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   Chapter 2 Haven

Haven: Book Four of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 22876

Updated: 2018-02-26 15:21


Chapter 2

As Elena walked she felt like a weight had been lifted off of her. She dealt with Andre. She could still feel the raw sting of the betrayal, but it no longer loaded her down. She couldn't feel good about the situation, but she knew that she would no longer worry over it like a dog with a bone. She would never tell Peter what Andre did. All of their toxic mess was their doing and theirs to deal with. She had the feeling that Andre would not stop in his quest to take down Peter and she didn't have high hopes for that ending well, but it would not be on her conscience. Peter was ruthless and dealt with threats immediately and permanently. She knew that Andre understood that side of Peter as well.

"Whatever happens now does not involve me, " Elena told herself as she walked. All of her business information was passed to Victor and kept at the office away from Andre's sight. The only information he could pass would be about his own designs or from general observation. That certainly cut down on potential entanglement.

Andre taken care of, Elena turned her mind to Douglas. She wondered if she would be seeing more of him now that Andre was no longer a viable source of information. He stopped by a few times, but those visits were brief. Riko asked her about the nephew she assigned to be her liaison with Elena, and Elena got the impression that Douglas was working more for his own benefit rather than on Riko's behalf making the reports Riko craved sparser than she wanted.

'Or at least not checking in on a regular basis, ' Elena thought. Elena tugged the street door to the lab open and stepped inside the first floor stairwell. She frowned to herself as she began to climb the stairs. At the party hosted by Danvers, Elena ran into a man named Hashi who was viewed as Riko's heir apparent. From his conversation she gathered that he believed the alliance Elena currently had with Riko would pass to him once he took Riko's place. Riko was rumored to be ill and slowly failing with about two years left to live.

"If that's true then we might have a time line, " Elena muttered to herself as she entered her offices. Elena wasn't thrilled by being partnered with Riko, but it was a necessary evil and she actually gained a great deal from the association.

She had many pilots who lost their ships and needed new ones. Riko's involvement on the planet was a shipbuilding one and as her partner, Elena's pilots were at the top of the list for new ships. Given the rate of work being done in Riko's various ship yards, both earthside and on the new planet, Elena estimated it would take at least a year to have all of her pilots outfitted. "It is all in the timing."

"Making wicked plans?" Victor asked from behind his desk, looking up at her as she entered.

"Very wicked plans, " she told him with a smile.

"I do love wicked plans, " Lisa said stepping into the central area. "Are you planning to share, oh wicked one?"

"Actually yes. I need the two of you to help me with my wicked plans." Elena glanced at the door leading to the stairwell. "Would you mind if we talk in one of the offices?" She asked them. "I don't think wicked plans in the making should be quite so public."

The other two followed her into her office and Elena sat down behind her desk. She could see the stack of reports Victor set on the edge of her desk and waited patiently as he and Lisa pulled up chairs. She realized that all of their group meetings took place in the laboratory over the large work surface.

"Maybe we can turn one of the extra offices into a conference room or something." she said. With both Victor and Lisa pulling up chairs in front of her desk she felt a little too boss like for her own comfort. She shrugged off the feeling.

"I can take care of that, " Victor said making a note about the conference room in his steno pad.

"That would be great, " Elena said still a little uncomfortable with having an assistant. "And thanks for dealing with the reports and such."

"Not a problem." Elena got the impression that Victor found her concern amusing.

"Okay, " Elena said, taking a deep breath. "This is about my contract with Riko. I have no intention of breaking it with her, but there are rumors that she has about two years left before she meets her maker. I want to figure out an exit strategy. I believe there will be a bit of a fight for her seat and I do not want us caught between the warring factions."

"Isn't there just some sort of election for her seat?" Lisa asked. "I mean it's a Council, right?" Victor laughed. The laugh had a hard edge to it. As a hefty chunk of his family died so they would be unable to take the South American seat on the Council, she didn't begrudge him the edge. Her parents were killed to prevent her mother from taking the North American seat and her father from being Alexandro's heir. As Therese tried to kill her for more or less the same reasons she could feel the edge in her voice as well.

"It isn't that cut and dry, " Elena said. She and Victor exchanged glances.

"So how does one become a Councilor?" Lisa asked.

"The simple version, " Victor began. "Is that a ruling Councilor chooses an heir for their seat and trains them accordingly so there will be some attempt at continuity, but once a seat is empty, any qualified applicant from the former Councilor's set of allied Houses can put themselves forward as a candidate. Sometimes the seat goes to the heir and sometimes not."

