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   Chapter 10 Haven

Haven: Book Four of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 32979

Updated: 2018-02-26 16:02


Chapter 10

Benjamin barely tucked the flask away when the door chimes sounded again. Figuring that this time it was more than likely the Carlotis or one of their associated Houses, Elena took a quick swig of coffee to wash down the whiskey and stood.

"You wanted to see the commercial side, " she told Thompson figuring he wasn't planning to leave and sending him to his room like a naughty child would be pointless. The walls were thin enough that it would only provide her the illusion of secrecy. "Most of them don't know you are military. Try not to let them in on that secret."

"Of course Captain, " Thompson said, a half smile dancing on his lips. "Would I be considered a general deckhand or cook's assistant?"

Elena frowned. "Maybe silent drudge would better suit you, " she told him. Thompson mimed locking his lips shut and throwing away the key. Elena opened the door and escorted the first of her visitors in, even while she wondered why he now seemed more at ease.

As she suspected, her visitors were part of the Carloti network. This particular ship, Dawn Trader by name, had three young children who routinely shipped out with their parents Marcia and Daniel, both of whom sagged with relief at the offer of safer routes until the end of the conflict.

The door did not have a chance to close behind them. Carla Mancheti, a third cousin of her long dead grandmother and still a part of Alexandro's extended House, appeared in the doorway as they were preparing to leave. That seemed to set the pace for the afternoon. One pilot or pilot and captain team arrived on the heels of the last and by the time the evening was wearing thin, Elena was glad that there would be an opportunity for apprentices to be added to the mix.

At the moment several of her pilots sailed no ships of their own. For safety and experience controlling the Calling, they were doubling up on the available ships, leaving two pilots on each ship at all times and two ships in port on the planet. The extra pilots could now be used as guides on the new temporary cargo ships and apprentices placed on each to ensure an additional pilot was available for emergencies.

'I really hope at least some of Devon's girls develop the Calling, ' Elena thought as Benjamin left to pick up take-out for the House and Elena settled in to discuss transport routes with another Captain. 'I have the feeling we are going to need it.'

Throughout the evening, Thompson kept his peace, observing, but keeping his thoughts to himself. Possibly thinking he was just one of Elena's crew, no-one paid him any attention. As Elena did not introduce him to the others, she knew they felt he held no rank and would therefore do as he was told. When Benjamin returned with the food, he helped lay it out on the coffee table while Elena showed the last of their visitor's out.

"Dinner's here, " Benjamin called and Maria, Gina, Wendy, Alice and Laura, who arrived sometime in the afternoon, joined the group in the living room.

"Sounds like we are going to be busy, " Gina said, loading her plate with a variety of the offered delicacies. Elena knew they were listening, but stayed out of the living room while business was underway.

"We certainly won't be bored, " Elena said. "Thanks for giving me space as well. Hopefully in the future I'll have some advance notice and can post it on the schedule so no-one is trapped in their rooms while I do business."

"Not a problem for me, " Alice commented. "It was actually nice to have some down time." The others nodded and made sounds of agreement. "I would like to actually schedule some time with you soon though. I have three crewmembers I would like to sign on to my ship as permanent and I'll need you to meet and approve."

"Of course, " Elena said. "We can do that tomorrow if that works. People will still be going in and out, but nothing is actually scheduled. So if you talk to them and want to pick a time, just let me know."

"Will do, " Alice said with a nod.

"Oh and Gina, " Elena continued. "I spoke to Ambra this afternoon, formerly Carloti now Andreseti. She married Mateo's brother Nate at the end of last season. She said she knew you during training and asked if you wouldn't mind being the guide for their ship, the Soaring Gull."

"I remember her, " Gina said. "She was always nice to me in a big sister kind of way. And the Gull is a good ship. I'd like that."

"She has an apprentice on board as well, a second cousin, Charlotte. It's a recent transfer, as several of her family ships were lost." Gina nodded, needing no further explanation.

"That's fine." She assured Elena. "I don't mind sharing space. It'll be like having a little sister of my own."

"And one who may develop the Calling." Elena said. "So far all of the pilots that developed it passed the early aptitude training, at least from what I can tell. So did Charlotte. Running through the new route may bring it on faster. We don't know yet."

"I'll keep an eye out, " Gina assured her. "And take good notes."

"Is that what all the talk of apprentices is about?" Maria asked. "We heard you talking to the Foster House Head. But don't worry, we know it's better that the Council thinks you are using them like lab rats."

