Musketeer Space Part I: Reasons To Hate Moths

musketeerspace_bluesmallMusketeer Space is a weekly serialised novel by Tansy Rayner Roberts.

And yes, it is a (mostly) gender-swapped retelling of The Three Musketeers as a space opera!

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PART 1: Reasons to Hate Moths

Dana D’Artagnan nosed her Musket-Class dart into the mechanic’s bay on Meung Station, in orbit around the planet of Valour. She hadn’t even glanced at the planet on her approach – planets held little interest for her. This station was the last recharging stop before she reached her destination.

Not for her first time, Dana wished that her Papa had chosen a colour other than bright yellow when he retooled Mama’s creaky old ship for her journey. Dana had a fat enough credit stud that she could pay to have the dart resprayed, but only if she didn’t worry too much about paying the rent for her first month in Paris.

Paris was more important.

Of course, the ship she landed next to in the bay had to be a brand new Moth fighter, so sleek and silver that everything around him looked extra shitty. But she wasn’t going to let that bother her.

Dana jumped down from the hatch and slid under the belly of her dart, releasing the power spheres one by one. All six of them needed recharging. As she carted the large spheres two by two to the charging console at the back of the bay, she heard boots ringing against the metal floor, and then laughter.

“Oh, what is that thing?” said a woman. “Do spaceships even come in that colour? Would anyone seriously walk into a shipyard and say sure, I’ll have the canary yellow one.”

A male voice spoke lower, in a similarly mocking tone. Dana couldn’t catch the words. Cheeks hot with embarrassment, she stalked back to her ship and climbed under to get the next two spheres.

The bootsteps came closer. “A daffodil,” said the woman. “No… better. He’s a buttercup!”

Dana counted silently to ten, and then scooped up the power spheres and marched to the charging console again. The hatch of the Moth fighter closed as she passed, which meant at least that she didn’t have to face the owner of that mocking voice.

As she returned for the final spheres, the hatch re-opened, and a woman leaned out. She was at least a decade older than Dana, with long black hair that swung over her shoulder as she leaned out of the Moth.

Not a pilot, not with hair like that. She had to be a passenger. A wealthy, entitled, sarcastic passenger.

“Nice ship,” said the woman, almost sincere. Almost immediately, her mouth twisted up into a smirk and it was then that Dana noticed her scar, a long jagged line that started a little above the corner of her eye, and slashed down her jawline. “What do you call that colour?”

“Buttercup,” Dana said, and continued with her work.

As the spheres hummed away in the charging console, the station report on Dana’s dart came through. The last leg of her journey hadn’t done too much damage to the hull, despite the meteor storm they had weathered near the Daughters of Peace, but it was going to take take six hours for new software to upload into the navigation system, and for the spheres to fully charge.

Time enough to have a drink or three, and maybe rent a room for a sleeping shift where her feet didn’t dangle off the edge of the bunk.

Dana took a quick sonic shower, buzzed her black hair even shorter against her scalp, and changed into a fresh flight suit. She hesitated about the jacket. It looked smart, especially with the three platinum studs at the collar. But while it was the fashion to wear identity and credit studs publicly, she wasn’t sure if she should be so cavalier about the third, which contained her formal application to the Royal Space Fleet on Paris Satellite.

Would it be any safer here on the ship?

She straightened her jacket. It was blue with gold trim, and made her flight suit look more official, like she was already a Musketeer.

After a moment’s thought, she popped the three studs off the collar of the jacket and pressed them one by one against the side of her neck. They burrowed in with a tingling sensation, glittering brighter against her brown skin than they had been against the jacket. Old fashioned to wear them this way, but if she lost the jacket, she would still have everything important to her. Her credit, her identity, and her future.

She had a photo silk tucked into one of her pockets, an extravagant gift that Mama had pressed on her – it displayed images of Mama and her old friends from the golden days, including a certain pilot Treville who was now Amiral of the Musketeers.

“That will put her in a good mood if nothing else,” Mama hissed, before kissing Dana quickly and all but shoving her into the cockpit of the ‘Buttercup’. “She’s a hard nut, Treville, and I don’t imagine she’s softened with age. This might blur the edges a little.”

