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   Chapter 5 Skyside

Skyside: Book Five of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 37099

Updated: 2018-02-26 16:19

Chapter 5

Dawn changed the tides and Elena put to sea with an optimistic smile on her face. For the first time since her return to the Guild she would be able to spend her time on the DF merely conducting business and not being drawn into elaborate political issues. No one would be pressuring her to join the Council and take the North American seat. No current councilors were around to ask her for alliances or assume she had nefarious deeds planned.

"And no one will try to kill me, " She said to herself as she adjusted course. All of the others were still asleep as the ship started for the channel. She let them sleep, enjoying the silence. She sighed as the rising sun turned the ocean gold and red. The reprieve would not last long. Soon she would have to make a decision about the Council seat. "And sooner or later I will have to deal with Therese."

Elena shook her head. With Mateo named as their grandfather's heir, Therese toned down her anger, at least towards Elena. "Since she isn't eligible for the North American seat she might leave me alone completely if I accept it, " she mused.

Admittedly such an action could force her to focus more on Mateo. "And then there is Aunt Elizabeth, " Elena said. Growing up her Aunt Catherine, Mateo's mother, was something akin to a surrogate parent after Elena's parents were killed. Her sister Elizabeth, Therese's mother, always maintained a careful distance. Elena always knew her parents' death was no accident, but only recently she began to suspect Elizabeth had a hand in the situation.

"At the very least, she knows more than she lets on, " Elena thought remembering Elizabeth's knowledge of sealed, council eyes only documents. "Of course, I'm not supposed to know about those either, which makes challenging her on it a little difficult."

Annoyed with herself, she pushed thoughts of conspiracies and betrayals out of her mind. "I'll make a list later, " she promised herself somewhat grumpily. For now, she wanted to simply enjoy being on the ship and sailing as she had always felt she was born to do.

Elena chose a course that allowed them a visual of one of the small islands. As they passed she wondered if it too sported ancient cities abandoned for millennia. There were three channels total located on the planet. One was a one way channel and Mateo sent a team to investigate it. Over time a spit of land built up beneath the channel and now even though all of the pilots could sense it, there was no way possible for a ship to sail through, even if they knew where it let out.

The channel was a one way channel leading off the planet, but not allowing passage back, so no one thought it was much of a loss. The archeologists started a dig out that way and were delighted with the wealth of objects including both broken and intact pottery and several items that defied description. They were, from all accounts, ecstatic. Their joy was somewhat tempered by the fact that they would not be able to share the information with their peers back on Earth. Along with debating what the items were and their use, a lively debate regarding dating the items to a time period was taking place. Elena had the feeling a lecture series would be eminent.

Even though she spent more time off world than on, she was taken to visit the site and shown all of the recovered items. She nodded and smiled, but most of it was completely over her head. Elena figured that as long as they knew what they were talking about, she was happy. After all, that was the reason one hired experts in the first place, to deal with the things you didn't understand. The one piece of information they gave her was the theory that the one way channel was used for some sort of planetary exodus.

"I wonder if they found a new planet. And why they left this one, " Elena thought as she stared at the dim outline of the island off the starboard. There were times when the thought kept her up at night. She envisioned plagues and natural disasters by the score. They were not comforting images.

The third channel was a two way channel, just like the one they used now, the one officially named after her in the Guild Archives. The only difference was that it didn't need a pilot with the calling to open it. It was a more traditional channel that from all accounts varied with the seasons. It was however so far from their fledgling settlement that an expedition had yet to be made and no one knew the conditions surrounding it. That channel was not listed on any register the Librarians could find when Elena stated her claim for the Council. Mateo sent some of his flying reconnaissance probes and was compiling information, but it was a slow process.

Elena watched a flock of birds take to the air and then slowly settle back down in the trees. "They could have established an outpost on the island." Even if they couldn't open the channel the way she could, there were plenty of islands in this direction that could have been inhabited. "Assuming they traded with each other of course, " Elena said, knowing that at least one of the archaeologists would have a theory of some sort ready if she asked.

She made a mental note to mention having Mateo send a small team to inspect the island at some point. If they could work up communications of some sort between the small island and port it would give the settlement some advance notice of arrivals.

