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   Chapter 3 Haven

Haven: Book Four of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 36093

Updated: 2018-02-26 15:57


Chapter 3

The next morning, Elena finished the leftover Chinese food for breakfast. Cold sweet and sour pork was not normally the breakfast of champions, but it was the only thing in her fridge and would be spoiled before she next came home. Once she finished and Spin complained loudly that there was once again only dry food in her bowl, she and the cat were on their way to the docks.

At the docks, Elena parked her car, slung her bag filled with clean laundry over her shoulder and picked up the mail bag. The reports were in with her clothes and she put Lisa's book in with the mail figuring it was more or less going to the same place. Spin jumped down from the seat and Elena closed and locked the doors. She didn't think her older model Toyota with its factory standard stereo and faded seat covers was a prime target for anyone except someone going on a joy ride.

"It'd be a short ride though, " she told Spin as they walked. Elena forgot to get gas and now had just a little more than absolutely necessary to get to the gas station when she returned.

"Talking to yourself again?" Elena heard. She turned to find Benjamin hauling his bag out of the backseat of his car. She stopped and waited for the big man to catch up. Benjamin Valentine stood about six foot eight and every bit of it seemed to be composed of dense muscle. He was blonde with blue eyes and when you first met him you expected him to be just dumb muscle. Elena knew he used the impression to his advantage when he could. Although she personally thought that if you missed the intelligence shining in his eyes then you had to be dumber than a box of rocks yourself.

"If I don't talk to myself, I get lonely, " Elena told him. She waited for him to catch up and then they both began walking towards the docks while Spin meandered on ahead.

"Makes sense."

"Hey, I've been meaning to ask you, " Elena started as they walked. "I know the Council arbitrarily assigned you to my House. I want to say first off, I am happy to have you and you can stay if you want. But if you find that being a part of my House doesn't suit you, I won't make you stay. There will be no hard feelings if you left." To her surprise Benjamin laughed.

"I mean, I don't want you to feel obligated, " she continued thinking she bungled her attempt to set things straight. Benjamin only laughed harder. He stopped in the middle of the pathway nearly bent double with laughter. Elena stopped and looked at him. Tears were leaking out of the corners of his eyes. Finally, he straightened and wiped them away.

"I've been an independent since my parents died when I was seventeen, " he told her. "In the Guild you are family or you are nothing. I took odd jobs to stay in the Guild since it was the only life I knew, but without a family I was never fully trusted, always an outsider. I didn't really belong anywhere. Once word spread that I was a part of your House, all of that faded away. I had a place. I had respect. I appreciate that you don't want to force me to do something I don't want to do." Benjamin told her. "I really do. But I am more than fine with this recent turn of events. There is nothing for you to feel guilty about."

"Okay, " she said, in truth she had never really thought about the lives of the House-less. "But if anything changes…"

"I will let you know." He promised. They continued walking towards the docks. When Elena came in sight of where her ship waited she noted a figure leaning against the security door and groaned.

"What the hell are you doing here?" She demanded. Thompson pushed himself off of the door and stood straight. Elena noted the bag of gear by his feet and felt a sinking sensation in her stomach.

"Why Captain, " Thompson said with a wicked grin. "You know none of our ships will make it to your trade route. And you did say I could check on my men." Elena stared at him for a second and tried not to grind her teeth.

"This isn't a taxi service, " She told him.

"I am well aware of that, " he replied.

"Anyone who books passage with me works. You plan on coming with me and the same applies to you. You will not be standing idle and looking over my shoulder this trip."

"Sounds fair, " Thompson said amiably. Elena frowned, not sure she had any other arguments that didn't sound childish.

"Fine, " She walked up to the door and unlocked it, letting everyone inside. In the lockers she stopped and began placing items that did not need to go with her, such as her cell phone which could actually be damaged by passing through the channel. Benjamin did the same and she noted that after a second, Thompson moved to one of the empty lockers and placed his cell phone in the bottom.

"That would have been nice to know before now, " Thompson said with a sigh. Elena glanced at his cell phone and realized that it was really shiny and didn't have a scratch on it. It looked like it had just been pulled from the packaging.

"How many did you lose?" she asked, grinning, her sour mood lifting.

