Musketeer Space Part 9: Madame Su’s Bed and Board

Fleur de lis littleIt’s Musketeer day again! And it’s exciting because this week, we have plot, so much plot. It’s kicking off good and proper now.

I guested this week on the SF Signal podcast, talking about space opera, why it’s awesome, and talked a little bit about this project too, though not as much as I talked about Saga and Robotech. It was a great group discussion and I hope many of you who have followed me back and forth between Verity and Galactic Suburbia hop over there to check it out.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to catch up on my Musketeer Media Monday posts for the month, there are two reviews of the 2014 BBC Musketeers series up: Looks Good in Leather and You Can Leave Your Hat On. They are quite spoilery but also talk a lot about hats, which I feel is important in a Musketeer review.

But on to the space opera version – which, I will admit, suffers from an extreme lack of hats. I might have to do something about that…

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PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana wants to be a Musketeer pilot, but she’s stuck in the Mecha Squad. Thanks to her Musketeer friends, Athos, Aramis and Porthos, she’s doing okay, but that doesn’t mean she has any forgiving thoughts towards the mysterious pilot Ro who screwed her over before she even got to Paris Satellite.

NOW READ ON!

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This chapter is dedicated to Deborah Layne. Thank you so much for your support!

PART NINE: Madame Su’s Bed and Board

Two months after her arrival on Paris Satellite, Dana could acquit herself with a minimum of embarrassment when it came to her duties for Mecha Squad Essart. She almost never blew things up unintentionally. She had made a few mates here and there, amiable chaps you could chat to while you checked your gear and ran through safety drills, or shared a long shift of guard duty in the dodgier areas of the Luna Palais dome.

Home was still Paris Satellite, and despite Porthos, Aramis and Athos’ mostly successful attempts to draw her into their gambling-drinking-screwing-around habits, Dana had managed her credit well enough to think about getting digs of her own.

Nothing fancy, but it would be nice to have a berth where she could sleep without worrying that she was getting in the way of Grimaud or Bonnie, or risking the state of Bazin’s soul circuits. Not to mention that she preferred not to wear out her welcome with her actual friends.

Quite by accident, while searching for affordable digs, Dana also found herself an engie.

After flooding her brain with unnecessary ads for luxury accommodation she could never afford, Dana’s chip had finally locked in the filters she needed.

Unfortunately, all the other temporary vagrants on Paris Satellite were better at this sort of thing than she was. Every time she made her way to an address she thought she could afford, it was only to discover that someone else had got there first.

At least Dana was learning her way around – or so she thought until she set out to locate a boarding suite on level thirty eight, only to find herself in a small warehouse full of machinery for hire – games devices, clothes printers, art tablets and transporter cubes. Everything looked second hand and well maintained but it still wasn’t what she was looking for.

“Damn,” she said aloud.

A teenager with pigtails slid out from under a small holo-flyer. “Hello!” she said cheerily. “You look pissed off.”

“I’m in the wrong place,” Dana said, consulting the map in her hospitality chip again. “Or this is glitching again.”

“That depends what you’re looking for.” The girl, who had improbably red hair, light skin and freckles, leaped to her feet and wiped oil on to her coverall.

“Well, it’s not Madame Su’s Bed and Board, is it?” Dana asked. Tiredness washed over her. This was almost enough for her to give up and return to the rent-free bunk waiting for her on the moon. Almost, but not quite. She’d still never managed to sleep through the night Down There.

“Of course it is,” said the girl with a cheery smile. “Madame Su is out looking for her husband. I’m her assistant.” She stuck out a hand which was still slightly oily. “I’m Planchet. Hey, you’re not a Pigeon, are you?” Her eyes lit up at the realisation that Dana wore the Royal Grey uniform. “Do you have an actual mecha? That’s beyond extreme. Do you need an engie? I qualified all my certs last year, but I can’t get a spot.”

“We’re not the Musketeers,” Dana said, as if she needed a further reminder of this. “We don’t hire our own engies.”