At the channel, Elena let Jennifer try to open it. While her apprentice could open the new channel, she lacked the strength to keep it open long enough for the ship to pass. "It will come in time, " Elena told taking over the task and watching the eighteen year olds' shoulders slump in defeat. She remembered wanting to be able to do everything at once too.

The trip passed smoothly and calmly. There wasn't much talking between them and Elena chalked it up to conversational fatigue. With the influx of new people and constant demand for their assistance, everyone was cherishing the momentary quiet.

"That's certainly different, " Thompson said as the Storm Chaser began its approach to the DF.

"It's the off season, " Elena reminded him with a smile. "It's like a tourist town when everyone but the locals have gone home."

"And how do you explain that, " Thompson said, gesturing not to the mostly empty berths, but to the larger vessels circling the station.

"Ah, " Elena said. "Well the larger ships are defensive patrols. Normally there are only a few near the perimeter of DF dominated space. During the season most of them continuously ride the trade routes. Well, where treaties let them anyway. Some specifically limit the patrol ship's access although most are fairly comfortable with them. My guess is that given the Matrovean situation most people chose to spend the season eathside rather than riding the channels. With the trade routes mostly closed, the ships pulled in closer."

The Matrovean raiders had always been a threat attacking lone ships. Some of Elena's more harrowing moments shipboard involved either out running or fighting the Matrovean. The patrol ships helped discourage all but the exceedingly bold or totally desperate. Recently the Matrovean began expanding the territory they claimed as their own. No one knew if this was due to boldness or desperation as no one figured out quite where the Matrovean raiders came from or returned to with their stolen goods.

Personally, Elena liked to think they lived in a pirate town the likes of which were scattered throughout the Caribbean during Earth's age of privateers and pirates. Somehow she doubted the image was correct, but liked to think it anyway. It helped her to file them in a mental category. It made them knowable instead of simply a terror coming out of the darkness.

Many of the formerly open trade routes were now under Matrovean occupation, which caused a great deal of adjustment within the commerce oriented Guild. Elena forged a great many of alliances that would no doubt have been beyond the reach of her fledgling House due to their involvement. Her network of alliances and agreements quickly grew to touch nearly every House in the Guild. She had the feeling that the only reason she was not viewed as a threat by some of the more established ruling Houses was due to the temporary nature of the alliances. And the fact that any House that could use the crisis as a way to form alliances was doing so as well.

"That I get, " Thompson said interrupting her thoughts. "But that ship seems a little out of place." Elena saw what he was looking at, chuckled and shook her head.

"It's one of the cruise ships. During the off season many families take extended vacations. Several of the planets in various sectors have resorts set up to take advantage of their leisure time and disposable income."

"Really?" Thompson said sounding intrigued. "So that's what you did during the off season growing up?"

"Not typically, at least not me personally, " Elena told him. "Grandfather did not approve of extended vacations. At best he would take a week, but even then about three days into it he would be negotiating deals with whoever was handy. It's actually how many of the family trade routes came into being."

"Oh, so it's a genetic trait then, this inability to ever step completely away from business. Good to know you came by it honestly, " He replied with a smile. "So tell me, are they picking up the tourists and then leaving for the resorts or are they dropping passengers off?"

Elena frowned at his assessment of her and realized that even if it hadn't always been true, it became so in the time he had known her. Unable to argue, she turned back to the cruise ship. "I don't know, " Elena replied. "I would have thought they were all picked up prior. Usually the cruise ships board before the actual close of the season."

She guided the Storm Chaser to a convenient berth, pleased to note that none of the ships captained or piloted by people currently giving her problems were around. "At least we won't have to cross half of the DF to get to my quarters, " she thought as she and the others left the ship and entered the DF.

Elena automatically checked the docking tube for damage that might have to be fixed. She detected none, but decided that once back on planet she would have Akashi and his people go over not only her ship, but all of the others that might have had damage detected during the normal winterization. She had the need for regular maintenance on the ship drilled into her head since before she started walking; after all it wasn't like she could just call a tow truck if she broke down en route. It was hard not to hear the lectures in her head.

