Musketeer Space Part 6: The Wrong Sort of Duel

Welcome back to Musketeer Space! I’ve had a wild writing week, getting several more chapters under my belt, which is something of a relief. I’ve also been watching and rewatching the BBC Musketeers series, for an upcoming review. It’s a bit wonderful, just saying. If you ever felt a Musketeer adaptation lacked sufficient leather, this one will make it up to you.

Thanks to SF Signal for linking to the project and bringing new readers along. Hello, new readers! I hope you like swords and spaceships.

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PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan is starting to think that Paris Satellite is out to get her. She missed out on her dream job, she failed to catch up with her nemesis Ro, and now three Musketeers are trying to kill her in a computer-generated meadow. With sharp bits of metal! How retro.

Now Read On…

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This chapter is dedicated to Finchy, who has been waiting for us to get to the swords since the beginning…

PART SIX: The Wrong Sort of Duel

Dana stood in the Artifice meadow, frozen in the moment as she stared down the tip of the Musketeer’s sword.

Athos stared implacably back at her, waiting for… for what? For her to draw a sword of her own?

That was only one of the many things wrong with this scenario.

“You duel with swords,” Dana said slowly. “That’s – why do you even have a sword?”

“It’s called a pilot’s slice,” Porthos contributed from where she was very comfortably seated on the artificial stone. She tossed her own baton from hand to hand. “Official issue – smartsteel. It shapes itself into any blade length or width that we require. Essential in emergencies. Designed to be our final option if we’re trapped in wreckage or need to hack our ship into a rudimentary shelter.”

“So of course you figured out a way to use it as a casual weapon against each other,” Dana said with heavy sarcasm.

“A hundred and one uses,” said Aramis with a warm smile of her own. She sat on the grass beside Porthos, unpinning her dark hair so that it fell loosely down her back. None of them were taking Dana remotely seriously.

She was a joke to them.

“I thought you meant to Duel,” Dana exploded, looking back at Athos. He did not lower the sword pointing directly at her.

Athos glared at her along the thin line of metal. “You mean with pilot drugs and computers and seedy betting circles? Of course not. We couldn’t fly straight if we were doing that to ourselves every other day.”

“Whereas fighting each other with metal spikes, perfectly sane!” Dana snapped back. She shook her head at him, stepping back out of range. “I don’t understand you. Any of you. You have the best fucking job in the world, and you act like bored teenagers. Metal swords, and honour duels and – that beard!”

Athos looked almost hurt, and did lower the sword this time. “What’s wrong with my beard?”

“IT’S RIDICULOUS!” Dana howled. “Long hair is against every regulation there is – you can’t possibly say it’s not a flight hazard. But that beard of yours is just taking the piss. It’s like a mad concoction of all the other beards that the male pilots shave off every morning. It makes no sense at all. You make no sense at all!”

There was a long, thoughtful pause, and then Athos tilted his head at her with an odd sort of smile. The other two weren’t nearly so restrained – Porthos laughed so hard she was nearly sick, and Aramis leaped up to smack Athos between the shoulders. “Some of us have been telling him that all year,” she declared, tugging at his locks. “But only when drunk. And he never believes us.”

Athos stroked his long beard, frowning. “I grew it for a bet. Ten months I’ve had it, waiting for Amiral Treville to order me to shave it off. Someone spoiled the surprise ahead of time – thank you, Porthos…”

“Not guilty!” protested Porthos.

“…And so Treville refuses to acknowledge it, pretends she’s never even noticed I have a beard.” Athos sighed deeply, as if this was a deep tragedy to him. “I suppose she imagined I’d get bored of it soon enough, or strangle myself with the ship cables.”

Dana frowned at him. “So you lost the bet?” She still wasn’t ruling out the possibility that these three were making fun of her.

“Of course not!” Athos said, sounding completely serious. “I bet she wouldn’t crack. Let that be a lesson to you here in Paris. Never bet against Amiral Treville.” He looked Dana over, from her own regulation shaved head down to her sturdy and serviceable boots. “You don’t actually have a sword, do you,” he said finally. It was not a question.

Dana shook her head slowly. “That’s how you were wounded,” she realised. “You actually let some rival stick a blade into you?”

“Well, I was trying to stop him,” he said as if that made it completely reasonable. “I’m not completely irresponsible. And I can’t help that dangerous men with questionable politics flock to me. It’s a curse of sorts.”

“You could stop actively encourage them to murder you,” Porthos suggested.

Athos rolled his eyes at her. “The weight of past evidence does suggest otherwise.”

“You’re all crazy,” Dana interrupted. “How do you even have time to do your jobs? I haven’t got a blade. I haven’t got a ship, either. I – washed out of the Musketeers. But if this is your idea of honour, then put down the swords and I’ll take you on with my bare hands.” She held herself in boxing stance, determined that she wasn’t going to leave this meadow without hitting at least one of them very hard in the face.