“Oh,” said Planchet, her face falling. “I knew that. I applied to the Pigeon pit crew last year, but they want more experience. It’s kind of hard to get experience on mecha up here, you know.”

“Yes, I can imagine.” Dana looked around the messy warehouse. “You said this is a boarding house?”

“Not a house exactly,” said Planchet. “There’s a spare room over the workshop, though, and Madame Su doesn’t charge much.” She looked a little embarrassed. “I work my board. But that wouldn’t be a problem for you, would it? You have a real job!”

“You’d think,” Dana muttered. The truth was that her credit was only creeping very slowly into the black. While she had gained many benefits from her friendship with the Musketeers, she found their excessive socialising quite expensive to keep up with.

This did not look like a place that would charge through the roof but if she was to be surrounded by the clanking and crashing of machines being mended all the time, then the orbital benefit to her sleep patterns would fast disappear.

“I suppose you can tell Madame Su I was here,” she started to say doubtfully, when the landlady herself appeared.

She was a stocky woman, perhaps fifty years old, with her shiny black hair entirely lacking in grey. She wore a fashionable suit of orange silk and eye-blindingly green embroidery, and she had several pearl studs running up both arms from wrist to elbow.

“Planchet, it’s worse than I thought!” she howled, then stopped and looked at Dana. “Can I help you, pilot?”

Pilot, Dana thought, warming to this odd woman straight away. “I was hoping to see the room?”

Madame Su sniffed at her. “Got many things? What’s your job? You’d better have pay coming in regularly or I’m not going to let you in at all. Valuable stuff here, you know.”

Dana touched the collar of her grey uniform. Did the woman think this was a fashion statement? “I work for Mecha Squad Essart. Royal guard and ferry duty working out of Palais Luna? I need a berth here in the city for occasional shift sleeping. But I’ll pay full rent, of course…” She stopped.

It was when she said ‘Royal guard,’ she decided later, that Madame Su’s face had taken on that odd, stricken expression. After that… well, Dana had barely managed to inspect the clean but bare room above the workshop before she had a clamshell tablet shoved into her hand with a contract ready to sign, and a rent that was suspiciously low for a space in which you could actually turn around and possibly entertain a friend or two.

There was a catch. There had to be a catch. But Dana could not afford not to take advantage of whatever it is made the old lady so very anxious.

Now all she had to do was buy a bed, a pillow and a food printer, and wait to discover why it was that Madame Su was so keen on having a Royal guard living above her warehouse.

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It took three days, which suggested that the landlady was either more upset than Dana imagined, or in less trouble than she had imagined, or else was so suspicious of everyone and every thing that it took her that long to build up her courage.

In any case, three days after Dana took on the little room above the warehouse, her landlady decided to call in the favour about the exceedingly cheap rent. Madame Su invited her new tenant to take tea with her in her own sitting room, which displayed the same combination of lavish fabrics and gaudy fashions as her own clothes.

Today’s suit was pink and striped, with a pattern of lilies on the lining of her sleeves and hems. It clashed with the orange and red Future Deco wallprint.

“Madame Su,” said Dana over a cup of rather weak green tea. “Are you in trouble?”

At this, her landlady burst into messy and noisy tears.

Horrified, Dana stared at her cup, wishing she had invited Aramis to spend the evening with her. Aramis had a soothing voice and the ability to pat people comfortingly on the shoulder in just the right way. In fact, Aramis was less than ten minutes away if she took the express walkways and the turbo shuttle, and Dana was overwhelmed by the compulsion to call her instantly and claim an emergency. Even Porthos would be more use in this situation than Dana herself.

Dana did not know how to be comforting. She could barely manage polite, most days.

“It’s my husband,” Madame Su howled. “My darling Conrad.”

“Is he dead?” was the first thing that Dana thought to say, and this led to more noisy tears, then some horrific snorting. “Sorry. Not dead. Is he – “ All the things she could think of to suggest were … perhaps not things that should be said out loud. She took a deep breath, instead. What would Aramis say? “What’s wrong?” she tried, and patted Madame Su’s hand awkwardly.

