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Councilor: Book Six of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 19895

Updated: 2018-02-26 16:34


Chapter 1

Elena sighed softly as she piloted the Storm Chaser towards the skyside opening of the Marta Channel. It seemed as though a lifetime passed since she was able to go home. In fact, she was surprised she was even going home at all. A last minute run to ferry small children and their parents away from government scientists' intent on experiments stranded her skyside for the off season. She assumed it would have some repercussions somewhere down the line, but was unwilling to refuse to help with the evacuation. Making the best of things, she anticipated supply runs to and from the fledgling community of Haven and the Dockside Facility, pushing away thoughts of reprisals until later.

Unfortunately, the Matrovean had other ideas and Elena found herself in charge of a full scale evacuation of the Docking Facility; an evacuation that ended when the Matrovean accidentally destroyed the DF during their attack. The rest of the off season was spent dealing with the suddenly exponentially enlarged population of Haven and helping to promote some sense of order.

Until establishing a community on an uninhabited planet, Elena never really thought about what went into the day to day survival of a people. She was fairly certain that at some point soon the minutia of it would actually kill her. As she adjusted her course slightly so that the prow of the ship was lined up with the center of the approaching channel, she wondered if that was what they would put on her tombstone.

"Killed by minutia, " she thought. "What an epitaph. Not that most pilots get a tombstone." As Pilots, along with most of the Guild, tended to die on their ships, their bodies lost to space or sea, those of the Guild long since developed the habit of erecting memory stones instead. Instead of grave sites, they built small parks and placed a family obelisk somewhere discrete. Over time the obelisk would accumulate the names of the dead. When the stone could take no more additions, a new stone would be placed in the park.

In Haven, she ordered a public marker built in the one small park they created for the children. It carried the names of those who died aboard the Defender, the only ship lost during the Matrovean attacks. Elena hoped she never had to call for such a stone to be placed again, but given the uncertainty of the times she had the feeling it was a vain hope at best. Even as she was pleased to sail away from Haven, she continued to worry over its fate in her absence.

"No one will starve and no one will be naked, " She reminded herself. She at least made certain of that if nothing else.

Once the basics like food, water and shelter were covered, cloth was needed to replace worn out clothing. With Earth not accessible during the off season, running into town to shop was not an option available to them. While the planet provided both the shelter and much of the food, Elena contracted with not only the artisans of the Guild who relocated to Haven to produce the other necessary day to day items, she helped settle those who could produce the raw goods such as flax for linen and desh for lonta ensuring the supply of the two most common cloth types the Guild used. Since cotton was an earth based good, lonta was used for generations as the next best thing. While producing the lonta cloth was an entirely different experience from producing cotton, the cloth could on visual inspection pass as cotton, making it not only familiar, but able to be worn on return trips to earth without raising eyebrows. In addition to the fields, before she left she even helped settle a couple of sites for manufacturing so that flax could be turned into linen and desh into lonta.

With the necessities provided, people began wanting the little luxuries of modern life, so she worked to find generators to create power and fuel sources to power the generators. They had an entire generator set aside solely for recharging electronics and other battery operated equipment. Of course that took some fiddling on Mateo's part to ensure compatibility and thus avoiding blown circuits.

While most of the electronics manufacturers guessed the possibility that their equipment might have to adapt between 110 volt electric current and 220 volts, Haven's generators were designed on a planet far from such concerns and required completely different configurations for compatibility. Elena was quite impressed that her cousin, Mateo, managed to create an adaptor that allowed earth based electronics to be recharged without damage.

The adaptors were initially created so survey equipment could be recharged as the scientific and archaeological crew initially placed on the planet could begin work. With the dual evacuations, she saw everything from handheld video games, e-readers and even Rene's battery operated coffee pot being recharged at the public station. Oddly enough she saw several cell phones being recharged at the station as well and wondered who people were planning to call. Haven certainly didn't have any cell towers.

"Maybe it's just for the camera and games, " she mused. Idly she wondered how long it would take before someone requested she start building cell towers.

It seemed that every day brought new requests. Admittedly, she wasn't immune to the conveniences of modern life and was as relieved as the rest when a way was found to regularly heat the cold spring water they were using to bathe. In all fairness, she could even see proper communications as a safety concern, even if she was enjoying the fact that messaging was no longer an option.

In Haven the people she talked to actually looked at her during the conversation instead of darting glances to their screen. As she was trained to look someone in the eyes when dealing with them, she found she distrusted people looking at their phones while dealing with her. It was a way not to meet her eyes and made her think they were dishonest.

"Even if we do get a tower up, the roaming charges would kill them, " Elena smiled as she thought of the various phone companies trying to tally roaming charges.

"Happy to be going home?" Thompson asked, seeing Elena's smile as he stepped into the pilot house. The ship's cat, Spin wound around his ankles, purring contentedly when he bent down to scratch between her ears.

"Actually I am happy to be heading towards a real, honest to god, hot shower, " Elena told him as he straightened. She tried not to let her eyes linger. She knew he planned to ask her out on a real date once they returned home and she still hadn't decided how she felt about it. That she found him attractive, she couldn't deny. That she found his company enjoyable, she also couldn't argue. He was however a complication in an already complicated system.

