now.
Treville blew out a breath. “They believe we are harbouring a criminal who had been condemned to death in absentia by their government, and they are prepared to destroy us, planet by planet, to get him back into their custody.”
Athos frowned. “So why can’t we just…” and then he paused.
Dana was way ahead of him, and her own awkward pause joined his to join an epic silence of embarrassment.
It couldn’t be, could it?
“Holy shit,” said Ro, and started laughing maniacally. “I guess you two are here for a good reason after all.”
“We don’t know for certain,” said Treville. “There are – roadblocks to identifying this criminal.”
Athos squared his shoulders. “Show us what you have, and D’Artagnan and I will see if it’s who we all think it is – shut the hell up, Agent Cho, it’s not funny.”
“It really is kind of funny,” Ro gasped. “Because, come on. Who else is it going to be?”
Milord Vaniel De Winter stepped off the Matagot and into a cluster of assistants and bureaucrats ready to inform him as to all the work he needed to catch up on between the space dock and Prime House, the centre of government on Valour.
He did love politics but oh, there were times when the paperwork seriously got in the way of being a covert assassin.
Slipping on Vaniel was like a comfortable, finely tailored suit – Milord had something of a soft spot for Vaniel, who was kinder and wittier than most of the personalities he had developed over the years. More ambitious than Linton Grey, the soft-spoken diplomatic aide (and covert religious terrorist); more clever and careful than Slate the Raven (and occasional kidnapper); certainly saner than the wildly destructive Winter, who existed mostly as a hallucinogenic virus inside the heads of his enemies.
The mission prickled under his skin, a constant distraction as he signed forms, made decisions, and agreed to meetings that he probably would never attend.
“First Minister Beautru wishes to receive you at your earliest convenience,” said Nonja, a flat-faced and humourless young woman who was excellent at scheduling but hell to share an office with.
It was at times like this, Milord genuinely missed the snarky, glitter-strewn irreverence of Kitty and her space ponies. There were many reasons for which he wished to murder Dana D’Artagnan with his own hands, but depriving him of his favourite assistant was high on the list.
“Back at the office,” he said firmly. “We’ll sort out a timetable for essential appointments then.” He would not, of course, be going anywhere near the office.
There was a government-issue skimmer waiting for him, to transport him across town to Prime House. Milord hesitated, because if he got in, several of these hangers on would pile in with him so as to keep him signing and agreeing to appointments. He hadn’t actually intended to go to Prime House, not with a Duchess to kill.
As he thought rapidly of ways to express his intention to travel “to Prime House” alone and unaccompanied, a familiar voice broke into the buzz.
“Vaniel will be riding with me. Affairs of state are all very well but family comes first.”
Milord looked up, just as the Countess of Clarick strode towards him as if she expected anyone and everyone to leap out of her path. Given the way that the crowd parted around her, she wasn’t entirely wrong.
“Bee,” he said faintly, because this was entirely unplanned, and not entirely convenient.
“Vaniel, darling,” she said, kissing him on each cheek and then tucking her arm into his. “Come along. I have my own skimmer waiting and it will give us a chance to talk.”
He leaned into her and allowed her to steer him away, because it solved the problem of government distractions in one fell swoop.
What it didn’t solve, was the problem of a sister-in-law. One did not take a sister-in-law along on assassinations.
“Not yet,” she whispered, and laughed out loud as if he had told her a joke.
Which was, now he came to think of it, the most suspicious thing she could possibly have done.
Once they were both comfortably seated in the padded interior of the De Winter skimmer, Bee flicked a few autopilot options, and then leaned back to place her booted feet on the dashboard. “Time we talked, brother dear. I’ve been having all kinds of fascinating chats with Musketeers since we last spoke.”
Vaniel went cold all over. What do you know, Bee? “What on earth are you talking about?” he asked instead, faking his usual careless drawl. “Musketeers aren’t worth talking to, sweetness. They’re drones, that’s like trying to have a conversation with a random piece of Palace furniture.”
“Oh this one had scads of interesting things to say,” said Bee, her mouth hard. “Vaniel. I think it’s time you and I talked about family loyalty, among other things.”
Well, this was unlikely to be pleasant.
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.