Cidra was not staring up into the cage. She was waiting for a glimpse of her pursuer’s face. It came, the features bathed in blue-white terror as the Mantises switched on the paralyzing luminescence. She had time to note the fear, time to see the pulser grasped in one huge hand, and time to realize that the mantises were very good at their work. Their victim was literally immobilized with shock and horror. He couldn’t even scream, although Cidra could see the panic in his eyes as she leapt to her feet.
The mantises had bought her only a few seconds, but that was all the time Cidra needed. She flowed into the deceptively gentle movements of Moonlight and Mirrors.
“I can’t let you out of my sight for a minute.” Severance slouched as usual in his seat, morosely regarding Cidra. Behind him the green wall of vegetation slipped past at a quick, steady pace as the skimmer, riding just above the water, followed the river into the dark heart of the jungle.
“That’s going to make things awkward, isn’t it? Because, after that display in the Bloodsucker, I’ve learned that I can’t take you anywhere.” Cidra knew she was being dangerously flippant, but the truth was that she was getting tired of the never-ending lectures. They had been going on in one form or another since she had dragged Desma out of the bio lab and called for help. Help had come quickly enough, but so had Severance.
“This isn’t a joke, Cidra. You could have been seriously hurt. Maybe killed. You should never have gone into that lab alone. As soon as you opened the door and realized something was wrong, you should have called a company guard. They get paid to go into places like that. You don’t. Come to think of it, I probably ought to dock your salary for bad judgment.”
“You’re not paying me a salary, remember? Just providing transportation and scenic sidetrips such as this one.” Cidra’s eyes widened slightly as she had a flash of intuition. “I think you’re chewing on me as if I were a bite of torla steak because I let him get away.”
Severance leaned forward with an abrupt movement and lowered his voice so that it was only barely audible above the hum of the skimmer’s power cells. “If you really believe that, then you’re functioning on fewer brains than a novakeet.”
The image was not a pleasant one. Novakeets, with their splashy orange-and-red plummage, were pretty enough creatures, but on Lovelady nature seemed to have decided that such beauty didn’t need a lot of brainpower. Cidra cast a quick glance toward the front of the skimmer where the pilot was safely out of earshot inside the diazite cabin. Then she glared at Severance.
“Why are you so angry with me, Severance? You’ve been this way since you found out what happened.”
“I’m angry because you came so damn close to getting yourself hurt, you little idiot!”
She searched his fierce gaze for a moment. “Desma was the one who got hurt.”
“I’m aware of that. Just promise me that next time you’re on the threshold of a situation that looks serious, you’ll go get help, not try to handle things yourself.”
Cidra considered the request. It seemed reasonable. “All right. I promise.” She was silent for another moment. “Do you think I’m likely to run into many such situations while I’m traveling with you?”
“Not if you do as you’re told.” Somewhat mollified,
Severance leaned back in his seat again. “Saints in hell, you gave me a scare.”
“Believe me. It was nothing compared to the scare that intruder got. I’ve never seen anyone’s face twisted in such a way. It was as if he were wearing a mask. Which is why I had so much difficulty describing him later to the company guards.” “They know he was carrying a pulser, at least; That’s illegal inside the walls. Did you knock it out of his hand when you went into your Moonlight and Mirrors routine?”
Cidra closed her eyes, trying to remember those awful few moments. “I don’t know if I disarmed him or if he simply dropped the thing in his terror. He was quite frozen with fear for a few seconds. And I wasn’t far behind. Even though I wasn’t looking at the creatures and I knew something of what to expect, that eerie brilliance they produce is very hard on the nerves. In the darkness the man couldn’t see the diazite between him and the mantises. Even if he knew that logically speaking they were probably in a cage, his mind reacted first to the terror. When they leapt toward him, he saw them move. The next thing he knew, he felt me attacking. In his fear I think his mind mixed up the two sensations and assumed that the Rigor Mortis Mantises actually had hold of him. He didn’t try to fight me as if I were merely a human being. He screamed and fled. Which is why I was not successful in detaining him. His terror gave him a great deal of strength.”
“And you’re just damn lucky he didn’t use it against you.”
“Severance, if you say another word along those lines—” He held up his hand. “I know. It’s just that I’m still recovering from shock. Thank Sweet Harmony that you and Desma are both all right.”
“I just hope Desma’s not in any danger now that we’re gone.” Cidra still felt uneasy about leaving her new friend behind in Try Again, even though Desma had displayed no such concern.
“She’s hardly alone,” Severance said bluntly. “Her company will be giving her and the lab full-time protection now that they know someone has his eyes on one of the products she’s on the verge of producing.”
“She thinks the intruder was after some record of the results of her work on a new pesticide,” Cidra murmured. “Apparently it would be worth a great deal to a rival firm.”
“All the more reason for her company to take care of her. She and the lab both qualify as company property.” Severance’s mouth lifted slightly in the first trace of amusement Cidra had seen since he’d shown up after the incident in the lab. “And you come under the heading of company property yourself. Right now you belong to the firm of Severance Pay, Ltd. It’s my responsibility to keep track of you. So you will stay in sight so I can do exactly that.”
Cidra withdrew into the remote, polite facade that she was learning served her well during times when she wished to halt a conversation with Severance. She was careful to maintain a serene expression so that he couldn’t accuse her of sulking. There were advantages to some of the Harmonic tricks she’d learned over the years.