"So there is no general election?"

"Not exactly, " Elena said, wondering how to untangle the mess for her straightforward lawyer.

"When a seat goes empty, it remains empty for eight months out of respect for the dead."

"What if they just retired?" Lisa asked. She was scribbling notes on her legal pad.

"No-one retires from the Council and we have never had anyone kicked off. You leave the Council only by death." Elena told her. Lisa looked up, her mouth forming a little o of surprise.

"After the eight months have passed, the Council will take nominations." Victor continued where Elena left off.

"Okay, " Lisa said. "So nothing happens for eight months and then there are nominations?"

"Not exactly, " Elena said. "During those eight months people who are going to put themselves forward for a Council seat consolidate their power bases and make new alliances. Kind of like a politician gathering supporters before announcing that he is going to run for president."

"Oh, " Lisa said nodding. "That makes sense."

"Most candidates will also take the opportunity to eliminate a few rivals before nominations are taken, " Victor added. "When a Councilor dies there are generally quite a few people who are eligible to take the seat. Some refuse to attempt it and throw their support in with others who want the seat. If a candidate can't bring one of the other eligible folks under their control, they are more often than not eliminated."

"Eliminated as in killed?" Lisa asked her voice squeaking up a little at the end of the sentence. She looked to Elena to see if Victor was joking. Elena nodded her head in agreement and Lisa lost what little color she had.

"During Peter's rise to the Council seat there were 28 candidates eligible for the nomination. At the end of the eight months there were only two left alive." Elena told her.

"And the one who lost, Dmitri, was found dead two days after Peter took the seat, " Victor added. Elena wasn't going to add anything to that. They waited for Lisa to process the information. She started to write something down, but then stopped as though unsure what she should put on the page. She took a deep, shuttery breath and let it out slowly.

"Okay, " she said finally. "Okay. So the seat comes open and is held empty for eight months while there is a… winnowing among the contestants. Then what?"

"Often times only one candidate is left and that candidate is then named as a Councilor. Other times, there is a vote among the other Councilors."

"So what makes someone eligible?" Lisa asked.

"There is a list of requirements, " Victor said. "I can get it for you if you'd like. It includes things like being listed as a Head of House, maintaining a successful business not just for your own purposes, but for the benefit of your family and the families associated with you. If you are male then you have to be married or at least engaged when you are nominated. If you are female you have to Captain your own ship as well as being a pilot. You also have to have had family live in the district of the seat for at least 200 years. Things like that. There are more restrictions of course. It is a pretty strict list so that the numbers for eligibility are kept low. If not then whenever a Councilor died we would have a massive blood bath. It's bad enough the way it is, no-one wants to make it worse."

"Wait, " Lisa said with a frown. "200 years?"

"Have you seen the family tree above my computer?" Elena asked.

"Yeah, " Lisa replied, "The odd one with the extra notations?"

"That would be it." Elena said with a smile. "The names are all listed with place of birth, death and burial, if there was one. Most members of the Guild have one of those in order to prove eligibility, along with the paperwork to back it up. Families will work for generations to get a descendant eligible for candidacy, doing things like returning to an ancestral home to give birth so the birth certificate will have the right district on it no matter where people live."

"You have two charts." Lisa said with a frown. "Don't you? I think I remember seeing two."

"You did, " Elena said. "One is for my father's side, The Calabrese line, my grandfather is a Councilor. The other is for my mother's family."

"So you could take his seat?"

"Not exactly, " Elena said with a shake of her head. "Since my mother was eligible for a Council seat and my father was listed as my grandfather's heir when my parents married, a decision was made that any children they had would fall to my mother's line and even if my father took my grandfather's seat it would have to pass back to one of my cousins rather than to me. That is why I was born in the United States while my cousins were born in Italy."

"So because you were born here you can't take his seat?"

"Technically I am still sort of eligible for the seat, if my grandfather did die and I wanted his seat then I would move my home officially to Italy and declare myself to be returning home upon his death and then the 200 years would hold true as long as any children I had were born in Italy as well. I would have to forsake my mother's seat to do so. My being born in a different country would be looked at as a fluke as long as I relocated everything to his district upon his death. If I had a child born in the US, then that child would never be eligible for the Italian seat as there would be a permanent gap in family occupancy."

"And your mother?"

