Musketeer Space Part III: Shouting at Musketeers

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

An archive of previous chapters and associated blog posts can be found here at the Musketeer Space Table of Contents. If you would like to learn more about how I’m using crowdfunding to sponsor this project, check out my Patreon page.

PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: On her way to Paris Satellite, Dana took part in an illegal psychedelic spaceship Duel with the mysterious “Ro” who stole her stuff. She was hoping Amiral Treville would sign her up for the Musketeer division of the Royal Space Fleet, but it’s not looking good.

PART 1: Reasons to Hate Moths
PART 2: Paris, At Last

NOW READ ON!

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This chapter is dedicated to Chris & Alisa, who have always supported me above and beyond the call of duty. I feel there should be cake in this chapter. There is no cake.

PART 3: Shouting at Musketeers

Dana had hoped for so much of this meeting with Amiral Treville. Had she been an idiot to think that her skills would be instantly recognised, that Treville would be interested in meeting the daughter of an old colleague?

Instead, Treville’s attention was drawn to two captains who entered the office with guilty expressions. Two, when she had called for three.

These pilots in bright blue and white jackets over well-worn flight suits; they had what Dana wanted. They were Musketeers. They didn’t look especially happy about it, though. From their stance, it was not the first time these two had been called in to experience the rough end of Treville’s managerial style.

Ignored at the desk, Dana observed them both.

One was tall and elegant, with dark hair scraped up into a tight topknot – the second most common hairstyle for pilots after the buzz cut. She was casually beautiful in that femme manner that Dana could never manage – all legs and cheekbones and effortless grace. A pearl pin fastened her hair in place – it looked genuine vintage rather than something printed to fit in with retro fashions. An elaborate henna tattoo ran down her neck and collarbone, then emerged again at the wrist of her left hand, flowering in lacework all the way to her light brown fingertips.

The shorter Musketeer was round in all dimensions, including a bosom that must surely get in the way of her helm controls. She had a cheeky, pleasant face beneath a head shaved almost as closely as Treville’s. She also wore a version of the Musketeer uniform that Dana had never seen before – a long blue-and-white coat cut to flatter her size, in expensive cloth rather than the more common artificial blends. She wore the coat with a wide, bedazzled belt that glittered with a small fortune in pearl studs.

As if all that wasn’t enough swish and vanity, this shorter Musketeer had the blue and white cross of the service painted in exquisite miniature upon each of her manicured fingernails.

“I can count, you know,” said Amiral Treville dryly, scanning the corridor once again. “Where’s your third partner in crime?”

“Athos? Oh… sick,” said the elegant one, which would have been more convincing if the short one hadn’t come in with “Still on patrol,” during her friend’s hesitation.

Treville loomed at them both, looking thunderous. “Sick?” she repeated. “Are you sure you don’t mean drunk?”

Dana had a momentary impulse to hide beneath the desk.

“Space pox,” said the round one, with some authority. “He can hardly walk. You know what Athos is like, Amiral, he catches everything going.”

“So, he sent you ahead,” said Treville, her voice eerily calm. “To explain why three of the Regent’s Own First Fleet, the Royal Musketeers were arrested outside the Palais Luna for duelling?”

“That’s a lie!” said the elegant one, convincingly outraged. “We weren’t duelling, Amiral. Just fighting. My body is a temple.”

“Six of the Cardinal’s Sabres were there too,” put in the other. “That’s mitigating circumstances. They might have drawn weapons first.”

“They did draw weapons first,” hissed her elegant friend.

“That is exactly what I said, Aramis. I’m glad you agree. They drew weapons first. Which is why we didn’t duel with them.” The round Musketeer hesitated, and then smiled in a friendly way as if she hadn’t at all lost track of their version of events. “Clearly, a misunderstanding. For which I am sure the Sabres are all just as sorry as we are.”

