MoboReader> Fantasy > Haven: Book Four of The Channel Riders

   Chapter 1 Haven

Haven: Book Four of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 31896

Updated: 2018-02-26 15:21


Chapter 1

Elena came awake slowly and blinked blearily at her bedroom ceiling. There was a small hairline crack in the plaster from where the old building settled. She lay there contemplating it for a moment, wondering if it had gotten bigger or if she was just projecting. After all the cracks in her life were bigger, why shouldn't the ones in her ceiling?

Elena knew she needed to get up, but put it off a few minutes more as she silently contemplated the crack in the plaster. She felt the covers move as Spin jumped onto the bed and padded over, her silent cat feet shifting the blankets. Spin stopped mere inches from Elena's face and meowed. Elena tried ignoring Spin. The cat inched forward and meowed again. The gray cat was so close that her whiskers were almost touching Elena's face. Apparently sleeping in was not to be permitted.

"Fine, " Elena said out loud. Spin backed away as Elena sat up in bed. Spin watched her as though afraid that Elena might go back to sleep if she was not under constant observation.

"What are you going to do if I actually manage to get a day off?" She asked Spin. The cat tilted her head a little as if to mock the possibility. Elena frowned, admitting to herself that the cat was right and walked over to the bathroom. She managed to escape the cat's eyes until she returned to the bedroom.

Elena pulled on a pair of gray dress slacks and a red short sleeved shirt. It had a wide oval neck line and a decorative bow off to the side. Elena smiled. In the time she had known him, Elena came to realize that Smith did not enjoy dealing with non-military personnel and when he did deal with them, he wanted them to look as military as possible.

Elena quickly ran a brush through her straight black hair and frowned. It had grown out again when she wasn't looking. Pilots, as a general rule, either kept their hair long so that it could be tied back in a long tail and stay out of the way or very short for pretty much the same reason. Elena cut her long braid off when she left the Guild and wore her hair in a short shaggy bob cut until she returned. Now, her hair was almost brushing her shoulders, which was, as far as she was concerned, the worst possible length. If left loose it blew into her eyes, if she tried to tie it back, large sections refused to be contained.

"I suppose I need to get it cut again, " Elena said to herself. She added bright red lipstick to her mouth as an extra jab at Smith's sensibilities. She had no clue when she would be able to actually make an appointment to get a haircut.

Knowing that during the season Elena was only in town a few days at a time; Smith demanded this meeting citing life and death, national security and anything else he could think of to verbally hurl her way. Elena dutifully passed the message on to Peter, the Guild's representative, but he had his own business to take care of during the season, so she had been authorized by the Council to meet with the local military representatives alone. It was not an honor she was particularly thrilled to receive.

Elena was pretty sure it was planned that way and she was also pretty sure she knew why. She slipped on a pair of utterly impractical heels and hoped they gave Smith a coronary. Having seen too many horror movies where the heroine was forced to run away from the bad guys wearing impractical heels, Elena slipped a pair of sneakers into her oversized purse, just in case. After all, if she had the comfortable running shoes with her, it cut down on the possibility that a knife wielding psycho would chase her. It was like carrying an umbrella; it only rained when you left it behind. With the books the bag was carrying relegated to her office downtown, there was plenty of room.

"And they aren't nearly as heavy, " she commented as she walked to the kitchen and set the bag on the table.

Elena poured Spin's breakfast into her bowl and found her observation time ended as the cat dismissed her. Elena's primary role as the bringer of food was fulfilled, she was no longer important. Realizing there was no time for her own breakfast, Elena made her escape before Spin could protest the lack of wet food added to the dry.

It was still early in the season, but Elena was skyside more than usual. On planet RJ457 Mateo, Kiera and their teams were setting up camp. She and the other ships that sailed for her odd little House were busy not only ferrying the resources they came across to her labs here on earth, but to the Docking Facility or DF, which served as the human centric outpost in the middle of the intergalactic trade routes. In addition, since the team was planning to spend the off season on the planet, Elena was making certain they procured enough supplies to make it through without depending on local resources.

