“Cidra, where are you?” The six-foot reptile swung its scaled neck, searching the vegetation. The pulser didn’t wave.
“Severance, is that you holding the pulser?” She was trembling with the force of will it took to stay where she was, instead of fleeing into the jungle.
“Of course it’s me. Where are you?” The huge mouth moved as if haying trouble shaping the words, but the voice was definitely Severance’s. “Come out, Cidra. It’s all right.”
“I’m standing right in front of you. Severance, it’s another illusion trap. I must look like Racer to you, and you look like a monster to me. Please put down the pulser.” She took another step backward and found herself with her back to a thick tree.
“An illusion? It can’t be. It’s too damn real.”
But he was staring at her, the hideously unemotional gaze full of a deep, savage hunger. In spite of her analysis of the situation, Cidra was terrified. Even if she was right and the creature facing her was Severance, she might not be able to convince him of who she was before he pulled the trigger of the pulser. “It’s me, Severance. Please believe me. It’s only another illusion. Saints know we’ve seen enough of them lately.”
The creature took another ponderous step closer. “An illusion? Prove it. Take my hand, Cidra.” One of the clawed palms was extended toward her. The pulser was still aimed at her breast.
“Don’t touch me!” She was certain that what she was seeing was only a bad dream, but her instinct for self-preservation was stronger than her logic. She pressed herself tightly against me tree.
The creature that claimed to be Severance took another step forward, holding out the handlike appendage that wasn’t gripping the pulser. “Cidra, if it’s really you, prove it. Take my hand. Don’t look at me like that.”
“Stay away from me until I figure out what’s going on. We’ve got to break the illusion.”
“I’ll know it’s you if I touch you. Nothing on this planet could feel quite like you feel.”
“Please stay away from me.” She was trapped against the tree, and the creature took another pace closer. The eyes raked her. If she was wrong, she was already dead.
The reptile halted. The hand holding the pulser came up with a swift,1 sure movement, aiming at her head. Cidra closed her eyes. There was no time to run. It would be better to go like this than to have her head snapped off between those Fierce jaws. “Severance,” she whispered.
The creature triggered the pulser. Cidra waited for the withering shock, wondering what it would feel like, hoping it would be quick. There was a sharp movement in the tree beside her. She opened her eyes to see a mouthful of fangs fall past her head and land at her feet. The fangs were connected to a sinuous, mud-colored body. She stared at it in dazed astonishment. Whatever it was, it was dead. Hesitantly, she raised her eyes. The blue reptile still held the pulser, but it was no longer aimed at her.
“Come away from the tree, Cidra. You never know what’s hiding behind trees around here.” Once more a blue, handlike appendage was held out to her.
Slowly Cidra moved away from the tree, her eyes never leaving the awful mouth that spoke with Severance’s voice. “Are you sure it’s you, Severance?”
“From the way you look at me I admit that I’ve got my doubts. But I know Racer is dead. He has to be dead. A little trust is all we’ve got to work with, so we’ll take it from here.” He continued to hold out the appendage.
He was right. A little trust and some common sense was all they had to work with at the moment. Uneasily Cidra touched the leathered palm. The unhuman fingers closed around hers. She closed her eyes, waiting for disaster. Then, slowly, the universe seemed to right itself. The hand holding hers felt warm and familiar. She relaxed slightly.
“You’re right,” Severance said, sounding wearily relieved. “Whatever it is, it’s just an illusion.”
“Yes,” she agreed shakily. “But it’s so real. I’m afraid to open my eyes.”
‘Try it. As long as you’re holding my hand, you can keep telling yourself who I am. Believe me, you don’t look like Racer any longer.”
Slowly she risked a glance through slitted lashes. When she saw Severances familiar face watching her with narrow-eyed concern, she breathed a sigh of relief. “You’re back to normal,” she told him.
“Says who?” But he grinned briefly.
“What happened to you in there? I saw a strange flash behind you, and you fell backward. When I got close to see what had happened, you came toward me looking very blue and very
“I don’t know. I felt a sort of shock that knocked me down. I lost the quartzflash. When I got up again, you were screaming but you looked like Cord Racer. I feel all right. Do I still look okay to you?”
She nodded, afraid to let go of his hand for fear that he would turn back into a monster. “I’ve about had it with things messing around with my head.”
“I thought you were the one who was so convinced that mind link was the ultimate form of orgasm.”
She was outraged. “I never said any such thing!” “I beg your pardon. My misunderstanding.” “Harmonic mind link is a beautiful, creative, sensitive experience. It is not an… an orgasm, and it is not made up of horrible illusions.”
“How do you know? You’ve never experienced it, remember?”
“One doesn’t have to have experienced something to have an understanding of it.”
“I keep forgetting about your educational accomplishments.” Severance headed back to the gaping hole in the ship. “Yell if I start turning into a blue monster again.”
“I’m going to start yelling right now. Severance, I think we ought to get out of here.”
“I agree. I just want to see if I can find the quartzflash first, though.” He used the flame for illumination as he leaned back inside the ship and scanned the interior. “There it is. We’ll need it tonight. Stay here while I get it.”
“The last time you went inside, you came out wearing an ugly blue suit. I’m not sure I could stand it a second time around.”
He was already inside, scooping up the flash. He flicked it on one last time. “Look, Cidra. If I hold the light just right, I think I can see into that case.” He used his fist to scrub off some of the dirt. “Sweet Harmony, I think it’s a skeleton.”