Treville slowly breathed out, her whole massive body trembling. “I don’t care about the Cardinal’s Sabres, Captain Porthos. I’m not responsible for their antics. As it happens, I know the Sabres were there, because they’re the ones who arrested you! I’ve spent an hour this morning trying to convince the Regent not to hand the entire First Fleet over to the Cardinal and take early retirement. Is that what you want for me? Gardening leave on the third Daughter of Peace? Anyone got a straw hat I can borrow?”

Dana drew her gaze away, not wanting to witness this humiliating scene. For this reason, she was the first to see the man hovering at the glass door.

He wore a blue-and-white jacket over a flight suit like the others, but he could not possibly be a pilot. His hair was too ridiculous.

You thought that about the Moth pilot at Meung Station, she reminded herself sternly, remembering the scarred pilot’s rebellious sweep of black hair that had caused Dana to underestimate her.

This Musketeer, if such he was, had taken rebellious fashion to extremes. He had fair skin, and gratuitous ginger-gold hair that fell straight to his shoulders – a safety hazard if ever Dana had seen one. He also had a beard and drooping moustache that was like nothing she had ever seen before.

Perhaps it was some kind of practical joke.

The man was pale and sweaty beneath his gratuitous facial hair, looking distinctly unwell. If this was the missing Athos, perhaps he had the space pox after all.

For a moment, he caught Dana’s eye, and grinned at the disapproval he saw on her face. Then he rapped hard on the plexi-glass door, interrupting Treville in the middle of her tirade about how her best and brightest were turning her into a galactic laughing stock.

“And here he is,” Treville drawled with great sarcasm as Athos let himself into the office. “Finally ready to grace us with your presence, Milord? Enjoyed your cup of tea and cucumber sandwiches before you sauntered over to pay your respects, did you?”

“You know I only live to serve you, Amiral,” said Athos in a deep, respectful voice. As he spoke, Dana realised why Treville had mocked him with that word ‘milord’ (which she had heard recently on Meung Station, applied to an entirely different gentleman). Athos had the cut-glass accent of a New Aristocrat, and the exaggerated manners of one too. What on earth was such a fashionable fool doing in the Royal Space Fleet?

“You live to make trouble,” Treville grumbled. “Your fellow Musketeers here assure me there was no Duel consumed during your run in with the Sabres. Is that true?”

“Not a drop, dear Amiral,” Athos confirmed. “We simply engaged in an old fashioned brawl. You know the sort of thing. Fisticuffs.” He mimicked a gentle boxing match, as if to convince her of his innocence. “It was very noble and historically authentic.”

Treville rolled her eyes. “How quaint.”

Dana could not help noticing that Athos had a calming effect on Treville. There was something about his presence that apparently made street fighting and the Regent’s displeasure a little more forgivable.

“I have led my friends astray,” said Athos, with a formal bow. “And I take the entire blame for it – oh, bollocks.” His face lost what little colour it had, and he lost his balance.

Both Aramis and Porthos dove for him, but Treville was there first, helping the man to lie back on the floor, pale and shaking as he was. “Athos,” she demanded, unbuttoning his jacket. “Are you bleeding, you fucking liability?”

“Bandage seals must have broken,” he gasped, playing up the wound for all it was worth. “Don’t mind me, I’ll just lie here for a moment and then I’ll be fine.”

“Why did you not get him to a hospice centre?” Treville barked at Aramis and Porthos.

“Well,” said Porthos with an apologetic smile. “To be fair, Amiral, we were on our way to fetch a replacement medikit when, uh, you called us in here.”

“We ran out of supplies back on Luna, thought we’d better hop back here to get him patched up,” said Aramis helpfully. She patted Athos on the head as if he were a beloved pet, and smiled a sweet, charming smile.

There was a red stain, a small one, on Athos’ chest. Dana stared at it from a distance as Treville called for medics. They arrived in short order and began patching him up rather more effectively than he and his colleagues had managed for themselves.