The small group stepped onto the DF and even Elena was forced to admit it was a little shocking. There were no venders with food carts to tempt those who were living on ship's fare too long; no trinkets and souvenirs being offered to sailors to take back as mementos of their trips or gifts to sweethearts. The crowds departed. No one was pushing and shoving their way through the halls and the multitude of languages, human and otherwise, were absent. The dock was quiet and smelled vaguely antiseptic. Elena frowned, finding it somewhat off-putting.

"Wow, " Thompson said looking at the emptiness as they turned their steps towards Elena's House quarters. "When you said people clear out during the off season, you meant it. Although I don't know how you are going to find anyone to trade with at this rate."

Elena smiled. "The main market is still occupied and many people live year round on the station. It simply isn't profitable to keep the smaller venders in the docks during the off season. Trade will actually be a little easier in the market this time of year because those who aren't busy with commissions placed at the end of the season will be interested in earning extra to fill up the down time."

Elena hid her worry behind her smile and light comments. Even though the DF always cleared out towards the end of the season, she spent many an off season here and had never seen the ports so empty. Hopefully the main market would still be worthwhile.

"Ah, I see." Thompson replied.

"Some of the merchants have lower rates at this time of year too, " Jennifer added. "Devon always waited until the season ended to stock up on basic necessities."

Elena nodded, remembering that Jennifer was not only born on the station, but aside from a few trips to test her piloting skills, she was never out of sight of the station until she became Elena's apprentice. Devon ran the DF's girl's home, raising the girls with no parents who would grow to be pilots. She didn't show any worry about the emptiness, but Elena wondered how much time she spent in the family ports over the years.

Their steps echoed loudly and Elena was relieved to see her quarters. Inside she dropped her gear on her bed as the others retreated to their own spaces. Deciding she needed to see others moving around the DF to shake the feeling of abandonment, she took a quick shower and with her hair still slightly damp, went to the central market.

Unsurprisingly, Thompson decided to join her while Jennifer went to visit with Devon and Benjamin went to check on some friends. Resigning herself to her new found shadow, Elena headed to market.

As they approached the market, the noise level rose. Elena found herself relaxing as she heard the voices of others and smelled the market in full swing. There may have been fewer people, but the ones remaining still needed to eat. Here were the food carts offering everything from the mundane to the esoteric. Remembering that many of the new arrivals possessed only one change of clothes or less, Elena made Evalene Dupry's stall her first stop.

"Elena, " the diminutive dressmaker said with a surprised smile when her assistant showed her and Thompson in. "What a pleasant surprise. I didn't realize that you would be spending the off season here. What brings you to my little corner of the market?"

"It was an unexpected turn of events actually, " Elena told her as she accepted Evalene's offer of a seat and a cup of tea. "We have quite a few people living on the planet now and the rather rustic environment is a little wearing on the wardrobe. I was hoping that if you weren't completely booked with commissions during the off season, you might help me out before my people end up wandering around in rags."

Evalene laughed. "I can see how that would be a bit of a problem. It's not like you can run to the store and pick up something new when a garment can no longer hold a patch. I don't suppose you would have a list of what you would need?"

Elena took the list Kiera gave her from her bag and unfolded it. She glanced over it once and then handed it to the older woman. Evalene took the list and scanned it as Elena and Thompson delicately sipped their tea.

"There are children's clothes on here, " Evalene said thoughtfully. Expecting the observation, Elena nodded.

"Many of the staff decided to bring their families with them during the off season."

Evalene nodded with approval. "An excellent approach. Family should always be kept close."

Elena smiled, knowing that most of Evalene's family lived on the DF. A couple of the House's daughters became pilots and while several of the family's sons worked on their sister's ships, most of them worked for Evalene. Admittedly, the ships also sailed for Evalene, either picking up materials or dropping off finished products. While never a pilot or a captain, Evalene was firmly the Head of her House.

While presentation, wedding and other formal attire was her specialty, Elena knew that regular everyday clothing was in Evalene's repertoire. As her grandfather possessed a near crippling fear of shopping for girl's clothing, he dealt with the issue of outfitting Elena after she came to live with him by scheduling appointments with Evalene and dropping her off. Until she left the Guild, all of her clothing was made here. After a lifetime of debating fabrics and cut, the ready-made clothing in stores came as a bit of shock to her when she left the Guild.

