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   Chapter 2 Councilor

Councilor: Book Six of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 24329

Updated: 2018-02-26 16:34


Chapter 2

Back in the Atlantic Ocean, her ship's decks once again warmed by earth's sun, Elena could push the concerns of Haven to the back of her mind. The concerns of the fledgling community were still there, but now there were other considerations; things that were important while she was earthside. The first was the military.

While the military discontinued their program, she had a hard time believing they would simply walk away from a group capable of routine interstellar travel even if it was seasonally based. Expecting that was unrealistic and Elena had the feeling she would be trading her overt interactions with the military for more covert ones. She had the suspicion that the electronic bug detector Peter gave her when she realized she was being spied on would be put to good use as soon as she arrived home.

As strange as dealing with Thompson, and even Smith and Johnathan had been, she had gotten used to them. She knew how to deal with them. She understood Smith's bluster and bullying, his use of the phrase 'National Security' to justify his often completely unrealistic demands. She knew following Smith's loud commandments, Johnathan would swoop in with a more mellow approach to smooth things over, trying to use charm where bluster failed.

Johnathan presented another problem as well. Elena glanced out of the window and saw her apprentice, Jennifer emerge from below decks and stop to talk with Thompson who was currently checking the sails. Before shipping out Elena suspected that Johnathan was in fact Jennifer's father. She managed to get Johnathan to submit to a DNA test, letting him believe it was for a general Guild related security clearance type of thing and Victor forwarded the results on to her when the channels deepened and the season reopened.

Johnathan was definitely Jennifer's father.

She still had no idea what to do about that. Anna, Jennifer's mother was Johnathan's high school sweetheart and he had no idea Jennifer existed, let alone that after Anna's death she was raised in the Guild's version of an orphanage. Devon, the Girl's Home guardian did his best, but was often handicapped by strict regulations and long held traditions. Devon was a good man, but Elena knew Jennifer's childhood was less than ideal. She knew it added another layer of issues besides the initial ones. Would Johnathan even want to know if Jennifer was his? Would the eighteen year old Jennifer want to know about him? Johnathan could easily refuse to accept her, just as easily as Jennifer could want nothing to do with him.

"Or they could be one happy family, " Elena muttered to herself. "Maybe I can talk to Devon about it. He'd know her better." She shook her head, sick of her own thoughts. She tried looking at it from every angle, hoping to minimize any damage done, wanting neither of them to get hurt.

"I'd rather be outrunning a Matrovean raiding party, " Elena told Spin who decided to join her in the pilot house. The cat looked at her disdainfully and began to give herself a tongue bath. Used to her petty concerns being dismissed by the feline, Elena turned her sight to the growing shore line.

Though the Guild was accustomed to working in the background and keeping a low profile, their presence in Grant's Inlet fostered somewhat dramatic changes. Once it was a thriving shipping area that catered to the sailors and dockworkers with buildings housing, among other things, small eateries and local bars. By the time Elena named it as her home port and arranged for the Storm Chasers' berth, most of the oceanic traffic in the area died off. The docks saw barely enough traffic to remain viable and many buildings were derelict and abandoned. The few still functioning in the mostly boarded up downtown tended to house dive bars used by locals and the crews of the few shipping barges that still frequented the area. There weren't many and Grant's Inlet was considered a dying town, or at least it had been.

As more pilots began moving into the area, they too chose Grant's Inlet as their home port. Upper stories became temporary rooms those docked at port could use for the few nights they spent on shore, small stores popped up between bars to help the often hurried ships restock their provisions and many of the dive bars even got a face lift.

As her ship approached port, Elena could see that the few years that the Guild maintained a presence dramatically changed more than just the small nearby downtown. Dry docks were repaired and waiting for winter, piers had missing boards replaced, warehouses were repaired and more often than not secured with something higher tech than the rusty padlocks that were so common on her first visit. Elena cut her engines and drifted towards the docks, Thompson tossing ropes to those on shore, guiding the Storm Chaser in and securing her.

