Here’s Chapter 1!
It’s been a busy week and I’m really pleased with all the positive buzz and general goodwill around Musketeer Space. Thanks everyone for your enthusiasm. Katharine (@thiefofcamorr) set up a GoodReads page which some readers might like to use. Sean the Blogonaut reviews the first chapter over here.
The first Musketeer Media Monday went up yesterday: Musketeers in an Exciting Adventure with Airships (2011).
PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE:
Hopeful pilot Dana D’Artagnan is on her way to Paris Satellite, to join the Musketeers. During her last recharging stop at Meung Station, she has an encounter with the mysterious “Ro” who taunts her into a psychedelic spaceship duel, and kicks her butt.
NOW READ ON.
Dana awoke, and wished she had not. Every stubbled hair on her scalp felt like a needle pressing directly into her skull.
She coughed, and tasted blood, then vomit, and finally an odd metallic tang. Duel.
If her mother was right, and all pilots were crazy, Dana had just proved… something. She was not sure what, except that next time she saw that woman from the Moth, she was going to break her nose.
She could tell even without opening her eyes that she was lying in her old bunk on the Musket-class dart that her parents had been so proud of providing for her to make her way in the world. There was a comfortable hum in her head that she only felt when she and the ship were this close to each other.
“It’s a good ship,” Mama had told her. “A lucky ship. Not as new as some, but it served me well and it will serve my daughter well.”
“The only one she never crashed,” Papa laughed in reply.
For one horrible, weak moment, Dana wanted to be back with them, to have never tried to leave Gascon Station.
It could be worse. At least the bastards who had set her up for that Duel had been civic-minded enough to dump her back on her ship in safety. Dana struggled off the bunk and into the sonic shower, peeling off her clothes as she went. The jacket, at least, was undamaged. She’d need that in Paris.
The sonic cleaning stung her neck, and she shut it off quickly, leaning in to check herself in the mirror.
Three small, red holes marked the place on her neck where her credit stud, identity stud and finally her application to the Space Agency had all been ripped off her skin. All three had been stolen while she was unconscious.
Anger poured through her, and she swore every foul name she could think of about that motherfucking bitch, the arsehole from the perfect brand-new Moth. Alone in the shower, Dana punched and kicked the walls until her knuckles hurt worse than her head. She couldn’t swear anymore, couldn’t even think the words she wanted or needed.
There were backups, of course there were backups. That was how the galaxy worked, everything was data, and everything could be printed anew. The information on her credit studs was backed up here, in the ship she would always be calling Buttercup, even inside her head. Her money, her identity files and pilot records, even her application, they were all backed up.
Except, of course, that someone had brought her home.
Slowly, Dana stepped out of the sonic shower and made her way along the narrow ship to the cockpit. She sat naked at the computer, ignoring the voice in her head as the helm tried to coax her into flight.
Let’s go, space space, come and fly, come and fly.
Sometimes, having a spaceship in your head was a lot like having a large, nagging pet who couldn’t think beyond the next walkie.
Dana called up her information quickly. She wasn’t angry anymore, had no rage left in her veins. But oh, her credit account had been hacked, of course it had. No number left but zeroes.
An odd numbness spread across the back of her skull. Hopefully this was shock rather than actual Duel-induced brain damage. Dana printed new studs for herself, one for her ID and another for her Paris application. A third for her empty credit account. A fourth, to clone and back up every iota of personal information in the ship’s archives.
She could go to the station’s militia, of course she could. As long as she didn’t mind sharing the story of the illegal Duel racket they had going on here on Meung.
Or she could cut her losses, and find out what price the Buttercup would make at one of the vendors here. She could get a seat on a commercial venturer and still make it to Paris within the next day. That was the sensible thing to do. Mama and Papa might not even learn she’d done it, not until later when she had a job and a new ship to crow about.
There were many benefits to this new plan, up to and including never again having to wince with embarrassment when someone made up a cute pet name for her bright yellow spaceship. At least now she wouldn’t have to brazen it out when everyone assumed the paint job was her idea.
Still, when Dana entered the commands to detach her consciousness from the Buttercup’s controls, she felt like a traitor. Right up until the end, she heard a tiny litany inside her head: Don’t leave, let’s go flying, space space space, let’s see the stars!
