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   Chapter 3 Skyside

Skyside: Book Five of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 17350

Updated: 2018-02-26 16:18


Chapter 3

Elena dropped off Jennifer's gear, placing the duffle next to the sleeping girl's cot. While asleep, she looked younger than her eighteen years and Elena realized she went through a lot in the last couple of days, more than most apprentices went through in several years. She left the small quarters and noticing the line for the bathhouse was gone, she let herself in eager to be clean.

The bath house was essentially an array of stone tubs filled and emptied with a series of sluice gates. Several mesh grates kept random debris like sticks and leaves from the bath, but the water was icy cold. Elena picked one of the empty tubs, opened the gate to let the water pour in and moved the privacy screen so that it shielded her from view. She stepped behind the screen and peeled off the clothes she had been wearing for three days. Merely having the cloth away from her skin made Elena feel divinely happy. As she closed the gate she wondered if there was a laundry set up or if she would have to wash her clothes with her.

"Something to ask Kiera and Mateo later, " she said to herself, her voice echoing off of the stone. She pulled a small bottle of biodegradable, chemical free body wash, shampoo and conditioner from her bag along with a wash cloth. With no water treatment plant, they were being very careful with the products they used on site. She nearly yelped as she slipped into the icy tub of water.

"At least I'll know how to wake up without coffee, " she said as she started to scrub herself clean of the sweat and grime. The frigid water shocked her system. She finished with her body and washed her hair, rinsing it by reopening the sluice gate. Once again clean, Elena stepped out of the tub, rinsed it clean for the next user, dried off and put on a clean set of clothes.

Feeling human again, she put everything back into her bag and pulled the privacy screen to the side. Hearing a noise, she looked up as she swung her bag to her shoulder and caught sight of a naked Thompson quickly ducking behind a screen. She blushed even as her mind registered a tattoo on his rear end.

"You know you are supposed to pull the screen before you take your clothes off, " She called.

"I didn't realize it was co-ed, " he called back. She could hear the laughter in his voice.

"There's only one bath house on the planet that I'm aware off, " she told him. "Try not to flash the children."

"I'll do my best, " he told her. Elena heard the splashing of water and an exclamation as the cold hit him. Laughing to herself, Elena left Thompson to bathe. Despite the cold water, she could feel sleep pulling at her. Her headache was starting to fade and she felt a million times better as she returned to the small house that was to be her on-shore quarters.

On the outside, the building looked like a sand colored gumdrop with a rectangular door cut into the side. She had to step over the threshold to get inside as well as duck under the lintel. From everything else in the ruins, the archaeologists had determined that the alien inhabitants of this planet were a great deal taller than most humans. Elena could only surmise that the small doorways were designed as some sort of safety precaution. Several large predators, many resembling the large jungle cats of Earth were common in the area and smaller openings could be better protected.

Or at least that is what she told herself as she shifted the wooden platform that served as the door for her quarters. The door was actually several planks nailed to two cross beams and re-enforced with bracers. It had handles on the interior making it easier to shift. Elena moved it into place and cursed at her lack of forethought. With the doorway blocked, the interior was pitch black. Elena felt around and grasped the small battery powered lantern that the one room quarters boasted.

She snapped the light on and dropped her bag at the foot of the cot. The circular room contained a small cot with a sleeping bag and pillow, the lantern, a bottle of water, and a container of bug spray. "All the comforts of home, " she said to herself as she sat on the cot. Off to the side, she could see a small hearth. From pictures she knew that the chimney was merely a vent carved into the side of the stone gumdrop and as she removed her shoes, Elena tried to picture someone living and cooking in the small room.

With her shoes and socks removed and set aside, Elena realized she didn't have many clean clothes left. She carefully removed the fresh clothing she just put on so she could wear it in the morning and unable to find a clean t-shirt to sleep in, she slipped into the sleeping bag wearing only her underwear. She clicked off the lantern and set it to the side of the cot. The interior of the room was night dark and Elena could feel sleep sucking her down into its warm depths.

'I wonder if I'll dream, ' she thought as she closed her eyes. For months now most of her dreams were versions of the same dream. In it she saw herself stretching the channel and bringing both the Storm Chaser and the Rover through the channel. With the exception of a dream about fighting dragons she had when she stayed with her family for Nate's wedding, the dream was the only one she could remember for a long time. It stopped playing a few days before the emergency evacuation and thus far, she had not had a single dream.

Her thoughts flashed on the glimpse she had seen of Thompson. 'Not a bad image before falling asleep, ' she thought to herself wishing she had gotten a better look at the tattoo. Wondering what it actually was would bother her until she found out. She couldn't deny the man looked good naked though. 'Not that I'd tell him, ' She thought as she stifled a yawn. 'He's already insufferable.' Moments later she was asleep.