Dana looked at the photo silk now, with its rotation of vintage images. Musketeers smiling, laughing, playing pranks on each other. A life so very different from the dull monotony of Gascon Station. It was everything she had always wanted.

She kissed the edge of the silk, and shoved it back in the pocket of her jacket, for safekeeping.

* * * * *

The bar was crowded and noisy. Dana was glad she had her studs securely on her neck where it was harder for people to brush against them, and rather less glad for the formal jacket . She wouldn’t be able to stay in this stuffy bar for long, not without losing some layers.

The beer helped. It was cold and fresh and real, unlike anything her ship’s food printer could make. The first one went down fast, and she ordered another.

All the software in her head was jangling up a storm, not happy about the separation between pilot and ship. Dana wanted, needed to be flying again. Alcohol dulled those senses for a while, gave her half a chance of relaxing away from her metal shell. But it didn’t help with her general desire to kick and punch things.

A couple of Mendaki pilots introduced her to a game of Pharaoh, and while their trailing tendrils meant they could spin the cards suspiciously fast, they were also generous about buying rounds of moonshine shots. Dana was basically wasted by the time the Milord walked into the bar.

She would have known he was a New Aristocrat even without a closer look at his identity stud. Every inch of him was gene-modified and glowing with artificial health. White skin, silver hair and piercing blue eyes. It almost hurt to look at him.

He did not belong in a grotty place like this, with the grease-stained engineers, gambling aliens and the handful of pilots lured in the cheap price of moonshine.

Which might explain why the Milord did not purchase a drink, but instead allowed himself to be guided into a back room.

Dana lost her stake, and then another. Her fellow punters snickered at her, if that was what the shivery, mocking sound they made with their mouth-tubes meant. The dealer shuffled, and dealt again. More drinks miraculously appeared on the table. The room became hotter.

A false breath of cool air flooded the bar as a new pair of rogues swaggered in. One was the woman from the Moth, her shining sweep of hair pinned back with decorative combs, to show off the scar that cut through half her face. She had a dreadlocked lad at her side in coveralls. He must be an engineer – no self-respecting pilot would venture out in such scruffy gear even in a crap-hole like this. The engie stayed at the bar and ordered himself a beer while the woman headed past the Pharaoh table to the back of the bar.

Dana pulled her gaze away, but not fast enough. The woman saw her, and raised a hand in a mocking salute. “Ho there, Buttercup.”

Rage blistered behind Dana’s eyes. She turned back to the game, just in time to hear the dealer sing “Bank!” Every player leaned in to have their credit stud scanned, to update the wins and the losses.

She had lost too much. With her debt settled, she pushed away from the table. Time to piss, and then get back to the ship to sleep off the drink. No comfortable room for her now.

Paris. Think about Paris.

The bar blurred around her as she took a few steps. Damn it. At this rate, she’d have to take a dose of Sobriety from the vending slot at the door, and that only meant she had wasted more money on this stupid night.

Dana staggered out the back of the bar and made her way along a small grey corridor until she reached the convenience stalls. Someone had charmingly painted the words ‘Sea of Tranquility’ over the door. Safe in a stall, she leaned her head against the cool surface of the wall and peed every drop of liquid out of her body. It took some time.

Doors banged, nearby.

“This is classy, sweetness,” said a mocking voice. Male. Fancy accent. The Milord, perhaps? Or another just like him.

“Last place anyone would expect to find you,” said a voice, female. Sarcastic enough to be the woman from the Moth, but Dana would not be prepared to testify to that. For all she knew, the voices came from inside her own skull.

“Break the news to me gently,” said the Milord with something like a laugh. “I’m so close to Valour, I could kiss it, so that would make it far too easy. Some other planet – the dregs of Freedom? God, don’t make it be Freedom, I haven’t a thing to wear with the arse end of the solar system.”


“I hate getting my feet wet.”

