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   Chapter 24 Alliance

Alliance: Book Three of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 26454

Updated: 2018-02-26 15:11


Chapter 24

Over the next few weeks, the feelings of being watched increased, but no matter how many times she turned around she could never spot anyone. Finally, she dismissed it as general paranoia. After all with the slow gathering of supplies it felt as though she were involved in a clandestine affair. The paranoia of someone spotting her was fairly reasonable under the circumstances.

With the establishment of an office, the unknown callers to her cell phone dwindled to nothing and Elena made certain to return any calls Smith left at her office within twenty four hours. She hoped it would serve as a means to encourage him in this behavior; thus far it had caused Smith related visitations at her apartment to stop.

"See I didn't need to live in a house with a huge cluster of family to get him to stop, " she told Spin. She winced as thoughts of Therese surfaced. Deliberately she pushed them away, vowing to figure out how to deal with her once the season started.

As always, the off season moved fast when things had to be done, but thankfully they moved smoothly. Benjamin could not find a way to talk with the shady Phelps character who may or may not have information about her parent's deaths, but he managed to secure all of the necessary gear for the excursion without sending up any red flags. Elena figured that as she had never shown a love of the great outdoors before, it would seem a little strange for her to be purchasing camping gear.

Andre seemed to accept her stepping back from their building relationship as part of her busy schedule. If he had other thoughts, he didn't express them to Elena during the few times she saw him. He concentrated on the ad work and internet marketing rather than the personal sphere which she appreciated. For her part, she found it was much easier to be nice to him when it was just business. She managed to joke and talk to him as normal most of the time, and on the days when she felt dealing with him was too much to handle, she passed the task off to Victor, even though doing so always made her feel like a coward.

Riko and Peter had both returned to doing whatever it was they did in the off season and once the new staff was vetted she thankfully ended her meetings with both of them. Reports to Riko were uploaded to the secure server she mentioned and when Douglas came calling, Elena found it rather easy to say a few polite nothings before going on her way. She had the feeling he was still trying to gather information, but as the sources Andre tapped for him were deliberately secured, Elena didn't think he was having much luck. As she still wasn't certain the reports were going to Riko or serving his own personal agenda, Elena was fine with watching him flounder.

More concrete reports went to Peter and Alexandro about the state of Nibbles. While it wasn't growing at a rapid pace, it was holding its own, which Elena had to admit in this economy was nothing short of miraculous. Tasting parties were held in conjunction with both Consuelo and other local businesses. In the imports store, the staff concentrated more on the smaller items and their refresh your décor campaign seemed to be working. Elena felt like a bumble bee in a sea of flowers. Every time she bent towards one, another called out for her attention.

The only glitch appeared around Christmas time when neither she nor Mateo were able to make it for the large family gathering. Alexandro was smart enough to assume that Elena was using business as a means to avoid Therese, but called to find out Mateo's reasoning. Mateo, being Mateo, told him the truth. Alexandro was not pleased she told Mateo of Therese's driving related incident and a heated argument ensued.

"He is of my House and I felt he needed to know, " was Elena's final comment on the subject, ending the argument on a chilly note, speaking to him not as family, but as one Head of House to another. In time, he thawed, sending flowers, but no apology. Elena knew he would take the opportunity at Christmas to question Therese and Elena was half curious about what the end results would be. She wondered if he would tell her if he did find out anything.

Pushing family politics and plotting cousins aside, Elena and Mateo had a small holiday gathering on their own, with Consuelo and Benjamin joining them for dinner. It seemed a brief calm in the steady activity.

Elena was willing to swear that time sped up after the holidays were packed away and they were very shortly standing on the eve of a new season.

"You lot look like kids on the first day of summer break, " Lisa commented as she watched Mateo run through a final check of the equipment. With the new people around, the space acquired a more lived in feel and no longer felt hollow. Her lab's staff of four blossomed into forty over the winter. Elena was glad they leased the extra space as most of it was already taken up.

In addition to the basic legal information, Lisa began serving as the defacto personnel manager, a fact Elena appreciated greatly as she was having a hard time keeping names straight. She knew there would be an additional group coming into the space who wouldn't know about the off-planet information and was hoping to finally learn the names before the others arrived. She knew it would take much longer to learn the earthside only folks as she would have much less interaction with them.

"It does look a bit like a summer camp excursion, " Elena said with a smile.

"Or the start of an occupying fleet, " Lisa said. She eyed the growing pile somewhat wistfully.

"You hate camping, " Elena reminded her.

"I know, " Lisa said. "Of course I've never tried it on a different planet. Maybe I'd like it on a different planet."

"Well, " Elena said with a laugh. "I have something better."

"Better?" Lisa looked dubious.

"Well a little less rustic. After we drop this lot off on the planet, I'll have to go to the Docking Facility to pick up the extra gear and meet with The Librarians, Riko and their teams before leading them back to the planet. I should be on the DF a couple of days. If you came along, you could actually download all of those books you keep asking questions about. We'd be gone about a month if you think you are up for it."

"DF, Docking Facility as in space station?"

"Yup."

"I could go and not have to camp?" Lisa asked, her eyes shining.

"It won't be all of the same amenities as home, but it wouldn't be camping."

"Can I talk it over with Bob tonight and let you know tomorrow?"

