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   Chapter 4 Haven

Haven: Book Four of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 24544

Updated: 2018-02-26 15:58


Chapter 4

It took a few days for Elena to gather all of the information she needed to take with her and for Thompson to check in with his men, making sure they were not being mistreated. Maria already headed off to the DF and Jasmine sailed into port on the Cherry Blossom when Elena weighed anchor and set sail. Thompson seemed pleased and returned to cheery work mode all the way to the DF.

"I don't know why I find that so disconcerting, " She told Spin as they sailed. The cat barely spared Elena a glance as she continued to lick her paw clean. Spin relaxed her suspicion of Thompson once she realized that he was a source of fresh fish. His spoiling her with the catch of the day while they were on planet was beginning to turn her into a bit of a butterball as well as a Thompson devotee.

"I guess it's just me, " She said almost wishing her fears could be allayed so swiftly. Unfortunately, the catch of the day did nothing for her.

There was a lot of activity at the DF and Elena sailed around looking for a viable dock. She frowned at the sight of the ships as they approached. The activity was more than she saw in a long time and many of the docked ships were showing the signs of battle.

She grew accustomed to seeing more scarred ships as the Matrovean expanded their territory, blocking routes that were safe the season before, but this seemed to be on a much larger scale. She frowned and pulled into the first available dock. It wasn't close to her normal docking area, but she figured the less time Thompson was given to study the battle scarred hulls, the smoother things would be.

Once the docking tubes were attached, Elena, Thompson and Benjamin descended from the Storm Chaser and into the DF. The noise level in the docks took some getting used to as she only heard Benjamin and Thompson's voices since leaving port. There seemed to be a somewhat frantic undercurrent to the talk and Elena wondered what she missed during her latest run. She flagged a runner down and sent a message to Peter telling him that Thompson was with her again and that she met with Smith.

Thompson stared at the crowd as Elena led her small group towards one of the side corridors. Elena couldn't blame him. This particular port was less human centric than the one she traditionally used and most of the humans here spoke Russian or some other Slavic based tongue. It made getting a message to Peter easier, but she didn't think Thompson should lurk.

The corridors leading to her quarters were somewhat twisted, while the docks she normally favored had a more direct route. Once the crowd thinned, Elena took a deep breath. Crowds always made her feel a little claustrophobic after being on the Storm Chaser.

"So are you trying to confuse me?" Thompson asked when the three of them were the only people in the hall.

"Excuse me?" Elena asked, taking another turn.

"These passageways?" Thompson indicated the corridor with a wave of his hand. "Are you trying to confuse me by taking the long way home? Do you think I'll try to find my way back to the ship and leave without you?"

"Not exactly, " Elena said with a smile. Thompson seemed a little grumpy about the thought of her deliberately trying to confusing him. "My quarters don't connect directly to this set of docks. We had to use what was available rather than what was convenient."

"So this isn't intentional?" He asked.

"Not really, " She replied.

"If it helps any, " Benjamin added. "I'm not quite sure where we are either."

"You aren't?" Thompson asked surprised.

"Nope, I have never used this section of the DF."

"But you know this area?" Thompson asked Elena.

"I used to come out this way with grandfather when he had meetings, " Elena told them.

"Really?" Thompson said, his voice laced with suspicion. Elena frowned at his suspicion, but refused to elaborate. While on Earth, the Guild respected the various rules and regulations that different countries set out. Once on the Docking Facility, humans were humans and there weren't that many to begin with, so it mattered less where they came from.

Terrestrial disputes were left behind once a ship entered the channels. Survival pretty much demanded it and Guild law served as reinforcement. People carrying Earth based grudges onto the DF often went missing soon after. Language was the biggest barrier to cohesion and the reason that the DF was carved into sections and the reason all children raised on the DF were taught to speak at least three languages. Most of them picked up a smattering of alien trade tongues along the way as well. Finally, they reached the section of the DF where Elena's quarters were located. She took out her electronic door key and opened the door.