“With the amount the Cardinal is paying you, I think you can buy new boots. You’re to catch our friend before she breaks into orbit, and plant a suggestion exactly where it can do the most good -” A soft sound, which could have been a kiss, or an information stud burrowing into skin. “Think you can handle that?”

“I live to serve, Ro my darling.”

“You’d better.”

Doors banged again as more noisy drunken customers came in. The voices of the conspirators were drowned out.

Dana stood. Still drunk, but able to walk. She tidied herself, washed her hands in the sonic spray, and finally headed out to the bar.

Her Mendaki pals waved their tendrils at her as she passed, but she gave a rueful smile and shook her head. No more of that.

At the door, she hesitated by the vending slot. Sobriety felt like giving up, and besides, she was nearer pleasantly drunk than she had been. Surely she could make it back to her ship in one piece without deleting tonight’s consumption. On the other hand, a capsule of Hydrate would not be a bad idea.
Someone shoved her from behind, and she banged her forehead on the vending slot.

“Sorry, sailor,” said a cheerful voice, and when Dana turned, she saw the woman from the Moth, far from apologetic. “All a bit much for you, is it?” she smirked, with a nod to the vending slot. “No shame in that, Buttercup.”

Dana breathed faster. She felt her hands tightening into fists.

The woman noticed, and her smile widened. “Oh, please,” she said. “Try.”

Dana hit her. That was her first mistake. The woman from the Moth leaned away from the blow so fast it barely tapped her jaw, and then with one thudding motion had Dana on the floor, an elbow jabbed hard into the soft skin of her bared throat.

The floor hurt. Everything hurt. Dana stared up at the woman, and wondered if it counted as cheating if you threw up on someone during a fight. At this angle, she was more likely to throw up on herself. Best keep it down.

“Now then, citizens, take this outside, shall we?” declared a burly bartender, marching over to them. “Or upstairs, if you’d prefer, no questions asked,” he added in a lower voice, where it could only be heard by Dana, her opponent, and the dreadlocked engie who was there now too, tugging at his boss’s arm.

“Ro, don’t,” he said in a pleading voice. “That’s enough.”

“Well, Buttercup?” the woman from the Moth asked, still smiling as she pressed her elbow more forcefully against Dana’s collarbone. “Fancy a Duel? I don’t make this offer to just anyone.”

The engie swore quietly, and walked away, washing his hands of her.

Dana blinked up into the face of her enemy. “Yes,” she said. “Yeah. Bring it on.”

* * * * *

Before Dana D’Artagnan left home, her Papa had some advice for her. As he ran Mama’s old ship through that last coat of (ugh) colour and polish for the journey, he said: “Fight as much as you can, lovey, it sharpens your reflexes. The best pilots are demons with their fists. Just look at your mother. She was a menace in every bar fight, and there was no one faster than her at the helm of a dart. Everyone knew it.”

“That was why I crashed so many,” laughed her Mama. “Fight if you must, Dana. Pilots are all half crazy, thanks to all that shit they wire into our heads. If you want them to take you seriously, you have to embrace the crazy. Let go a little. Kick some heads in on your day off. But for fuck’s sake, don’t Duel.”

Here she was, in a room above a seedy bar, with the metallic taste of the psychic drug still sharp in her mouth.

Duels were illegal, which was why the bartender had kept his offer quiet. Still, they had gathered quite an audience. The Mendaki card-sharks were exchanging bets, and pilots and engies alike were happy to scan their credit studs again in such a splendid cause.

Dana sat on a straight-backed chair, with the woman from the Moth opposite her. Between them glowed the static of the game.

Her enemy looked older in this light. Ro. No last name. She could be as old as forty, though she held herself like a younger woman. Like she knew how hot she was. And oh, the bitch would not stop smiling.

“Red,” said the woman from the Moth. “Have you duelled before, Buttercup?”

My name is D’Artagnan, Dana wanted to shout, but the last thing she should do was give this crowd her name. “Blue,” she said. Anything but yellow.

