Musketeer Space Part 8: The Nesting Habits of Musketeers

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Wednesday is Musketeer Space day! It’s the school holidays here, and I’ve just finished editing a book, so hopefully lots of musketeer writing this week. Thanks everyone for all your lovely comments about Look Good in Leather, the first of my Musketeer Media Monday reviews of the BBC Musketeer series. I’ve been acquiring a whole bunch of other adaptations to review including the Mickey/Goofy one from Disney, the one with Tim Roth, and one that appears to be a gender-swapped Hong Kong action movie. So there’s THAT to look forward to…

I’m SO CLOSE now to the next milestone on Patreon, and really hope we hit that $200 level because I am storing up all kinds of brilliant ideas for a Christmas story. Hello to all new subscribers! Thanks for joining the party.

This chapter is a bit different – the last bit of calm set up and worldbuilding before the first wave of crazy plot antics begins. It’s going to be a fun month!

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PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan came to Paris Satellite to become a Musketeer pilot – but closest she got was befriending three of them. The Regent was pleased with her valiant contribution to drunken bar brawls, and rewarded her with a job – but not the job she wants.

NOW READ ON!

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This chapter is dedicated to John Devenny with gratitude for your support!

PART EIGHT: The Nesting Habits of Musketeers

It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone with piloting experience can easily get to grips with a mecha suit within a few hours.

Dana was pretty sure that anyone who made that claim was full of enough shit to fill the mecha suit in question.

This was her life now. She was a Pigeon.

Not just any Pigeon. She was the newest recruit of Commandant Essart’s Elite Mecha Squad, charged with protecting and serving the inhabitants of the Luna Palais and surrounding city, within a giant plexiglass dome on the moon.

Dirtside guard duty.

She pretty much wanted to kill herself.

“Stop complaining,” said Aramis, who had (along with Athos and Porthos) sacrificed a rec shift to come and laugh at Dana’s attempts to put her new mecha suit through its paces in the Mecha Training Centre, in the outer city of Luna Palais. “At least it’s a job.”

“This is not flying,” Dana said between gritted teeth. “This is the very opposite of flying.”

She had worked in a mecha suit when she was fifteen, and saving every penny for flight hours. But that had been space-going mecha, for a few hours at a time, performing basic repair work in zero-g on the outside of Gascon Station.

It has been tolerable. But this was hell – she could barely walk, she couldn’t wrap her brain around what all the buttons were for, and once she got the hang of it, her main duties were going to be breaking up duels and drunken brawls between civilians and pilots on leave. Oh, with a side order of providing an extra layer of wall between the disgruntled masses and the royal family in the event of assassination attempts.

This was not flying.

“It’s a start,” said Porthos, who had brought a laden picnic basket for them all to share while they amused themselves at Dana’s expense. “And it’s not every baby pilot gets a private audience with the Regent before being rewarded with a plum position.”

“Guarding her Royal Highness’s person is the greatest honour there is,” agreed Athos, who had found the bottle of wine in the basket and wasn’t sharing it with anyone. “You impressed her.”

“If you’ve all quite finished making fun of me,” Dana snarled. “I only have the rest of this shift to master the controls before I go on duty. So if you want to make sure I don’t accidentally set fire to Luna Palais or your precious Regent, a little help here, please?”

The mecha was a lot like flying a dart. It was plugged into her synapses, the helm of the metal body connected intimately to her brain. But while it was second nature to her to be ‘at one’ with her ship, gliding effortlessly through the depths of space for days and weeks at a time, it was remarkably difficult to deal with limbs. These large, throbbing metal appendages stuck out from her giant tin can of a mecha suit, and had a tendency to lash out in any direction if Dana let a stray thought distract her.

She knew how to do this. The theory was exactly the same as flying a ship. And yet… ships didn’t have arms.

“I can’t,” she moaned. The mecha lowered its pigeon-grey head, and the large metal shoulders slumped. “Maybe I can volunteer for a civilian transfer.”