Thompson was silent as Evalene continued to peruse the list of necessities and Elena wondered what he thought of her conversation. While Elena had no doubt that tales of her great escape were going to circulate, she hoped that by the time she was called into Council to defend her actions all of the people she helped skyside would be officially recognized as part of Mateo's House and therefore part of an entirely acceptable course of action.

After all one was expected to assist in the protection of family. She also hoped that any explanation of Kiera and her people's abilities would fall to her cousin as well. She was already dreading letting the Council know she stretched a channel after the season closed.

Evalene looked up from the paper, her eyes thoughtful. "This is quite a list, " she said finally.

"It is, " Elena agreed. Evalene took a long deep breath and let it out slowly. She narrowed her eyes and nodded to herself as if reaching a decision.

"How long have you been back on the DF?" she asked.

Elena's eyebrows lifted in surprise at the unexpected question. "Long enough to grab a shower, " she replied. Evalene nodded slowly.

"I see, " she began. "So you have not spent much time listening to the talk around the station. Hmm. Well." She set the list down on a small table and picked up her tea. She took a delicate sip while she gathered her thoughts.

"People are worried about the Matrovean, " Evalene finally said bluntly. "They have discovered an appetite for territory it seems. You saw the cruise ship, Star's Delight in orbit?"

"We did, " Elena confirmed.

"She was scheduled to depart for Geratas at the close of season, which she did. Unfortunately she had to turn around halfway there as Geratas is now in Matrovean territory."

"Garatas?" Elena said with some surprise. "I hadn't heard their territory extended so far towards the Destran Galaxy."

"It didn't, at the end of the season. That is what is making people nervous. There is the speculation that with the mass of the Guild earthside for the off season, the Matrovean are planning to make their move. Whatever move that may be. Everyone seems to have different opinions on that particular topic."

"That is a chilling thought, "

Elena said. She wondered how large the Matrovean controlled territory was at this point and decided to stop by the Librarians once she left Evalene. She could deliver Evan's letters and get some information at the same time. She knew better than to trust market rumor without confirmation.

"It is and it has produced in me a desire to see my family to a somewhat …safer destination."

"Really?" Elena replied. "I didn't think you ever left the DF."

"I don't, " Evalene replied. "I hate traveling. People who want my services come to me, not the other way around." She paused and gave Elena a shrewd look. "Usually."

"Oh?" Elena replied, understanding where the conversation might go and recalculating things in her mind.

"Indeed. As I said it is quite a list you have presented to me. While I could make general guesses and approximate sizes, I am not a general store. I do not favor mass quantities. I like to know who will be wearing the garments I design and my family produces. In addition I want my family somewhere safe for the offseason in the event that things take a turn for the worst." Evalene paused for another sip of tea and Elena could see that the older woman's hand was shaking slightly.

"So, " she continued. "my proposal to you is that in exchange for allowing us to temporarily relocate in your settlement, we will set up shop so that we can be on hand to not only provide the requested clothing, but to repair the damaged bits if you wish. My House has three ships which can easily accommodate all of my family and our necessary gear. We would merely require an escort and assistance settling into new quarters."

Elena took a sip of tea as she thought about the request. She had known Evalene long enough to sense the thread of fear behind the woman's words. However if Evalene's fear was shared by a large section of the DF's current population, agreeing to help her leave could help to start a panic.

"It would be quite handy to have someone with your skills on hand, especially during the off season, " Elena began. Evalene relaxed slightly. "Although I don't believe your family to be in any danger on the DF at this time."

Evalene smiled and nodded understanding Elena's caution. "Clearly your House and that of your cousin Mateo will be needing an assortment of finery for the upcoming season. It is also just as clear that many of those in your House who need to be outfitted will not be able to spend time on the DF as is usual." She began as though it was Elena who suggested the relocation.

