“I realize what might have happened if matters had gone to the extreme conclusion. I have studied the principles of human reproduction.”
Severance’s hand tightened on the edge of the bunk. “I keep forgetting your extensive education.”
She smiled quite brilliantly. “Precisely. And that is exactly how I view last night’s events. They were quite educational. Because, while I have studied the physical interaction of male and female, I have not yet had an opportunity to examine it on a personal level. There are risks involved in such a study, of which I am well aware. But I admit I have enough Wolf in me at this point to be curious about such matters. And I realize that once I have found the object of my quest, I may never again be interested in pursuing this particular line of investigation. Harmonics in general don’t seem very interested in sex, as we both know. Once I am one, I will also probably lose interest. In the meantime there is something to be learned, and last night I had a sudden, unexpected interest in learning. You mustn’t blame yourself or take responsibility for the risks involved. I was a willing participant. I am, however, also cognizant of the risks, and I give you my word that I will exercise better judgment in the future.”
Severance listened to the little speech with a growing desire to break something. “Let me get this straight,” he finally said faintly. “You’re taking responsibility for last night’s little fiasco?”
She inclined her head in that formal, gracious way that was beginning to infuriate him.
“And you view the ‘incident’ as, simply a learning experience?”
“An experiment,” she amplified, smiling even more graciously.
“An experiment,” he echoed. Slowly he pushed himself away from the bunk. “A scientific experiment.” He paced toward her. His headache was breaking through the barrier raised by the ‘gesic tablets. He realized that something of what he was feeling must have been showing on his face, because the brilliance in Cidra’s smile was fading. A distinct wariness was beginning to take its place. She stood up as he glided to a halt in front of her, but she didn’t back away from him.
He ignored the uncertain tone. Deliberately he reached out, catching her chin with his hand. “Listen to me, my sweet, false Harmonic. I am in charge around here. I told you that the first day. And I am taking full responsibility for what happened last night. You were not conducting a scientific experiment. You were being seduced. Furthermore, you will never conduct scientific experiments with me, is that understood? / will not be used to further your education. If we ever wind up in a bunk together, it will be for the usual Wolf reasons. It will be because we’ve got a hunger for each other that can’t be satisfied in any other way. It will not happen because you’re conducting experiments! Do I make myself clear, Cidra Rainforest?”
“Clear as diazite, Teague Severance.”
He hesitated a moment longer, making sure that the last of the gracious brilliance had disappeared from her expression. Then, satisfied, he released her chin and stalked to the lav.
An experiment. Saints in hell! One thing was for certain, Severance decided as he stood under the spray: He was going to have to keep a lid on his consumption of ale after dinner. The feelings of martyrdom and heroism returned.
But there was another sensation too. A tantalizing, aching, hungry sensation that didn’t fade as the ship day progressed. It stirred every time the memory of Cidra’s response in his arms flickered through his brain. Severance was afraid he was going to have to learn to live with it, because as long as Cidra was around, his awareness of her was not going to disappear.
Cidra did her utmost to adhere to the normal ship-day routine. The morning’s scene stayed fresh in her mind, and she knew that for the first few hours following it she was walking on thin crystal. One false step and everything might shatter.
There was more than one meaning of the term Wolf. It referred in part to an ancient, mythical creature reputed to be an extreme carnivore, an animal well adapted to violent survival. The other meaning was just as old. Wolf also meant a discordant, unharmonious chord struck in music, an instance of dissonance. Both meanings suited the general population of non Harmonics, and Severance was a fine example. But today he seemed as determined as she was to tread lightly, and by the time of the evening meal, things seemed relatively normal.
When Cidra suggested a game of Free Market after dinner, she thought at first that Severance was going to refuse. She saw him glance at the half finished bottle of ale he had started during the meal, and then he seemed to change his mind.
“All right,” he agreed, reaching for the playing field.
Anxious to please, Cidra had an idea. “I know the game isn’t very interesting for you without real stakes.”
He shrugged and set out the cubes. “I’ll survive.”
She coughed delicately, feeling quite adventurous. “I was thinking,” she began cautiously, “that we might try livening up the game for you by making genuine wagers.”
Severance’s hand paused over the stack of sardite chips. Something gleamed in his eyes and then vanished beneath an expression of polite inquiry. “What sort of wagers?”
“Well, I haven’t got much, and it would be foolish to bet anything valuable, anyway, since you’re bound to win, but there is the matter of preparing the meals. We’ve been more or less alternating the task, but we could decide that the loser would put the prespacs into the heater for, say, a full ship day.”
Severance lowered his lashes, ostensibly concentrating on counting out sardite chips. “A possibility.”
“All right. It’s a bet. Whoever loses gets stuck fixing meals for the next cycle.”
Cidra felt a strange rush of excitement, an emotion she hadn’t yet experienced when she played Free Market. She nodded and sat forward, determined to pay extra close attention to the game. She would probably lose—she always lost to Severance—but perhaps not as badly this time.
It came as an almost overwhelming surprise when she won. At first she couldn’t believe it. Cidra stared at the blank spot in front of Severance where his sardite chips were normally stacked. All of the chips were on her side of the table. She was suddenly quite euphoric.
He leaned back in his seat, mouth twisted in a dry smile. “So you did. How does it feel?”
She grinned with unabashed enthusiasm. “Very pleasant. You’re going to do all the meals tomorrow?”