"Cargo Captain?" Felix, the head of the dock crew called in question. Elena called the affirmative and gave permission for the dock workers to begin unloading her cargo, taking it to her warehouse to be secured. As Elena watched, Jennifer came up to her. The slim girl lost the somewhat overly pale look that most of those who lived primarily on the DF seemed to get. Her skin was now bronzed from Haven's sun and slightly chapped from the salt air. Her long sun-streaked hair was bundled up at the nape of her neck in a messy knot.

"Meghan mentioned that some of the other apprentices are going out tonight, " Jennifer began somewhat hesitantly.

Elena nodded. Part of her job was to provide living space for Jennifer during her apprenticeship, in this case the spare room in her apartment. They spent so little time earthside however that occasionally Jennifer still felt like a houseguest. "You have a ride to town and your keys?" Elena asked.

"I do, " Jennifer said with a nod.

"Good, " Elena told her. "Just remember to get your local debit card from Victor so you aren't trying to spend alien currency. We'll be earthside at least three weeks so you are on leave until then, I'll let you know if anything changes."

"I get a whole three weeks off?" Jennifer said looking somewhat stunned. As they spent the usually quiet off-season working like crazy Elena wasn't surprised by the reaction.

Elena laughed. "You earned it, " she reminded her apprentice. As Jennifer had the ability to see the new channels that even many of the fully trained Guild pilots couldn't, she was sent on numerous transport runs throughout the off season even when the Storm Chaser remained docked. Each run of the circuit, she tried opening the new channel, officially dubbed the Elena much to Elena's chagrin. Jennifer was able to open the channel fairly easily now, but had yet to be able to keep it open long enough for a ship to pass. As she grew stronger with each pass, Elena was confident she one day would.

"Three weeks, " Jennifer repeated softly looking somewhat dazed. "What am I supposed to do with three weeks?"

"I'm sure you'll figure something out, " Elena told her. Jennifer nodded, hefted her bag to her shoulder and went to join her friends.

"Three weeks in an actual Earth town, " Thompson commented. "And during the season no less. I thought that was forbidden." As during the season Elena was usually lucky to get one night in her apartment before shipping back out she had to admit the three weeks was an anomaly.

"Necessary evil, " Elena told him. "No doubt Victor will have a ton of paperwork for me and I'll need to make certain the shops are in order."

"Because you'll be spending the off season skyside again?" He guessed.

"Yeah, " she confirmed. "I don't like leaving things alone too long."

"Afraid your cousin will terrorize the townsfolk?" he asked with a grin.

"Actually I'm more afraid the Council will try and implement some form of martial law and Mateo will lead a revolution." Elena told him. Concerns for Haven once again began to surface and she frowned.

"You mean the other councilors, " Thompson corrected. "You are after all Council too now."

"Thanks for the reminder, " Elena said dryly as he laughed. With the unloading complete Elena hefted her bag to her shoulder and she and Thompson moved over to the lockers. Jennifer was already gone. Elena opened the locker and took out her wallet, apartment keys and cell phone.

She stared at her cell phone for a moment, almost scared to turn it back on. She left it off as she tucked it into her back pocket, feeling somewhat cowardly, but needing just one night to herself.

As she put her small bag of things she wouldn't need while she was earthside into the locker, Elena realized that several of the items she might never need again. The chief of which was the electronic key for her quarters on the Docking Facility. The DF was destroyed so the lock the key went to, no longer existed. It was now nothing more than a memento. Elena shook the thought away and closed the locker door, slipping the lock into place.

Next to her, she noticed Thompson taking everything out of his locker, leaving it empty before closing and locking it once again. "Why bother to lock it?" she asked.

"To hold my place until I come back and need to use it again, " he told her.

"Really?" Elena asked. "With the project over, won't you be reassigned or something?"

Thompson grinned. "Missing me already?" he asked.

"It's a logical question, " she returned.

"Uh huh, as long as you aren't trying to wiggle out of our date, " he said.