"Three before we learned to turn them off."

"There are locks in the basket over there, " Benjamin told him, pointing to a nearby basket. With so many different ships sailing out, Elena found it prudent to just keep an extra cache of locks around. Fully half of the lockers now sported locks proving they were in use. Elena wondered if Thompson would count them. "The code is on the back of each lock."

"Thanks, " Thompson said. He picked up a lock, read the code and spun the dial. It opened and he peeled the sticker with the code off of the back. "Just like high school." Elena noticed that in addition to his cell phone, Thompson stashed his watch and wallet in the locker. Apparently he didn't feel the need to carry id with him through the channels. Since any military id he carried would no doubt cause him more harm than good, Elena could only applaud the decision.

'Besides, ' she thought. 'The same thing that screws up the cell phones fries the magnetic strips on credit and debit cards as well as all digital watches.' The only watches that did well were the kind that still needed to be wound up every morning. For some reason watch batteries drained completely in the channels while the digital ones just had their circuits sizzled.

As Thompson fastened his lock onto the door, Elena studied him. He was wearing a pair of faded jeans with frayed cuffs and a t-shirt with a faded decal. There was nothing to mark him as odd, but something nudged the back of her mind.

"You haven't cut your hair, " she said trying not to sound accusatory.

"Guilty, " Thompson said with a smile. "I blend in a little better this way." Since every time she saw Thompson before this, he had a freshly trimmed head of hair in what looked to her like someone's idea of a regulation, she couldn't argue. "And I brought my own hair gel this time, " he told Benjamin. At the DF he borrowed some from Benjamin in an effort to not stand out as much.

"Time to weigh in, " Elena said gesturing to the scales.

"Of course, " Thompson agreed. "The fifty pound rule Smith complained about." He walked over and put his bag on the scale. "Do you know he wanted to file a complaint? He considered not being able to bring more than fifty pounds of gear to be harassment and in violation of the interests of National Security."

"I'm not surprised, " Elena said. "Grandfather made him leave a lot of his goodies behind. He was really not happy." The scale registered an even 48 lbs. "Nice." She told him.

"That's right, " Thompson continued as the three of them boarded the Storm Chaser. "You didn't captain the ship that took him out. It was the Wind Dancer wasn't it?"

"It was, " she confirmed.

"Different ship, " he repeated almost to himself. "That does explain a few things." Elena smiled and readied the ship to leave port.

The Wind Dancer was an older ship and as new technologies became available it was added where ever space could be found, giving it a cobbled together feel that looked a lot lower tech then it actually was. The Storm Chaser was a newer model, so most of the basics were already incorporated. Mateo made some additions and improvements that were far from factory standard, but they too were hidden. Her cousin hated to have anything he designed look like a clunky add on rather than an integrated part of the system. He hated leaving his work looking sloppy.

"You'll be reporting to Benjamin and following his orders, " Elena told him trying to limit the amount of time she dealt directly with him and treating Benjamin as though he were her first mate. He was after all her only semi-permanent crewman at the moment.

"Yes Captain, " Thompson replied. There was amusement in his tone, but Elena chose to ignore it.

"Stow your gear and get to work, then, " Benjamin told him. Thompson headed towards the crews bunk with his bag.

"This should be interesting, " Benjamin said with a smile.

"Interesting is one word, " Elena replied. Benjamin went to stow his gear. Elena merely tucked her bags off to the side in the pilot house and began steering them towards open water.

The time between port and the channel passed fairly smoothly and although she did not have much of a chance to talk with Benjamin, she had plenty of chances to observe Thompson. He seemed…cheerful, which caused Elena's eyes to narrow in suspicion while she watched him. Her suspicion caused him a great deal of amusement when he caught her studying him.

Thompson had no problems following orders, which Elena assumed was a byproduct of life in the military. She had the suspicion that both giving and taking orders were a normal part of his day. What bothered her was the comfort level he seemed to have with her ship. She didn't know much about military vehicles, ships or otherwise, but assumed sailing vessels such as hers weren't exactly common in the US Navy's fleet.