"At least the planet's channel is deep enough to be used off season, " she muttered to herself as she took the back stairwell to the garage. "They can get to the DF in an emergency even if they can't get back to Earth." Elena unlocked her battered green Toyota and realized she would have to make time to get its oil changed. She made a mental note to scan the vehicle for bugs before taking it to the shop as she wasn't sure how the mechanics would feel about discovering she was being spied upon. It was not exactly something she wanted advertised no matter whose side they ended up rooting for.

Elena pulled out of the garage and drove down the small access road. There was no traffic and she easily pulled onto the street. Elena delayed going back out by a day to accommodate the meeting with Smith. She knew he wanted to talk to her without Peter's looming presence and figured getting the meeting out of the way before he turned to drastic measures was probably a good idea. She requested that the meeting be early in the day though as she wanted to check on a few things before heading back out in the morning. She hoped desperately for a short meeting, but figured she hoped in vain.

The sun was still a dim haze on the horizon as she drove towards the nearby military base Smith preferred for his meetings. Elena yawned. The dream returned in the night and she felt exhausted by it. In her dream she was dancing with a masked man she couldn't identify. She was wearing a ball gown and a gorgeous diamond necklace.

Then as she spun, the chandelier's crystal drops turned to rain and when her dance partner let her go, she was left gasping for breath on the deck of the Storm Chaser as a storm raged around her. As usual, her clothing changed, but the necklace remained. In the dream she knew she had cargo she could not allow to fall into the wrong hands and even though the season shallowed the channel, she used her abilities to stretch it and pull her ship through. Her dreams now added a second ship, the military ship that Thompson's crew operated.

"Of course that has been sunk to the bottom of the ocean on a different planet in a different galaxy so it can't be that ship, " Elena muttered as she drove, barely registering the early spring flowers that popped up on the side of the road. The dream had her somewhat spooked. She had the same dream more times than she could count, often repeating several times in a single night.

It wasn't that the dream was completely terrifying, except for the heart pounding end, it wasn't. However, over time it seemed to be getting more detailed. "As though I were driving towards it and could see it more clearly the closer I come." The thought shook her. That wasn't the way dreams were supposed to work.

She had already seen the chandelier from her dreams in real life. It was in a private ball room in the upstairs portion of Danvers. She found its appearance disconcerting. Luckily, it remained as crystal and not turned to rain. The restaurant was the place to see and be seen on the DF if you were a political mover and shaker in the Guild of Families.

"Or if you want to be a political mover and shaker, " Elena thought trying to push thoughts of her cousin Therese far away, those shook her as much as the dream although in a different way. Since her cousin tried to kill her by running her over with her car, Elena did a lot of carefully not thinking about Therese. She was afraid that if she did her anger would boil over and she would do something that could not be undone. Elena wanted to make sure that if she did something permanent, it was the right thing and wouldn't harm anyone else.

Elena sighed and ran a hand through her hair. Not long ago, she only had herself to worry about. These days it seemed like every time she turned around her responsibilities grew. Two years ago she could have simply walked up to her cousin and slapped her silly with very little in the way of repercussions.

"Admittedly two years ago she wouldn't have tried to kill me." Elena pulled her car to a stop at the gates and gave the guard her name. Her identity was checked and the gate lifted.

"Lucky me, " she said under her breath as she drove onto the base and up to the building Smith always used. Elena parked and was escorted to the conference room. The young man who was her escort left her in the empty conference room and returned with coffee.

Figuring they weren't going to drug her before they spoke with her, Elena thanked him and poured herself a cup from the communal pot. She settled into the comfortable chair placed around the gleaming conference table. Elena glanced at the large mirror stationed on the wall across from her.

She knew her sessions were recorded as she had seen the transcripts and wouldn't put video past them. She stared at her face for a moment. The summer's humidity curled the ends of her hair a little and she absently tucked a curling strand behind her ear. As usual she thought her chin was too pointed, but she long ago made peace with that. Elena made a face at the mirror, crossing her eyes and sticking out her tongue.

"Put that in the official record, " she said to her reflection, knowing it was a two-way mirror. She had the feeling that if there was a video camera it was located behind the mirror. She took another sip of coffee, wondering how long they would keep her waiting. Elena was halfway through her coffee when Smith, Jonathan, and Thompson entered. Whatever hopes she had that Thompson might not have reported her excursion to an unoccupied planet faded instantly at the sight of him.

'Not that it was a high hope, ' Elena thought glumly. 'I think reporting stuff like that is part of his job description.'