"I would need an actual date and time for said date if I was going to wiggle out of it, " She told him. "Neither of which I have."

"And neither of which you will get until I know my schedule, " he said with a grin.

"And your reassignment, " she finished. Thompson's grin widened, but he said nothing.

Elena narrowed her eyes. "Was that included in your rather long letter?" she asked. When the mail arrived and they each found out that the military's plan to build their own channel riding vessels was scrapped due to budgetary concerns, Thompson's letter was several pages longer than her notice. Thompson swung his bag to his shoulder and turned towards the door. Elena remembered that after reading the letter, he began writing a long document that he refused to share or explain.

"Is that what your manifesto was all about?" she asked. Thompson began to whistle as he walked. Elena frowned at his back. When he reached the door he stopped and turned.

"Enjoy your shower, " he told her giving her a little wave before he pushed the door open and stepped outside. The door swung closed behind him. Elena shook her head and looked down at Spin. The cat mewled plaintively and looked at the closed door as if willing Thompson to return. During his time with them, Spin had grown quite fond of him as he so often shared freshly caught fish with her and always seemed to have some sort of cat treat hidden in his pockets.

"Yeah, " she told the cat. "I kind of liked having Will around too." Not that she would ever admit that to him of course. He was already insufferable enough as things stood. She sighed.

"Well as I don't think we have any food left in the apartment, why don't we stop by Dockside Annie's for a bite?" she asked the cat. She lifted her own bag and headed towards the door. "Then when we get home I can soak in a bathtub full of the hottest water I can stand. Then, " she continued. "I'll paint my toenails, waste some electricity on the frivolity of a bad monster movie and not answer any phone calls, knocks on the door or answer any form of question about how some aspect of civilization functions. That is my plan." She looked down at the cat keeping pace beside her. "Doesn't that just sound like heaven?"

She opened the door. "Besides I need to give Consuelo's notes to Raymond." Spin slipped out of the door looked around and seemed disappointed that Thompson was nowhere to be seen. Elena turned towards the path up the hill and began walking towards Dockside Annie's. After a second, Spin joined her.

The restaurant was jointly owned by Peter Baranov,

one of her business partners and a Councilor with a reputation a mob boss would envy, and Consuelo McCracken. In addition to being part owner, Consuelo was also the chef of Dockside Annie's. At the moment, the rather eccentric chef had taken on the responsibility of feeding Haven and delegated control of the earthside kitchen to her sous chef Raymond. Elena knew there was some sort of manager as well, but Consuelo listed him as Peter's concern and therefore irrelevant. Elena decided leaving anything considered Peter's concern strictly to Peter sounded like a good plan.

Elena offered Consuelo a ride back so she could return to her restaurant, but was told the chef was having too much fun and was not ready to go. Apparently an entire planet full of new ingredients to experiment with and assisting with agricultural development as new farms were established counted as fun.

"Not to mention the minions, " Elena said to herself. "Can't forget Consuelo's minions." Elena wasn't quite sure where they came from, but Consuelo always seemed to have a bevy of folks at her command, ready and willing to obey her orders. It was somewhat disconcerting. Elena shrugged. "Well as long as she is happy where she is I suppose we are fine." Admittedly, Elena got the feeling Consuelo was always happy where she was and that if she weren't, she would just leave.

She arrived at the front door of the restaurant and reached for the handle. She paused as she realized that as Dockside Annie's catered primarily to the Guild crowd, the odds of having a quick and quiet meal were slim to none. For a second, she thought about turning around and picking something up at a drive through. Spin mewled her impatience at her feet and Elena gave in and opened the door. After all, she was already here. They went inside. As no channel rider shipped out without a cat, Spin's presence merely caused the hostess to smile.

"Welcome, " the hostess said picking up a menu from the stack on her stand. "Is it just the two of you?"

