“I know you left Fred in command,” she whispered, “but they were going to shoot him. There wasn’t anybody left… except me.”
Relief poured through Severance as he realized that she was starting to breathe normally. It didn’t look as though he would need the med facility after all. Gently he continued stroking her.
“We’ll talk about it when you wake up. Go to sleep, Cidra. Close your eyes and go to sleep.”
He watched her relax slowly into unconsciousness, and then he got to his feet once more. He studied the two men lying near the cargo bay while he unlatched the courier pack he had just picked up from a patron. It was being sent to Renaissance, and die shipper had been most anxious that it travel under computer lock. To humor him Severance had performed the little drama of latching the pack to his wrist. It was an ancient shipping custom that could still impress customers although Severance privately thought it wasn’t very practical as a security technique. But it seemed to have reassured the patron. It had also taken up precious time.
Dumping the pack carelessly into a nearby storage bin, Severance went toward the cargo bay to investigate the intrusion that had apparently caused Cidra to pull the Screamer. With the toe of his boot he nudged one of the unconscious uniformed men onto his back. Then he went down on one knee and pulled out the man’s certification card.
For a long time Severance studied the port security identification. It appeared almost genuine. It would easily have fooled Cidra, who wasn’t accustomed to double-checking a stranger’s ID.
The second man was sprawled halfway through the cargo bay opening. His arm still lay across the shipping container bearing the red COD seal.
Suddenly it all made sense to Teague Severance.
All except one small matter.
Twenty minutes later, as Severance Pay lifted off for the long trip to Renaissance, Severance was still pondering the fact that Cidra Rainforest must have gone against everything she had ever been taught when she’d used the Screamer to stop two safeguards from stealing the shipment.
A postman could do worse than go into space with a woman who was willing to risk her life for the mail.
Cidra’s first thought when she awoke was that a giant torla had accidentally stepped on her head. Such a thing could only happen accidentally, as torlas were too stupid to do anything on purpose except eat. They were also too stupid to move once they had accidentally stepped on someone. So, of course, Cidra assumed, the beast was still crushing her.
Unless, of course, this was the first assault in a war of revenge against the human population of Lovelady. If it was, Cidra could hardly blame them. The big, dumb, placid torlas had become a prime source of meat shortly after the First Families arrived. Knowing torlas, it might have taken them two hundred years to wake up to the fact that they had an enemy.
“I’m a vegetarian.” Cidra didn’t even try to open her eyes as she squeaked her protest. The torla on her head didn’t move.
“I know,” came the response from somewhere to her right.
“Just one more problem. Here, I’ve got some ‘gesics. They won’t knock you out like that oblivo stuff does, but they’ll help the headache. Open your mouth, Cidra. They have to dissolve under your tongue.”
A strong, sinewy arm slid under her shoulders, lifting her. The pain in Cidra’s head changed from a steady state of heavy pressure into sharp bolts of lightning. Tears burned beneath Cidra’s eyes. The humiliation washed over her, momentarily more intense than even the agony in her head.
“I apologize,” she gritted.
“For what?” Severance asked, calmly shoving two small objects under Cidra’s tongue. “The tears? Forget it. Most people would be screaming about now.”
Cidra sensed a faint fizzing sensation as the tablets dissolved. Experimentally she lifted her lashes and found herself looking up into Teague Severance’s gray eyes. He didn’t appear especially pleased with her as he knelt beside the lower bunk, cradling her in one arm. There was a grimness around the edges of his mouth.
“The act of screaming would only make it worse,” Cidra explained with grave logic. She managed to blink back the incipient tears.
“It can’t be as bad now as it was when you cranked on the Screamer. Saints in hell, lady, that thing must have ripped you apart.”
“I thought that’s exactly what it was doing.” Automatically she looked down at herself. The black-and-silver surplice was a mess, stained in places from her damp, perspiring body. The finely spun crystal-moss fabric looked as crumpled as she felt. But she seemed to be all in one piece. Then she realized she didn’t feel quite right even though nothing appeared to be missing. “Are we in space?”
‘Two hours out of Lovelady. I’ve got the grav on.”
Severance steadied her with one hand while his other went to her braided coronet.
The artificial gravity explained the faint strangeness she was feeling. “What are you doing?” Belatedly Cidra realized that Severance was freeing the fireberyl comb in her hair.
“I thought your head might feel a little better if you loosen those braids.” He tossed the expensive comb down onto the bunk beside her and deftly began unpinning her hair.
The intimate touch of his hands was vaguely alarming. Cidra wasn’t accustomed to much physical contact. Harmonics had a great respect for the privacy of another person’s body. Instinctively she tried to draw away from Severance. His grip on her shoulders tightened in response.
“Hold still. I’ll have these down in a minute.”
“I’ll do it.” She lifted her hand to her hair, trying to take over the small task. Her fingers came in contact with his, tangling for an instant. He ignored her efforts, pushing her hand aside. She felt the roughness of his scars.
“I’ve almost got it. This must be harder to put together than a coalition of free miners on QED. How long does it take every morning?” Two long braids tumbled free, falling down over Cidra’s br**sts. As if intrigued by the intricate braiding, Severance’s fingers followed the line of one braid all the way down to the tip. His hand hovered there, filling Cidra’s body with a new tension.
Her concentration was abruptly torn between the pain in her head and her intense awareness of the proximity of Teague’s fingers. She realized that she was holding her breath, knowing that if she inhaled, she would thrust herself against his hand.
“I work my hair during the first morning change.” She couldn’t think of anything else to do except answer his question. He was beginning to unwind the individual braids now, starting from the bottom and moving upward. Cidra drew a small sigh of relief as the masculine fingers moved to her shoulder. She could risk breathing again.