"Home at last, " She said. Elena set her bag on the floor by the couch. "I have the feeling the same rules as before apply, " she told Thompson. "If you leave, you need to be with either me or Benjamin."

"I can do that, " Thompson said nodding. "Do I have the same room as before?"

"Might as well, " Elena told him. As long as he didn't start thinking of it as his room, she was fine with the arrangement. Although she had the feeling he would be using it fairly regularly. Thompson walked towards his designated room as Maria came out of her room.

"I thought I heard people, " She said. Her hair was wet and it looked as though she just got out of the shower.

"Yeah, " Elena said. "We just made it in. Is anyone else around?"

"Let's see, " Maria said thinking. "Wendy and Gina are here. They went out dancing at the Meteor club. I think Alice is due in either tonight or tomorrow. She was picking up a shipment from the Jarca I think. She hasn't chosen a crew yet so her temp crew won't be coming here. And I think Laura should be in from the Declan early tomorrow morning. There is a schedule posted by the door."

"Ah, " Elena said turning towards the posted schedule. She was still getting used to the sharing of space. Each Head of House maintained a set of quarters that housed all of the pilots and crews who weren't considered Heads of House in their own rights, often making the spaces feel like a large dormitory. Growing up, Elena lived first with her parents and then with her grandfather.

All of Alexandro's children were declared Heads of their own Houses and took quarters nearby with their crews and growing families, but no longer shared his suite by the time Elena was born. Only a few associated houses that fell under his leadership shared the space. The quarters she was assigned when she became Head of her own House seemed cavernous when there was only her to occupy them. Even if all eighteen of her pilots were in residence at the same time there would still be entire sections they did not need to open. Most of her pilots had yet to take a permanent crew.

Once they did, more rooms would be opened as their official crews joined her House, moving from general quarters to the protected House space. Elena thought of Benjamin. Most of the people that would be chosen as crews would be the sons of other Houses or people who were Guild-raised, but no longer had a House of their own. All Pilots were women as they were the only ones born with the genetic predisposition to see the channels. At the moment her House was very much a girl's dorm, with Benjamin, Mateo and temporarily, Thompson as their only males. As time added crews that demographic would change dramatically as most of the crewmen would be male.

Some of her pilots like Gina and Wendy did not have their own ships yet, but were serving as House contacts on the DF until they could get their ships from Riko's ship yards.

Thompson seemed amused by Maria's run down and she had to wonder how this arrangement looked to him. While she was still getting used to being in charge of such a thing, the arrangement in general was one she grew up with. While she was wondering, the doorbell rang. As she was closest, Elena answered it.

"May I help you?" She asked. A man she vaguely recognized smiled back at her.

"Nicolas Baranov?" She finally said recognizing Peter's older brother and right hand man. He smiled, pleased that she recognized him. She imagined a lifetime of living under Peter's shadow made him feel somewhat invisible.

"I am, " He said, his accent thick around the edges.

"Please won't you come in?" Elena said stepping to the side and gesturing towards the interior of the suite.

"Thank you, " he said seemingly pleased to be asked. "But no, I merely came to relay a message. My brother received your information and asks that you deal with the extra presence as you have before." Nicolas's eyes darted towards Thompson and Elena nodded.

"Of course, " she replied.

"He also asks that you join him tonight for dinner at Danvers, around seven if that will be acceptable." Elena blinked hard and turned looking for a clock.

"It's about 5:30 DFT, " Maria told her. The DF kept its own time so they could maintain some level of order.

"Thanks." Elena replied. She turned back to Nicolas. "Seven will be fine. Please tell him I look forward to it."

"I will, " Nicolas said with a slight bow of his head. "It has been a pleasure seeing you again Captain Calabrese."

"For me as well Mr. Baranov." Nicolas smiled, turned and walked away. Elena shut the door and sighed heavily. "I really hope I have something in my closet, " she told the room at large.