"Except in museums, " she muttered to her cat. Spin meowed and watched Thompson in much the same way Elena did. "Some of the terminology must be the same, " she thought, noticing that he didn't need that many terms explained to him. "Maybe he spent time on sailing ships as a child." Elena tried to picture Thompson as a child, but could only manage to mentally squish the adult sized version into a smaller size.

Benjamin seemed pleased with his work and had no complaints. Having Thompson work as crew also allowed Benjamin more time in the galley and that was something everyone appreciated. Elena grew up ship board and never had the fare approached this level. She was beginning to see the benefit of having a trained chef serve as galley cook instead of relying on whoever could be trusted to heat canned goods up without making too much of a mess.

"I have to say, " Thompson commented as they approached the channel. "I was sort of stunned when you guys had my crew over for dinner and figured you were trying to pull something." Elena smiled as she remembered making their meeting as unofficial in appearances as possible to keep Thompson and his men off guard. "But you guys really do eat well at sea." Elena shook her head. She got lucky with Benjamin Valentine and knew it.

"Channel entry in five, " she called. Benjamin led Thompson into the galley as part of a safety measure, in case the exterior tracery that kept the ship's oxygen supply in a bubble around the ship failed. Both the galley and the pilot house featured separate backup systems that would give Elena time to pull her ship back into terrestrial waters safely should that occur.

Spin took her place in the pilot house as Elena began to switch off the electrical systems. She couldn't resist glancing at the sonar before shutting it off. It seemed the USS Maine, the base ship Thompson's crew was using, found other seas to sail and was nowhere in sight. She shut off the sonar and wondered if it was a measure of trust on their part or of economy.

Elena aimed the Storm Chaser towards the center of the channel. She could see the sides like tall pillars and knew that the channel was deep enough for her ship to pass between them even though anyone who was not born a pilot couldn't see them at all. At this time of year the channel ought to be deep enough, but Elena could sense the exact depth with her mind almost the same way she could see the size of her hand when she held it in front of her face.

Safety first was drilled into her brain, so despite knowing the seasons and the channel, she checked the depth one last time before attempting entry. The ship slid into the channel and the world flashed into a million swirling rainbows, the faceted light almost blindingly bright and growing brighter with every passing second until it flashed to white and then appeared to flash out as they exited the channel and entered into true space.

"All clear, " Elena called as she altered her course to the channel leading to planet RJ 457. Benjamin and Thompson left the galley and Benjamin directed Thompson to start trimming the sails as standard procedure. Elena nodded her approval and let them work. There was only a short jump to the new planet's channel and they didn't know what kind of weather they would encounter when they re-entered planetary waters.

Not for the first time, Elena wished there was a way to project weather reports through the channels before a ship entered. When she opened the channel she was able to get a sense of what lay on the other side, but weather was too transitory to register on her senses. Many ships were lost because they had entered a channel, leaving the calm of space for the frenzy of a storm.

As a child she listened in wide eyed excitement to the harrowing tales of ships sailed directly into a hurricane and were torn apart in seconds. As an adult, she wished for a weather report. The space between the Marta channel, where they left earth's waters and the new planet's channel was in a protected zone, so raiders were not a great fear. The short trip was peaceful and with the slight trepidation that always accompanied a planetary channel entry, Elena called for the deck to be cleared.

Unlike the Marta, this channel did not stand open, but had to be opened for entry as though she were drawing a curtain to the side before stepping through a doorway. It took a lot of energy to shift the curtain aside, but it was something Elena garnered much practice in accomplishing.

The Storm Chaser slid into the opened channel, the world once again blazing into a fractured kaleidoscope of colors before they splashed down into the calm ocean of the planet. The sky was a bowl of deep blue, marred only by the mid-day sun. There was no storm this time and Elena called the all clear. Sails were unfurled and sheets snapped taught as the sails were filled with a friendly wind.

It was two days to port and in addition to working on the ship, both Benjamin and Thompson took turns fishing. Apparently Thompson enjoyed deep sea fishing as much as Benjamin did and between the two of them, many fish were landed. The ones not previously identified were treated as specimens and the ones that Kiera and her team pronounced edible, or at least non-toxic, were added to the ship's larder, the crew taking the opportunity to stock up.