Athos leaned towards her, rapping lightly on the visor of the mecha. “Sweetness,” he said in a stern voice. “That’s not how this works. The Regent likes you. She gave you this job as a dainty treat – as a reward for nearly stabbing Captain Jussac to death which I have to say is a task I have accomplished at least three times in my life and never one been rewarded for… what was I saying?”

Aramis reached out and took the neck of the wine bottle off Athos. “He’s saying, Dana darling, that you can’t turn down her Royal Highness’s reward. It’s rare enough to be a favourite of hers. Believe us, you don’t want to make yourself her enemy. There wouldn’t be anything left of you but a small pile of skin and sequins.”

“I always wondered what it would be like to pilot a mecha,” Porthos said thoughtfully, peering up at Dana. “Isn’t it even a little bit fun?”

Dana flexed her fingers, and one of her power arms shot a sudden burst of flame at the surface of the training room, making all three Musketeers jump nearly out of their skins. The floor melted into a pile of slag, then patiently began to rebuild itself. “I suppose there are compensations,” Dana admitted.

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Whenever she lay down to try to sleep in the tiny bunk allotted to her in the Squad barracks, Dana found herself thinking of the Regent, and the look on her face as she presented Dana with her “reward”.
“And perhaps, someday,” she had purred, not finishing the sentence. Still, everyone else in the room had known what she was implying.

Perhaps, someday, the Musketeers.

The Regent had to be the most beautiful woman that Dana had ever seen. She was a sylph of a creature, all soft lines like a watercolour sketch of a weeping willow. The Regent’s lips, Dana remembered, had been painted gold to match her clinging gown and elaborate hair brooches.

Dana had previously considered Aramis to be the pinnacle of feminine grace and beauty, but Lalla-Louise Renard Royal, Regent of the Solar System, left them all in her perfumed dust.

Perhaps, someday, the Musketeers.

Hope could keep you going longer than anything else. Hope would have made this whole Mecha Pigeon nightmare almost tolerable, if it wasn’t for the fact that Dana could not sleep on the moon. She did not understand how anyone could.

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Dear Mama,

It could be worse. I think if you say something often enough, you come to believe it. I didn’t come to Paris to waddle around inside a robot body, but as the weeks have passed… well, I’m almost glad of this strange reward that the Regent bestowed upon me.

After all, we had been caught duelling (the fisticuffs kind, as Athos would say, not the fuck-your-brain-up kind), and I might well have been turfed into a cell for a month or two, or given my marching orders from this sector of space.

Yes, I’m billeted on Luna Palais on a permanent basis, and if I think too hard about that word ‘permanent,’ I would scream at the walls. Dirtside is not where I want to be. But as it turns out, there is work for Pigeons up on Paris Satellite too, and once the first probationary month passed, I started getting as many shifts Up There as Down Here.

Things that are good about living on the moon:
1. Leaving the moon on a regular basis.
2. Attending Zero-G TeamJoust matches at the Andromeda Bowl, especially with Porthos who knows more about the game than any sane human being should, and has colour coded wigs to match the three different teams that she supports depending on which stream you’re following… you know what, I’m not even going to try to explain.
3. Earning credit, which means I can pay for my own meals instead of sponging off my friends – and they can even sponge off me when they’re out of pocket (which seems to happen a lot, it’s amazing how easy it is to spend money on having a good time in Paris).
4. Commander Essart is way less scarier than Amiral Treville, and even cracks a joke sometimes.
5. It’s not forever.

I don’t love my mecha suit the way I’m supposed to. It’s nothing like the relationship I’ve formed with even the most basic of practice ships. But it’s getting better. I didn’t accidentally set fire to anyone this week, which highly reduces the risk that I might do so to the Regent or the Prince.

After my second month in the Mecha Squad, I even scored the occasional shift flying shuttles back and forth between Luna Palais and Paris Satellite to transport equipment and some of my fellow Pigeons. The shuttles are bulky and ugly just like the mecha suits, and I always want to throw up when I make moonfall, but flying a ship is better than anything else. Always and forever.

