“What is that instrument you carry? The one you had in your hand a moment ago?”
“It’s a remote for a Screamer.” He leaned down and de-pressed a red-lit control, watching the screen in front of him as he did so. Severance Pay banked gently into a turn.
“I’ve never heard of a Screamer,” Cidra said.
“I don’t imagine you’ve got a lot of use for them in Clementia. They’re not exactly legal.”
“But what does it do?”
“It’s very good at making uninvited visitors scream.” His obvious preoccupation bothered her. “That’s not much of an explanation,” she said reproachfully. Cidra was accustomed to an educational system that answered all questions as completely as possible. She was also trained to keep asking questions until she was satisfied with the answers.
Severance shrugged, still watching the landing setup on the screen. “It’s a device that’s designed to jam the frequency of human nerve impulses. That’s about the only way I can explain it. I’ve got the main system installed here in the ship. I carry the remote with me.”
“Scates didn’t scream when you used it on him.”
Severance glanced at her. “He was already half out. The remote just finished the job you’d started.”
Cidra stiffened. She wasn’t sure if she had been rebuked. But her curiosity persisted. “Does the device function automatically whenever someone comes aboard?”
“It can be set that way. I leave it on when I’m gone and switch it off with the remote when I’m ready to come back aboard. But it can also be triggered manually. See that switch there on the console?”
“That will trigger it. There’s another one back near the head of my bunk.”
“You would turn it on while you, yourself, were on board? What about your own nerves?” she asked.
“Curious little thing, aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized formally. “I don’t mean to pry into your private business.”
“Uh-huh.” He sounded skeptical. “Well, the answer is that I can set the remote to protect me from the effects of the main system. Fred’s safe because his nerves work on a different frequency than ours. Have a seat, Cidra, we’re ready to hit dirt.”
She realized that his patience had reached its limit, so obediently she strapped herself into the passenger seat and fixed her gaze on the lights of Lovelorn. A few moments later Severance Pay settled gently down into the landing field, and Severance cracked the hatch.
“I’ll be gone for about an hour. No more than that. We haven’t got time for you to wander outside and have a look around. You wouldn’t find much of interest, anyway. This is a pretty dull town. You stay here and guard the castle. When I return, I’m going to put this ship into space as fast as possible.
If you’re not here, you’ll get left behind. Clear?” He sealed the collar of his gray shipsuit as he spoke.
Cidra nodded, and then asked impulsively, “Have you ever seen a real castle, Severance?”
He glared at her. “It was a figure of speech, not an invitation to more questions.”
“I’ve heard that the Ghosts left behind a structure that might have been a fortress,” she ventured thoughtfully. “On Renaissance.”
“Why don’t you take a nap, Cidra?’
Her eyes widened. “I couldn’t do that. You’re leaving me in charge.”
Severance muttered something unintelligible and started through the hatch. “That was a figure of speech too. Forget I said it. Fred is in charge. Stay out of trouble, Cidra, if you want to see Renaissance.” With that he vanished into the cool Lovelorn night. The hatch hissed shut behind him, sealing and locking itself.
Cidra felt movement near her sandaled feet and looked down. Fred was investigating the hem of her black-and-silver robe. Even as she watched, Cidra saw his three rows of teeth appear. She yanked the fabric out of reach just in the nick of time.
“Don’t you dare chew on my clothes! Just because you’re the one who is officially in charge, don’t get the idea you can terrorize innocent passengers.” Then she smiled at the creature. Fred continued to expose his teeth, and Cidra chose to believe he was smiling back. She reached down to scoop him up into her arms and discovered it was difficult to pick up a rug. There seemed to be no stable bone structure inside Fred.
He didn’t appear to mind the awkwardness of her grip, however. He simply wrapped himself around her forearm and continued to grin. Cidra looked for something resembling eyes.
“You’re a Lovelady rockrug, aren’t you? I’ve seen holotapes of your kind sunning themselves on mountain rocks. How do you like shipboard life?”
There was no answer, but the three sets of teeth disappeared into the tatty fur covering. As Fred settled down to sleep on her arm Cidra thought she saw a couple of small black eyes wink shut. It was hard to be certain because of the scraggly fur. Her arm felt pleasantly warm with the rockrug wrapped around it.
She wandered around the tiny cabin, investigating the functional, if spartan, lavatory facilities and the miniature galley with its preserver and heater. She checked the preserver to see if there were enough non meat food packs aboard to hold her until Renaissance. It was a limited selection, at best. Teague Severance was definitely carnivorous. Typical Wolf. Well, if he were willing to do without some of the vegetable packs, she might not starve to death. For someone who had been brought up to appreciate exquisitely prepared food, the prospect of two weeks of preserved vegetables was not a pleasant one. But one had to make sacrifices when one set out on a quest, Cidra reminded herself as she shut the preserver. The heroes in the First Family novels always sacrificed comfort when they went adventuring. She ought to know. She was an expert on First Family novels. The only real expert in Clementia. She wandered over to the sleeping berths and fished around beneath Severance’s bunk for her precious pack of books. Before she found it, she encountered a small metal chest wedged in behind the crate of ale.
She was far more intrigued by the unimposing storage container than she should have been, perhaps because she knew immediately that the box would contain something that was very personal to the enigmatic man who was taking her into space. For the first time in her life Cidra found herself wanting to explore the private side of another human being without waiting for an invitation. It took an amazing amount of fortitude to push the unopened chest back into the sticky storage net. But the ingrained rules of privacy were far too strong in her to allow Cidra to do otherwise. She pulled out the pack of books.