Severance concentrated on the task of butchering the hopper. “No.” Then he hesitated, his jaw tightening. “There were some dreams, though.”
“Dreams?” Cidra waited, aware that he was struggling with himself. She couldn’t decide if he was trying to remember or trying to forget.
Severance paused with the knife in his hand and stared unseeingly into the jungle. “I remember having to do something. It was important. No, it was imperative. Something’s life depended on it. And if I obeyed, I would stop freezing. I was so damned cold. That’s all I remember.”
Cidra wasn’t sure she believed him, but she did believe that was all he wanted to remember. “You insisted on going back into the safehold. I tried to stop you with my Moonlight and Mirrors routine. I might as well have been trying to dance with you.”
His head came around quickly, eyes alarmed. “Did I hurt you?”
“Knocked me flat,” she assured him cheerfully. Seeing the expression on his face, she relented. “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. You weren’t out to hurt me, you just wanted to be left alone. The interesting part about all this is that when you went inside the safehold to get the egg, you didn’t trigger the illusions.”
“How do you know? Perhaps I was too far gone to know what I was seeing.”
“I know because I went in after you, and I didn’t see a thing.”
“You went in after me?” He sighed as if in resignation, but he didn’t launch into a lecture. “Go on.”
She told him about the hatching of the egg and her decision to destroy the rest of them. “The illusions didn’t stop me when I tried to leave the safehold after finishing off those eggs, either. I think they were tied to them somehow. A protective device. I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea was that the illusions trapped the prey close to the eggs.”
“Food for the hatchlings?”
“And perhaps a source of warmth for them. No telling how long those eggs have been in there. It wasn’t until you curled around one that it hatched. What kind of creature could it have been, Severance? From everything we’ve seen nothing else on this planet except us has crossed the boundary of this circle or gone into the safehold.”
“Except the Ghosts themselves,” he pointed out.
“I refuse to believe that those blue things are related to the Ghosts in any way.”
“You’re the well-educated member of the crew, Cidra. You should know by now that refusing to believe in something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
“Those egg creatures are something out of a nightmare,” she insisted. “The Ghosts were a gentle, civilized people.”
“Who at one time conquered this very ungentle, uncivilized planet. They might have become soft at the end, but they sure as hell weren’t at the beginning.”
“I’m not going to argue with you about it. I just know that those blue things aren’t related to the Ghosts.”
“Maybe they were watchdogs for the Ghosts,” Severance suggested thoughtfully. “Guardians for the safehold?”
“I don’t think so. There’s something wrong about those eggs and the creatures inside them. They don’t fit in here on Renaissance.”
At that comment Severance laughed shortly. “Anything that can kill its own food and eat it raw fits in just fine here on Renaissance.”
Cidra folded her arms across her chest, pacing restlessly around the circle. “It wasn’t just that they were vicious and ugly. Lots of things here seem to be vicious and ugly. But even the worst of them, that lockmouth for instance, seem to belong in some way I can’t explain. Those eggs don’t. Or didn’t. Remember when we first went into the safehold, you said there was a feeling of alienness?”
“Yeah. You didn’t agree, though. You were too wrapped up with Ghost stories.”
“It wasn’t the Ghosts who felt alien. But the presence of the eggs might have bothered your instincts on some level.”
“My instincts are fairly basic, Cidra. Chiefly focused on staying alive, eating, sleeping, and, uh, one or two other fundamental matters. They’re not the elevated, intuitive instincts of a Harmonic. I don’t see why I would have sensed the eggs in some special manner.”
She stopped pacing at the edge of the circle. “Well, whatever they were, they’re gone now.”
He stood up, leaving the skinned hopper on the ground near the edge of the circle. Coming up behind Cidra, Severance said softly, “Thanks to you. I’m not sure I’m paying you enough. I’ve never had a crew member quite like you, Cidra Rainforest. Loyalty and resourcefulness above and beyond the call.”
She turned, aware of a deep feeling of pleasure. She dipped her head formally. “It is as nothing, Teague Severance. Do not concern yourself. All is serene.”
He grinned, a brief flash of teeth that disappeared quickly as his eyes grew serious. “Still a few remnants of Harmonic ways left, hm? Amazing. How are you handling the transformation, Cidra?”
Her flush of pleasure faded. She thought about killing hoppers and little blue monsters. Memories of trying to stay awake with a sick man lying in her lap and a pulser in her hand flooded her mind. “There has not been a great deal of choice in the matter.”
He looked at her oddly. “No, there hasn’t, has there? I haven’t given you much choice.” Abruptly he turned away to set up the flamer.
Sensing his inner withdrawal, Cidra stood quietly, watching his efficient manners. “Your arm seems much better this morning.”
“Severance, while you were delirious you said I was like Jeude. But I’m not, am I?”
He studied the flame he had started before answering slowly.
“Jeude had great courage. He would have done what had to be done. But it would have torn him apart.”
“It hasn’t torn me apart.” She made the observation almost to herself.
“You shouldn’t have had to face what you’ve faced since you shipped out with me. You weren’t raised to confront murderers and monsters. I should have followed my instincts that first night and packed you off to Clementia.”
“You didn’t have that choice, Teague Severance. I make my own decisions.”
“Let’s argue about it after we get back to Try Again.”
She wanted to argue now. Cidra lifted her head proudly, prepared to defend herself and her rights. But she stopped cold as her eye caught a flash of movement at the edge of the circle.