"Partially, " Elena said. "We want to test for early signs of the Calling, but mostly we want to keep the girls safe and give them a better chance of finding a permanent House later. It also makes sense as we are going to be stretched pretty thin for a while."

A knock on the door interrupted conversation and Elena nearly sighed. She started to push to her feet, but Benjamin waved her down.

"This is why most wheelers and dealers bring their assistants with them, " Benjamin said. "Otherwise they don't get a chance to eat."

"True, " Elena told him with a smile. "But if I brought Victor along with me, I'd have to do my own paperwork when I got home."

He walked to the door and opened it, prepared to tell whoever was there, to come back after dinner. To everyone's surprise, Therese stood framed in the doorway. For a moment everything froze, Therese seeming as startled to see Benjamin in the doorway as he was to see her. Realizing that telling her to come back later would be seen as a hostile gesture, Elena decided to dive into the silence.

"Therese, we were just having an informal dinner, would you care to join us?" Elena said. Therese glared at Benjamin and then brushed past him as though he were of no consequence. She studied the room for a moment as though taking its measure. Whatever she saw did not impress her.

"You think you are so clever don't you, " Therese said, staring at Elena and ignoring the others as inconsequential. "Getting other people to join with you; offering them little tidbits so they won't see that you are angling for grandfather's seat. I can't believe you had Grandfather tell the House that they would be allied with the planetary port instead of directly to your House so that it could be a temporary measure. He told me, ME, that I need to think about my future." With each word Therese stepped closer to where Elena sat plate in one hand and fork still paused halfway between the plate and her mouth.

"I know what my future holds, " Therese continued. "It holds a seat on the Council and there is no way I am going to let you take that away from me. Mother promised Grandfather's seat to me. I am the rightful heir, not you, and don't you forget it."

Therese took another step forward and suddenly Thompson was gripping her shoulder. Elena was not even aware that he moved. She merely blinked and he was there. Apparently Therese had not seen him move either and she jumped as though startled. Her surprise was quickly obliterated by her anger.

"Get your hands off me, you stupid dock rat, " she hissed at him. She looked back to Elena. "Get your little boy toy off of me." She ordered Elena.

"I think it is time you leave, " Thompson said quietly.

"I'll leave when I damn well feel like it." Therese shouted back. Elena stood.

"I think it is best that you leave, Therese. I was prepared to offer you a safe haven if you needed it until the conflict passed, but now I don't see how that is possible."

"I want nothing from you, " Therese spat the words at Elena. Her face had gone red and splotchy. Elena was fairly certain that Thompson's grip had become somewhat painful and would leave bruises the next day.

"I believe the Captain has asked you to leave, " Thompson said. Benjamin walked up to Therese's other side and whatever retort she was about to make stayed in her mouth. She compressed her lips into a thin line and turned towards the door. As she turned Thompson let go of her shoulder.

"This isn't over, Elena, " Therese said stopping in the doorway. "I will have what is mine."

"Therese, " Elena said, keeping her voice calm. "You are no longer welcome in my quarters."

"Like I ever wanted to be welcomed by this riff-raff, " Therese said with a snort of derision. "Dock rats and goons, Elena that's all you have, that's all you will ever have." Her bravery seemed to have returned as neither Thompson nor Benjamin followed her to the door.

"Be that as it may, you will not return here. Any message you wish me to hear can be delivered through Grandfather, as he is our mutual Council representative." Elena knew the likelihood of her cousin sending a message such as this through their grandfather was slim at best. The odds of him bothering to pass it on were even slimmer. Therese apparently thought the same thing and again snorted. It was not a pleasant sound.

"This isn't the end of it cousin. If it came to a vote, the Houses would support me. I'm the one trained for Council. And when I take my seat you will regret everything." With that

50 when he was six years old. He grew and had three sons, the first of which was born in 1868. Only one of his boys, William, survived to marry and have kids. He had one child, again a son, Edward by name, born in 1896. Edward had two sons, James and Nicholas. They were a year apart, one born in 1915 and one in 1916. James died of pneumonia. Nicholas had two sons, Michael born in 1929 who died in the war and James in 1932. James was my grandfather. My father, Alex, was an only child and he was born in 1955. I am also an only child, and as you can see I am male." Thompson paused and smiled.

Elena didn't quite know what to say.

"There were four points always emphasized when I was told the story of my family, " He continued. "One that Ms. Nelson gave the family a respectable house to call a home. Two, that we left the world of shipping behind. Three that we had only sons and four, that we needed to always be comfortable on sailing ships, in case we were needed again. Until this project came along, none of that really made much sense. It was just something that was part of the family. " Thompson leaned back in his chair, tale complete and Elena realized that he was a little nervous about how his story would be received.