It’s not planetside, at least. The shifting green-brown, gold and blue orb that is the over-heated planet Honour looks pretty from up here, but I’m happy to keep my distance from the wretched place. Bad enough that I’m supposed to sleep on the moon, and I just can’t. I wish it was just a phase, but it’s been months and I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to adapt.

I used to manage an hour or two in barracks, when I was exhausted, but it wasn’t enough, and I was starting to worry it might get me seriously hurt, or worse. I don’t know if it was my stupid brain or my stupider body or some gravity shit that I was never going to figure out, but sleeping on the moon was just impossible.

Aramis noticed it first. “You look like shit,” she told me when we met for a drink not long after my first shuttle job to Paris. “Have another drink,” she added.

At that point, I was facing a black spiral inside my own head. “I don’t think I can,” I told her. Drink wasn’t going to help. Nothing helped.

“Sleep, then,” she urged me.

“If only.”

Then – I think I collapsed in the corner of the booth in the Abbey of St Germain some time later. Athos and Porthos had joined us by the time I woke up – the three of them had been ordering wine on my credit stud for hours, the bastards!

After that, one or other of them always insisted I crash in their Paris digs when my shift ended. And after Porthos had a word with one of her boyfriends who apparently works in Scheduling and Admin (sooo convenient I can’t even tell you), suddenly I get all these double shifts which happen to end on Paris Satellite instead of Palais Luna.

So I have friends, crash space, and my credit is increasing at a slow but positive crawl. Life could be worse.

Thanks for not telling Papa about the Buttercup – and for being so understanding. I hated not telling you both, but I most of all didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I know you’re steel-coated, like me.

Love,
Dana.

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Dear Mama,

What, really? You want to know more about these Musketeers I’m always hanging around with? I thought I talked about them too much already!

Let’s start with Athos, because he’s the one I know least about. Aramis says he has a tragic past, which wouldn’t surprise me at all, but she never provided more details – all three of them are loyal to the point of sheer stupidity, so that doesn’t surprise me.

Athos lives in two rooms beside a grimy bar on the fourth level, which is the only drinking hole in Paris that he refuses to patronise. I think that means it’s pretty bad.

He shares digs with his engie, Grimaud, who is much older than I expected, and the perfect roommate because she’s constantly plugged into headphones, and never talks.

“She doesn’t laugh at my jokes, but that’s the only downside,” Athos said the first time I unfurled my trusty bedroll on his floor. “She also doesn’t chatter through my hangovers, or suggest I call my mother more than once a year. Love you, Grimaud!” he yelled in the direction of the tiny kitchenette.
She gave him the finger, which I took to mean she loves him too, but won’t put up with his bullshit.

Grimaud wears a starscarf all the time but I don’t think she’s especially religious – I wouldn’t be surprised if the scarf was there for the same reason as the headphones – blocking out the universe. Or maybe blocking out Athos.

“The Sabres keep trying to steal her,” Athos told me once. “Best engie in Paris. But she likes my ship too much to let me go. There’s no artistry involved in keeping a fucking Sabre in the sky: they just replace each part the second it fails. Her children are convinced that we’re secretly married, and they always send me brandy at New Year.”

“Possibly they’re trying to kill you?” I suggested. Everyone know that Athos is the Musketeer most likely to drink himself to death. There may be a formal betting pool on that one.

“I didn’t say it was good brandy.”

Apart from the obvious matters of his cheap habits, his silent engie, his perverse sense of humour and his formerly ridiculous beard, Athos the New Aristocrat remains a mystery to me. I’ve learned not to try to match him drink for drink, not to talk to him at all when he gets a certain maudlin look on his face, and never to tease him about lovers, not even when Porthos does (because she teases everyone about everything).

He doesn’t have friends apart from Aramis and Porthos and now me. The others have wider social circles, but I think sometimes Athos would rather have no one at all.

He has, however, been teaching me to use a pilot’s slice for recreational fencing, which is not the same AT ALL as illegal duelling, so don’t freak out. I’m getting quite good, I think.