"Good of you to join us, " Smith said gruffly. He jerked a chair away from the table as though he suspected it harbored a snake in its seat cushion. Elena shrugged. Smith, it seemed, was always in a bad mood. Thompson being added into the mix just seemed to exacerbate the situation. Elena didn't know if it had anything to do with rank, perceived authority or a personal grudge, but it seemed to be consistent.

She became accustomed to watching Smith's veins bulge in his neck as he tried to keep from yelling at her. He even had one in his forehead that would stand out every now and again. Thompson seemed to produce a teeth grinding effect in Smith and it was often hard to tell which of them irked him more. Elena was pleased that she wasn't his only target.

It was an interesting combination. The longer their conversations went, the more his anger bubbled. Elena was fairly certain that one day his veins would reach capacity and blow and his head would pop up like a pez dispenser. She doubted there would be candy inside.

"Good morning, " Jonathan said to her in a pleasant tone.

"Morning, " she replied as she watched him take his seat. Ever since he confessed to knowing the pilot Anna Sorensen as a teenager and worrying over her fate, Elena had grown unsure of how to deal with him. Jonathan showed her that Andre was betraying her by giving away information to Riko's nephew Douglas, but she didn't know if he reported the Guild politics to Smith. She was fairly certain that, like Thompson, reporting things of that nature was part of his job description. Somehow she didn't think he had though, and that gave her pause.

'I think I liked it better when I could just treat him like a used car salesman trying to sell me something I didn't want, ' she thought. Thompson merely nodded vaguely in her direction and poured himself a cup of coffee before sitting down.

"You lied to us, " Smith declared, his eyes nearly blazing with righteous fury.

"About what?" Elena asked. While she managed to duck certain questions and avoid other topics all together she didn't think she outright lied, although she wasn't sure why they expected her to tell the truth to them in the first place. They made their introductions after Smith sent people to kidnap her. She added more coffee to her already half empty cup, filling it again and letting the new coffee warm the old.

"You have a whole other planet, " Smith said accusingly.

"I don't own it, " Elena told him with a smile. "And it's not like I hid it in the closet until you were gone. Besides you never asked about planets."

"We never…never." Smith sputtered and Elena wondered if this was the moment he would actually have a coronary. She had never actually been the direct cause of someone's death before and despite her own jokes, wasn't sure she liked the idea. She was still a little squidgy about the way Ian died. Everyone watched Smith as he tried to calm himself down.

'Apparently I'm not the only one worried, ' Elena thought noticing the others' concern. She wondered if he had a history of heart problems.

"Should we get you some water?" she asked him.

"I don't need water, " he barked. "I need answers."

"You might want to start by asking questions, " Elena replied, her concern blunted by irritation. She caught a small smile from Thompson, which he quickly covered by lifting his coffee mug up for a drink.

'I'm glad someone is amused, ' she thought sourly.

"Will you please tell us about the planet?" Jonathan asked politely as Smith continued to sputter like an overheated kettle.

"The Guild of Families is a merchant Guild, " Elena said. She thought through her responses very carefully. She formed some guesses as to what they would ask and she knew what Thompson saw. She was wondering how much she would be allowed to get away with.

"That means we trade, " she continued. "The planet is a part of the trade routes." That wasn't an outright lie, but it was a little gray, even she had to admit that. Elena was trying hard not to directly lie to them, but not to tell too much. It was a fine line to walk, but she didn't want to find out what would happen if they caught her in a direct lie. She got the impression it would be bad, probably almost as bad as if the Guild believed she was giving away centuries- old secrets.

"And why couldn't our ships find the channel?" Smith asked sounding indignant.

"Have you been able to locate any channels from the skyside with your ships?" she asked. "From what I saw before you hadn't managed to spot the one you just managed to sail through once you were on the other side. I don't know why you are surprised you couldn't find another one."

"We have had our issues, " Thompson said agreeably. "But several of your trained pilots seemed unable to open the channel you sailed through to the planet." Elena tried not to frown, keeping her expression politely blank. She was hoping he hadn't noticed that.

"Not all pilots sail the same routes, " She told him.

"And the soldiers, " Smith asked.

"They stayed with the team we left on the planet to study the plants and the ruins." Elena said.

"Not our soldiers. Yours."