"Was born here as well. Her family claimed membership in the DAR and the family tree goes back well before the revolution. The New World pilots were required to fall under the …supervision so to speak of the Councilors from Europe, Asia and Africa, depending on their bloodlines as the officially recognized countries were under 200 years old. In 197

6 the US turned 200 officially and talks began in the Council regarding New World seats. Some nations were older than the US and already reached their 200 year mark, others were younger, but still approaching it." Elena paused and ran a hand through her hair. She always hated politics.

She sighed and continued her explanation. "There isn't one Councilor for each country you understand, there are districts. And sometimes the alliances between districts change. For example, for a long time the pilots of Egypt were allied with the seat based in Tokyo, but about a hundred and fifty years or so ago they shifted alliances to join with the seat in Johannesburg. I don't recall why. And of course the seats change a little as well as districts shifting. At one time Thebes was the seat for most of the middle east. Currently there isn't a middle eastern seat." Elena paused and looked to Lisa who nodded showing that she was following.

"Why not?" Lisa asked.

"It's complicated and requires maps and Guild history books to explain. It's an odd combination of Guild politics, real world scenarios, population bases and I think there was a family feud or two in there as well. I can see about checking a book or two out at the Library to try and explain next time I'm on the DF if you would like."

Lisa nodded. "That would certainly help."

"Anyway, " Elena continued. "The Council created three new seats, North America, Central America and South America. They felt it was enough to cover the area, but not enough to completely throw off the existing balance of power. The more districts created then the fewer pilots and families each Councilor can count on for their power base. Three new seats were all that the Council was willing to accept."

"So who sits on the North American one? That's what you are allied with right?"

"Currently no-one sits on any of the three seats."

"But you said they were created in the seventies?"

"Actually they were created in the early eighties. Discussions began in the mid-seventies., " Elena told her. "It took almost a decade to reach a decision."

"So why is no-one in the seats now?" Lisa asked.

"Because, " Victor said. "Some folks weren't happy about the splitting of power that the new seats created. Guild families have to tithe back to their home districts as well, so in addition to the loss of power and prestige there was a monetary loss when the new seats were created."

"So they blocked the election?"

"In a way, " Victor said. "Before anyone could take the seats, all of the eligible candidates for each of the three seats along with most of their potential heirs were killed."

"All of them?"

"Yes. Currently there are three potential candidates for the Central American seat, but that is going only by bloodline and length of time in the area as the oldest of them is about four or five years old and will need to earn the rest of the items on the checklist as they grow. Elena is the only adult candidate currently left for the North American Seat and her rise to the level needed to hold it is recent. I don't know if there are any other children left who could grow to be eligible. The culling of both North and South America was rather intense." Lisa's gaze snapped to Elena.

"I haven't decided if I will take it or not, " Elena said. "There are a couple of much younger candidates who might make it to full eligibility in the next fifteen or so years. As long as everything remains steady for the next year we should be fine. I am contemplating taking the seat though and I have some heavy thinking to do. This time next year I will have to make an official announcement regarding my intentions."

Elena took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She felt shaky. This was the first time that she admitted out loud that she was even considering taking the seat. She hadn't even realized she was going to say it until the words came out of her mouth.

"And if you should choose to take a seat, then we do not want to be embroiled in a battle of succession for Councilor Inoue Riko's seat." Victor told her, leading back to their original discussion.

"I don't want to be in that mess regardless of my decision, " Elena told him. "However we do need more information. I'm pretty sure we will be able to terminate the contract with Riko's House after she is dead. I did not write the contract as a generational one. A change in House leadership would require a new contract negotiation."

"I can check the terms and plan a few escape strategies, " Lisa said making a note. Elena was fairly sure she was much more comfortable discussing contracts than the killing of rivals.

"I also need to find out more information on Riko's family and associated houses, " Elena said. She saw Victor nod in approval.

"Even if the contract ends with her death, you are starting to gain in power, " he told her. "Economic power even without the Council seat is still going to be impressive. There is a good chance that you will be approached by one or more of the factions of Riko's House in order to tip the balance in their favor. After all, a leader who keeps his people fed is more appealing than one who does not."

Elena nodded at the oft repeated Guild axiom. The Guild did its best to stay out of public view, so flashier leaders were nowhere near as popular as solid ones. Even the leaders who were known for their ruthless behavior and disregard of public opinion were tolerated if they could maintain a certain level of stability.

"Black Pete is a bastard, but his House's children are fat, " Elena repeated, remembering what she had heard someone say about Peter. Victor smiled.

"Exactly. I'll compile a list of hopefuls and see if we can figure out if Hashi has any strong opposition."