Sometime later she awoke to the sounds of thunder and rain. Small flashes of light from the lightning popped through the small chimney. Once she identified the sound, she rolled over and went back to sleep. If she dreamed, she didn't remember it.

A loud banging woke her again and Elena mumbled something incoherent at the sound. Taking her noise as invitation, the door was shifted to the side and sunlight streamed into the small room. Elena rolled over and looked at Thompson as he stepped inside. Elena sat up, forgetting she wasn't wearing anything but underwear. The sleeping bag slid down exposing her to view and Thompson looked up at the ceiling.

"Damn, " she said grabbing her t-shirt and bra. She pulled them both on quickly as Thompson turned around to give her privacy. She slipped her jeans on.

"You can turn around, " she told him when she was dressed. She smoothed the sleeping bag back and sat down to pull on her shoes and socks.

"Sorry about that, " he said. "I didn't think…"

"At least we're even, " she said quickly, wanting to drop the topic as thoughts of a naked Thompson flashed through her mind. She pulled a comb from her bag and started setting her hair to rights.

"The other pilots have gathered their info on their ships and wanted to speak with you, so I volunteered to get you. They are in the mess tent if you want to get breakfast."

"Great, " Elena said. "How late did I sleep?"

"Not terribly late, the first wave of people ate and the second are just settling in." he told her. "Most of the quarters don't have windows and with the doors blocked for the night it is hard for anyone to really tell the time so all of the new comers are a little off."

"Great, at least it is not just me, " she replied.

"I'll meet you outside, " he said. He stepped back through the doorway and Elena put on deodorant and realized she was ready to go.

"I'll need the latrines soon though, " she thought. She stepped outside and saw Thompson waiting for her.

"Sleep well?" he asked as they walked towards the mess hall.

"Yup, " she told him realizing that she was a lot less achy and her head no longer hurt. Apparently Lucas' prescription of food, rest and water was appropriate. She decided to be a little less snarky about his common sense advice in the future. "You?" she asked.

"Fine, " he replied.

"You get a full report from your men?"

"I did, " Thompson told her with a smile.

"And have my people been up to nefarious deeds since the last time you checked?"

"No they seem to be on the straight and narrow, " He replied. "But I told them to keep their eyes open in case that changes."

"Gotta stay sharp, " Elena answered. "You never know when we'll try to slip an alien invasion force past you."

"That was Smit

h's paranoia not mine, if you recall, " He told her. At the mess tent he lifted the tent flap for her as though holding open a door. Elena stepped past him, got a tray of scrambled eggs, toast and jam, and a mug of tea from the serving line and settled down at one of the tables. Thompson joined her and in a few minutes the table filled with her pilots. As she ate, she received reports of supplies and needed repairs. She took a sip of her tea and desperately wished for coffee.

By the time breakfast was done, Elena had a good idea who could be shipped out to the DF with basic restocking of provisions and who would need to stay at port for a while. She also needed desperately to find the latrines. With the pilots cleared out and waiting to be called for instructions, Elena escaped to the latrines with a sigh of relief. Task complete, she looked around for a quiet place to sit and compile a schedule. To her surprise she found Thompson following her. When she settled herself at an outdoor picnic table, he sat down right across from her.

"If you've decided to try out a new occupation as my shadow, you should realize that with the angle of the sun you should probably be sitting over there, " she told him, gesturing towards where her shadow fell on the ground.

He smiled. "Just making sure you commit no nefarious deeds, Captain" he told her. He laced his fingers and rested his chin on his interlaced hands. He blinked in a mock flirtatious manner. Elena sighed realizing that Thompson was going to be sticking to her. She began compiling a schedule for the ships not needing repairs to begin leaving port. She then dated the supply list to give to Mateo so each ship could be supplied in an orderly fashion before they left. Hauling goods from the village to the ships would take time. She estimated the amount of travel time, time at the DF and the return trip to give an estimate of arrival dates.

"We really need a harbor master, " she muttered to herself as she worked. Realizing that she would need to be one of the first ships to leave in order to set up agreements for goods, she knew she would not be able to do the job. "Too bad Victor isn't here."

"Your assistant is very good at organization, " Thompson said. Elena jumped. He was so silent while she worked that she had forgotten him. He smiled wickedly. "Perhaps someone from your shipyard would make a good candidate for harbor master in your absence." Elena blinked at him wondering when he had learned of the shipyard.

"It's not my yard and they aren't my workers, " Elena told him.

"But you are going to talk to them about repairs, " he said gesturing to the list she made of ships needing work. Elena frowned.

"I wouldn't take it so badly if I were you, " he said reassuringly. "We are very good at finding things out. It's kind of what we do."