She couldn't remember if she even left clothing in her closet on her last trip, let alone anything suitable for dinner at Danvers. She tended to take her laundry home with her when she left, rather than leaving it behind. Elena picked up her bag from the floor and walked into her room. She left it on the bed and pulled her closet door open. As she suspected, the pickings were slim.

"I have got to start leaving more clothes here, " she muttered to herself. She managed to find an all-purpose black dress in the back of the closet and pull it out. The neckline was a little daring for a dinner with Peter, but as she had the shoes to match, she decided it would do.

Over all Elena tried to lean towards the slightly frumpy or matronly look when dealing with Peter. Even though he used his gift of pajamas to secretly give her a key to a safe deposit box, she still received a Valentine's Day gift from him and did not want to encourage anything but business between them.

Leaving the others to sort themselves out, Elena took a quick shower and began to dress for her dinner with Peter. Shortly before seven she was ready to go. She calculated the time it would take to walk to Danvers and smiled with approval. She could make it to Danvers without arriving early and looking overly eager and without arriving late and risk having Peter wait for her as though she were conducting a power play.

"Not bad, " She told herself, doing one final makeup check before heading into the living room. A low whistle sounded as she entered and three heads turned her way as Maria, Benjamin and Thompson stared at her.

"And I thought stuffed mushrooms and fancy pasta was going all out for a business meeting, " Thompson said reminding her of the dinner she had Benjamin put together to throw his crew off guard. "Apparently I was mistaken."

"Danvers has a bit of a dress code, " Elena told him with a frown. She looked down at her dress wondering if it was too date-like for the meeting and if she had time to change. She realized she didn't have much she could change into and sighed. "Damn."

"You look fine, " Maria said encouragingly. She shot Thompson a dirty look.

"Thanks, " Elena told her. "I think shopping may be put on the agenda sometime soon. I'd rather have more than one dress for emergencies."

"Especially for formal functions, " Benjamin reminded her. Elena nearly swore, but held it in. She nodded at Benjamin, understanding what he didn't say and walked towards the door.

"Have a good night, " she called before stepping into the hallway.

If Mateo decided to make himself eligible as the Head of House for his own House, it would mean an engagement party, an elevation to Head of House party and a

s their grandfather would very quickly name him as the heir to his seat, a designation party. As they were all happening close together, Elena thought that they might be able to create one big bash for all three events, but it would most certainly require the purchase of a ball gown.

She was Mateo's current Head of House and as such she would essentially be giving him away to his own House and she needed to look the part. The only reason she managed to avoid such an affair when she had become Head of House was because she broke ties with the Guild first, essentially leaving no-one to give her away.

"Kiera would need one as well, " Elena muttered, thinking of the elaborate gowns the function would demand. She pushed the thought aside. If Mateo asked Kiera to marry him and she said yes, setting off that specific chain of events, she would bring Kiera from the planet to the DF for measurements long before the party.

"And that is that, " She told herself. There was no point in worrying over something that might not happen. Elena tried to calm the nervous butterflies in her belly as she approached the door to Danvers. The door swung open as she approached and Elena tried not to flinch as a couple exited the restaurant. Elena slipped inside.

The hostess welcomed her by name and escorted her to Peter's table without delay. Elena wasn't sure she wanted to be known by sight at Danvers, or subject to preferential treatment, but figured there was little she could do about it. Elena caught sight of Therese and her gaggle of cronies out of the corner of her eye, but refused to even look in their direction.

"I hope you haven't been waiting long, " Elena said to Peter as he stood.

"Not long at all, " he assured her. "And you are always worth the wait." He put a little heat in his gaze and Elena tried to ignore it. She slid into her seat and Peter sat back down.

"So Thompson managed to return to the DF?" he asked once the waiter had taken their dinner orders.

"He did, " Elena said. "His men are remaining on the planet for the remainder of the season and he will be checking on them. While I'm sure they will pick up some information here and there while they work, it will mostly pertain to the planet and not the Guild." Elena assured him.