"I don't have any soldiers, " Elena said truthfully. Thompson smile

d. It looked more predatory than friendly.

"There were armed men and women on the planet, " he pointed out.

"There are also large predatory beasts on the planet, " Elena replied, returning Thompson's smile with one of her own. She knew he enjoyed being a bastard and she had no problem giving it right back to him.

"You have an army, " Smith declared. Elena hardly thought that a fair description of the Librarian's guards. "Armies invade."

"You are worried about humans invading Earth?" she asked lifting an eyebrow in mock surprise.

"Aliens, " he hissed from between his teeth.

"Most aliens don't even like us all that much. They tend to think of us as intergalactic comic relief. Boxed sets of old Star Trek episodes are given as gag gifts. I don't know of any race planning to invade us."

"Why not?" Smith asked, sounding somewhat offended. Elena shrugged.

"We are violent and brutish and often viewed as backwards yokels who can't even manage to get along with ourselves for more than a decade at a time. And even that is pushing it. We're amusing to watch, but trust me; no-one wants to get involved."

Apparently the concept that an alien race would know about Earth and not consider it worth bothering to invade was not one Smith was prepared to accept. He kept circling back throughout the morning's discussions, even though it was clear that Thompson was more interested in the planet.

After the third time Smith asked about potential invasion forces, Elena glanced at her watch. Normally she didn't wear one and only checked the time on her cell phone, but she learned that Smith would take all of her time if she let him and she wanted to be able to check the time without digging through her purse during the meeting. The Marvin the Martian watch was a gift she dug out of the bottom of her jewelry box specifically for this meeting. Given the topic of discussion, Marvin's turning hands pointing out the time made her smile slightly to herself.

"Somewhere you need to be?" Smith asked icily.

"Yes actually, " Elena responded. "I'm leaving in the morning and need to check on a few things before heading home to get my laundry done." Besides, she was running out of ways to hedge her answers to Thompson's questions. She managed to not give him any more real information than he already had, but didn't think she could keep it up much longer. She could almost feel him circling in for the kill, each pass getting closer.

"Laundry?" Smith's lips thinned as he pressed them together to staunch whatever angry retort wanted to come barreling out.

"Yes, laundry. I like to pack clean clothes when I leave home, it's sort of a personal quirk. I've already delayed my trip to meet with you and you are simply repeating the same questions at this point. So if you have nothing new you want to ask, then I think it is time for me to go."

"Actually I wanted to ask about my men, " Thompson said. "The ones left behind."

"I can pick them up on my return trip and drop them either in port or on the USS Maine if she is still stationed near the Marta." Elena told him. She didn't think he'd buy it and was unsurprised to see his evil smile curl around his lips.

"I think that they will be fine on planet until the end of the season, " he told her. "Although I would like to check on them periodically."

"That will be fine, " Elena told him. She figured he would want to leave them on planet as long as possible. She also knew that he couldn't get to the planet without her help. "I have no problem with leaving them on the planet or with you stopping by to check on them." She smiled sweetly and refused to offer him her ship as a transport service. "Now if you don't mind, " she added as she stood. "I really need to get going."

"Of course, " Thompson said. Elena didn't like the wicked grin on his face. She knew it signaled trouble. "I'll walk you out." Thompson walked around the table and led Elena back down the hall towards the exit. She could still hear Smith muttering behind her and Jonathan replying to whatever comments he made. Thompson didn't speak until they reached Elena's car.

"Until later, Captain, " Thompson said with a smile and a slight incline of his head. There was more than a little mock in his tone. Elena got into her car and realized she was frowning as she watched Thompson turn and walk away.

"He is up to something, " she said to herself as she drove towards the gates and off the base. She found herself running through possible scenarios as she drove back into town and realized she was thinking about him way too much.

"Which is probably what he wants." Elena pushed thoughts of Thompson and his evil plans away as she drove past her stores. She saw no parking spots so she decided to park at home and then walk over. Once her car was safely parked in the garage, Elena turned her steps towards work. The walk was short and Elena smiled in genuine pleasure at the sight of her stores.

Calabrese Imports and Nibbles both appeared to have several customers, which gave her no small amount of satisfaction. With the economy bucking and shuttering, there were fewer large scale clients. Very few people were redecorating their homes and corporate headquarters wholesale these days, or if they were then they were shopping elsewhere.