There was a brief pause in which the expressions of all three Musketeers barely changed. Athos raised his blade for a moment in something almost like a salute, and then flicked it back into the shape of a baton.

“Well then, D’Artagnan,” he said reasonably. “We’d better get you fixed up with a job, a blade and a ship before we try to kill you. It’s only sporting.”

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They got drunk instead. Fiercely, companionably drunk. Somehow, Dana had ended up classified as a mate rather than an upstart, simply for her willingness to shout at Athos.

Surely making friends wasn’t this easy? It had never been so easy for her before.

She might be more suspicious if she wasn’t really completely far too drunk.

The bar was called the Abbey of St Germain, which meant that the staff were dressed as medieval monks, a source of great amusement to all three Musketeers because of some joke lost in the mists of time.

Dana could not understand half of what they said to each other, but she rather liked that they never bothered to explain. It felt as if she was already one of them.

They had convinced Athos that the beard had to go. He resisted, until Dana noted that the joke had gone on so long, Treville would probably be more disturbed by its absence than its presence. Aramis seized upon this premise, and Porthos had plied Athos with wine until he agreed to it.

“I’m sure this is a robot’s job,” he said dourly, sitting lengthwise on the bench. Aramis sat astride the bench behind him, running the sonar clipper slowly and thoughtfully across the back of his head until only a thin layer of stubble remained.

“You don’t trust robots,” said Aramis, concentrating. A nearby bar android hovered, but only to suck up the hair that had fallen in snippets all over the polished floor.

“I don’t trust you,” Athos said, not as if it was a fact, but as if he was trying the statement out for size.

“Liar,” said Aramis, turning his head so as to tidy up above his ears. Dana watched Aramis’ hands, gentle and competent as she played barber for her friend.

When she glanced back at Athos, though, Dana discovered that his eyes were on her. He surveyed her as if he was still trying to work her out, all at once. A puzzle to be solved.

“So what did you do, baby pilot?” he asked, not slurring nearly enough for a man on his third round of a golden elixir called Valorous Grain. “To earn three duels in one day.”

“It just sort of happened,” Dana admitted. She had given up on trying to moderate her own drinking on the grounds that being sober would make it even harder to communicate with these reprobates. “Didn’t it?” she applied to Porthos and Aramis, who both laughed at her.

“You offended my chest,” Athos said sternly. “My poor, damaged chest.”

“Your pride,” Dana corrected.

“And yours.”

She shrugged, slightly ashamed of herself. “Granted.”

“But my two lady friends here…”

“He only calls us ladies when he’s drunk,” Aramis put in.

“It’s the only time he remembers,” Porthos added.

Aramis elbowed Athos to make him turn around again, so she could start on his beard.

“These ladies are the pinnacle of grace and excellence and forgiveness,” Athos said grandly. “How did you end up enemies?”

Dana looked over at Porthos, who was pouring herself more wine. “I don’t need a reason to fight,” Porthos said, looking as embarrassed as Dana felt. “I fight to fight.”

“We argued about fashion, I think?” said Dana. They were sharing jokes now, rather than the older Musketeers lobbing them over her head.

“Fashion, that was it.” Porthos winked at Dana. “Don’t tell him, pet. He’ll only make fun of us.”

Athos had moved on from them already. “But Aramis,” he said. “No one has ever quarrelled with Aramis… she is perfectly amiable in all ways.”

“You dickhead, you quarrel with me constantly,” said Aramis, buzzing away at the line of his chin.

“And yet you have the patience of a saint,” Athos told her. “And yet…”

Aramis sighed. “And yet.” She gave Dana a wary look before returning to her task. “Our new young friend and I argued over a matter of theology,” she said. “You know me.”

“Too much religion,” said Athos. “It always gets you into trouble.”

“If you lived a more devout life, your soul would thank you for it,” replied Aramis.

That made Athos go very serious for a moment, a dark expression falling over his newly-shorn face. “The very opposite, I think,” he muttered.

An attractive “monk” cleared the empty bottle from the table and opened a fresh one for them. She tipped Aramis a wink as she did so, and managed to flash some leg despite the large brown robes.

“Oh,” said Athos, cheering up. “That sort of theology. Makes more sense.”

“Can we stop talking about this now?” begged Dana. She was still kicking herself about the faux pas with the photosilk.

“The only proper way to change the subject is to toast the best boss in the skies,” said Athos, coming to his feet suddenly in a dramatic change of subject. “Amiral Treville!”

“Treville!” thundered Porthos.

“You clown,” snapped Aramis, pulling Athos back down to the bench. “I almost cut half your chin off.”

None of them noticed that Dana had failed to join in the toast to their boss. What exactly had Amiral Treville done for her?

