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   Chapter 11 Skyside

Skyside: Book Five of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 24793

Updated: 2018-02-26 16:23


Chapter 11

The rest of the trip to the channel was slow and steady. Even though the Storm Chaser's weapons remained out and at the ready, there were no signs of the Matrovean and she could practically hear McLaughlin plotting to return and check things out once everyone was safe. Elena caught up to the other civilian craft and the three smaller ships rode in the center of a protective cocoon created by the larger patrol ships. It was with a great deal of relief that Elena opened the new channel, letting the other ships pass her, and then following them into planetary waters.

The sun was bright and the weather warm as they entered planetary waters and headed towards Haven. Once in the water, the fleet was required to spread out more to avoid a mid-ocean catastrophe and Elena felt her claustrophobia fade. Everyone was subdued as they made their way to port, as though still trying to process the loss of the DF. Elena took a deep breath and realized they would never be going back to the DF. Even if it was rebuilt quickly, it would not be the DF where she grew up. She felt a deep sense of loss open up inside her.

"What happens now?" Elena heard Jennifer ask Benjamin. Her voice sounded soft and a little scared making her sound much younger than her years. He didn't have an answer for her and at the moment, she doubted anyone else did either. As the ships passed the small island, Elena saw one of Mateo's original probes rise from a small watch tower that was erected in her absence. The probe circled the ships, no doubt recording their arrival, and then shot off towards Haven to deliver its news.

"Well at least we won't come as a complete surprise, " she said. Spin mewled at her and Elena reached down to scratch her ears.

"We'll be at port soon and things will settle down, " she told the cat. Spin gave her a look of incredulity and Elena laughed. "Okay I don't believe it much either, but you gotta start somewhere, right."

Once the docks came into sight, any humor Elena managed to cobble together fled as shock filled her. Benjamin joined her in the pilot house to ask a question, saw Elena surprise and turned to look at the Port of Haven. He let out a long low whistle.

"That's Haven?" he asked softly.

"It has to be, " She replied.

"Are you sure we didn't take a wrong turn?" he joked. Elena gave him a half smile as they both studied the docks. Gone was the sleepy little port, in its place was a hive of activity. The ocean was filled with ocean-going craft both large and small. Small family transports, larger merchant ships, even larger archive ships, cruise ships and now the immense patrol ships, filled the ocean.

"And most of the Guild is earth-side for the off season, " Elena muttered to herself.

"Good thing too as there would be no where to put them, " Benjamin said. He frowned. "Is it me or is the docking area larger than when we left?" Elena scanned the area, trying to spot the docks between the ships. In addition to the giant and ancient stone pier, someone erected a long wooden pier further down the coast and what looked like a small gatehouse midway between the two.

"I guess they expanded, " Elena said. A small launch cut through the water and headed in their direction. "Best get the signal flags, " Elena told him. Benjamin nodded, his earlier questions forgotten. When the launch was close enough they signaled the Storm Chaser to follow and Elena realized it was a pilot ship sent to guide them to port. Benjamin signaled their understanding and Elena followed the ship to a berth, not too far away from the main docks.

"Looks like they held a space for you in a prime location, Captain, " Benjamin joked as everyone began gathering their belongings and prepared to disembark.

"Looks like it, " She said. She turned her attention to Spin. "So coming to shore or not?" Spin stood and shook herself, moving to stand beside Elena's bag. "Very well then, try not to pick a fight with the larger cats in the jungle." Spin sniffed and stuck her tail in the air.

It didn't take long to get everyone to shore and as their feet touched sand, Elena was unsurprised to see Sam Harris make his way out of the small gatehouse, which she assumed became the harbormaster's office at some point. Sam lost weight since she last saw him and he looked both harried and cross. Gone was the perpetual air of good humor that once surrounded him.

"Apparently no matter who you are when you start, the job turns you into a traditional harbor master, " Elena muttered to herself. She half expected to hear him shout as she never met a harbor master who spoke in a normal volume, but if that was his habit he refrained from using it now.

"Captain, " he said once he was close enough to speak in a normal volume. "Please tell me that's the last of them. We officially ran out of dock and harbor two weeks ago."

"That's everyone for now, " she told him. The for now set him to frowning. "We will have a meeting soon to figure everything out, but I have the feeling everyone will stay put until the patrol ships have a chance to go out again and check on the situation."

Personally she hoped that the Matrovean fled and at least some normal trade could resume. Keeping everyone confined to a planet for any length of time seemed like a recipe for disaster. Merchants cut off from trade were never pleasant. "You will be included in the meeting."

Sam nodded. "I appreciate that Captain, but I have to admit I am out of my depth here. I figured I'd just have to deal with the twenty or so ships of your House, not this, " he waved his hand to include the entire waterfront.

"I know Sam, " she said patting him on the shoulder. "That was my intent too. But the Harbormaster and his crew from the DF were on board the Moondance. I'm going to see if they can help out. They probably won't want anything permanent since the Guild will no doubt want to rebuild soon, but it should help in the crisis."