"Thanks, " Elena said. "Is there anything that needs my attention before I go?"

"Not from me, " Lisa said. "I'm still working through those documents Evan let me have." Elena smiled. Senior Librarian Evan Greggs may have put the fear of god into nearly everyone he met, but he and Lisa quickly become friends, bonding over their shared love of the written word. "Oh I do have a book I wanted to send him. It's in my office." Lisa went to retrieve the book.

"Everything else looks in order. I compiled the reports from both businesses and there are extra copies for both Peter Baranov and Alexandro Calabrese there on your desk. Would you like me to mail them or will you be taking them to the DF with you?"

"I can take them, " Elena said.

"Then that would be it except for a few components of your contingency plan."

"Ah, " Elena said. "I forgot about that."

All pilots put together a contingency plan to take care of things should they get stuck skyside at the end of the season. It included everything from bank drafts to pay rent and utilities, to post cards to be mailed to various people telling them what a lovely time you were having on vacation.

Elena's packet would also include various shipments sent from scattered artisans to the store so that it would look like she was going on an extended buying spree as well as a vacation should she get stuck skyside during the off season. Her contingency plan would also insure that her employees got paid regularly even though she was gone. The only people who might take exception to her extended absence would be Smith and his merry band. Somehow she couldn't bring herself to feel bad about that.

"Do you have a list of what's missing?" She asked.

"I have a list on my desk." He told her. Elena picked up the reports and stood while Victor went to his desk. She stepped out of her office and into the central area. Lisa handed her a slim volume of poetry and Victor handed her a sheet containing the list of missing items. She thanked them both and walked across the hall to the laboratory. Elena typed in her code into the pin pad and was pleased that she remembered it. The light flashed green and she heard the lock click open.

The lab was quiet and nearly deserted with most of the staff still on the planet. Steven, the man in charge since Kiera and Mateo were on the planet, walked over when he saw Elena looking around. Like Kiera, Steven was more than met the eye. He appeared to be a slightly balding man in his mid fifties, with a few extra pounds accruing around the middle.

However like Kiera, his abilities allowed him to take a seed in his hands and make it grow in an instant. He could pick up a leaf or berry and tell you exactly what its properties were, if it could be used medicinally, if it could be eaten or used topically, as well as what the plant needed to grow happily and healthy. Elena found it a little odd and it seemed more magical than anything she could do, although Kiera thought her abilities were magical and Kiera's own mundane, claiming that botanicals could also be learned from books.

'I suppose it is what you grow up with, ' Elena thought. She smiled at Steven as he approached.

"I didn't realize you were in town, " he said, returning her smile.

"I'm leaving in the morning, " she told him. "Just stopping by for the mail."

"Of course, " he said. "There isn't that much this time. We had a pile go out with the last ship. Maria's ship I believe it was, the Crazy Chicken of the Sea." Elena smiled. With so many of the staff spending time off planet, each ship was asked to carry mail back and forth between the folks off world and the family left behind. With e-mail not a possibility, the lost art of the letter was returning, or at least it was with her laboratory staff.

"Anything unusual this time?" Elena asked as Steven picked up the mail bag. While letters were the most common item passed, they were by no means the only thing. Cookies and cakes had made the trip and Jasmine was unpleasantly surprised when her ship's cat found a tube of anchovy paste in one of the bags.

Of course Figaro, the cat, was surprised as well. The force with which the paste shot from the holes bitten into the side terrified the cat, leaving him unable to enjoy his illicit treat. Jasmine was still trying to get the smell of anchovies out of her cabin.

"Not this time, " Steven said, settling his reading glasses on his nose. "Or not that unusual. There are a couple of candy bars though, so best keep it out of the heat. I think that is about it. Last shipment had a bunch of cupcakes in it. I think it was someone's birthday." Elena laughed.

"I think I can deal with the candy bars." She told him. Elena took the bag and slung the cord over her shoulder. She watched Steven write down her name and the date in the ledger he kept and check the box marked outgoing. She shook her head as she left. There was also a list of items included in the mail bag. At the end of the season, Steven with his ledger of mail would probably have a better idea how many trips were made, who made them and what they carried than anyone else.

Elena made her way home, taking the reports, poetry and mail with her. The light was fading and Elena realized she would have enough time to do her laundry and get packed, with maybe dinner thrown in before bed. Elena's stomach rumbled reminding her that all she had given it today had been coffee.

"Dinner is a must then, " She said. Luckily, the Chinese place on the corner delivered.

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