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   Chapter 4 Alliance

Alliance: Book Three of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 17083

Updated: 2018-02-26 14:58

Chapter 4

The sun was down by the time she turned off the highway and began navigating the city streets. Both of her stores were closed for the night, but she drove past them anyway. Calabrese Imports gleamed softly in the streetlights, its faded gold lettering and dark wood accents giving the impression of class and elegance. When she became afflicted with the Calling, she left the Guild and started the business, augmenting what she knew of imports with what little she knew of business and a whole lot of books about startups from the library.

"Almost six years now, " she said to herself, still amazed the store hadn't flopped in the first six weeks. Business slowed as the economy shivered and shuttered, but overall they fared well. Calabrese Imports focused more on the small scale items. These were they types of things that could be used to refresh a room when you didn't have the funds to completely renovate.

Many of her regular clients needed to look as though they had not needed to tighten their belts and had appreciated the slight alteration in her wares. After all nothing attracts money like money. No one wanted to look desperate or worn. The second store, still in its first year of operation, helped with those gatherings as well, providing unique items for the table. Many of the same clients realized an intimate gathering at home was often times more cost effective then hosting a night out.

While Calabrese Imports looked classy and elegant, Nibbles gave off the impression of sassy fun. The letters were written in bright red script and the store featured various foods from hither and yon. Elena smiled. The fact that hither and yon were actually off-world was covered up by re-packaging, re-branding and some clever marketing tricks.

Elena's eyes darted upwards to the second floor windows leading into her marketing person's apartment. She was hesitant to hire Andre as he was Peter's cousin, but the gamble paid off. He had proven his worth in the business ten times over in the last year. Andre and Elena had also gone on several dates since he came into her world. The fact that she travelled most of the season kept things moving slowly, but they were still moving. She wouldn't actually call him her boyfriend, but she knew neither of them was seeing anyone else. For now that was enough.

The window displays changed out since the last time she was by and she liked the new designs. She made a mental note to mention this to her two managers when she stopped by the next day. Confident that all was well, Elena drove home. She put her car in the garage behind the apartment building. Kiera's car was parked a few spots over so she knew her neighbor made it home all right. Elena had the feeling she would have headed directly into the shower. While the cold salt water baths in the ocean were enough to keep everyone clean, a hot shower was still a missed luxury. Thinking of her own shower Elena headed up to her apartment.

As she pushed open her front door her nose wrinkled at the smell. Nothing had gone bad while she was out and it certainly didn't smell as though something died, but the apartment had the stale scent of unused air sitting in a box. Elena crossed to the window and pried it open, the humidity causing it to stick a little. She continued moving around the apartment and when she was done, felt a nice cross breeze for her efforts.

A row of scented candles stood on her dresser and she decided to light them. They were out of the breeze, but close enough to it that the scent could move through the room without the candles blowing out. After assuring there would be no fires, Elena treated herself first to a hot shower to wash off the grime and then when she was clean, a long soak in a deep tub filled with bubbles. For once her hot water supply complied with her wishes.

By the time Elena extracted herself from the bath, the bubbles faded to a thin layer of rainbow hued oil, the water cooled and her skin turned pruny. She let the tub drain and slipped into an oversized t-shirt serving double duty as a night gown. The hot water made her feel nearly boneless and she slipped into bed, grateful that she put fresh sheets on the bed before leaving for her last trip out. She shut her eyes and drifted into sleep. The dreams caught her almost immediately.

The music came first this time. It was there in the darkness. The song was always the same and she looked it up on line, humming as she scrolled through various classical pieces. It had taken nearly six months to find, a fact she chalked up to her complete lack of knowledge about classical music. She finally caught a snippet of the song on NPR while she was changing stations. It was the Invitation to the Dance, originally written by Carl Maria von Weber in 1819 and then later recorded by Hector Berlioz in 1941. Elena still had no idea what it meant or why it was there but she at least identified it, making it feel a little like progress. She sank into the song and had the impression she was spinning. The spinning increased and the darkness faded.

After many repetitions of this dream, she was unsurprised to find herself dancing. She was dressed in a ball gown of golden silk that shimmered in the light. The way it shimmered let her know that the light was not electric, but candlelight and that the dress was real, raw silk. She felt rather than saw the necklace around her throat. When she first began having this dream she described the necklace to Andre in great detail and he drew it for her. It looked familiar and she kept the picture by her home computer, but so far been unable to place it as she had the song.

She looked into her dance partner's face, but was surprised not to see Andre looking down at her. Every other time she had this dream he was her dance partner. "In all fairness, " she thought, "It still could be Andre."