At the docks, Elena dropped anchor a short way from Maria's ship, El pollo loco del Mar, or Crazy Chicken for short. The Mermaid's Dream was docked a little further up the coast and Elena remembered Mateo saying something about exploring up the coast line as well as pushing further into the jungle.

Paula was the captain and pilot for the Mermaid's Dream and Elena recalled signing a change of House form for a cartographer named Carlo who wanted to remain with the Mermaid's Dream after transfer. Rumor had it that a wedding between captain and cartographer was being planned for the end of the season. Elena made a mental note to ask her grandfather what an appropriate gift would be to a pilot of her House getting married. She knew it would be more complicated than simply picking something off the registry.

The Guild was an odd mix of technical savvy and old world formality. All invitations were required to be hand written and sealed with a family crest in wax or they were viewed as an insult, while all books had to be in electronic format. Jeans were worn on a daily basis by most, but even minor celebrations often required a tux or a ball gown depending, as well as a strictly obeyed series of public presentations. Elena's lessons growing up involved astrophysics and ballroom dancing, as well as treaty negotiation and calligraphy.

The Storm Chaser's arrival was noted and a team of people headed out in small boats to where she was anchored to begin unloading the supplies they carried. The supplies swiftly headed towards shore and once people stopped swarming her ship, Elena, Benjamin and Thompson followed. The goods removed from the ship were now piled on the shore and the workers began to ferry them inland to the camp in the old city.

The heat of the day dimmed as Elena walked from the open beach to the shade of the forest. The smell of green growing things surrounded her and she heard birds in the distance and insects buzzing in the undergrowth. The growth over the old stone road was significantly eroded and Elena could see the paths that human feet made. She figured alteration was inevitable and hoped that most of it was non-destructive.

The road took her to the crossroads where there were many more signs of human occupation. The crossroads were dominated by five huge buildings located at each of the cardinal directions with one rising from the center. When she last visited the planet, very little had changed with these buildings, they were large hulking masses that the jungle was slowly taking over. Looking at them with a spyglass from port, they

appeared almost as small regularly shaped hills.

Most of the teams' early efforts went into preparing the smaller buildings in the village nearby for occupation when they first set up camp. Elena was not joking when she told Smith that there were large predators on the planet. Clearing the smaller buildings for occupation got her people in buildings more substantial than tents.

The focus definitely shifted now that everyone was settled, at least by the Librarians and their teams of workers. Elena stopped to look around, carefully staying out of the path of the people ferrying goods to the village. All of the growth was cleared away from the large buildings and she could see where repairs were made. The Librarians appeared to have made their repairs look distinctly different from the original structure so that no-one could confuse the two. Elena found the mix of old and new oddly interesting and less jarring then she would have expected from such a combination.

The Librarians were a powerful factor in the Guild of Families. While they lived somewhat separately from the others, they were often called upon to settle disputes. Their entire reason for existing was to gather knowledge and their ruling on a dispute was always the final word, which made them somewhat feared by the other members of the Guild. There was no bribing them with political favors and no clear indication of which way their decisions would go prior to announcement. They were almost a law unto themselves.

The ships of the Librarians were large, much larger than normal channel riding vessels, although the Librarians did possess smaller scale vessels for planetary excursions. While digital versions of the Librarians trove of knowledge were stored on the DF, the originals were stored on the larger ships which forever circled the galaxies as a giant fleet in search of new information. The opening of the planet provided them with a secure location to finally bring some of those ships to rest.

As Elena watched she could see craftsmen hard at work building shelves and odd shaped containers. She noticed that every piece of construction was coated with a thick, syrupy looking resin that smelled like combination of onions, oranges and chili peppers. Elena found it somewhat nauseating, although none of the workers seemed to notice it.

"Elena, " Evan called as he caught sight of her. Elena smiled. The time on shore had been good for Evan. The small pot belly he carried all but disappeared and he had a healthy tan. His eyes twinkled with delight and as he walked towards Elena she noticed he was moving like a man ten years younger.

"Clearly this life suits you, Senior Librarian, " Elena said with a smile as he approached.

"It does indeed, " He said. He drew a deep breath into his lungs. "So exciting. I think I spent too long in the archives. It's good to get out into the air every now and then." Elena pulled the book from the mail bag she carried and passed it to Evan.