Ro, that was the pilot’s name. Dana memorised it along with her dark eyes and long sweep of hair. She would recognise her again, if she saw her, and she would get her revenge.
It wasn’t until Dana was in her seat on the venturer Sun Wukong bound for Honour, Luna Palais and Paris Satellite, that she realised she had lost something else. The photo silk of her mother’s youthful adventures was no longer tucked safely inside her jacket pocket.
Had her thief taken that too, or had she somehow left it behind on the Buttercup? Dana did not know, but it was enough to make her angry at the Moth pilot all over again.
So much for softening Amiral Treville’s hard edges with a spot of family nostalgia.
Paris Satellite was the biggest space station that Dana had ever seen. There was none of the grimy elbows-in mentality she knew from Gascon Station, where she had grown up. Even the orbiting cities of Truth, the furthest she had previously travelled across the solar system, had a tendency towards economy of materials and space.
Paris was all gleaming steel, plexi-glass, and wide-open spaces. As Dana disembarked from the venturer with the rest of the passengers, shaking off the headache she got every time as a passenger, she spotted actual trees growing up out of paving stones in the main avenue, for all the sky as if this was a dirtside city.
This was where her parents had lived, worked, fallen in love. Paris, the satellite of all dreams, in orbit around Luna Palais, Honour’s only moon.
You could practically smell the red dirt of Honour on the boots of the locals. Not that Dana had any interest in planets, or moons for that matter. She only had eyes for the pilots who hurried this way and that, their flight suits a rainbow of colours that told you exactly who they flew for. Pigeon grey for the satellite’s general service pilots, red and gold for the Cardinal’s Sabres, and blue and white for the Musketeers. The occasional black flight suit marked out a Raven, members of the independent Courier Corps.
Button pushers, as Mama always referred to them with a sneer. In a galaxy where most communications were instant, and anyone (with enough credit points) could send the data for an item of choice to be reprinted on any planet they chose, the Ravens represented an antique profession.
It had always been Dana’s private dread that they would be the only ones who offered her employment. Boring ships, boring trade routes, boring co-workers. Everything that the Musketeers were not.
Dana fingered her collar studs nervously. Plain black plastic, instead of the platinum she had set out with. Nothing to strut about. Perhaps she was an idiot for thinking such things mattered. But oh, she could do with an injection of confidence right now.
The important thing was that the commander of the Musketeers had been born on Gascon Station too, and knew what it was like to try to forge a career from the provinces. Surely the name D’Artagnan coupled with Dana’s excellent training record would be enough to impress Amiral Treville.
The photo-silk niggled at her, though. It would have been a nice touch. Something to make this meeting personal, and to show that Dana was more than just another recruit.
Possibly it would have also been helpful to make a formal appointment.
Amiral Treville was a mountainous figure, with dark slab-like arms and a barrel body, enveloped in the bright blue and white uniform of the Musketeers. Her black hair was buzzed pilot-short. She showed no sign of having anything but hard edges, and every inch of her presence made it clear she still thought of herself as a pilot first, an administrator second.
This did not in any way prevent her from giving the pilots under her command one hell of a rough time.
As the morning dragged on, Dana waited in a plexi-glass walled corridor, above the maze of airlocks that housed the ships of the Royal Space Fleet. She sat there, invisible in the crowd. Behind and around her, pilots sprawled across tables in their cafeteria, sharing food and conversation. There were more women than men, which matched the numbers she remembered from training – the Royal Fleet was at about 75% women which was lower than her mother’s day when it had been closer to 90% thanks to the previous Regent’s belief that women made the best pilots.
Dana’s belated attempt at an appointment had been met with rolled eyes from the assistant at the front desk, but she was given a number in today’s queue, with no guarantee that Treville would find time for her.
The number was 78.
So, Dana waited. There were view screens all around, and while she could have used a stud to call up her own screen to catch up on news or Paris culture, it was interesting to see what a curated feed brought up – in the case of these particular screens, that meant plenty of gossip, expensive shopping options and occasional injections of local politics, along with hourly five minute episodes of Love and Asteroids, the latest hit soap.