"With the addition of the more mundane clothing it only makes sense that you would convince me to temporarily relocate, " Evalene continued. "And since I haven't had a vacation, even a working one, in quite some time, accepting your proposal would allow me to assuage my curiosity about these new channels. You are after all the talk of the market." Evalene smiled conspiratorially and Elena was pleased to see her hands were now as steady as stone.

Elena smiled. "Are you sure you aren't on the Council?"

Evalene laughed. "I hope never to be on the Council, but I do know how to work within regulations."

"And to avoid creating a public panic, " Elena added. She thought about the schedule she left with her new harbor master. "Windsong is due to dock in two days to pick up the first of our shipments for planetside. Cloudskimmer is three days behind. I'd like to load Windsong and send her back with word of your arrival so port can prepare and then have your ships follow Cloudskimmer back planetside if that would work for you?"

"I believe we can have our supplies loaded and ready to go by then, " Evalene told her. The lines of relief were clearly etched in her face. Elena set her half-finished tea aside.

"We'll leave you to your planning then, " Elena said. Elena knew she would still be charged for the cloth and time of making each garment, but the price would be substantially lowered due to Evalene's relocation. They exited her shop as Evalene began gathering her family to prepare. Thompson looked as though he would speak, but Elena shook her head.

"Once we are in quarters, " she said softly. The market had ears and there were some things she would prefer it not overhear. He nodded in agreement as his eyes shifted to scan those wandering the market. Elena left him to his observations as they walked through the market.

Elena watched those they passed, making her own observations although she hoped she didn't look as suspicious as Thompson while doing it. The conversations they overheard as they walked were rather standard as far as the market place went. People haggled over the price of goods, questioned or proclaimed value. Claims both accurate and ludicrous were made, but wound through all of the conversations there was a common thread of fear.

Remembering the various lists she was given, Elena stopped to haggle with spice merchants over regular shipments for Consuelo's kitchen, surveyed the available candy concoctions for Mateo and placed medical supply orders for the doctor's office. Elena smiled when she realized that Lucas requested cartoon decorated band aides to have on hand for the kids.

"Apparently he is anticipating scrapes and bruises, " Thompson replied, sharing her amusement. Somehow kid friendly medical supplies was not high on her list during their initial supply runs. Elena made sure that Akashi's supply lists were taken care of as well and deciding that she made a reasonable dent in the list for the moment, she turned towards the Librarian's district.

The sound of the market faded away as the two of them stepped into the domain of the Librarians. She smiled as Thompson gasped at his first sight of the library. She paused to allow him to take in the full glory of the space. Overhead the ceiling was constructed of a clear material so the library looked open to the star-filled sky.

At the moment the rings of Hecfa could be seen at the edge of one side. At this distance the rings looked blue and gold. The books of the library weren't in fact books at all, but rather digital copies of the library's vast archives. The central terminal was in sleep mode, the screen dark. Most of the room was in shadow, but Elena knew from experience that as one approached the central terminal, the lights would brighten.

Finally Thompson shook himself and let his gaze fall from the sight. Elena led him to a side door and placed her hand on an identification plate. Her hand was scanned and the door clicked as it unlocked. Elena pushed the door open and she and Thompson stepped into the Librarian's receiving room. A man in his late forties, wearing the badge of the House of Librarians on his sleeve smiled broadly at their approach.

"Captain Calabrese, what a pleasant surprise, " He began shaking her hand. "I am Abel Morely, how may I help you today?"

Elena noticed that his eyes didn't even glance in Thompson's direction. "Mr. Morely, a pleasure to meet you." She reached into her bag and pulled out three sealed letters. She held the envelopes out to him. "Evan asked me to drop these by. As we are going to have regular supply runs we thought it prudent to add mail service. Windsong will be docking in two days and staying at port one night. Someone from the ship will bring whatever mail is sent and pickup any letters you care to send in response. I believe one of the letters details the basic schedule."

"Marvelous, " Abel commented. "We do hate being so divided this way. Would you care to stay for some refreshments?"

Well aware that when the Librarians offered refreshments it was merely to disarm a visitor while they picked apart their brains for information, Elena politely declined. Her brain was already jumbled enough. "However, I am interested to know how large a territory the Matrovean now claim. I don't suppose you have a reading on that? We just arrived and have started hearing rumors. I was hoping you would have something more reliable than marketplace gossip."