"Lisa said you might enjoy this, " Elena told him as she handed the book over.

"Wonderful, " he exclaimed. "Has she made it through the Odes of Calteran yet?" he asked.

"I have no idea, " Elena said with a laugh. "I'll ask her when I get back."

"Do, " Evan said. "It is an exquisite piece of literature. From the Lardane you know." Elena could sense he was about to launch into lecture mode.

"I'll have to look into it, " Elena said, trying to head the lecture off. "Evan, what is that smell?"

"Smell?" Evan seemed confused for a moment. "Ah that, " he said his face clearing. "It's a preservative. You don't notice it after a while and of course it is odorless when it dries. It is applied to the shelving to keep the wood from leaching acids into anything placed on the shelf, as well as to keep the wood from succumbing to environmental damage. Termites and other bugs find it repulsive as well."

"I can see why, " Thompson said.

"Yes, well we find it helpful."

"Of course, " Elena said. "Evan, have you seen my cousin?"

"Mateo?" Evan thought for a moment. "I believe he is in the village proper. I saw him fiddling with some mechanical bits around lunch time. Looked like a giant mechanized bee. He agreed to copy out his designs for my archives. Most ingenious little thing. Not quite sure what it does. I'm sure it does something though. His things usually do."

"I had better go check in with him and drop off the rest of the mail, " Elena said.

"Of course then, dear, we will have to catch up later." Evan walked off to deal with some other aspect of the Librarians arrangements. "Don't forget, we will be ready for our first shipment to make it through in about a month's time." He called as he walked away.

"I remember, " Elena told him. "Keep me posted on the time frame and I will escort them in myself." Evan nodded and turned his attention to a man wielding some strange tool. Elena happily moved away from the crossroads and into the village, pleased to note that the smell did not follow them, but was instead blown towards the sea.

"Did we escape the stench or can I just not smell it anymore?" Thompson asked.

"I can't smell it either, " Benjamin said. "So we've apparently both had our noses burned out or it is gone."

"I think we are up wind, " Elena said.

"Which is something we are all grateful for on a daily basis, " Kiera told them, walking over.

"That I can understand, " Elena said with a smile. If Evan looked happy, then Kiera looked like she was glowing. Her hair, normally the color of dark honey, was streaked by the sun. The same sun brought a spate of freckles out across her nose.

"Things going well?" Elena asked. She glanced around. Most of the tents were relegated to storage as the staff occupied the smaller houses. She knew that they managed to get an old style bathhouse up and running and the people she saw wandering around looked much cleaner because of it.

"Better than expected actually, " Kiera told her. "Mateo has the report ready for you with all of the details." She turned and led the group towards one of the open sided tents placed in the middle of the road.

"How are things back home?"

"Pretty much the same, " Elena said. "I told Andre I knew about his talks with Douglas and that we were officially through as a couple, but other than that nothing major." Kiera made sympathetic noises.

"Well at least Mateo will be happy to hear that. I think he was tired of pretending to be polite."

"Pretending isn't exactly his strong suit." As they approached the tent they could see Mateo bent over a small folding table. Sure enough the thing he was working on looked like a bee that was the size of a football. Its mechanical guts were spread out over the table as Mateo was sorting through them. He looked up at their arrival. He smiled at Elena and then frowned when he saw Thompson.

"I only came to check on my men, " Thompson said raising his hands in surrender.

"All of them are out with the teams, " Mateo said. "I think one of the teams is due back this evening, but the others will take a few days. They can be contacted by radio if you want to check in." Mateo tilted his chin towards a square stone building with a large antenna placed on top of the ancient structure. "Over there. Michael is with the green team and they should be back by dinner. John is with the Blue team up by the falls and Fred is with the Yellow team towards the quarry."

"Clay is the radio operator, " Kiera added.

"Thanks, " Thompson replied. For a moment he looked as though he were torn between staying or seeking out Clay. Then, decision made, Thompson turned and walked to the communications area.

"So, " Mateo said watching Thompson's retreating form. "He's back?"

"For a while, " Elena added.

"Andre's gone thought right?" Kiera said. Mateo seemed to brighten.