“That woman,” said Madame Su, hiccupping now. “That awful woman has him.”

Wonderful. And now it was down to Dana to dispense advice on how to be dumped? She sent a silent curse in the direction of Monsieur Su, wherever he was. “Maybe you’re better off without him?” she tried.

Madame Su’s back straightened, and she gave Dana a murderous look. “How can you say that? How does that help me? He might be dead. Or worse.”

Worse than dead. Dana found herself surreptitiously glancing around the room to see if there was any booze on display. Anything would do at this point. Her friendship with Athos, Porthos and Aramis had taught her that cheap wine had as much to offer a thirsty pilot as the fancy stuff.

“I knew that spoiled brat at the Luna Palais would be the death of him,” Madame Su muttered. “Prince my freckled arse. Never let your husband join a sporting team, it all ends in tears and treachery.”

“Can we start at the beginning?” Dana asked in a small voice. The sooner her landlady explained what was going on, the sooner she could get to that lovely bed that had cost her the last of her financial buffer.

Tomorrow’s dinner would take her into the red, unless she could scab dinner off one of her friends, but that was tomorrow’s problem.

Madame Su gave a hoarse, raspy breath. “You have a kind, sympathetic face, Mecha Cadet D’Artagnan.”

No I don’t. Get on with it.

“My husband Conrad works at the Palace down on Luna Palais. He’s a tailor. Quite the best of tailors.”

Dana resisted the urge to ask if Conrad made all of Madame Su’s suits. They were something else.

“He works for that selfish Prince Consort,” said the landlady, her face twisting up as bitterness came through in her words. “That’s why he married me, of course, you’re not allowed to work in at the Palace without a marriage or priesthood contract to prove your morality.” She sniffed at Dana. “Different for guards and pilots; they prefer you not to be hampered with spouses and families. I sponsored Conrad through his final years of apprenticeship,” she added, with a spark of something like pride. “Three years I’ve put into him, and now I’m finally recouping on my investment, though they don’t pay him nearly what he’s worth, it’s tantamount to slavery, and look at him now, not appreciating what he has, not thinking about me for a second. Intriguing with his master. Whispering in corridors. Getting into trouble. He’s going to ruin everything for us!”

Dana was utterly lost in this sea of accusations and panic. “What kind of trouble?” she ventured.

“He’s been abducted,” Madame Su hissed conspiratorially, after first glancing around to check no one was listening at the door. “I knew he would come to no good, but I hoped for more than twelve months of Palace pay checks before it all came crashing down!”

Dana was starting to feel sorry for darling Conrad. “Abducted by a woman?” she ventured.

“Not for love,” Madame Su hissed. “He would never do that, he’s a good boy, he knows better than to break a contract with me, another seven years and he’ll be free of all obligation.”

Dana wondered if she would be able to cope with ten years married to a Madame Su in exchange for her own dream job. Conrad must be made of stern stuff. “So who abducted him, and why?”

Madame Su patted her hand. “I knew when I saw you, that you’d be useful to have around the place,” she said happily. “You’re tough, everyone says so. Dana D’Artagnan can look after herself. You did agree to help me out around the place when anything came up suited to your skill-set,” she added.

Yes, Dana had been well aware of that clause, and had signed the rental contract anyway, because a year of good sleep for a fraction of her pay had seemed like a good deal whatever the hidden costs turned out to be.

Hello, hidden costs, I’ve been waiting for you to turn up.

“Are you saying you want me to find your husband?” she asked finally.

“Yes, before he makes it worse.”

“Worse than being abducted?”

“He knows secrets!” Madame Su said, too loudly, then shushed herself “Palace secrets. He’s been there among them, and I think he knows too much about…” and there she pressed her lips together.

“You have to tell me everything or I really can’t help you,” Dana groaned.

“Someone has eyes for someone else,” Madame Su said, barely above a whisper now. “At the very highest level. Where a broken marriage contract could – be very damaging. You understand?”

Oh, not this. Dana did not want to know about this. Adventure, yes, intrigue, was all very well. But the marital escapades of anyone high up at the Palace was exactly what she did not want to know.