Without fail after every episode of Love and Asteroids (which was packed with scandalous tales of adultery, bucking the chain of command and other wicked behaviour), some sort of morality vid would play, to balance things out. As one shift ended and another began, Dana saw the Regent’s famous inauguration speech about the sanctity of marriage contracts three times, and the Cardinal’s equally famous ‘all gods followed us to the stars’ soundbyte a colossal eight times, if you didn’t count the parody version which was used to sell cola shots.
On the whole, the interior of Amiral Treville’s office was far more interesting than anything the holo-channels had to offer.
Dana’s eyes kept being drawn back to Treville as she strode back and forth in her office, usually barking at the comm channels or tapping at a panel on her standing work station. Every pilot that docked their ship had to cross this corridor to reach the rest of Paris Satellite including their sleeping quarters.
The Amiral missed nothing.
Several times, Treville stepped forward to fill her doorway, bellowing names out into the corridor, usually at a pilot who was attempting to sneak past her without reporting in. The unfortunate in question would be dragged into her office and berated behind the soundproof plexi-glass.
No wonder this was a popular cafeteria for all the pilots, not just those wearing the blue and white of the Musketeers. The food printers were standard enough, but they came with the entertainment option of watching your peers being publicly roasted.
Amiral Treville, Dana decided, was terrifying.
When Dana’s number was finally called, her mother’s former colleague managed something like a welcoming smile. It looked more like a tired grimace, but Dana appreciated the effort.
They sat opposite each other at a low desk on the far side of the office, perhaps the first time Dana had seen the Amiral off her feet all day.
“Dana D’Artagnan,” said Treville, rolling the name thoughtfully around in her mouth. “Your father was one of the best engies in Paris back in the day. And your mother…” For a moment, the smile did not seem forced. “No one flew like your mother.”
“She’s still the best,” Dana admitted.
Treville shrugged. “Can’t imagine there’s much skilled work flying to be done out on Gascon Station these days. I grew up there myself, you know. Apart from the Mendaki invasion three generations ago, nothing has ever happened there.”
It was true. In the last intergalactic war, which had ended only eight years ago, the silver eyed shapechanging aliens known as the Sun-kissed had famously invaded every planet in the solar system except Freedom. Even if Dana hadn’t always known that her station orbited a world considered to be the arse-end of the solar system, she could not have missed the information. Every chancer who ever blew through Gascon Station made sure to let her know just how far from “civilisation” they were.
Amiral Treville tapped the plastic application stud that Dana had placed on her desk between them, and a screen flickered up, displaying Dana’s training transcript. “We don’t get many applicants from remote training, but you’ve acquitted yourself well here. With these kinds of marks and hours logged, I’m surprised you didn’t take this stud two levels up, directly to the Cardinal’s office. Most new-qualified pilots try there first. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the salary is almost twice what we have to offer.”
“I don’t want to be a Sabre,” Dana said indignantly. “I want to be a Musketeer!” The thought of what her mother would say if she came home in red and gold livery made her want to throw up.
Twice the salary. She knew that the Sabres were still coasting on the glory that came from saving the solar system at the end of the War of the Sun-kissed, but Dana had never guessed at the practical ramifications of that.
Amiral Treville almost laughed, but stopped herself in time. “You’re sweet, kid. I wish half of my gals had that attitude. But being a Musketeer… it doesn’t mean what what it used to . If it wasn’t for the Regent’s nostalgia for the world before the war, we would have disappeared into the Cardinal’s filing cabinet years ago. A historical footnote, rather than an item in the Royal Budget spreadsheet that gets smaller every year.”
Dana knew which way this conversation was going, and she was desperate to say something, anything to change that look of mild pity on Amiral Treville’s face. As she racked her brain, though, she saw the amiral’s eyes flicked away, already distracted by something in that plexi-glass corridor of hers. “Excuse me, Dana. Some business that can’t wait.”
Treville leaped to her feet and marched to the door, flinging it open. In an enormous voice using every inch of her impressive lungs, she bellowed: “CAPTAIN ATHOS, CAPTAIN PORTHOS, CAPTAIN ARAMIS! Get in here, you bastards!”
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.