"Not gone. I couldn't fire him without letting Peter know what happened."

"So?" Mateo said darkly.

"I don't want him dead, " Elena said. "He knows that we all know and that he will be denied access to any information other than the graphics work. He is deciding whether to leave or not."

"That's something I suppose." Mateo said. He sounded somewhat grumpy and Elena tried not to look surprised when Kiera rubbed his shoulder in sympathy.

"Take what you can get, " She told him. "It's something isn't it?" He smiled at her and Elena realized that the two of them had become an item. She knew that her cousin was interested in the paleo-biologist, but didn't realized it come to anything. Elena tried not to smile. There was a call from one of the other tents and Kiera sighed.

"It never ends, " she said. But she was smiling when she said it so Elena was not too worried. Kiera went off to deal with whatever problem had cropped up.

"She is really good with dealing with the team, " Mateo said.

"As dealing with people is your weak point that gives me no end of relief." Elena told him.

"Hey be nice to me or I won't give you your reports, " Mateo said.

"Well if you don't give me your reports, I'll tell your mother that you are dating a nice girl, " Elena countered. "Or worse, I'll tell grandfather."

"That's not fair, " Mateo said. He tried to frown, but kept grinning instead.

"The two of you do suit, " Benjamin said with a laugh.

"What do you mean about telling grandfather?" Mateo asked. "How would that be worse than telling my mother?"

"Because Grandfather's already looking at you as his heir and there is only one more requirement you need to be named as the Head of your own House and eligible for a Council seat."

"Oh no, " Mateo said.

"Oh, yeah. We had a lovely conversation last time I saw him." Elena glanced around to make sure no-one was within hearing distance. She noticed Benjamin's eyes scanning for eavesdroppers as well. "Apparently he wants me in the North American seat and you primed to take his place."

"You on the NA and me on the Italian Seat, no-one sane wants that, " Mateo said.

"He thinks that with enough economic force we can manage things with less bloodshed, " Elena said. She recalled the wistful look in her grandfather's eyes and tried not to think about the things he did during his tenure as a Counselor.

"Yeah, like Therese would stand by and let me take his seat without trying to kill me."

"I didn't realize that Therese was eligible for a seat, " Benjamin remarked, frowning.

"She isn't, " Elena said. "But her mother Elizabeth is. If Aunt Elizabeth takes grandfather's seat, she can shift several of her duties with the family to Therese and make her heir apparent. It would take a few years to have her qualified for a seat, but Elizabeth wouldn't want to give up power for a while once she got it so she'd carefully monitor Therese's rise in status."

"And if Therese were qualified sooner, Aunt Elizabeth would have to worry about an early demise." Mateo added. Six months ago Elena would have been doubtful that Therese would turn on her own family for power, but as Therese had proven, she was more than willing to do so.

"It would be fairly stable with each of you holding a seat, " Benjamin said thoughtfully. "Each of you individually would be a target, but together would be formidable, even if you avoided the more violent methods the other Councilors use." Mateo looked at Elena.

"I have a year before I have to make a decision, " Elena told him. "I am considering it though."

"The North American seat, " Mateo said softly. "Damn." She knew that he was as aware of the consequences as she was. "I'll think about it, " Mateo said. "I won't be ruled by Therese or Aunt Elizabeth. I am already a part of your House. If you declared alone, I could renounce my ties and join you or I could become grandfather's heir."

"Wouldn't the rest of the family still be vulnerable if you left them behind, " Benjamin asked. "Or would they switch alliances to the NA seat?"

"Damn, " Mateo said. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Well you still aren't qualified yet, " Elena reminded him. "You are still missing one qualification."

"Yeah, " Mateo said, running his hand through his hair.

"Which one?" Benjamin asked. Elena looked at him and he shrugged. "I wasn't raised in a family with a shot at any seat so I don't know all of the ins and outs, " he told them.

"Ah, " Elena said. "To be qualified as a male for a Head of House or eligible for a Council seat, Mateo would have to announce his engagement or marriage. Single men are not viewed as stable enough to serve on their own. Family men have more to lose and are considered more sensible. They have someone to protect." Elena told him. "It's one of the reasons you always see a spate of marriages around the time a Councilor dies."