As a result, Elena concentrated on the smaller scale items that could be used to refresh a room and replace only the overly worn items. That kept the imports store doing well. She also branched out into internet sales to supplement the foot traffic and that seemed to be doing well also. The ad campaigns that Andre created for Nibbles tended to feature elegant dinner parties at home using both the foods that Nibbles sold and the items that the imports store carried. They partnered with Doug who owned the wine shop down the street and the Morgans, a husband and wife team who ran a local butchers shop a few doors over, to make a district wide campaign.

Several of her clients found hosting an elaborate party at their homes more cost effective than hosting a night out at a restaurant. Elena convinced Consuelo, the rather eccentric chef of Dockside Annie's and a favorite with Guild members, to part with a few recipes and they were printed on cards with scan-able coupons and placed in both of her stores as well as in both the butcher and wine shops for customers to take.

She saw several of the cards reappear when someone came in a second time for later purchases. She knew that Doug came up with some way to track which store the cards were taken from and approximately when they were taken. She hadn't paid too much attention, trusting her two managers, Roger and Susan to keep track of the details. She thought that both card colors and type of dishes might be a part of the system.

Whatever the system was, it seemed to be working. Cards picked up at a wine tasting of Doug's were scanned at Nibbles and ones picked up in the Imports store made appearances at the butcher's. There was a small bakery located a couple of blocks over that was also seeing the cards as well. She spoke to the owners of the bakery at the last merchants meeting and they seemed interested in getting involved. Her stores may not be raking in the cash hand over fist, but they were for the most part stable and able to remain so even when she was gone for long periods of time, which was all Elena hoped for at the moment.

The bell over the door chimed as Elena stepped into the imports store and looked around. TJ left his customer at the cash register where Emily completed the sale and walked over.

"Checking in?" TJ asked with a smile.

"Just making sure you loonies haven't run off to join the circus, " She replied with a smile.

"That's not until next week, " TJ told her. "This week is all about digging a tunnel to escape out the back when you aren't looking."

"Because doors are so passé?"

"We wouldn't get to wear the hardhats if we just used the doors, " TJ told her.

"I see, " She said with a laugh. "All that color coordination going to waste if you ditch the accessories. Well it's good to know the plan. I suppose I can call off the snipers and take down the razor wire."

Elena left him with a laugh and wandered the store. Everything seemed to be in order and running smoothly. She knew that Susan would have a mountain of paperwork for her and swung by the office. Susan was on the phone and Elena listened as her manager finished her conversation and hung up. Susan penciled something on the calendar before looking up at Elena.

"Designer coming in at four to pick up a few things we have on hold, " Susan told her.

"Excellent, " Elena replied. She watched as Susan tucked a few loose strands of her curly brown hair behind her ear. Elena knew from experience that the curls would spring out when Susan next moved. Susan and her curls had an ongoing battle for control. "Just stopped by to see if you need anything before I head out in the morning." Elena braced herself for the onslaught of paperwork and Susan laughed.

"I sent everything over to your assistant, " She told her. Elena blinked.

"Victor?"

"Do you have more than one assistant?" Susan asked.

"No, just the one." Elena replied. "And he gets to deal with paperwork." She smiled dreamily. "I knew there was a reason I hired him." Susan confirmed that everything was running smoothly and Elena went to check in with Roger. Apparently he too sent the paperwork to Victor. He was also thrilled about partnering with the bakery down the street.

There was a meeting shortly after Elena passed the suggestion onto Roger and plans for a promotional event were now underway. As promotional events seemed to delight Roger in a strange, unfathomable way, Elena left him to it. Elena felt her smile growing a little brittle as she climbed the stairs. She knew she needed to check in with Andre to see about the new ad campaigns, but could muster nothing but dread.

Before she found out about his betrayal, she and Andre had more or less been dating. The dates were sporadic during the season because she spent so much time out of town, but she felt they were building towards something. She liked his quirky sense of humor and the fact that he was Guild-raised meant that she didn't have to hide so much of her life from him.

Hearing him giving her reports to Douglas behind her back hit her like a fist to the stomach and so far Elena managed to not deal with him. He simmered on the back burner next to the mental pot marked Therese. She was fairly certain one of them would boil over soon and scald everyone in the process.