Sam nodded, looking visibly relieved and Elena didn't have the heart to tell him that once the season opened, the rest of the Guild would be descending. She ran a hand through her hair and sighed.

"So what happened, " Sam asked, falling into step with Elena's group as they headed towards the village.

"Quite a lot actually, we'll have to make an announcement in town. God knows, I only want to say it once." Sam nodded and together they all trudged towards the crossroads. Along the way they were joined by McLaughlin and his group of captains and pilots. The rest of the patrolmen were steadily making their way to shore. Elena could see McLaughlin's second in command, a ferocious looking woman Elena only knew as Heaney in command of the troop's arrival. She knew there would be a great deal of family reunions once they rejoined their families. It would be quite a night in town. She frowned as she thought of The Defender.

"An announcement will need to be made about the DF when we get into town, " Elena said.

"That would be best coming from you, " McLaughlin said. Elena nodded.

"And news of the Defender?" She asked. "We should probably have a service or something."

McLaughlin nodded and Elena realized how tired he looked. It was as though his age, previously worn only as a symbol of experience, finally caught up with him. She wondered if she looked as tired as he did; she certainly felt it.

l actually, " Mateo answered with a grin. We've got someone in charge of setting up a small park with a few courts and some large concrete chessboards."

"Really?" Elena asked.

"Yup, too many civilians, not enough projects or entertainment." He sighed and ran a hand though his hair. "Although I suspect that is going to change soon."

"Yeah, " Elena said. "We might not get much entertainment, but we certainly have a lot of projects."

"I'm sure people will get around to providing their own entertainment, " Mateo commented.

He pushed open the door to the house and led them inside. The front room was dark and Elena could only make out the vague shadowy outlines of what she assumed was furniture. She heard a heavy clunking, scraping sound and saw Mateo working some form of pulley. He then walked to the center of the room and a moment later there was light flooding the lower half of the room. As he stepped away, Elena saw that the pulley lowered a large lantern. He moved back to the door and hauled the lantern back up to the ceiling.

"Nice, " Elena said realizing that the room was now fully illuminated. She looked around the space, nodding. "So this is where my furniture went." Off to the left her living room furniture was set up in approximately the same configuration as it was on the DF. To her right she saw a long wooden table and chairs.

"We knew you'd need meeting space, " Mateo said.

"Ah, " she replied. "Good thinking." She didn't mind having a general meeting space. Anything resembling a Council court however was not something she wanted to be in charge of creating.

Ever.

"We improvised on bedroom furniture since yours we knew would still be in the cargo hold when you arrived." Mateo continued. "At the moment, we have rooms for you, Benjamin, Jennifer and Thompson here. The rest of your House is stationed elsewhere. Apparently the original builders did not envision Guild House configurations in their designs."

"As long as everyone else is fine with it, I'm good, " Elena told him. She stifled a yawn as Mateo pointed out the large panels on the wall. Apparently they covered windows and could be opened during the day so the lantern was not needed.

"And we have one other surprise before I leave you to your well-earned rest." Mateo told her with a grin.

"Which would be?" she asked smiling at his enthusiasm. He led them through the central area to a small door on the side. They followed a short corridor and ended in a small stone room.

"Is this… is that a bathtub, " Elena asked, studying the stone box and odd plastic tubing tacked to the wall.

"It is, " he said nodding. There is a large cistern on the roof that collects rainwater. In this season we get rain pretty much every afternoon. We fitted a purification system in it so the water may smell a little strange at first, but it won't have any mold, bacteria or any general nastiness in it. The sun warms the water in the cistern so even if it isn't the lobster-boil hot you prefer, it isn't icy cold. And you don't have to share the communal baths, which still only have icy water."

"I think I love you, " Benjamin said before Elena could reply. He mimed wiping a tear away. "Now all we need is a dry cleaner and we can be completely civilized."

"I'll work on that, " Mateo told him with a grin.

"So where are Lucas and Melanie, didn't our medical staff rank a house on the hill so to speak?"

"They did, but they refused. They are living in the back of the building we turned into a clinic. It looks a bit like a warehouse on the outside."

"Oh, the boxy thing off to the left of the road between here and the crossroads?" Elena asked.

"That would be it." He confirmed. "We had to shift them out of the first aide tent with the recent population boom. They have more room for set up and can even quarantine people if the need arises."

"Hopefully the need won't arise." Elena said. "I hate to see them give up their own private bath for the communal ones so they could stay permanently on call."

"I wouldn't worry about that, " Mateo said with a grin. The hospital building is the only place that actually has hot and cold running water. We figured that as it was our equivalent of a hospital they would need it. One of the perks of living on site is that they are the only ones that actually get a truly hot shower."

"You know, I'm okay with them having that perk. I wouldn't go spreading it around though."

"Trust me it isn't common knowledge, " Mateo said. "Then again neither is this." He waved a hand indicating the bath. "I think that covers the big things. I'll see you in the mess tent for breakfast before the meeting then?"

"Sounds like a plan, " Elena said. They all trooped back to the main room.

"I'll leave you then and Elena?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm glad you're back." Mateo turned and headed out of the door.

"Yeah, " she said. "Me too."

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