Over his face was a plain white mask. It appeared to be fired porcelain and was held to his face with a ribbon the color of heart's blood. On the left cheek, at the height of the cheekbone, was painted a gold star. The star looked less like paint and more like gold leaf. They danced across the floor in time to the music. Though their feet made no sound, she could feel the wood of the dance floor beneath her heels. Her partner's hands were encased in white gloves with pearl buttons at the wrist. At his neck was a crimson cravat to match the strings of the mask. A diamond stickpin held it in place. The diamond winked with blue fire.

Both were new additions, as Andre always appeared in a standard black tux with no cravat and no gloves. She frowned a little over this change, but had little time to ponder it as the music shifted and she and her partner began to spin wildly across the floor. She looked up and the candles bled to ribbons of light as they spun. The crystal drops of the chandelier fell pattering to the dance floor. More drops than the chandelier could have possibly held fell to the floor and her partner, whoever he was, let her go.

She spun wildly out of control, her dress rustling around her at first then fading to silence. The lights went out, but she could feel the crystal falling even as she spun. Abruptly the music stopped and she fell to her knees gasping for breath. There was enough light to see, but it was storm dark and the chandelier's crystal drops turned to a cold pelting rain. Her gown was replaced by a pair of faded blue jeans with a hole starting on her right knee and a faded Vandal's t-shirt that was more gray than black. She was still wearing the diamond necklace.

She glanced at her hand where it was pressed flat into the deck of the Storm Chaser. On her left hand she could see the faint outline of a gold star. It was faded as though she had gotten it at a night club and showered most of it off when she arrived home. This too was new, but she didn't have time to ponder the change.

Thunder split the wind's howl and was followed almost immediately by a brilliant bolt of lightning. She looked up at the sound of the thunder and in the lightning's glare she saw the outline of a ship.

They were still following. With a growl she pushed to her feet. She could not lose this cargo. They would not catch her. The force of her conviction kept her moving as the wind and rain increased. They would not have her cargo.

Elena forced her way through the storm and to the pilot house. The radio was crackling, but she turned

it off without listening to it. They were near the Marta, but the season had closed. Elena gritted her teeth and reached for the channel the same way she reached for the unopened channel leading to the new planet. Energy flowed out of her and into the channel. Slowly it stretched. She pushed harder, the channel fighting her efforts like a rubber band stretched almost to the breaking point. Finally, it was deep enough to allow the Storm Chaser passage. Her ship slipped through and behind her Elena slowly allowed the channel to fall back to its previous depth. She collapsed to the floor of the pilot house, her energy utterly spent.

As darkness descended once again, Elena could feel moist earth beneath her body and the scent of lush tropical growth. It smelled like a greenhouse and she thought of Kiera and the container garden she had filling up all of the odd corners of her apartment and turning her balcony into a small garden. Her body relaxed and the thought that she was safe filtered in.

In bed, Elena woke up. Her hair was damp from sweat and she realized she would need another shower before work the next day. Her t-shirt was wrapped around her and she wiggled to set it to rights. Her breath was ragged as though she had run a mile. She forced herself to slow her breath and calm down. She was safe in her bed, not trying to stretch a channel to avoid pursuit.

As she calmed, Elena reviewed the dream. Even with the changes, she still didn't have much detail. She mused about the meaning of the gold stars and the change in her dance partner. As always, she wondered what cargo was so precious that she would risk a closed channel in a storm. And as always, she came up with no real answers. Slowly she drifted back to sleep.

Morning came far too quickly for Elena's liking. The sun poured in through her bedroom window and for a moment she was disoriented. Her cabin in the Storm Chaser had its porthole on the opposite wall. The lack of motion was also somewhat disconcerting. She took a deep breath and realized where she was.

"Definitely too much time shipboard, " she decided. She slid out of bed, took a quick shower, dressed and poured kibble into Spin's bowl. She received a meow of discontent.

"We only have the dry stuff today, " Elena said. "Sorry, but at least you get breakfast. My cupboard is bare." Months of irregular grocery shopping left her with half a bottle of no doubt soured wine and half a pint of frost bitten chocolate ice cream.

"Not exactly the breakfast of champions, " She said closing the refrigerator door. Planning a big lunch in her head, she grabbed her purse and headed off to work. Along the way she passed Zoltoy Consulting. The lights were on and it looked like someone was occupying the space, but she didn't know who.