"Of my people only Mateo is Guild raised." Elena paused to take a sip of water and then continued listing the facts. "The Librarians are concentrating on building and are discussing archive space, not Guild politics, and Riko's folks mostly stick to their shipyards. There has been little interaction between groups."

Elena gave her report in as business like a tone as she could manage. Peter was just as delectable as Andre, but with the keen edge of danger around him that seemed to heighten his appeal rather than warn her away as it should.

'Perhaps I wished the wart on the wrong Baranov, ' Elena thought.

"Excellent, " Peter said. "Have his men not tried to infiltrate the shipyards yet?"

"They are far enough away that getting to them poses a bit of a problem, especially as there are only three and Mateo detailed people to specifically keep them in sight at all times. They always move with a partner." Admittedly the buddy system was in place for all of the people on the planet, not just Thompson's men, but letting Peter think that special arrangements were made might make the Council feel better.

"Also, " she continued. "We have been careful not to mention that shipbuilding is what they are doing. Thompson's men believe they are just another exploration party. And one to who English is not a primary language. Most of Riko's people shipped out of Tokyo, but came from smaller coastal towns. I know that some of them speak English because they do so in meetings with Mateo, but for the most part they don't bother which helps the illusion."

"Very nice, " Peter said with approval as a basket of bread was placed on the table. He picked up a roll, broke it in half and began to butter the newly exposed insides. Elena took another sip of water. She figured there would be more communication between Riko's settlement and her own during the off season, but as Thompson's crew would be leaving before then, she doubted it would be relevant to this evening's conversation.

"And how did the meeting with Smith go?" he asked. Elena smiled.

"He seemed likely to have a coronary, " Elena told him. "The fact that aliens exist and do not want to invade Earth seemed almost unfathomable to him. I made sure to bring that up as near to the start as I could. He then managed to interrupt Thompson's questions about the planet repeatedly, so I was able to avoid giving them more information." Elena quickly ran down the basic information she let Smith and company have and Peter nodded as he ate his roll.

"Well done, " he said. "And with the same three confined to the planet, all details that might be contradictory are easily containable. If they learn things they shouldn't, it will prove easy to create some sort of accident. With Thompson checking on them, he will spend time with you and your people, coming to trust you as he becomes more familiar. As you give off the air of someone who wouldn't kill merely to clear up an inconvenience, he will then attest that any accidents merely are accidents. Very cleverly handled, Elena."

"Thank you, " Elena said, a little unsure how to take Peter's words. He made them sound like a compliment, but it was not a compliment she wanted to receive. She didn't think any of her folks would kill Thompson's men and make it look like an accident, despite Mateo's black comments about Andre. Elena made a mental note not to take any of Peter's people to the planet while Thompson's crew remained on shore.

'Not that Riko is any better, ' Elena thought, but so far the Councilor did not seem very interested in Elena's section of planetary development. She read the reports and took her cut of the profits, but mostly dealt with her shipyard. Elena expected her to be much more involved in the process, but suspected failing health might have been the cause, lending validity to the rumors. Regardless, Peter seemed pleased by Elena's display of potential ruthlessness. He shifted on to more pleasant topics and they discussed the development of Nibbles and the expansion of the warehouse and repackaging facility.

"I noticed there were quite a few ships in port, " Elena said as the desert plates were cleared away and coffee was served. "And that many of them are showing signs of battle."

"The Matrovean are expanding their territory, " Peter told her with a frown. "The Theran are fighting back." Elena thought about the information as she sipped her coffee. The Theran held a large territory with a significant number of trade routes running through it. She knew her Aunt and Uncle's ship sailed through there regularly, as did her cousin Nate and his new wife, Ambra.

"That can't be good for business, " Elena said, keeping her voice steady and even.