"I suggest you not let Peter know how good you are at your jobs, " Elena said dryly. "Not only is he fond of Smith's ineptitude, but he's already complimented me on keeping the few military personnel with knowledge of the planet sequestered here so that if they learn too much an accident could be arranged."

"I suspected as much, " He said growing serious. "It's why full reports are sent back every trip."

"You thought I would kill your men?" she asked. She sighed and rubbed her eyes thinking of her recent conversations with various Councilors. "Why does everyone think that I am plotting to kill people? Do I just have the look of a psychopath or did someone see the '1001 ways to get rid of a body' book in my nightstand?"

"I don't think you'd kill my men, " he replied with a smile. "And if it is any consolation I don't think Mateo, Kiera or Benjamin would either. I don't think Evan would have a problem killing them to be honest, or more than likely ordering one of his people to do the deed, although he seems content to let you run your operations separately without too much interference. Peter would kill all of them and me without a second thought."

Thompson's voice held a note of conviction and she wondered what information he had uncovered about the notorious Baranov. Elena heard stories for as long as she could remember and Peter confirmed that some, if not most of them were based in truth.

"Why do you think he and his House haven't been guests on the planet lately?" she asked.

While Peter's people were never frequent visitors, she eliminated them from arrival once Peter started mentioning accidents for Thompson's men. After the Matrovean raiders cut off some of the more lucrative trade routes and several of the ships sailing for Peter's House decided to work with her on a temporary basis, she made certain they worked routes where goods could be traded off at the DF instead of bringing them on planet.

"That had to cost you, " Thompson replied. "Peter wouldn't have let his House be cut out so easily."

"It was handled." Elena said, uncomfortable with the conversation. She allowed Peter's ships some of the more lucrative routes in order to keep them off planet, but had no intention of telling him that.

"Of course, " he replied. Elena sighed and stood, Thompson mirroring her action.

"I need to find Mateo and arrange supplies, " She told him.

"I think he is in the maintenance area, " Thompson replied. As expected, he followed her to the open sided tent where Mateo was bent over a bunch of metal pieces. He was humming to himself as he fitted the pieces together like a giant three dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

"It always disturbs me to see how much you enjoy that, " Elena said. Mateo looked up with a grin and picked up a rag to wipe grease from his fingers.

"We can't all function on the premise that everything mechanical works by pressing a big red button, " he told her. "Some of us have to make the things that go behind the big red button."

"Of course, " she said, pulling up a chair and sitting down.

"So what do you have for me?"

"I don't suppose you'd have anyone you could spare for the position of harbormaster?" She asked. "With so many ships coming and going, we'll need someone to keep track and assign docking space so we don't end up in a muddle, especially if I get Akashi and his people to do repairs. We'll need a contact point." Mateo looked to Thompson and Elena sighed. "He already knows about the ship yard."

"Don't let Peter know, " he said flatly.

"I've been warned, " Thompson replied. Mateo nodded and turned his attention back to Elena.

"Sam Harris might be a good person for the job if Kiera can spare him. He is organized, somewhat of a stickler for rules and he doesn't look like someone you'd want to cross, which seem to be the primary characteristics of every harbormaster I've met." Mateo smiled. "He's a good sort though."

"I'll talk to Kiera about him then, " Elena said. "Although I have to say a good sort is not how I'd describe most harbor masters. Most seem to fall into the category of mean bastards."

"True enough, " Mateo replied with a laugh. "Do you remember that one on Dewras? I swear he got meaner every time we docked."

"Drunker too, " Elena added. "You could get a buzz from breathing too deeply around him while making arrangements for docking."

"Ain't that the truth? So do you have anything for me?"

"Supply lists, including mine." Mateo took the sheets Elena held out and scanned them.

"You shipping out soon?"

"As soon as you can restock me. As Head of House I'll have to arrange for the goods that all of us will transport."

"Fair enough. Two days work for you?"

"Yeah, " Elena replied. "That'll give me time to check with Akashi and get repairs started if he is willing as well as to organize the pilots and run through details with a new Harbormaster."

Elena left Mateo with the supply lists and went to find Kiera, Thompson still following her. Kiera agreed to release Sam for duty if he was willing. Once Sam agreed, Elena ran over the basic schedule and left him to find a space to use as an office. Realizing that there was no way to put it off any longer, she turned to Thompson.

"I need to speak with Akashi, " she told him.

"And I need to see an actual channel rider ship yard, " he replied evenly. Elena sighed.

"Just don't let him know you aren't Guild. I don't know how he'll react. He is not of my House."

"I'll concentrate on being the strong silent type, " he told her with a wink. Shaking her head, Elena turned her steps toward the shoreline intending to take one of the launches to the ship yard.

"I just hope their sentries speak English, " she said.

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