While the Guild of Families was a merchant organization composed of those who possessed the capacity to see and navigate channels leading from the oceans of Earth into a multitude of universes, Thompson was military. It was ingrained in all of them from the moment of their first breath that the military of any nation was to be avoided.

When Ian Jensen broke this cardinal rule of the Guild, secrecy at all costs, the military decided to build their own channel riding ships. Unfortunately for them, Ian was not as knowledgeable as he claimed. The results of implementing their faulty knowledge were disastrous and Will Thompson was brought in to figure out a way to correct the many problems in their system. Their final attempt at building a channel rider was a vessel called the Rover. While the auto pilot Ian designed still had its quirks and was far from fully operational, Thompson figured out that by watching the general area of one of the few channels they knew existed, they could follow a channel rider into the channel.

Unfortunately, they had not quite worked out how to get back through the channel and return to Earth. Thompson's solution was to use a grappling hook to attach the Rover to a channel rider and allow his ship to be towed along once skyside. It was not a popular move and luckily he had not tried it with anyone other than Elena. She had the feeling other captains would have simply cut the tow line and left them to fend for themselves. Elena had to admit, even she was tempted to do so. Only her aversion to being the reason people died stopped her.

As a consequence of Elena's conscience, the Rover now resided at the port of Haven on an alien planet, and the crew stayed in port with her cousin Mateo, becoming part of his work force as the town was settled. It was deemed safer to leave the ship in port rather than have it wander on its own. Thompson more or less became a part of her crew.

Now however, the military decided to mothball their attempts at mastering the channels. It was simply too expensive to maintain with so little to show for their efforts. Or so they claimed. Elena still had doubts about their intentions. Concern over the military and the possible repercussions of her last second evacuation often made her wonder if a time was coming when she would need to adjust her business and life plans and permanently relocate skyside. The ending of Smith's project gave her an extension on making that decision, but she wasn't sure how long it would last.

Thompson's men were offered the opportunity to stay and continue gathering information, as that didn't cost the government anything when the rather expensive program was shut down. All of them accepted the offer and remained in Haven. Thompson, however, was required to report in. With the project shut down, she wondered if he would disappear, making her concern over dating him a moot point.

"What, the - hot, but only for three minutes tops before going icy - showers of Haven weren't to your liking?" He teased, drawing Elena back out of her thoughts and into the conversation.

Elena laughed. "Better than the

only icy water that came before, " she conceded, trying to push her concerns away. Worry wouldn't help any of them. "At the moment many of Haven's residents are seriously considering erecting a statue to Arnold for his amazing plumbing feats. However, once home I plan on a shower with water hot enough to actually produce steam." Elena thought about the ancient and somewhat faulty water heater the showers in her apartment relied on. "As long as the water heater cooperates."

"Maybe you could bring a water heater back with you when you return, " Thompson suggested.

"Actually, Mateo put it on the list, " Elena told him. "Along with pipes, I think. I only took a quick look at the extremely long list, but I'm pretty sure we need pipes." As the current water system relied heavily on stone aqueducts and ancient bathhouses, she suspected a lot of pipes would be needed. She also figured that at some point the outhouses they were using would need to be replaced, but wasn't quite certain how one set about building a waste disposal facility and was willing to put that chore off for a while. She saw actual toilet seats on the list though so at least the latrines were getting an upgrade.

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised." Thompson replied. "It is a long time to be roughing it."

"Especially after he announced that even working with a full complement of trained engineers it will take a couple of years to get a new Docking Facility built and launched."

"Meaning Haven will be Guild headquarters for the foreseeable future, " Thompson concluded, nodding with understanding. "You'll be busy."

"Always, " Elena replied once again wondering how she somehow managed to be in charge of things. She strongly suspected that her recent elevation to the Council representative for North America would bring more responsibility her way instead of lightening the already heavy load.

"Do you know he put plumbers on the list of supplies? I think he's worried since currently we only have Arnold, who is more or less winging it." Elena continued, pushing away her own worries for another time. "Mateo listed plumbers right after chocolate bars and before sleeping bags."

"Does he think there is a store where you can just pick up plumbers?" Thompson asked, looking amused.

"Knowing Mateo, quite possibly, " Elena said. "It's probably next to the store where you pick up architects and designers."

"Architects and designers?" Thompson asked his grin spreading wider.

"Yup, they are also on the list. Not together of course, we couldn't have all the people in one category and all things in another, what would people say? The architects are listed next to earth based reading material for pleasurable reading and the designers are listed after extra hiking boots in varied sizes. Apparently several of the councilors and heads of some of the larger houses have already made some requests for their quarters aboard the new, but as yet unbuilt, docking facility."

"Let me guess they want them larger?" Thompson asked.