"It isn't, " Peter replied. "Entire routes have been blocked off and the whole area is a battlefield. Several ships were lost when the conflict began and they were caught in the crossfire. Others managed to squeak through and some were turned back when they reached the contested area and couldn't get through." Elena made a mental note to call her family as soon as she reached her quarters, assuring herself that they were all safe, or as safe as could be expected.

"Thompson will no doubt ask questions, " Elena said, swallowing her personal concerns. "We saw several battle scars on the way in. I docked in the eastern port as it was the first berth available. I didn't know how bad things were and didn't want to give him a full view in case they were more visible. But he had to have seen something. Does the Council have an answer they want me to give him?" She asked.

"It does, " Peter replied. He seemed pleased that she had remained focused on politics. Elena knew Peter was from the 'show no weakness' school of leadership and that expressing concern for the family publicly was a sign of weakness, but Elena still found it grating. The coffee turned acidic in her mouth as worry for her family began to gnaw at her insides.

"The Council would like you to tell him that it is some sort of local scuffle and that our ships took damage merely by being on the edges of the struggle. It is not something we are involved in and nothing that should concern him." Peter continued. Elena thought about it for a moment and then nodded slowly.

"The scuffle between other aliens will reduce the appeal of wandering around on their own and the fact that we are in no way involved will mean that we don't require any military assistance, " Elena guessed as she walked through the logic.

"Exactly, " Peter said, this time she could feel the warmth of his approval in his voice. Shortly after, dinner wound to a close. Peter escorted her out of Danvers and to her surprise, walked with her towards her quarters.

"Your cousin Therese did not seem pleased by our dinner and as she has made her displeasure known in rather violent ways in the recent past, I feel it advisable to make sure you arrive home safely, " Peter told her when she gave him a questioning glance. He smiled. "I would find it most inconvenient to lose a business partner."

"Well, I would hate to inconvenience you, " Elena told him as they continued walking. They walked in silence for a time, the merchants refraining from calling out to her while Peter was her escort.

"I have to say it is a lot quieter with you around, " Elena told him. "This is the first time all season I've managed to make it through the market without at least one deal being offered."

"That is because you are not yet Council, " Peter told her. "Your business partners are Riko, Alexandro and myself which makes you quite appealing. People, however, do not generally call out to Council members."

"I see, " Elena said evenly, trying to ignore the not yet Council comment. Peter smiled. "So it is my proximity they find appealing."

"But then perhaps even as Council they would not fear you, so maybe it is something you should grow accustomed to." He concluded with a smile. Elena had no response to that and decided to keep her mouth shut as no comment that came to mind seemed appropriate. They left the market area and the quieter halls surrounded them. Her quarters were not terribly far from the market and Elena found herself relieved as her door came into sight.

"I understand that you are no longer seeing my cousin Andre in a social capacity, " Peter said as they approached her door.

'So close, ' Elena thought trying to stall by opening her small evening bag and looking for her key.

"No I am not, " she told him. "I did not believe this was the time to start any sort of relationship, as my plate was already overly full. I am amazed at the speed of the gossip chain though." Elena told him. While not entirely true, her response wasn't entirely false. She was being kept more than busy with all of her new pilots, business and new planet with its layer of complexities. Once the military was added, Elena was lucky she found time to sleep.

'Besides, ' Elena thought. 'The only men I see on a regular basis are Victor who is gay, Steven who is married, Mateo who is family, Benjamin who is now of my House and therefore completely off limits and Thompson. Not a great list.' Elena shook her head. 'I suppose I could add Jonathan and Smith to the list but I would prefer not. Thompson is bad enough.'

"Ah, " Peter replied non-committally. Elena realized she could probably add Peter to the list of men in her life. While he was not as disturbing an addition as Smith, he was more frightening. "I see." They reached Elena's door and stopped. Peter leaned down and kissed Elena's cheek. She blinked in surprise and Peter smiled.

"Good night Elena, do try not to get killed." He turned and walked away.

"I'll do my best, " she said to his retreating back. Elena opened her door and retreated into her quarters, shutting Peter and whatever he was planning out for the night.

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