"Oh, do women have to be married?" Benjamin asked.

"No, " Elena replied. "They do have to be pilots though. Pilots are ultimately responsible for the safety of everyone on their ships, so it is considered a trade off. Also the pilot has to own the ship and be a captain for qualification."

"Because pilots and captains damn near live on their ships which are like their homes with their crew serving as their family?" Benjamin guessed.

"Something like that." Elena confirmed. "Although it is spelled out a lot more formally in the legal documents."

"So does that make me your child?" Benjamin asked with a flutter of lashes. "I could start to call you Mommy if it would help."

"That so would not help, " Elena told him.

"But Mateo eligible for a seat would, " Benjamin finished.

"I'll think about it, " Mateo said again. The three of them noticed that Thompson was returning.

"So what is this giant bee thing?" Elena asked switching topics deliberately as Thompson arrived. "We aren't being attacked by giant flowers are we?"

"Not exactly, " Mateo said with a grin. "I modified the design of the initial probes we used to scout the surface. These are designed for a shorter range, but bring back much more detail. The teams we have exploring the area send them out as sort of advance scouts to get an assessment of the area before they move in. This one got wet and needed to be taken apart, dried, re-greased and then re-assembled. Not exactly Lewis and Clark, " Mateo said with a shrug. "But so far it has helped keep our people from getting hurt."

"That's a plan I like, " Elena said. "So no injuries?"

"Over all we've been pretty lucky, " Mateo said. "We've had a few sprained ankles and some minor scrapes. Most of the big predators only come out at night, so we have a curfew. Since it's easy to see why the curfew is in place, no one violates it. We all know exactly how far we are from a hospital. We have some great footage if you'd like to see. There are some big cats lurking relatively close to the settlement. One look and you'll stay inside at night too. But since we now have our people in the stone buildings rather than tents, things have worked out pretty well."

"Good, " Elena said. Of the staff there were several trained in basic medical treatment, but they had no real doctor with the group. It was something Elena found troubling, but they were thus far unable to find a fully trained doctor willing to relocate. It was on the top of her to do list.

"Actually I wanted to talk to you about doctors, " Mateo said, echoing her thoughts. "I spoke to my younger brother at Nate's wedding. He finished up his residency last month and even though he has had offers from other hospitals who know nothing of the Guild, he was thinking of working out this way instead. The Guild has a system where it looks like his skyside work was really for one of the Doctors Without Borders type programs. His initial plans were to head out to Gareantal Free Hospital, but if we can use him here, he would be willing to change his plans and join us instead of the GFH. I talked to him a little about the details. You'd have to get permission from Mom as he is still a part of her House."

"I can check with her at the DF, " Elena said. The Gareantal Free Hospital or GFH for short, was known for treating pretty much any sentient individual they came across regardless of species or galaxy of origin. "We won't have the variety of patients he would see at the GFH, but we could definitely use him."

"And if it came up later, since he had already served with you, it would keep him further out of Therese's reach, giving him a bit of an out." Elena nodded, knowing that Mateo would not elaborate while Thompson was present. He had even managed to avoid saying his brother's name, although that fact could easily be found by Thompson without too much trouble. Elena suspected he already secured a copy of her family tree.

"I'll talk to her, " Elena said. She turned towards Thompson. "Your men okay?"

"They are, " He told her. "And having the time of their lives from the sound of it."

"They have been quite useful, " Mateo added somewhat grudgingly. "Useful skills and they know how to follow orders."

"All part of the training. I'll be sure to pass your compliments off to their superiors though, " Thompson said with a grin. "Drill sergeants and COs all like to get a thumbs up every now and again. It makes them feel all warm inside."

"You do that, " Mateo added, smiling back. Elena got the impression that if circumstances were different Mateo and Thompson would have gotten along just fine. Mateo's smart ass nature seemed to compliment Thompson's tendency towards bastard-ness.

"If you two start bonding, I have the feeling there will be complaints, " Elena said. "That much evil in one place can't be good for morale."

"I'm not evil, I'm just drawn that way, " they both said at once, quoting Jessica Rabbit from the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Elena rolled her eyes as Benjamin laughed.

"I'm going back to my ship, " she told them.

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