Porthos, or Pol to her other friends, is the polar opposite to Athos. She has a large apartment somewhere over in Gilles Section – was it as trendy in your time as it is now? Very popular civilian sector, all fashion emporiums and cafes. Her rooms are lush, and she never stints when it comes to food, drink or treating her friends. Honestly, I have no idea where the money is come from.
She has at least four boyfriends that I know of, and I’m not entirely sure if any of them knows about each other. I can’t bring myself to ask.

Porthos rooms with her engie, Bonnie – it’s still traditional for pilots to provide board for engineers because accommodation up here is bloody expensive, and engies get paid so much less than pilots. That goes double for the Musketeers. Can you have double of less?

Bonnie is a dab hand at cooking as well as patching up spaceships, and she usually has Porthos’ rooms smelling and looking like heaven. She’s happy to do all the cooking and cleaning as long as she has the freedom to dip in and out of the treasure trove that is the Wardrobe of Porthos. Apparently if you’re a lady of short stature and large bosom, regular access to designer outfits that fit you is better than actual currency.

Whenever I crash with Porthos, it’s on a comfortable sofa bed with the promise of croissants in the morning. The only reason I don’t do it more often is because I think Bonnie disapproves of me. Not sure if it’s personal or if she feels I make the place untidy.

Still, when picking which of my friends to stay with, it’s hard not to lean towards the option that means warm cinnamon milk at bedtime, and a pillow that feels like a marshmallow dream made by silkworms.

Finally, Aramis. I’m still figuring Aramis out. When we’re out and about she’s all about wine, women and general debauchery, but at home she’s a lot more quiet, introspective and – yeah, religious.

Her rooms are stark apart from a collection of antique theology texts, a brilliant selection of herbal teas, and at least four virtual windows dedicated to the weirdly green and storybook-pleasant country scenery of the planet Valour.

The main view in her salon displays rolling hillside with an old-style Church of All.

“I like to be able to see the church from my home town,” she said once, when I couldn’t help asking how much this apartment actually cost. “Someday I’ll have one of my own.” She really does seem to believe that she’ll do it one day – leave the Musketeers to join the Church. People can be weird about aspirations. Why would anyone want to do anything but be a Musketeer?

The weirdest thing about Aramis’ rooms, is Bazin. He’s a church android that she picked up in payment for a gambling debt, and then reprogrammed with engie functions. His original program remains, and serving a human who isn’t part of the priesthood is a constant cause of background distress to him.
Which basically, makes him the most passive aggressive android I’ve ever met. He delays all but the most necessary functions, except those involving religious activity, and hates all of Aramis’ friends, especially those who sleep over. I always half expect to find that I’ve been neatly moved out into the corridor, bedroll and all, when I wake up.

Aramis writes, all the time. Letters and articles on theology or the state of the soul, which she gets published in journals. Some of the letters are private, ongoing debates with other theorists. Only some of them are elaborate flirtations. She loves this work so much that sometimes do think she’d rather do that than fly her ship. If she could only give up her habit of seducing married unavailable women, she would do fine in the Church.

But there’s that pesky morality contract thing, you know.

“I am moral,” Aramis insists, when challenged on this point. “Who am I to seduce if not married women who are attached elsewhere? If I sleep with someone who has expectations of me and my future, I’d be bound to disappoint them when I leave Paris to become a priest.”

She also suggested once that if/when she leaves the Musketeers, there will be a place opening up for me. We were a bit worse for wine at the time, and I confessed that I didn’t want to be a Musketeer without her. We hugged and there might have been a few tears. Athos and Porthos laughed at us.

(Yes, in case it wasn’t obvious, I have a slight crush on her, it’s fine, I’ll get over it)

I’ve never had friends like this before. I know what you mean now, what you used to say about being a Musketeer and the friends you had at your back. I’m not that, but I have this, and it’s good.

I wouldn’t sacrifice any of them to reach my dream, not one.

Perhaps, someday,
the Regent suggested to me. A tease, not a promise. But it’s easier to return to the dull grind of Mecha Squad Essart, knowing that I have friends like these.
Your,
Dana

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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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