"Some, but as the Guild was already outgrowing the existing DF before the Matrovean destroyed it, that request is more or less understandable. I overheard Don Clemens, the head of one of the Houses in the Burgess Clan asking for Art Deco themed design in the main rooms, with modern touches for private spaces. As one of the Shuler Clan was arguing for more mid-century modern elements for the public rooms at the time, it didn't go over well. I think Mateo hopes that if he had an architect and a designer around he can direct all such comments and requests their way for them to deal with, while he works out the basic logistics. You know the little things like oxygen supply and power cells."

"Well oxygen supply and power cells do seem to be his strong suits. Or at least the equipment used to provide oxygen and power." He frowned for a moment. "I thought the Librarians had the plans for the original Docking Facility on file, " Thompson asked.

"They do and Mateo is using them. However like I said before, the Guild already outgrew the old DF and needed to expand. In addition there were some issues with the original designs that I think they are hoping to correct."

She didn't add that there was talk of building multiple smaller stations as well as the large central one. At the moment it was just talk, as ideas of defense and growth were kicked around. Some were ideas born of panic and fear of another Matrovean incursion, others had more solid basis in the changing needs of the Guild. She was thrilled that at the moment, Mateo was the one who had to sort through them to figure out fear from fact. Unfortunately, she had the feeling she would be sucked into the debate sooner rather than later.

"Ah, " Thompson replied. "Dare I ask about the earth based reading material for pleasurable reading? With the Librarians and their massive archives I wouldn't think that would be a concern."

Elena smiled. "While the Librarians collect works from a multitude of universes, they have a very meager stock of earth based literature. Most of what they have is actually classroom related, textbooks and such to educate the Guild's children. I think someone suggested starting a small lending library."

"Well, the few decks of cards I saw were already quite worn. I'm sure the books will give them a rest." Thompson said after thinking about it a moment.

"Actually in a month or so the rainy season will start and people will be spending more time inside. The lending library will hopefully curb any cabin fever that may arise."

"You might want to stock up on board games as well then, " he suggested.

"Not a bad plan, I can have Victor raid a toy shop." Elena thought about her assistant. "That is if he is still speaking to me." While her assistant was prepared for the possible eventuality of Elena becoming a Councilor in the distant future, the rapidity with which it happened had taken him, as well as everyone else, off guard, Elena included. Elena very quickly learned that Victor could face anything as long as he had a plan in place, even if the plan had to adapt. However, he detested scrambling to come up with a plan in the midst of chaos.

"I'm sure he'll forgive you eventually." Thompson replied.

"Sure, " Elena replied, unconvinced. She noticed they were getting close to the entry to the Marta.

"Are you riding out the channel up here with me?" she asked.

"I think so, " Thompson told her. "Since Jennifer's still asleep, I might as well."

Elena nodded. With Thompson and Jennifer, her apprentice, as her only passengers this trip out; she had no need to call out channel entry so everyone could scramble to safety. She began switching off what little equipment was on as she went through her own prep list.

Passageway through the channels always held some element of risk. A bump could send someone over the railing, a free floating electrical charge could blow out their environmental systems venting their oxygen and suffocating them before they reached the other side. It was more of a danger when heading from Earth's oceans into space than on the reverse trip, but Elena was not one to unnecessarily risk her crew's lives. The bunk house, galley and Pilot house all had backup systems designed to kick in should the primary systems fail so they could at least make it through the crossing. It made for one less thing for her to worry about as she set her course. Still even knowing there was no one on deck, she found herself almost calling for the deck to clear out of habit, biting back the words at the last second.

As they approached the channel opening, Elena saw Thompson struggling to see what she saw, knowing he would not. Part of the military's failure to master the channels was their reliance on technology. As a pilot of the Guild, Elena didn't need any sort of gadgetry to see the channels. She simply saw them. That's why she was a pilot. From the skyside view, the Marta looked to be a blank space between the stars, a passage outlined with light where no stars shined. While the depth varied throughout the season, becoming impassable for a good part of the year, at the moment it was wide and clear. To Thompson however, it would look just look like any other section of space.

Elena piloted the Storm Chaser into the channel. As always she felt the same excitement dancing in her belly that she had as a child standing on the top of a snow covered hill with her sled. Even though everything told her that she was staying level, she felt as though she were sliding down a steep slope. No one else seemed to have the same reaction though, so she thought it might just be her.

"Or they are too distracted by the lights, " she muttered. Thompson looked at her, but learned that not only would she not respond while going through a channel, but that she had a tendency to talk to herself.

As the Storm Chaser entered the Marta, black bled into rainbow swirls of ribboned light, becoming brighter and brighter until the colors fractured and blended into white. When Elena felt nearly blind with the white, the Storm Chaser slipped out of the other end of the channel landing with a splash in the Atlantic Ocean. Water sluiced over the deck in a foamy spray and the mind numbingly white light was gone, replaced by the warm yellow gold of the late afternoon sun shining brightly in the blue bowl of sky.

They moved away from the channel and Elena smiled at the sight of the dolphins playing in their wake. For some reason channel riders always attracted the playful mammals and they were seen as a sign of good fortune. Elena called the all clear before she could stop herself and charted a course for her home port of Grant's Inlet. Given all of the recent changes, Elena was happy to accept whatever signs of good fortune were available and smiled at the playful dolphins.

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