Cidra wanted to ask more questions on the subject, but common sense finally won over to stop her. But she was awake for a very long time trying to analyze the events of the last hour. There was a great deal to assess, but a single, stark fact emerged from all the rest and would not dissolve: She had reacted to Severance’s lovemaking with a dismaying intensity. Somehow she needed to deaf with that because the discovery of her own desire was a threat to the future she envisioned.

Step by step she reran the scene in her mind. She had gone to Severance initially out of compassion. Very well, that was an understandable, even laudable, motivation. When he had initiated the embrace, she had sensed a raw need in him that she assumed was based on his effort to break the brooding mood caused by thoughts of his brother. Her response to his kiss had again been understandable, if not exactly within normal bounds. She had instinctively wanted to comfort him. It was an extension of the compassion she had felt.

But compassion and the desire to comfort had all too quickly metamorphosed into something else—something dangerous. Ever since she was a child she had learned to keep a tight rein on the emotional reactions that betrayed her Wolf heritage. There was no other way she could hope to fit into Harmonic society.

Severance had a way of shaking loose the grip she worked so hard to maintain, and tonight he’d succeeded in unleashing a very primitive, very Wolf side of her nature.

Bravely Cidra faced the implications. She was a Wolf. But if her quest was successful, she would be able to transcend her status. In the meantime there would be times when her actions would not be those of a true Harmonic. She had known that all her life. Nothing had changed tonight. She could deal with the problem. And in one sense her actions tonight were perfectly comprehensible. After all, she was bound to be curious about certain aspects of her nature. Every thinking human being, Harmonic or Wolf, needed to explore and understand his or her own personality. It was a sign of maturity.

Cidra began to relax as she found the handle she needed to accept her responses in Severance’s arms. Like it or not, part of her was still Wolf. That part had a right to be investigated, analyzed, and understood. Someday, when she found the object of her quest, she would be leaving behind the Wolf components of her nature. It only made sense to learn something about those components while she could. No knowledge was to be disdained. And knowledge, she told herself firmly, was all she had been seeking in Severance’s arms.

Her response to Severance had been in the nature of an experiment.

Severance awoke with a headache that must have rivaled the one the Screamer had given Cidra. He opened his eyes with great caution. The smell of hot coffade was wafting through the cabin. Unmoving, he stared up at the bottom of Cidra’s bunk.

In a just universe any man who’d had as much Renaissance Rose ale as he’d had the night before would have suffered a convenient lapse of memory. But Severance had learned long ago that the universe was short on justice, at least in the tiny corner occupied by the worlds of Stanza Nine.

‘Gesics. He needed a fistful of the fizzers. Slowly Severance sat up on the edge of the bunk, realizing that he hadn’t bothered to undress before passing out. A swirl of red materialized at his elbow. Coffade was thrust into his hand. Severance decided he wasn’t too proud to take it. First things first, and the noble apologies could come later.

“Thanks,” he muttered. “You know where I keep the ‘gesics?” “I’ll get you one.” The too-cheerful red morning surplice robe moved toward the small locker where the ship’s medical stores were kept.

“Several,” Severance directed in a soft voice. “I’ll need several tablets.”

She returned with two. He didn’t argue. He wasn’t up to arguing. Popping them under his tongue, he waited for the analgesic to hit his system. When the tablets were dissolved, he took a long swallow of the hot coffade. A swollen Renaissance swamp-bubble occupying the place normally filled by his brain slowly began to shrink. It had been close; another few minutes and it would have burst. Severance lifted his head and saw that Cidra had slipped back to the front of the cabin. “Smart female,” he growled. “Give the beast his coffade and ‘gesics, and then get out of his way. Where did an almost-Harmonic learn such a practical program of human relations?”

“I keep telling you, Severance, I’m a fast learner.” But she smiled at him from the computer console where she had apparently already begun the day’s work.

“Learn a lot last night?” Stupid crack. Severance regretted the words as soon as they hit the air.

“A great deal. Feel like eating?”

“No.” Her smile annoyed him. “I mean, no thanks. Not yet.”

“Let me know when you are. I’ll put a prespac in the heater.” She turned back to the console.

Severance thought about the situation. “There’s something wrong here,” he finally announced.

“You’re just not feeling well, that’s all.”

He gritted his teeth. “I mean, there’s something wrong in addition to that small problem.” He shot her a suspicious glance. “You are not, by any chance, operating under the assumption that I don’t remember what happened last night, are you?”

She didn’t look at him, her attention on the screen in front of her. “I assume your memory is as good as mine.”

“Unfortunately.” Severance climbed slowly to his feet. Better to get this part over and done. He held on to the edge of the upper bunk and glared balefully toward his companion. “Cidra?”

“Yes, Severance?” She turned her head with polite inquiry.

“I regret what happened last night,” he began in an incredibly stilted tone. “You are a passenger on board this ship. You are entitled to my protection. As the pilot in command, I have an obligation to remain, above all, in command of myself. I assure you that what happened last night will not happen again.” He felt both martyred and heroic.

Cidra regarded him for a long moment, her gaze searching and, he could have sworn, gentle. Then she inclined her head in formal acceptance of his apology.

“Thank you, Severance, but there is no need for you to accept the blame for what happened last night. I do not view the incident as anything serious.”

He stared at her. “You don’t?”

“Of course not.” She waved the passionate scene aside with a graceful movement of her hand.

Severance began to feel something besides martyrdom and heroism. He began to feel irritated. “Then you obviously don’t know what the consequences could have been.”