Elena smiled at the thought of Spin being considered one of her party. "It is, " she replied. As if guessing the source of her amusement, Spin stuck her tail in the air and haughtily led them to the table the hostess arranged for them. The table had four chairs and in one was placed a decorative pillow. Spin immediately took possession of the pillow, circling and eventually settling herself regally to wait for her human to finish. Elena shook her head and pulled out her own chair.

All around the room she could see other cats enjoying their privileged seats. Elena's smile faded when her scanning eyes spotted her cousin Therese. She tried to pretend her cousin's presence didn't bother her as she took a seat. As long as Therese was willing to remain on the other side of the room, Elena could ignore her. She slipped into her seat, sighed to herself and wondered how long her current policy of ignoring Therese could last.

When the family gathered for Nate's wedding, Therese tried to kill her by running her over with a car. Since then Therese mostly kept her distance. "Well not entirely, " Elena admitted to herself as she picked up the menu and began looking over her options. Once on the DF, Therese allowed her anger to spew, telling Elena that she would take their grandfather's seat on the council and that Elena would not get in her way. Her temper was redirected when their cousin Mateo was officially named as Alexandro's heir. That however was before the destruction of the DF and Elena's sudden rise to the North American Council seat.

Elena frowned at the menu. While Therese was the source of some malicious rumors, she had done nothing else since the season reopened and the new arrangements were revealed to the Council as a whole. She liked to believe that Therese had the brains to at least not rock the boat too much when things were already so unstable, but had the feeling the shock of the changes were the main factor in her good behavior. Therese was never one to work well on the fly, she needed time to process and plan.

Elena didn't know if, as Mateo was still considered Alexandro's heir, Therese would be seeking her as an ally or if she was plotting something else. She shook her head and decided not to let it ruin her meal. As long as Therese kept her distance, she wouldn't worry about it. At the moment there was already a host of other more pressing concerns to serve as a focus for her attentions. Elena chose her entree and folded the menu closed. Elena set the menu down and reached under the table to pull some papers out of the top of her bag.

"You aren't planning on working through your first meal back, are you?" Elena recognized the voice and looked up to find Peter Baranov standing next to her table as she set the papers next to her silverware.

"I am not, " she told him, smiling politely. "I didn't know you were in town."

"I needed to check in with Nicolas at the warehouse." He told her. He gestured towards the empty chairs. "Are you expecting company?" he asked.

"No, " Elena replied. "You are welcome to join me if you would like. Was there trouble at the warehouse?" The warehouse that Nicolas, Peter's brother, ran was not only a storage facility for the merchandise their jointly owned business, Nibbles, sold, it contained both a testing facility where off world foods could be tested for known allergens, and a commercial kitchen. It was also situated in the complex with the repackaging plant where those off world goods, deemed acceptable for local market, could be outfitted with more earth friendly labels.

"No nothing's wrong, " he assured her as he settled himself across the table from her. Spin cracked open an eye and stared at him a moment before once again dismissing him. Unlike Thompson, Peter did not stand high in Spin's affections. "I just want to check in."

"Ah, " Elena replied, relaxing slightly. "The season has only been opened a few weeks, do you think something could have gone wrong so quickly?" Unlike Elena, Peter spent the off season earthside. In fact, all of the Council spent the off season earthside. It was an issue that many in the Guild were not happy with, creating an almost palatable uneasiness. Even though the Matrovean stopped advancing when the season closed, the Council left with no safety net in place, should their advancement resume. The Guild at large had not taken the abandonment of leadership well.

"I believe my brother has been working on ways to expand merchandise based on some of Haven's goods."

"I see, " Elena said. Even though repeated conversations with Peter made her more comfortable around him, she still wasn't easy making small talk with him, convinced she would inadvertently say something that would set off a chain of events she didn't want. It was always a conversational minefield. In addition, Elena wasn't certain how her recent change in status altered their dynamic. Previously, he started edging from professional into more personal waters. Since arriving in Haven however he returned to all business and she wasn't sure how to ask him about the change without looking incredibly foolish. Asking a rather dangerous man why he suddenly stopped flirting with you didn't seem like the best approach. She tried not to sigh with relief as the waiter returned, giving her a momentary reprieve.

