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   Chapter 2 Pilot

Pilot: Book One of the Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 17787

Updated: 2018-02-02 12:52


Chapter 2

Elena opened her eyes and her first thought was that her headache was gone. Her mind felt filled with cotton and she struggled to find her last memory. Coffee spilling down the cracks in a sidewalk. A sharp jab into her neck…Her thoughts formed a pattern and she bolted upright. She was slumped in a large cushy chair on wheels. As panic drove her to her feet the chair rolled away and softly thumped against the wall.

Her gaze jerked around the room, pulling in images of the décor the way her mind had struggled to fit the memories together. She was in a conference room. It wasn't opulent but it was large, comfortable and well appointed. Understated, was the word that flew through her mind as her eyes danced across the comfortable office chairs neatly arranged around the table.

There were two large mirrors one at either end of the room. A designer would have said they created the illusion of space. To Elena's mind they seemed like the mirrors one would find in a police station merely decorated with heavy frames to fool the eye, although that was probably her innate paranoia speaking. There was one door. Elena rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes. Even with the adrenaline flowing she was feeling sluggish and slow like her brain was wrapped tight in a wool blanket. Her purse and coffee were nowhere to be seen.

Elena leaned on the glossy surface of the table and took a few deep breaths. 'Everything in the purse is replaceable, ' she thought to herself. 'I am not.' The thought steadied her. She pushed away from the table and stood straight. Her first few steps were a bit creaky but she got herself moving towards the door. She edged around the table using the backs of the chairs for support when her vision seemed to fuzz.

"This is what happens when I don't get my coffee, " she muttered to herself. "I'll have to get another cup." She tried to encourage herself with the words as she moved. "Different coffee shop though." She reached the side of the table. From here to the door she would have no more support. She took a deep breath and stepped forward.

"Not so bad, " she complemented herself. She took another step, feeling steadier. Each step pushed the fuzz back and made her feel more normal. The wool around her brain was beginning to fray at the edges and the sharp bite of cold reality was beginning to sting. Panic started to bubble through her system helping to bring her into sharper focus even as it sped her pulse. Someone had grabbed her off the street and brought her here.

'Why?' she asked herself. 'What was happening?' She reached for the doorknob, praying the door was unlocked. Her hand was a few inches from the knob when she saw it turn. She stared stupidly as the door opened and a man stepped into the room. She ducked into a defensive crouch, really wishing she had learned some sort of fighting style. Somehow her 'kick him in the crotch and run away' method seemed inadequate to the situation. He stared at her in puzzlement as he entered the room.

"Good morning Ma'am, " he said. Elena noticed he was carrying a tray and that he had the same haircut she associated with the military. Short on top and almost nonexistent on the sides. The rest of his features were rather non-descript. He wore a camouflaged suit with the pants and jacket and the combat boots she also associated with the military. The tray contained several ceramic coffee mugs and a carafe of what smelled like coffee. Packets of instant creamer and sugar were heaped in one corner. Lack of caffeine or not, there was no way she was taking a cup of this brew.

"Morning, " she replied. "I wouldn't go so far as to say good." He smiled and she put his age as early 20s at best.

"If you'll just take a seat, the others will be along shortly. Your meeting will start then."

"Meeting?"

"Yes, didn't you come here for the meeting?" Uncertainty flickered across his face. Behind him an older man filled the open door.

"Of course she's here for the meeting." The younger man looked stung and quickly walked past Elena to place the tray on the table. He stepped around the older man, leaving the room and closing the door behind him.

"Please sit down Ms. Calabrese." Elena stared at him. He had hard lines around his mouth and eyes and the look he gave her made her feel untidy. She started to run a hand through her hair, figuring it was probably a mess, but stopped her hand before it could move more than an inch from her side. If she looked unkempt it was his fault anyway. She clenched her teeth, her temper burning away the last of the mental fog. They had no right to bring her here.

"Is this routinely the way you get people to your meetings?" She said, a snap of temper edging into her voice. She decided anger would serve her better than fear. This man also had a military haircut. Elena almost expected him to be in camouflaged clothing but he wore a black t-shirt and a pair of loose black pants with more pockets than seemed rational. He was wearing combat boots to match the haircut.

"Not usually but you are a special case. Please have a seat."

"And if I don't want to?" Elena asked, knowing she sounded like a petulant child but unable to help herself. The man crossed to the table, poured himself a cup of coffee, and added one packet of creamer and two of sugar.

"You can of course remain standing if you wish. We only want to talk with you. Present a proposition of sorts. A business proposition. Then you will of course be able to leave." A tight knot in Elena's throat loosened. She would be able to leave. Or so he said now.

Elena stepped back to the table and pulled out the chair at the head of the table.