Abel nodded sadly. "I'm afraid most of them are more fact than rumors. We have been compiling reports as they come in. The Matrovean aren't moving quickly, but they are moving steadily. I can forward copies of the reports to you if you would like so that you can warn your people. I believe Commander McLaughlin has a posting of affected routes in the registry office. Or at least he was planning to establish one. I'm not certain if he has gotten around to it yet. He has been somewhat pressed as of late."

"Then I'll check there as well, thank you, " Elena told him. She and Thompson made their polite goodbyes and left the office, confident that someone else would be picking up and dropping off mail for the foreseeable future. While Elena liked Evan, some of the other Librarians bothered her. She knew they gathered information and controlled a vast network of political maneuverings for a purpose she couldn't begin to understand, which in theory made them very much like the rest of the Guild. However with some of them there was a disconnect as though they only saw pieces on a vast chess board and not people whose lives were impacted.

Once out of the Library, Elena skirted the bulk of the market, eager to be back in her own quarters. She mentally debated making a quick detour to the registry office as they walked. She felt something in Thompson's manner shift as they walked although she couldn't quite say what. She turned to him and saw him lazily scanning the crowd, his eyes hooded. He looked as he always looked, but something was different, she was willing to bet on it.

She lifted an eyebrow in question and he shook his head slightly. Despite his relaxed pose, his eyes were alert and scanning. Elena realized that her questions would have to wait until they were away. She decided it was fair enough since she refused to answer his questions in public earlier. Deciding that checking the registry after she read the Librarian's reports was a better decision at the moment, she began walking briskly away from the market.

"Captain Calabrese, " Elena turned at the sound of someone calling her and saw a teenage boy all long limbed and half-grown approaching. He looked familiar although she couldn't place him. She stopped so that he could catch up with her. He hurried and stopped a few feet away. Thompson was still wary, but didn't tense in alarm so she relaxed slightly. Whatever bothered him didn't include the boy. She smiled as he caught his breath.

"My father, Rene of Rene's, would like to speak with you if you have a moment to spare." Elena smiled and nodded. The boy turned and led them towards one of the outer market shops. Rene's was old enough to warrant an actual store front in the market rather than a stall in the central area. Elena knew that the Rene who operated the high end stationary and party planning operation was the eighteenth man in that family, by that particular name to run the store. She also knew that the teenager was more than likely the next Rene in line. She was fairly certain she met him when she helped arrange the announcements for Kiera and Mateo's engagement party.

While the invitations to Mateo's engagement party came from Rene's and she was pretty sure that when they got around to it Kiera and Mateo's wedding invitations would as well, she couldn't figure out what the shop would want with her at the moment. As far as she knew, she had no outstanding orders.

The bells over the door jingled merrily as she and Thompson followed the young Rene into the shop. An older man smiled and stepped forward to greet them. There was a similarity of facial features that marked the man as family to the teenager. He held out both hands to Elena and encircled the hand she held out for him to shake. He then kissed her on both cheeks. As usual, Thompson was ignored.

"Captain, how good of you to honor a request from such a humble shop keep in his time of need." Rene began, his voice full of high-end drama. Elena smiled politely and hoped whatever Thompson noticed was not of immediate import. She had the feeling that dealing with Rene would take a while.

"Has something happened?" She asked politely.

"Yes, I am afraid it has. But where are my manners, please sit. We will have coffee." Rene led them towards the back and gestured towards one of the chairs next to a small café table. There were two chairs and Thompson looked amused, as he took up a position behind her. Rene sank into his chair like a puppet whose strings were cut. Elena tried not to frown as Thompson was treated like her bodyguard. Rene picked up a silver coffee pot and poured a stream of black liquid into two white demitasse cups.

"I do hope I haven't delayed any important business, " He said as he set the pot down and picked up his cup.

"Not terribly important and I was going to need to see you on this trip anyway."

"Were you?" he asked somehow managing to impart a world of intrigue into the two short words.