“The Prince was approached recently,” Madame Su said in a dark voice, confirming Dana’s worst fears. “By someone digging for dirt on his marriage. My Conrad swore the Prince was innocent, but there must be something in it, mustn’t there, or he’d just tell the Regent that the Cardinal’s out to get him.”

All this and the Cardinal too. Dana groaned inwardly. She had thus far managed to avoid the attention of the famously ambitious and powerful leader of the Church of All.

“If her Eminence can prove the wrongdoing of one, then she could take the solar system from the other,” Madame Su whispered loudly. “Our Regent, may sunlight fall upon her moon, came to power on that speech, that wonderful speech.”

The sanctity of contracts. It had been the speech heard across the solar system. Lalla-Louise Renard Royal stepped across the fallen reputations of her two older brothers to take the throne on the promise that the moral centre of the planetary alliance could be found in the royal family, as well as the Church of All.

The Church’s tenets had kept humanity together as functioning society when the stresses of colonising space could well have destroyed everything about who they were as people. Morality, faith and the sanctity of contracts were the prime fuel of space-dwelling humanity.

It was important enough to the Regent’s reign that her government might well fall on the word of one wrong media campaign. If darling Conrad really did have the evidence that his master was playing away from home, this was political dynamite.

“Go on,” Dana whispered. Once she knew, she could never unknow it. But oh, she would have to tell Athos and Aramis and Porthos, she could never keep something like this from them.

How could she figure out what to do without asking them first?

“It was that game started it all,” Madame Su said angrily. “Late last year, when the Duchess of Buckingham joined their team. It all happened that night, whatever it is. I don’t want to know!”

Dana frowned. “Buckingham the Ambassador of Valour? I saw her on the newscast, cutting a ribbon in one of the cities down on Honour. Do you mean a TeamJoust game?”

“Humph. That game,” Madame Su said, smacking her cup down on the table and pouring more tea. “Conrad thinks there is a trap to lure her here, to catch her in a compromising position with the Prince Consort.”

Dana was suspicious now. “But if they have warning, what’s the problem? The Prince can simply stay away from her.”

“Last time I saw my darling Conrad, that was his plan,” Madame Su agreed, though her voice suggested she was close to breaking down again. It wobbled. “But now he is missing, and no one at the Palace will speak to me of him. I questioned the others he works with, and they said he was last seen in the company of a terrible person, a woman who is not to be trusted.”

Dana sighed. It sounded like something straight out of Love and Asteroids. “Well, that’s a start. Do you know who she is?”

Madame Su took a deep breath and lifted her chin. She was not an unattractive women, and there was something quite stately and dignified about her once she stopped panicking so badly. “Her name is Rosnay Cho,” she said sharply. “She works as an agent for the Cardinal, though she has no rank in the Church and I am certain she is a wickedly sinful woman.”

“They usually are,” Dana said lightly. “What else do you know about her?”

“Long hair, though she claims to be a pilot. And she has a scar.” Madame Su drew the pattern across her face, and Dana felt herself holding a breath she scarcely remembered taking in.

“Does she fly a brand new Moth fighter?” she asked.

Madame Su closed her eyes and nodded quickly. “I see her when I go to the auction houses and the promenade,” she said. “Watching me. I’m sure to be in danger, and I’ve no way to get a message to the Prince. Do you think – could you do it?”

Rosnay Cho. Dana couldn’t believe it. That cow of a Moth pilot from Meung, the one called “Ro” – it had to be her. Dana shivered, remembering the spaceships of the Duel flying back and forth in the air between them, and that burst of pain…

“I’m going to get a message to the Prince, and I’m sure he’ll help find your Conrad and bring him home,” she promised Madame Su, patting her hand as comfortingly as she could. She was getting better at that.

If Dana knew one thing since she set out on this journey to Paris Satellite and the Musketeers, it was that “Ro” was her enemy. If she was the enemy of the Crown as well, then it was Dana’s duty to get into her face and, with any luck, punch her in it too.

Duty, in this case, would also be pleasure.

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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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