"A business proposition, " she repeated.

"Yes, " he confirmed settling himself in a chair.

"You wanted to suggest a business proposition to me so you kidnapped me?"

"Ms. Calabrese, this is hardly kidnapping." Elena's eyebrows shot up.

"The hell it's not!"

"Please calm down, Ms. Calabrese." Elena took a couple of deep breaths. The sooner she found out what he wanted the sooner she could leave.

"Why didn't you just come to my office if it is business?"

"We did not want to risk the possibility of being overheard. All of this is highly confidential."

"Highly confidential." She repeated, wondering what highly confidential thing the military could want her for.

"Yes."

"Why didn't you just ask me to come to your office?"

"Well, Ms. Calabrese, your kind doesn't exactly have a history of cooperation with the military. If we had contacted you there were a number of things you could have done other than come here. None of them would have suited our purpose." He answered, leaning back in his chair. Elena felt a tingling of warning start in the back of her mind, like distant alarm bells. She swallowed hard around the thought that was beginning to form. There was only one reason they could have grabbed her and these were dangerous waters.

"My kind?" she asked, keeping her suspicions from her voice.

"Yes."

"And what kind would I be?'

"Let's see, what did he call you…Ah yes I remember, The Pilots." In Elena's mind the bells grew louder and she could feel her stomach begin to knot into big greasy twists. The thought solidified into reality. There really was nothing like swimming with sharks to keep your mind sharp.

"Pilots?" She asked, trying to keep her voice calm. "Like in planes?" She tilted the end of the word up in puzzlement.

"No Ms. Calabrese, " he said with a smile, "You know the kind of pilots we mean." His words came out with a certainty that sped up her pulse.

"I'm afraid I don't, " she said.

"There is no need to play dumb. We know all about you."

"I'm afraid you have the wrong person.

"I don't believe we do. He said he took a long drink from his mug and Elena desperately wished for a long drink of water. She willed her face to calm.

"Who do you think I am?" she asked.

"We think you are Elena Bastianne Calabrese, a Pilot of the Calabrese family. The pilots as you know have the ability to navigate the world gates." The man sat back in his seat and silently sipped his coffee as he studied Elena's reaction. She kept her expression calm with a forced effort but felt the blood drain out of her face.

This man was speaking of the channels. She had no idea where he had gotten the term world gates although the term did tug at the back of her mind. She was pretty sure she had heard it before, but not where. Right now she couldn't spare the brainpower to search for it. Whatever he called them, he was talking about the channels. She had opted out of that world more than five years earlier and had not looked back. But even for one who stopped riding the channels there was punishment for reveal

ing family secrets. Talking to the military of any nation about the channels was forbidden. In the Law of the Families, forbidden was always enforced, usually painfully.

"I'm afraid I do not know what you are talking about." Elena stated. It was a statement she decided she could not afford to deviate from. Punishment for an exile was likely to be even harsher than normal.

"Ms. Calabrese, there is no need to keep up the pretense. We are well aware of the world gates. We know where they are, where they lead and how to access them."

"I don't know what you are talking about, " she said. Her voice was rough and came out as less strong than she would have liked. She cleared her throat. "I'm sorry I have never heard the term world gates and I am not a licensed pilot. I know nothing about planes."

"Ships, Ms. Calabrese, ships, as you well know. The Pilots, well, pilot ships across the world gates. Or they did anyway. Now we have a more advanced mechanism. You see the Pilots, their guild and their secrecy have become obsolete. We have ships that can take us through the world gates with out the special skills of a pilot." Butterflies swirled in Elena's brain. A question began to form and she wondered if she could ask it without stating that she knew about the pilots and the channels.

"I am a bit confused sir, " She began, weighing each word before it left her lips. In here words had meaning. "I do not know what these world gates are, but you seem to be able to deal with them just fine. And I wish you luck with whatever that is. But if you can deal with them better than these pilots then why would you need to kidnap someone you thought was a pilot? Or are you just telling me this so that I can be certain that I don't need to keep a secret that is apparently not a secret?" Elena forced a puzzled expression to her face, not a difficult task given the situation.

"Ah, well that is the business proposition we have asked you to consider. Obviously the world gates are a military concern. Therefore since the Pilots are already working with them we thought you might like to work with them and us." He gestured towards Elena with his cup. "You are about to be obsolete. This would be some way you could be still involved with the world gates. Sort of keep your hand in." Inside Elena snorted. Her stomach began to settle. His contempt was oddly reassuring.

"If this group is about to be obsolete then why would you want them to work with you?" The man took a deep drink from his mug, finishing his coffee. He reached forward and poured himself another mug. This time he didn't bother with the sugar or creamer.