She didn’t care what history her parents had with that bloody buttercup-coloured ship, she was selling it the second she got to Paris Satellite. The fleet would provide her with a new dart when she was accepted into their ranks. Musket-class, all the way, state of the art. She would never have to hear the word ‘buttercup’ ever again.

The static dissipated, leaving a holographic starscape hanging in the air between the two players. Two tiny spaceships sparked into life: a blue Sabre-class dart, and a red Moth fighter.

The bartender, who had set them up for this and taken a fee from each of the players because the bribe-hungry officials here on Meung Station would demand a cut of tonight’s illicit proceeds, now darkened the room so all that could be seen were the two ships and the faces of their players.

Dana had taken pilot drugs before. They were a necessary part of training, placing you inside the navigational computer of your ship, helping you to build the necessary reflexes to fly as fast and as sharp as you needed to. Blending the synapses of your actual brain with new software programmed into your head through a series of implants. When you flew, your hands and head were both directly plugged into the helm.

Eventually, you learned to fly with the implants but no drugs to connect you. Dana preferred that, the streamlined flight. As soon as she was able, she stopped using pilot drugs altogether. Sure, it made you a more ‘perfect’ pilot, but there was something creepy and mechanical about the process. She loved the helm at her hands, and the stars inside her head. She hated the sensation of not being able to tell where one began and the other ended.

It had been a surprise to no one when the tools of the pilot trade were turned into an illegal gambling drug. In Mama and Papa’s day it hadn’t even been illegal, not until the first back alley deaths rolled in and Something Had To Be Done.

“You might as well stick each other with metal blades,” her Mama had muttered, telling Dana about friends she had served with in her youth, Musketeers who spent too much down-time on Duel after Duel until there was nothing left of their brains but mush. The warning was clear. Only idiots let pride and honour get in the way of actual brain functions.

Dana inhaled now, and the blue dart in the scape quivered. There it was. Almost like a real ship, she could feel its controls and its computer, blossoming inside her thoughts. She could direct it, up and down, back and forth.

If that ship was damaged or destroyed, it was going to hurt like hell.

“Game on,” said the bartender.

Thirty seconds into the Duel, it became evident that Dana had been very, very wrong about the woman from the Moth. Long hair be damned, she was a pilot. An exceptional one.

It was fun at first, like any other game. Dana and the Moth dodged and swooped around each other, shooting laser cannons through the false starscape, hiding and refuelling behind asteroids and occasionally (quite by accident) blowing up whole planets.

The first time that the Moth caught a glancing strike across Dana’s bow, she felt a flashburn in the back of her skull, and almost couldn’t see for a few precious seconds. That part was true, then.

The reason that pilot drugs were used in training and long haul interstellar voyages but never in combat was because any damage to the ship rebounded to the pilot. It wasn’t always fatal, but it was no lover’s kiss.

The Moth closed in, chasing the Dart from asteroid to asteroid. She was good, and she was practiced, and more than that, she knew exactly how to shoot Dana’s avatar so as to hurt her, to send just enough flashburn or sharp electric shocks through her brain. Enough to hurt, to sting, to shock, but never quite enough to finish the game.

This ‘Ro’ was toying with Dana, and that made Dana angry. She was good at being angry. Nine times out of ten, being angry made her better at whatever she was doing.

She saw how to do it now, and next time the Moth flitted between two safe spots, Dana slipped in from an unexpected side. This time it was her laser cannon blasting hard across the Moth’s wing.

Ro rocked back, gritting her teeth against the pain that must have overwhelmed her. Dana did exactly what the Moth had not been doing, closing in for the kill.

But no, the Moth was fast, too damned fast, and the pilot knew the layout of this game far better than Dana. They spiralled together out of the asteroid belt and into blank, empty space. Dana whirled her dart around to fire, but the Moth was there first, facing her dead on, and the laser cannons flashed bright.

Her vision was red, all red, and she could not feel the dart in her brain any more. Dana coughed and choked on her own spit, not knowing why until someone turned her roughly over and she realised, floor, I’m lying on the floor again, fuck, I never even made it to Paris.

Everything hurt, and she could not see.

Then it stopped hurting.

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