Nowhere in the crowd were there any other formal midday surplices. Cidra felt strangely isolated. She was aware that she was attracting a certain amount of polite interest. Harmonics rarely traveled alone on the rare occasions when they left Clementia. They were almost always to be seen in the company of other Harmonics, moving through crowded passenger terminals in small, protected clusters. Her lone status no doubt seemed strange to those around her.
Cidra edged closer to Severance, who was leaning over a desk. He had both hands planted on the surface. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the grim set of his mouth and idly wondered what the young woman behind the desk had done to earn his displeasure. The woman was an attractive creature, Cidra realized. Her long blond hair was loose around her shoulders, framing an elfin profile. She was wearing the uniform of the company that had the terminal operation contract, and Cidra guessed that the outfit had been specially tailored for her full-breasted figure. Becoming interested in the interchange, Cidra turned to study the situation more closely.
“Don’t give me that, Gena,” Severance snapped. “You know I’ve got a priority claim on a time locker. Saints know I’ve paid your company enough for it. I want my mail off-loaded and put into storage within an hour.”
“I’m sorry, Severance, but the computer doesn’t show any record of your claim. You’ll have to get in line behind every other pilot who wants a locker.”
“The rest of those pilots can go line up at the nearest lav.” He reached into a pouch on his utility loop and removed a strip of plastic. “Shove this into your computer and see if it jogs its memory banks.”
“There’s no need to shout, Teague,”
“I’m not shouting. Not yet. You’ll know it when I do. Find my locker, Gena, or I’ll pile the mail here on your desk.”
Cidra saw the rueful dismay in the woman’s eyes. Apparently she believed Severance. Gena took the plastic record-of-contract and fed it into the port computer. There was a pause while the machine scanned the information and tried to correlate it with its records. A second or so later a lush, feminine voice responded to the waiting humans.
“Time-lock storage priority claim acknowledged. Assign locker G17.”
Severance smiled faintly in triumph, taking back his strip of plastic. “Thank you, Gena. You’re always so helpful. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Teague, you know you’d get a lot more help from me if you tried a more diplomatic approach once in a while.”
“No point in being diplomatic with a computer.” The blonde’s eyes widened innocently. “I’m not a computer, Teague. Not a single ounce of cold metal anywhere in my body. And I can prove it.” Gena inhaled deeply, filling the specially tailored uniform to perfection. She smiled.
Severance returned the smile, his mouth curving with dry, reluctant amusement. “I’ll just bet you can, Gena. The only problem is, I’m not sure I’d survive the experience.”
“I’d go easy on you the first time,” Gena assured him softly.
“Appreciate that. I’ll let you know if I ever work up enough nerve to give it a try.” He turned away without waiting for a response, his smile vanishing. He caught hold of Cidra’s arm.
“Let’s go. We’ve got work to do.”
Cidra thought about the smiles she had just witnessed. She had felt uncomfortable during the blatantly sexy bantering. And she was very much aware of Gena’s thoughtful gaze following her as she was swept through the terminal.
“What are we going to do, Severance?”
“First we take care of the mail.”
Cidra nodded. “The mail always comes first.”
“You’re learning,” he said approvingly. “You can handle the computer manifest while I supervise the unloading.”
“Then I’m going to take you to a friend’s place and stash you for the duration.”
Alarmed, Cidra halted in her tracks. “Stash me for the duration? What are you talking about, Severance? I must have complete freedom to move around whenever we’re in port. I’ll need to consult the local Archive computer and talk to people who might be able to confirm some leads I’m following. I will not be stashed.”
“Calm down, will you? All I’m saying is that you’re going to have to stay someplace while we’re in port. You’ll be free to do what you need to.”
“Why not on board Severance Pay?”
“Because I’ll be staying on board ship,” he told her grimly.
“So what’s changed? We’ve both been sleeping on board for the past two weeks. I don’t see why I have to move out for the short time we’re here at Try Again.”
“Take my word for it, it will do us both good to have a break from each other.”
“But Severance, I…” Cidra closed her mouth abruptly as she remembered Gena’s smile. And then she remembered Severance’s bouts of heavy exercise and even heavier consumption of ale. Most of all she remembered the night he had pulled her down across his thighs and told her he needed a woman. “Oh, I understand.”
He shot her a sidelong glance as he propelled her toward the ship. “It’s wonderful traveling with an educated woman.” Cidra smiled wryly. “As long as you’re going to stash me, why not in a hotel? Why do I have to go to your friend’s homer’
“You’ll be more comfortable with Desma,” he informed her cryptically. “Hotels in Try Again can get a little rough.”
Desma Kady was something of a surprise to Cidra. The older woman was large without being fat; she was tall and commanding with pale blue eyes that held intelligence and humor in fairly equal proportions. Her face had once been beautiful and had matured into a combination of features that could best be described as striking and interesting. There was a forceful personality in that face, and Cidra liked it.
Desma met Severance and Cidra at the entrance to a long building fashioned of triaton walls and diazite windows. Cidra knew the diazite had been tempered for extra strength because it had the peculiar yellow cast the process produced. She wondered why the already tough, clear material had needed to be turned into virtual armor for this building. Desma was wearing a one-piece white jumpsuit, the kind usually worn by lab workers.
“Severance! You’re back. Bring me my new scope?” Desma laughed engagingly, including Cidra in the welcome.