The door of the bar swung open, and a Sabre officer walked in, resplendent in a red and gold uniform. She was accompanied by three red guards, all in uniform with the Cardinal’s cross shining brightly on their scarlet jackets.

Athos looked a different man, all jokes gone. Aramis had left a thin layer of beard close to his chin, thinner the stubble on his head. There was a scar running over the top of his scalp, as if his head had once been cut open with an axe. He leaned in to Dana as the Sabre and her underlings approached. “D’Artagnan. If the very sight of them makes you want to draw a sword, or at the very least swing a chair in their faces, then you are a true Musketeer and no one would dare claim otherwise.”

Then he winked, one long-lashed blue eye.

Dana knew it to be true. Other children were trained by their parents to love particular TeamJoust colours, or to nurse a deep patriotism for the station or planet on which they were born. For Dana, since she was a baby, it had been Team Musketeer all the way.

She had never met a Sabre to talk to, and yet she hated these guards on sight.

Their leader was a short and stocky white woman with a spiky mohawk, and the bars of a major gleaming on her lapel. Her attention was drawn to Athos rather than the others. “Drinking at mid shift?” she said in a low drawl. “Sad, Athos. You used to be someone.”

“Claudine Jussac,” Athos replied, lifting his glass as if toasting her health. “I note your uniform still fits. Strange, as you seem to be losing height every year. Perhaps it’s the artificial gravity. You need to get yourself dirtside for a holiday. Suck in some sun, get laid, and then maybe the terrible shrinkage will abate.”

She scowled at him. “There’s been a complaint, Athos.”

“I wouldn’t take it personally,” he said in a reassuring tone. “Some people are just never going to like you, Jussac. I think it’s because you’re not very friendly.”

Jussac’s eyebrows drew in even closer. “Athos. You’re not helping matters. Mouth shut.”

“Now talking is forbidden by the precious Cardinal!” Porthos interrupted, drumming her hands on the table. “What next, are they taking our wine?”

Aramis looked deeply unimpressed with both of her friends. “How about you state your business and get out of here, Claudine?”

Jussac smiled at Aramis with all her teeth. “The complaint was that you three have been fighting again, on church property, behind the Luxembourg. Which, as you know, is in our jurisdiction.”

“Lies,” said Porthos immediately. “What would your mother say if she saw you hassling poor innocent Musketeers, Claudine?”

Jussac bridled. “I’ve been in service to the Cardinal for seven years, Pol. I outrank all three of you. Don’t you think it’s time to take me seriously?”

“We would, baby doll,” said Aramis . “But it’s hard for us to keep up with all you bright young things, with your freshly pressed uniforms and your busywork.”

Jussac folded her arms, and she really did look like a sulky teenager, Dana decided. “We have security footage of Athos baring swords behind the Luxembourg.”

“We didn’t even fight,” Dana burst out. Aramis gave her a warning look and placed one finger to her mouth.

Athos stood up, turning to face Jussac. She came up to his collarbone, just about. “I thought it was illegal to monitor within the bounds of church property,” he said calmly.

Jussac tilted her head back, obviously hating to do so. “The Cardinal has made a new ruling,” she snapped. “Given that so many unsavoury types had been taking advantage of the Church privacy laws to play their dangerous games.” She let her red jacket slide open to show the baton of a pilot’s slice on one loop of her belt, and the glittering red chrome of an arc-ray on another. “Guess what, Athos Bloody Smartarse Musketeer? You’re under arrest.”

Dana watched, holding her breath. Athos looked at the major up and down quite deliberately, as if he was preparing to pick her up and throw her bodily through the nearest window. “No,” he said after a moment. “I don’t think I am. The Luxembourg and its grounds may be under the Cardinal’s jurisdiction, but this is bar is on Crown property and I’m wearing the blue and white. I don’t think I’m under arrest.”

Jussac barely even blinked. She flexed her hands once, and in response to that signal, the door of the Abbey of St Germain was flung open and a dozen more red guards entered the bar. It all looked very official, right up to the point that they drew blades instead of stunners.

The saucy monks and other customers melted back into the far corners.

“You don’t have a sword,” Aramis said in an undertone to Dana. “You’d better hide under the table until this is all over.” Before Dana could react to that, Aramis was up and over the table, her pilot’s slice baton extending into a wicked gleam of a sword.

Porthos roared and turned over the table in the same moment, leaping towards her friends.

Dana paused in horrified amazement as the bar erupted into the most fearsome brawl.

“Fuck this for a joke,” she decided, and dodged around the fallen table to punch the nearest Sabre in the kidneys and take his slice off him.

Paris Satellite, the centre of elegant civilisation. Not entirely what she had expected.

But not boring, Dana thought, grinning wildly as she ducked and punched and figured out very quickly how to get the most effective use of a pilot’s slice at close quarters. Most certainly not boring.

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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, 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.

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