"You're one of Mother Nelson's boys, " Benjamin said. "Or descended from one at least." There was a touch of awe in his voice. As if realizing it, Benjamin cleared his throat blushing slightly and turned to Elena.

"It's a story, " he told her. "One you hear a lot, especially among the boys without Houses. A pilot with no family offers her House so that boys can have respectability in the Guild." Elena nodded.

"And that is why you took on the project?" Elena asked. Thompson smiled.

"I took on the project, as you say because I was ordered to it. I had the qualifications and I was available for transfer." Elena nodded in acceptance. Thompson was military, he followed orders. "I wanted the project because it seemed somewhat familiar."

"And this is a secret because it compromises your objectivity?" Elena guessed.

"Something like that, although I suspect that I would just be removed from the project rather than killed."

"I doubt they would remove you, " Elena told him, thinking about what she had learned. "I think they would watch you and more than likely assign someone to be your shadow, especially on trips like this."

"Why is that?" Thompson asked. He was frowning at her and Elena found it an odd sensation to know something everyone else didn't already know. For so long she had been one step behind everyone else.

"You don't know about the others?" Elena asked.

"The other military created channel riding ships?" he asked. Elena nodded and took a sip of wine. "No, " he told her. "Each section sends their information to a central location where it is compiled. Then the central hub determines what modifications need to be made. I don't even know how many ships are being tested."

"In case we torture you for information?" Elena asked with a half-smile.

"Or I switch sides, " Thompson said. "No-one knows the complete picture, so no-one can tell."

"A bit like a double blind study, " Benjamin said, nodding. "Helpful if you are worried about leaks, but rather cumbersome."

"Well however many there are, " Elena said. "You are the one making the most progress with the lowest death count. So I doubt they would give that up easily even if they had to start double checking your reports."

"After all, how many of them are on the DF or have managed to get their men on another planet, " Benjamin asked.

"True, but I did lose my ship, " Thompson replied.

"It wasn't that big a loss, " Benjamin told him. "It didn't even have a name."

"Or a cat, " Elena added, with a smile.

"I'll try better next time, " Thompson said. "So does this mean that we are good?"

"For the moment, " Elena said. After Therese's outburst, Elena had no desire to fight with anyone. And he came to her defense.

"I'm guessing you will check the records?" he asked.

"As soon as possible, " She confirmed. Elena decided she would definitely buy a new e-reader before leaving the DF. Some things she could not wait two weeks to learn about. Hopefully she would be able to verify Thompson's story in the files she already downloaded. She felt a little shaky about the dream, but pushed the thought away for later contemplation.

"Good, then can I ask what's in the case?"

"Case?" Elena said with a frown. Thompson pointed to the case the jeweler had given her. "Ah, I actually forgot about that." She walked to where she dropped the case and picked it up. Elena walked back to the couch and sat down, pulling the case into her lap.

"I dropped off some of those blue stones we found with a jeweler to see what he could do with them." She explained, figuring that if she tried to hide the case and its contents he would go searching for it later to make sure it wasn't a weapon of some sort. She began pulling out intricately carved bracelets, rings and earrings from the bag and laid them out on the coffee table. Both men pulled closer to examine the trinkets.

"These are amazing, " Benjamin said, holding up a delicately carved bracelet. It utilized all the different cuts that showcased the stone moving from deep blue to faux diamond.

"This is all the same stone?" Thompson asked.

"Yes, " Elena replied. "He said the cut determined the color due to the stone's structure or something of that nature." Elena didn't actually know much about stone other than the basic, this is an emerald, that is limestone.

"Also if you hold them in your hand, your body heat makes it glow." Each of them took a stone in hand and they were no less delighted by the results than she was. Elena pulled out the last few remaining items and began unwrapping the black velvet from around them. Necklaces joined the rest of the jewelry and Elena thought that the single oval pendant would look absolutely stunning, especially once the wearer's body heat made it glow.

She was staring at it as she unwrapped the last of the items. A final necklace emerged from the cloth and Elena looked down to see what treasure lay before her. Slowly she lifted the necklace up to get a better look at it. As she did, Elena felt the blood drain from her face and her heart nearly stop. The necklace she was holding was identical to the one in her dreams. She felt her vision narrow to a point, with darkness settling around the outer edges and rushing to fill the center.

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