Cidra realized that she was feeling inordinately pleased by his words. She smiled for the first time since she had awakened with the awful headache but offered the formal response to his praise. “It was as nothing. No sense of obligation is required.”

Severance stared at her for an instant and then grinned. “That’s a Harmonic for you: Polite to the last drop of blood.” He turned from the bunk. “Feel like a cup of coffade?”

“Yes, thank you.” Cidra lay back carefully on the bunk, aware that she now missed the comfort of his touch. It said a lot about her weakened condition that she would have liked to have him continue to hold her.

She watched as he dialed open the compact preserver and removed the container of green crystals. He poured the coffade into two mugs and shoved both into the heater. The machine added water and brought the mixture to a quick boil. Severance opened the heater and brought one of the mugs over to Cidra. He held the other one in his fist as he watched her cup her hands around the pleasantly warmed mug.

“When you’re feeling better, we’re going to have a talk.”

She inhaled the fragrant steam. “I realize that. You’ll probably want to outline my duties for the next two weeks. I’m really feeling much better already. We can talk now if you like.”

“Your duties,” he repeated, sounding as if he were repressing a groan. He dropped down onto the bunk beside her, staring at the bulkhead. Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on his thighs, the mug of coffade loosely suspended between his knees. “Yes, there is the little matter of your duties on board. We’ll come to that later. There are other things that have to be resolved first. You’ve never been in space?”

“My parents took me on a commercial freighter once when I was younger. It was more of a sight-seeing trip than anything else. Other than that, I haven’t spent any time on a ship.”

“Uh-huh.” He paused, apparently trying to find the exact words. “You will note that, as I mentioned over dinner, mere is very little room in here.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t think I’m claustrophobic. Of course, I haven’t spent several days in a confined area before. But I’m sure I’ll be able to handle this.”

“Claustrophobia is not what I was worrying about.” He took a long sip of the coffade. “Let’s see if I can put this so that it sounds reasonably diplomatic. Harmonics, as I understand it, are accustomed to a great deal of privacy.”


“They are also accustomed to a great deal of personal independence.”

“Of course.” She waited expectantly, wondering where he was leading.

“There Is very little of either on board ship,” Severance concluded bluntly. “Small mail ships such as this one are not exactly bastions of democracy. The only way we’re going to survive without resorting to violence over the next couple of weeks is if you understand that I’m in charge. I know Harmonics are brought up to question everything. But around here, when I give an order, I am not bringing the issue up for debate. Whenever there is a choice about the way something is done, we do it my way.”

Cidra told herself not to be offended, but she knew her voice sounded overly formal. “I assure you I understand the tradition of a captain being in charge of his own ship.”

He looked at her in mild astonishment. “You do?”

“I read a great deal,” she confided. “I’m a trained archivist. One of my areas of expertise is the fiction written about the First Families and the early explorations.”

“Wonderful.” His mouth crooked dryly as he took another swallow of the coffade. “I’m sure all that reading will have prepared you to slip right into shipboard life. I’ve had trouble with the few previous passengers I’ve had on board, but I can see that won’t be the case with you.”

Perhaps the residual pain in her head was making her more sensitive than usual. Whatever the reason, Cidra felt a touch of annoyance. “There’s no reason to be flippant. If you’ve had trouble with previous passengers, my guess is it’s because you were impolite or abrupt in your manner of giving orders.”

“Orders sometimes have a way of sounding rude and abrupt. I just want it clear that the tone of voice in which they are given does not alter the fact that they’re still orders. Understood?”

“I have the feeling I’ve just received the first command. Message clear and comprehended, Otan Severance.”

“I’ve told you to skip the Otan.”

“Would you prefer that I address you as Captain Severance?”

“Now who’s being flippant?” he drawled. “Use my name. Either name. I don’t think the informality will do much damage to the sense of discipline in the remainder of the crew.” He glanced at Fred.

“Did Fred ever have any sense of discipline to begin with?” Cidra asked.

“Not a lot.” Severance was quiet for a while. “I don’t suppose you know how to play Free Market?”

“Harmonics do not gamble.”

“I was afraid of that. It’s going to be a long two weeks, isn’t it?”

Cidra hesitated. But she did want to be as accommodating as possible. “I could learn to play the game,” she offered tentatively. “It’s not necessary to make wagers, is it? I expect that the game is played the same, with or without credit being exchanged.”

“The stakes are what make the game interesting.”

“Oh. Well, it’s a moot point. I don’t have anything to put forth as a wager except perhaps a few novels on data slips. I don’t imagine that would interest you.” She felt relieved. She had made the offer, and it was obvious that Severance wasn’t too excited about it. Cidra felt off the hook.

“I could try teaching you the game first, and then we can decide whether you’ve got anything worth wagering,” Severance said slowly.

A faint thread of wariness unfurled inside Cidra. She studied Teague’s unreadable face. “I’ve heard that many Wolves are quite addicted to gambling.”

‘“It’s just a way of passing time. A form of recreation. Not to be taken too seriously.”

“Then you are not one of the addicts?” she asked cautiously.

Severance smiled, that same grin that showed so many fine, strong teeth and so little real humor. “Of course not. I’m only a casual player.”