"Oh we really don't, " he said. We just thought it would be good for you to remain in contact and maybe give the project a sense of history. Maybe you could teach the history of the thing or something since your skills are no longer needed."

"I see, " Elena said. "So you are being gracious to an out-moded group. That is very generous of you." The words fell heavily from her lips, weighted with meaning and import. Elena could almost feel them hit the table between them. "So you want these pilots to teach history?"

"More or less, " he replied.

"Well, I wish you the luck with that. I'm afraid you are mistaken about my being a pilot and I really don't have any inclination to be a history teacher. So I guess I would have to decline the position." She let the silence stretch while she mentally counted to five. "May I leave now?" The door opened and Elena started as the man in front of her shot to attention nearly spilling coffee down his shirt in his haste. His lazy manner evaporated.

"That will be enough. Be seated." The man sat back down. Elena turned her attention to the newcomer. I am Macmillan and that is Smith." He gestured to the seated man before walking around the table and seating himself. He thumped a large file on the table. "I think we can cut through some of the bullshit here." He opened the folder. "We have ships that can go into the world gates. It is a new project. We have one that is completely operational and one that will be online in three months. We have recently run into a snag. We believe that while rather limited and out dated, your prior experience may prove helpful in this instance. Our fully operational vessel, The USS Navigator went through the world gate at precisely this location." Macmillan unfolded a map and shoved it towards Elena. It slid across the slick wood and she stopped it from sliding off the edge out of reaction. She looked down at the map in her hand and frowned at the location marked.

"How long has it been missing?" She asked.

"It went missing on August 25th of this year at approximately 1400 hours." Mentally Elena translated the time and added that data to her mental files, several things were not making sense, but to ask would clearly state that she knew what was going on, a statement she was not inclined to make.

"I'm very sorry sir but I am afraid you have the wrong person. I have no idea what world gates are or what you expect them to do or what you expect me to do about them."

"26 people were aboard the Navigator, Ms. Calabrese. Our second ship will not be operational for another three months. Your involvement could save their lives." Macmillan pulled out a sheaf of pictures, laying them out on the table in front of Elena. Bright young people in uniform stared out at her. Inwardly, she sighed. She looked at the pictures, committing the smiling faces to memory. Her mind put the facts together as only a well-trained pilot could do and she knew that not one of those people were still alive.

"They have families who miss them and who want them home. You can help get them home."

"I'm sorry, " she said. "I can't help you." Smith looked as though he wanted to say something but Macmillan silenced him with a look.

"Will you at least think about it and give us your answer in a few days?"

"I can give you the answer in a few days if you'd like but nothing I can do could help those people. I'm sorry." Macmillan's eyes narrowed and for a moment he studied her. His eyes made her think of one of her high school math teachers. Everyone believed he could stare at you and tell if you had ever even thought of cheating. Elena reminded herself she was no longer a student. She met his gaze.

"I only ask that you think about it. We will contact you in a few days." He stood and Smith leapt from his seat. "Smith will return you to your home." Macmillan held out his hand and Elena stood holding hers out for him to shake. "We will contact you in a few days when you have had time to think. Oh and Ms. Calabrese, one of the reasons that you were brought here was to illustrate a point. We can find you whenever we want." Macmillan walked around to the desk, opened the door and let himself out with out a backward glance. Elena felt goose bumps rise on her arms from his words.

"If you will come with me, " Smith said stiffly. Elena followed him out the door. The young man who had brought the coffee was waiting outside the door, her purse in his hand. He passed it to her as she walked out.

"Thank you, ' she said automatically. He smiled and turned away. She didn't ask him about her coffee beans. Smith escorted her through the hallways and out the main door. Elena found herself blinking in the sunlight, the relief at being allowed to be free of the building washed over her. She was not being held. She looked around amazed at how beautiful the world was. As she turned her eye caught the profile of someone familiar. She blinked hard, the oddity of seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar environment momentarily jarring her. She blinked again as if clearing her vision.

"Ian?" she said her voice tilting up to make the name a question. His head turned in her direction at the sound of his name and his eyes went wide when he saw her standing there. Smith cursed under his breath and stepped between her and Ian.

"This way ma'am." He pointed in the opposite direction. Elena felt her jaw clench. She knew who she had seen. She didn't really need to see him again, and at the moment talking to him was probably not the smartest of ideas. But at least she knew how the military had come by their information. She allowed Smith to lead her from the base and into a car.

He was visibly relieved and she was surprised he couldn't hear her teeth grinding. More was becoming clear every second she thought about it. Elena managed to keep herself calm until Smith dropped her off in front of her apartment building. She stepped out of the car closing the door without looking back. If Smith minded he didn't show it. He simply sat there and watched Elena enter the building before driving away.

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