“Thanks to you.”
Cidra allowed herself to absorb the shock of his simple observation. All by herself she had destroyed the only known members of an intelligent, space-faring race. She was unnerved by the thought.
Severance saw the look on her face and hastily changed the subject. “I wonder how old those eggs were. The skeleton in the case wasn’t exactly fresh. It could have been lying in the ship for hundreds of years. But the eggs were ready to hatch.”
“They might have been capable of staying viable for years in the shell until the right conditions occurred for them to hatch,” Cidra pointed out. “Perhaps the pilot of the ship was wounded in the crash. He followed the mind call and left the eggs in what appeared to be a safe location. Apparently mat telepathic call works on any sort of intelligent mind. He set up his own protective device to insure that eventually something would wander into the safehold and become food for the eggs. Then he went back to die in the ship. The case in which we found the skeleton might have been some sort of medical facility.”
“As people keep observing, it’s hard to keep machinery working on Renaissance.” She smiled. “You seem to do a fairly good job of it, though.”
He shrugged. “I told you, I’ve always been good with my hands.”
“We make a good team, don’t we? My brains and your brawn.”
He gave her a sardonic glance. “I may not be a near genius like your friend Mercer, but once in a while I manage to think my way through things. I can still take every piece of sardite you have in a game of Free Market.”
At the mention of Mercer, Cidra flinched. She hadn’t thought about him or about Clementia for quite a while. The humor faded from her eyes as she grew pensive. “Yes, you’re still better at Free Market than I am.”
Severance swore somewhat viciously and asked himself what in a renegade’s hell had made him mention her idol, Mercer. Cidra was right. He might be good with his hands, but he wasn’t always the fastest thinker in the universe. Severance slowly finished the last of his prespac, aware that Cidra had slipped off into her own thoughts.
She was thinking of Clementia. He knew it, and the realization hit him in the gut: Clementia and a lofty relationship unsoiled by a Wolf’s passion and need. Severance asked himself bluntly what he had to offer compared to the wise and distant Mercer. The cabin of Severance Pay was a far cry from the formal gardens and glowing fountains of Clementia. Hardly the sort of place in which a gently bred woman would want to set up housekeeping with a man who occasionally drank too much ale and who would frequently reach for her with a hunger he couldn’t disguise as platonic love.
“Are you going to give up your search, Cidra?”
She blinked herself back to an awareness of him and smiled wanly. “I think I’ve had enough of alien mind-tapping. Perhaps one has to be born a Harmonic to feel comfortable with the idea of someone or something else inside one’s head.”
“It doesn’t seem right somehow,” he agreed. “I didn’t like being manipulated by either the good guys or the bad guys during the past couple of days.”
“We learned to control the manipulation to a certain extent,” she reminded him.
“I still don’t feel comfortable with the whole idea of mind communication.” Severance set down the prespac and leaned back on his elbow, gazing into the flamer. “I never will.”
She followed his gaze. “As I said, perhaps one has to be born a Harmonic to have mind-touch feel natural and right. I wasn’t born a true Harmonic.”
“But you were raised as one.”
“Cidra,” he began with a rough edge in his voice mat he couldn’t control, “you can go back to Clementia, can’t you?”
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Of course. No one kicked me out. I left of my own accord. It’s my home. I can go back whenever I wish.”
“And work in the Archives?”
“I’m a good archivist, even if I’m not a Harmonic,” she said firmly. “Besides, I’m the only archivist they’ve got who’s bothered to make a speciality out of First Family tales. I have virtually a whole field to myself.”
“What would they do without you?” He tried to make it a joke but didn’t think he pulled it off. She took the question seriously.
“They’d relegate First Family tales to the bottom of the pile of acceptable literature. No big deal. It’s already on the bottom of the pile. I did get Mercer to admit once that the sociological implications of some of the first traditions were interesting, but that was about all.”
Severance stared at her grimly. She could and would go back. He had nothing to offer her to induce her to stay. Nothing to put up against all that Clementia could offer. She would go home and take with her all the tenderness, companionship, loyalty, and passion she had brought into his life. Severance’s hand tightened into a frustrated knot on his thigh. Coolly he forced himself to relax. He would take her back to Port Try Again, put her on a freighter, and never see her again. Something knotted up again, this time inside. Never see her again. The years stretched out ahead of him, as empty as the farthest reaches of the galaxy.
“We’d better go to bed. We’ve had a long day.” He got to his feet and began the small ritual of checking the deflectors. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Cidra obediently pick up the remains of dinner and dispose of them. A few minutes later she disappeared into the tent. He kept himself busy for as long as possible, thinking of her crawling into her own sleeper and fastening the closure. When he could delay things no longer, he went into the tent.
She had blanked the light, and it took a while for his eyes to adjust. Severance peeled off his shirt and yanked off the boots. Unconsciously he put the pulser and utility loop within easy reach and fumbled for the opening of his own sleeper. Deliberately he kept his eyes off the other portable bunk. If he allowed himself to look at Cidra in bed, he knew he would crawl in with her, regardless of whether or not she invited him. He was selfish enough to take what memories he could. Hell, he was Wolf enough to take what he could.
He took a deep breath and a savage grip on himself and turned to slide into his sleeper. His hand touched a bare female shoulder before he realized that the bed was already occupied.
“Cidra! What are you doing in here?”
She smiled up at him in the shadows. “Waiting for you. What took you so long?”