She figured out, with help from Andre, that Zoltoy was owned by Peter and she wondered if he would be spending a lot of time there during the off season. She knew he had much more delicate and profitable business ventures than their partnership, so she hoped they would keep him busy and far away. She knew she would have to make time for meetings with him, but as she would also be meeting with Riko the thought did not amuse her.

Elena passed by the storefront and wondered at Peter's appearance. She had never seen him with his suit jacket off let alone with his sleeves rolled up and hair mussed. Her mind immediately conjured up a late night with some blonde model, but didn't think he would rush out of bed merely to say a few meaningless words of formal parting to her.

"Still he had to be doing something, " she mused as she walked. Not too far from Peter's storefront, Elena smelled the aroma of fresh cinnamon rolls coming out of a newly opened bakery. She smiled, pleased at this new addition to her neighborhood. She detoured in and picked up enough to share with the staff of both the imports store and Nibbles and continued on her way, pleased to have solved her breakfast dilemma so easily.

"So how long are you back for this time?" Susan asked as Elena walked through the door. Elena smiled at imports store manager and placed the box of cinnamon rolls on the counter.

"A while this time, " she answered. Roger, manager of Nibbles heard them talking and came over.

"So does that mean two days or three?" he asked. She laughed.

"Actually with the exception of my cousin Nate's wedding next week, I have no trips scheduled until the October buying trips for the Imports store. I'll be gone for a week for the wedding but that's all."

"Really?" he said. "Well, well."

"Does that mean we shouldn't bury you in paperwork your first day in for fear you will invent a trip out?" Elena sagged.

"There is a lot of paperwork isn't there?" she asked, knowing the answer before seeing both managers nod. She gave into the inevitable. "Well no hope for it I suppose. I brought cinnamon rolls for everyone." She opened the box and took hers out. "So at least I will have something sweet while I go through the mounds of built up paper."

"I have coffee brewing in the conference room upstairs, " Andre said standing the archway between the imports store and Nibbles. He was wearing a pair of faded jeans and a loose buttoned down shirt. He gave her a half smile and she couldn't help but smile in return. "Welcome home."

"Thanks, " she said. "Maybe I'll just work in the conference room then, if I'm not bothering you."

"No bother, especially with those cinnamon rolls." He took one from the box. Susan and Roger disbursed to finish opening and to gather paperwork and Elena followed Andre back to the upstairs conference room. He poured and handed her a cup of coffee.

"So how did it go?" he asked. He settled himself across from her at the conference table and began pulling apart his cinnamon roll, unrolling it into a long strip. He broke off a section of the strip and popped it in his mouth.

"They accepted the proposal, " she told him. She took a bite of the warm cinnamon roll and tried not to get icing on her nose.

"Excellent." He replied.

"It is, " she said taking a sip of coffee. "I'll have to have more meetings with Riko, but overall not a bad deal. It is going to be a busy off-season though."

"Hopefully not too busy, " Andre said. "There is a new flick coming out this Friday. Can't remember the title off hand but it looked promising. Are you up for it? Maybe with dinner before?"

"Sounds like a good way to spend a Friday night, " she answered.

"Good, I'll pick you up around seven at your place on Friday then."

"Great." They heard the treads of footsteps on the stairs and both turned expectantly, watching Roger enter the room. Elena's face fell when she saw the stack of paper he carried. He set it down on the table.

"I guess it is time for work, " she said.

"I guess so, " Andre replied. He finished his cinnamon strip and picked up his coffee. "When you come up for air I have some ads I need to run by you." He stood.

"Sure, " she replied. He headed back to his work area.

"I categorized and labeled everything, but let me know if you have any questions, " Roger said.

"I will, " Elena promised. "How is our inventory, " Elena asked, hoping the stocks they picked up would carry them through the off-season.

"Good actually. The suppliers have been on time and the shipments all correct. We have a few things that aren't moving as fast as expected and others that are flying out the door. I've made a note about that in the first section." Elena looked down and sure enough the first section was entitled sales. She flipped back the page and stared in amazement.

"You made a chart, " she said. She flipped the pages. "Several charts, " she corrected herself.

"Well, yes, " he said. "It seemed the easiest way to convey the information and as it is the first year of operations, it seemed prudent."

"And it makes the rest of us look bad, " Susan said from the doorway. She had her own stack of papers.

"That was not the intent, " Roger said. Susan set her papers down on the table next to Roger's and the two began bickering good-naturedly. There seemed to be no animosity in it so Elena let it go without comment. A few minutes later they both headed back downstairs leaving Elena with the paperwork and still lightly arguing. Elena finished her cinnamon roll, licked the remains of the frosting from her fingers and refilled her coffee. Thus armed she set to work.

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