"Just checking in, " Elena said when she saw Andre. He was refilling his coffee mug and had a pencil tucked behind his ear. She wished he had a giant wart on his nose or gained a large amount of weight while she was gone, anything to keep him from looking delectable.

'Really, is a disfiguring rash too much to ask?' she thought.

"I was wondering when you would get to me, " he said. Andre smiled. It dimmed a little when her smile stayed polite instead of warming. "The new ads are on the table." Andre led her through the new campaigns as well as some of the new labels he designed for newer products.

After her cousin Nate's wedding to Ambra Carloti, a slew of new trade agreements were made and many of the goods the Carloti family and their associated Houses picked up were finding their way into the Calabrese inventory. As most of the goods came from different planets, they featured alien containers which would not look good on earth based shelves. Their strange writing was a little peculiar and some of their containers were designed for non-human use.

Peter Baranov, scary Council member extraordinaire and her business partner, ran a laboratory where the foods were tested against known allergens so they could print up ingredients lists to insure that allergic reactions were avoided. Then the items were repackaged and new labels were added. They were developing quite an extensive list of comparable allergens. Apparently if you were allergic to peanuts there was a whole section of intergalactic cuisine that should be avoided as well.

"These look good, " Elena said. As always she found it easier to concentrate on business. She approved all of the new designs and Andre stacked them up, neatly.

"I'll be leaving in the morning for another trip out." She said. Andre nodded.

"Are you avoiding me then?" he asked. Elena froze. She thought about telling him it was the season and blaming it on the life of a pilot. The smart thing to do would be to let him think she didn't know and use him to pass off faulty information. Elena was tired of doing the smart thing.

"Yes actually, " she said. "I am."

"Have you met someone else?" He asked. "Like maybe that Thompson guy?" Elena let out a startled laugh. It sounded sharp. Andre seemed relieved by her reaction. He took a deep breath. "Or maybe Peter?"

"Definitely not, " Elena said. She knew that Andre did not get along with his cousin Peter. She knew he blamed Peter for his father's death although from what Elena knew of the situation, Dmitri promised too many things he couldn't deliver to the wrong sort of people and that was what killed him. But it wasn't her family, so she stayed out of it. Andre sighed with relief at her words.

"I know you've been passing information to Douglas." Elena said. Andre stiffened and she wondered if he would try to deny it.

"I only gave him information about Peter, " Andre said. "I would never…"

"You gave him my reports, " Elena said, feeling her temper rise. "Mine."

"Peter…" he began.

"Is my business partner, " Elena interrupted. "Selling him out betrays me too."

"It's not you. It's him, " Andre insisted. "He deserves to be taken down. I only passed information about his section of the business."

"This is my business, " Elena said sharply realizing that Andre didn't see his actions as betraying her, just Peter. She shook her head and the stupidity of blind anger. "Anything you do to it affects me. It functions as a whole." Andre seemed to sag a little at her words.

"I didn't want to hurt you." He said softly. Elena shook her head, not certain what to actually say.

"Are you going to fire me?" he asked.

"No, " Elena said. "I won't fire you." He looked at her sharply.

"Why not?"

"Because Peter would ask why I fired you, despite the fact that all of your work has been excellent."

"You see what he is, " Andre said sounding triumphant. "You know he would kill me without a thought."

"I know what he is, " Elena told him. "I knew that before I got involved with him. In fact I used his reputation as a shield. Lots of people objected to this business at first. Most of those who objected are scared of Peter. His being scary and ruthless actually helps me. I don't want anyone's death on my head, Ian was bad enough. If I tell him what was done, then I'll have a part in yours. You know how he deals with betrayal. I'll let you decide what you want to do. I would suggest that if you do leave, you have another job lined up so that you can just tell Peter you got a better offer. I won't kick you out, but I won't fight to keep you."

"I understand, " Andre said. He stared at Elena for a moment. "I really wrecked things between us didn't I?" He seemed sad, but Elena refused to let it affect her.

"Yeah, " Elena said. "You did." She realized that while he was still handsome, a dark cloud of anger and hate seemed to cloak him, twisting him into something ugly. He might have feelings for her, but nothing mattered as much as that hate.

'I guess that's harsher than a wart, ' she thought as she left him and began walking towards the laboratory and her office.

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