"We've set up a harbormaster in the planetside port in our little seaside haven and I wanted to get him a proper logbook and calendar." She told him. Rene's mannerisms were somewhat catching and Elena tried to mentally squash the impulse even as her own thoughts mocked her use of the term 'little seaside haven'. It sounded like she was building a spa for the idle rich. She could practically feel Thompson smirking behind her.

"Of course, " Rene told her. "I will have one delivered to you by morning. We must maintain standards, even when the world is crumbling around us."

Unsure what to say, Elena picked up her cup and took a sip of the coffee. He took a deep shuttery breath. "Oh, " he sighed heavily. "Never in all the time that Rene's has been open and ready to service the needs of the Guild, has such a darkness descended upon us."

"Won't you please tell me what has happened?" Elena asked politely, hoping to hurry him along. She wasn't quite sure how much theatrical sighing she could take.

"Of course, one cannot hope to contain such devastation behind a stoic fa?ade for long. You have heard of the Matrovean situation, " he half said, half asked.

"Of course, " Elena replied, marveling at the fact that he considered this a stoic response.

"They have now managed to block off the routes to Segnari."

"Oh, " Elena said. She heard of Segnari, but it was not along any of the routes she usually took and had no idea what merchandise was traded there. "Do you do a lot of trading with Segnari?"

"Not precisely, no, " Rene replied, "But it is nevertheless vital to our business." He closed his eyes as though it pained him to reveal a closely guarded secret. He opened them and looked directly into Elena's eyes. "Every year during the off season my family journeys to Segnari. There we make our inks and our papers. There we bind the books that the Guild uses for ship's logs and harbor master's use at their stations along with dozens of other necessary items. We do not merely make fripperies."

He paused and squashed his mouth into a thin line as though swallowing the remainder of a diatribe. She wondered if he was often accused of making fripperies and then wondered who besides Rene actually used the word fripperies.

"For many reasons, " he continued after gathering himself. "These things cannot be done on the station. Many of them are quite malodorous and require the open air. Others require raw materials that would be heavy to ship, thus making the final products ruinously expensive. An agreement has been held by my family with Segnari for generations. And just last week as we were preparing for our trip there, the Commander of the patrol fleet saw fit to tell us that we could not go." He looked outraged by the interruption to his plans and the thought that someone would stop him, but the look faded quickly.

He shook his head in disbelief. "Can you imagine?" he added as he once again picked up his coffee, emotions tempered.

"It must be quite devastating to you, " Elena heard herself reply as she wondered if Rene wanted her to argue with the Commander's decision. She didn't quite know why he thought she would have that kind of pull. Even if she was eligible for a Council seat, the end of season orders given to the Commander of the patrol fleet would have been dictated by the entire Council.

"It is quite a blow. Generations, you understand. Generations. But the work of the Guild must go on. We must find a new place to work. A new place to create what the Guild needs. It is our duty. Our sacred family responsibility."

"Of course, " Elena said, realizing that like Evalene, he was angling for a safe harbor. She had the feeling Mateo would soon have a stationary shop located next to the dressmakers. She mentally sighed thinking that at least Evan wouldn't have to scrounge for paper to write his letters on. "Are there special requirements your work would require?"

"Most of what we require is skill, which we have in abundance." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "However, beyond our skill, there are a few basic requirements."

He handed the page to her and Elena unfolded it, wondering if he was asking anyone who passed by for assistance or if he scrawled the list when word of the Storm Chaser's docking reached him. She quickly read through the list. The requirements weren't outlandish, in fact they could easily be accommodated and were much more reasonable than she would have suspected.

"We could accommodate these requests, however I must warn you that the accommodations we could provide are quite primitive. There are no amenities really. There is a communal mess hall and cold water bath house. You will however need to more or less take care of your own needs. My cousin Mateo and his fiancé Keira are in charge of ground operations and you will need to follow the rules they set out for you upon your arrival should you choose this option."

Rene nodded, his eyes sparkling. "Segnari is much the same way, we were provided shelter, nothing more. I have always found your cousin to be quite competent and I know his affianced has excellent taste, therefore I have no difficulties accepting their House rule."

"Then I believe we may be able to come to an arrangement." Elena told him. Familiar with the business of the Guild, Rene, smiled, toned down his theatrics and began to negotiate.

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