“Too bad they haven’t come up with some way of blocking out some of the night noises, though. It’s very hard to sleep with so much jungle racket.”
Severance said again, “Cidra.”
She ignored him again. “I hope Fred is enjoying his stay with Desma. He certainly seems to like her. He’ll be in for a shock if he wanders into the lab, though, won’t he?”
Severance unfastened the opening of his sleeper. “Cidra, come in here with me. There’s room for two.”
Her head snapped around. “Severance, no, I don’t think that would be a very good idea.”
On one level he agreed with her. But he couldn’t spend the rest of the night listening to her tension. “Then relax. I’m not about to fight my way through those trousers you’re wearing. I’m just offering a little human comfort.”
“I’m not a child.”
“Did anyone ever hold you until you fell asleep when you were a child?”
There was a long silence. “Harmonics don’t touch each other, except when they’re in full telepathic communion. My parents were never able to experience that kind of bond with me.”
He heard the careful explanation and then reached across to unfasten her sleeper. “Come here, Cidra. I’ll hold you until you fall asleep.”
“Really, Severance, that isn’t necessary. I’m just fine the way I am.”
He sat up and pried her gently out of the sleeper. She resisted slightly at first, and then, with a warm, scrambling rush she was inside his sleeper, curved against his body. She lay still for a moment, and then he felt her begin to relax. The distant clank of zalon armor sounded again, but this time she didn’t flinch. The lumbering warriors continued to fight their battle in the darkness while Cidra gradually ceased to be an unwilling audience.
Some time later, when he was absolutely sure that she was asleep, Severance allowed himself to cradle Cidra more intimately. His hand drifted to her breast and rested there as he yawned deeply. She felt good nestled into him this way, her firm bu**ocks tucked against his thighs. He liked the relaxed way she was finally sleeping. It made him feel good to have her trust him, even on an unconscious level. She was so concerned with trust, so convinced that she could never establish it completely with a man until she was a Harmonic.
Cidra wasn’t born to be a Harmonic. Severance knew that with a certainty that burned deep. He wondered how long she would pursue her fruitless quest. It wasn’t in her to acknowledge defeat. The only thing that would deflect her from her goal was if she, herself, changed her mind. And from what he knew of her that wasn’t likely. She was a stubborn woman.
He allowed himself the luxury of resting his hand on her breast and decided that he could be just as stubborn as any false Harmonic. With that, Severance finally slipped into sleep himself.
It wasn’t the clanking of zalons or the screams of another jungle denizen, but the sound of human voices and the hum of a river skimmer that awakened him the next morning. For a moment Severance lay still, considering the coincidence of another skimmer having chosen this tributary to travel. It wasn’t very likely an accidental event. According to what Severance had been told, only the ExcellEx field camp lay along this tributary, and Overcash was the only skimmer pilot supplying that base. He yanked on his trousers.
Overcash’s greeting boomed out over the water. “Hey, come ashore for some hot coffade. We’re just about to eat.”
“Sounds good,” came the response. “I’m coming in.” Severance heard the answering voice and reached for his pulser holster.
“Severance?” Sleepily Cidra blinked and looked up at him.
“Nothing yet.” He finished strapping on the pulser and slid out of the sleeper.
“Then why are you.?”
She sat up, startled. Her face was flushed, and her braid half undone as she stared at him in astonishment. Severance wished he had the freedom to get back into the sleeper with her and conduct an intimate discussion on the merits of human comfort. But that option wasn’t open to him.
“It’s one renegade hell of a coincidence that he’s running the same river with us. I don’t trust him any farther than I can ship him without postage.”
Severance stepped out into the dawn to find that Racer was already on shore, his skimmer bobbing lightly behind him on the water. The man’s blue-green eyes followed Severance as he emerged from the tent.
“Spend a pleasant night teaching new tricks to the Harmonic, Severance?” Racer smiled and lifted the pulser in his hand until it was pointed at Severance’s bare chest. “Maybe before this is all over I’ll take the opportunity to add to her education. But for now, drop the pulser, Severance. I’m here to do a little business. Bonus business.”
“What’s the matter, Overcash? ExcellEx bonus money not good enough for you? Think Racer’s going to pay more? You’re in for a surprise. Racer’s not all that reliable. Take my word for it. I’ve had firsthand experience.”
Inside the tent Cidra listened in shock to Severance’s cool, contemptuous voice. She shoved aside the feathery light sleeper. As she struggled with the awkward boots that went with her new outfit, she could hear the three men very clearly. Their rough, tense tones sounded infinitely more lethal than the noises of the jungle morning.
“Shut up, Severance,” Racer said. “We’re just going to conduct some business. After which we’ll leave you in peace. Where are the sensors, Overcash?”
“In the skimmer’s cargo hold.”
“Get ‘em out. Load them onto the skimmer I brought.”
Overcash sounded honestly confused. “I thought we were going to take both skimmers back with us.”
“I’ve changed the plans slightly.”
Severance interrupted mildly. “He does that a lot, Overcash. Racer’s changes of plans have a way of leaving a man holding a lockmouth by the wrong end.”
“I’ve told you to shut up, Severance. Call the little Saint out of the tent. You can’t hide her in there forever.”
Cidra was already stepping through the iris diaphragm opening. She spoke very softly. “I’m here, Racer. There’s no need to shout.”
“Stay where you are, Cidra,” Severance ordered without turning to look at her. “Don’t come any closer.”