"Do you know what you would like?" he asked politely.

"I do, " Elena replied. She looked to Peter who nodded in agreement and gestured for her to order first. "I'd like the roast chicken with peas and fingerling potatoes." She told him. Elena picked up the papers from the table. "And if you could pass these to Raymond when you get a chance, I would appreciate it. Consuelo asked me to deliver them." The waiter took the papers and then took Peter's order before departing.

"So it wasn't work then, " Peter said reaching for his water glass.

"Nope, " she replied. "It was just my turn to deliver the mail."

"And I see you went with one of the few classic items on the menu, " he said. Elena smiled. Mixed in with the regular earth based food were a host of interstellar items that many of the Guild had grown fond of, albeit renamed to disguise the origins. Usually like the rest of the Guild, she mixed and matched, but for her first meal home she decided against it.

"You know what I like about my order?" Elena said with a smile as though offering a confession. "When it gets here, I'm willing to bet that the chicken will taste like chicken, the potatoes like potatoes and the peas, like peas. No guess work involved."

Peter chuckled. "This is true. Although I have to say I was getting rather fond of that swamp rice. Quite the hearty meal."

"It is the breakfast of champions, " Elena said with a smile. "Although I still have reservations about the name."

As they waited for their meal, they discussed relatively safe topics like the weather, Elena's adapting to training an apprentice, Peter's opinion of the area and food. Elena avoided all mention of her rise to the position of Councilor, Andre, and how she managed to open and pass her ship through a closed channel. Thus far no one directly brought that topic up and Elena was hoping it would remain that way for a while.

Their meals arrived and Elena thought about asking about Zolotoy Consulting, the business Peter had in town, but decided against it. He never actually admitted it was his and she didn't want to look as though she were prying. If nothing else, looking as though she were prying might provide him the opening to pry into her life and Elena was realizing that she was rapidly accumulating some rather dangerous secrets.

The safe topics lasted through dinner with a little stretching, and Elena declined dessert deciding it was more than time for her to be home. They paid their separate checks and Spin jumped off of her pillow to lead the way to the door. As they walked through the dining room towards the door, Elena noticed that Therese was watching her intently from across the room. She was surprised to see that Therese was not sitting with her usual band of cohorts.

Instead she was surrounded by a group of people Elena had never seen her cousin with and she wondered if they were thrown together by seating availability or by choice. Oddly enough, Elena spotted several of Therese's usual companions seated across the room. As she noticed them, Isa, Therese's usual partner in crime, smiled and waved. Elena nodded and smiled back, but continued to follow Peter out of the restaurant.

"That was odd, " Elena said, mostly to herself as they left the building.

"Your cousin's new friends?" Peter asked. "Yes, they do bear watching." He looked at her speculatively. "I am impressed you recognized them." Elena made a non-committal noise and wondered if she could get Victor to identify her cousin's new pals before it became an issue. If Peter thought they bore watching, she had the feeling she might want to pay attention. When they reached her car, Elena opened the door and let Spin take possession of the passenger's seat. She turned and realized Peter was grinning.

"Something amusing?" She asked, seeing nothing special about her cat riding shotgun.

"The last time I saw your car, Thompson was riding with you. But now with the military moving on Thompson is too. Hopefully going somewhere far, far away. Your ship's cat once again has her place in the passenger's seat and our normality has been restored."

"As long as they take Smith far, far away, I'll be happy, " Elena said, not pointing out that Thompson had officially been recognized as a member of the House of Nelson and could legitimately return without the military imperative. As Peter sauntered away and she slid behind her steering wheel starting her drive home, Elena realized that she was hoping that Thompson would return and not in fact go far, far away. She shook her head.

"Bathtub, bad movie and polishing my toe nails, " Elena said to herself. "That's it for tonight. Tomorrow we'll deal with everything else."

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