Only when Athos had been taken away on a stretcher did Treville, the last of her anger worn away, stare down his two partners in crime. “Blades, then,” she said in a heavy voice. “You’ve been fighting with actual blades, you utter…” but her words trailed away before she could locate a harsh enough noun.

“But not with Duel,” said Aramis gravely. “For you have expressly forbidden…”

“Get out of here,” Treville growled. “Keep an eye on that boy of yours. I want him back in the sky in three days.”

The two Musketeers slid out, not bothering to hide how relieved they were to escape with their skins intact. Treville slammed the door behind them.

“As you can see, Dana,” she said without ceremony, sitting back behind her desk. “None of the useless pricks I currently have serving under me have gotten themselves killed lately. You might think it would be worth putting a bet on Athos, but he has the luck of the devil and can even turn being stabbed into some kind of poetic statement. The Musketeers are in the shit with the Regent, our funding is at an all time low, and there are no new ships on our horizon. I’m probably going to have to lay off a dozen gals this year. There’s no position for a newcomer to step into, no matter her family history.”

Dana felt the ceiling slowly press down around her. This was it, then. She was being dismissed. “Would it have made a difference if I brought my own ship?” she asked, hating herself for saying it, but she would always wonder if she had lost her chance because of that Duel back on Meung Station, and the sale of the Buttercup.

“I’m afraid not,” said Treville, handing back the application stud with a sympathetic pat of her hand over Dana’s. “I’ve nothing to offer you, kid. My pilots are even providing their own uniforms these days, which is how Porthos gets away with that ridiculous belt of hers. If it makes you feel better – very few applicants get into the Fleet on their first application. Try again in a year or two, if we’re still here. In the mean time, you’ve got more than enough flight hours to put in for the pigeons or the ravens. They’re always hiring.”

Pigeons or ravens. A grunt, or a courier. Neither of them were the job that Dana wanted. “Thanks anyway,” she said, trying to keep her chin up.

“I’m sorry,” said Treville, meeting her gaze. “We’re not what you imagined, are we?”

“No,” said Dana, more sharply than politeness allowed. “You’re really not.”

Dana left Amiral Treville’s office with two copies of a letter of introduction added to her application chip – one for the pigeons and one for the ravens. She had not yet decided which of the lesser flying grades she was going to try for.

The thought of being a courier made her want to pack up and go home. She was here to be a Musketeer like her mother before her, to defend the Regent’s peace and protect the innocent, not to ferry messages back and forth.

As a pigeon she would at least be guarding the safety of Royal Space, even if she might spend half her time on her feet instead of in a cockpit. Palace duty did not pay so well as the airy life of the ravens, but it would keep her closer to here, to Paris and Luna Palais, where she might someday earn enough merit to be considered for the next empty helm of a Musket-class dart.

From what Treville had said, it would not have made a difference if Dana had arrived in her own antique dart, with a gleaming stainless stud at her cuff and a photo silk full of nostalgia in her pocket, but oh, she was still seething about what had happened back at Meung Station. Everything had gone wrong from there. If she saw that thieving bitch from the Moth again, she was going to…

But, there she was.

Dana stood at the plexi-glass doors which opened from Treville’s observation deck. From here, she could see across Marie Antoinette Esplanade, one of the main shopping hubs of Paris Station. The immense plaza was busy with people, many of them in the colour-coded uniforms of the Fleet – Red, Blue, Grey, Black.

And there among so many short and shaven and tightly-braided heads was a woman walking quickly, her long sweep of black hair streaming out behind a violet flight suit.

Dana could still hear the voice of the pilot from the Moth drawling in her ear, one more snide ‘Buttercup.’

A thief, who had taunted her into an illegal game and stolen her very identity.

Blazing hatred flashed through Dana’s whole body, and she flung herself at the nearest escalator, running several steps at a time to get to the foot of it, dodging shoppers and customers and her fellow pilots to reach her prey.

“Hey, stop!” she yelled, but the pilot from Meung Station did not even glance up.

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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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