"Sure, " Elena told her. She left Lisa contemplating her participation and walked over towards Benjamin. He was checking things off a list while Mateo started splitting the gear into piles.

"Do you have the list of ships?" He asked as she stopped next to him.

"Yup, " Elena said pulling a folded piece of paper out of her pocket. She met with pilots and made sure ships were ready for the last few weeks and now had the list of who was ready to sail. The final test to certify that they could control the Calling would come once the season was underway.

The goods were going to be split between several different ships and sent out at different times so as to avoid notice. Elena had the feeling that a fleet of ships, all heading to the Marta at once would look suspicious, even if Smith had his eyes taped shut.

Since returning from the wedding, she participated in two follow up meetings with Smith, Jonathan and Thompson and while she elaborated on the transcripts Thompson carried, no one mentioned Therese.

Peter was at each of those meetings and Elena wondered if the military was trying not to tell Peter or if whoever Thompson told, decided not to tell Smith. Elena, for her part, decided not to ask. Being drawn into another web of secrets was not high on her priorities list.

She felt Peter watching her although he

."

"That could get fun."

"I keep waiting for them to ask, " Elena said with a shrug. "But somehow they never do. At least while I am there. Maybe they ask Peter."

"Somehow I doubt it, " Mateo said.

"Me too actually. Perhaps they will start asking, now that they have the channel entry done without a systems failure."

"Maybe, " Mateo said. They fell into silence and drifting quietly until Mateo left, returning a short while later with a thermos full of coffee for them to share.

"Kiera is giving Lisa the run down, " he told her as he poured. He sounded amused. "She's actually better with the explanations than either of us."

"Really?"

"Yeah, apparently when you don't grow up with this as norm, you have a better frame of reference when it comes to explanations." They lapsed back into silence and drank their coffee. After a time Mateo started glancing back. His forehead wrinkled in concern.

"I think they are following us, " he said. Elena turned and stared towards the closed Marta. Sure enough, she could still spot the graceless, unnamed ship. At their current speed it should have been no more than a dim outline in the distance. Instead she realized she would no longer need the spyglass should the other ship need to communicate.

"I wonder how you say 'what the hell are you doing' in semaphore, " Elena said.

"I can go ask Benjamin. He might know, " Mateo said. "But at least we know why they never bothered to ask us for directions. They just plan on following us."

"Yeah, too bad for them that we aren't going to the DF."

"Maybe they can just wait while you run your errands." Mateo said with a grin. He put down his coffee and went to fetch Benjamin and his flags.

Elena mentally calculated as Spin walked over and twined around her ankles. "Let's see, two days from channel to port, a day spent unloading. Jasmine and Maria should already be docked with their supplies, but we will still have to wait another few days for the first of the support staff crews. Then it will take another two days back to the channel."

Elena realized that in a best case scenario the other ship could be waiting about a week. She wondered if they would get tired and just sail off on their own. She frowned and turned back towards the ship. Leaving them on their own would be a death sentence. She didn't know if they figured out how to detect channels when skyside.

"Or what sort of provisions they have on board." She watched as Benjamin took his flags to a well visible spot on the deck. He signaled and waited. Elena turned back towards the other ship. Apparently they had been anticipating such a question and responded quickly.

"Following us to port, " Elena translated their response. She ground her teeth. "Of course they are." She reached forward and slid the window open. "Tell them we aren't going to port." Benjamin did his best and Elena realized that these were not the standard messages the flags were designed to convey. Benjamin's message seemed to give the others pause. Elena could see them gathering in a tight little cluster. She turned her spyglass in their direction and studied the group.

"Apparently Thompson decided to come out this time, " She said, spotting him in the midst of his men. Before, he directed from the USS Maine. "Fabulous." Elena realized that they were approaching the new channel and slowed her speed. She glanced back at the cluster of men.

"They had better reach a conclusion soon, " She muttered, not sure how long she would be able to delay her entry as inertia kept driving them forward. A conclusion of some sort seemed to be reached as the cluster broke up and there was a flurry of activity on deck.

"No signal though, " she noticed. "Apparently, it's a surprise." The man bearing the flags placed them down as he began to work on something else. The ship edged closer than the Storm Chaser's drop in speed would account for and Elena realized they increased their speed.

"What the hell are they doing?" Elena wondered. The ship edged closer until Elena began to worry they would ram into her. Movement increased and with a start she realized that they were shooting a tow line over onto the Storm Chaser. She felt the thump and pull as the line attached to her ship.

"Son of a bitch, " she muttered. Elena wondered if obscenities could be sent via semaphore. "They better not have damaged my hull." She said darkly.

"They are attached in the stern, well above the water line, " Mateo called out to her after checking. Elena frowned.

"Pull their line as close as possible, we are going into channel entry in five, " She told him, anger bubbling through her words. Catching her mood, Mateo and Benjamin leapt into action, hauling the other ship as close as they dared. Lisa and Kiera stayed back out of the way and once the rope was secured, all of them followed Benjamin back into the galley.

Elena turned her attention to the unopened channel. She poured her energy into and it opened. Elena had a brief moment to be thankful for the heavier draught as she led both ships through the channel and into the alien ocean. Once the channel was safely closed behind them she called the all clear and locked the wheel to maintain present course.

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