“I’ll see you when I get back.” His words sounded more like a threat man a promise.

“Fine.” Cidra hung on to her poise with sheer willpower, wrapping it around herself like an early evening gown. “I trust you will have a swift, safe trip.”

“Thank you for the kind wishes.” The heavy irony in Severance’s tone was enough to dampen any further gestures of reconciliation. “Just one more thing.”

“Yes, Severance?”

“You are now officially a very rich young woman. As long as my name was the only one on the credit account, no one would have bothered you. But as of tonight you’ve become a prize.”

“A prize?”

“Any reeting renegade who thinks he can talk you into bed and out of your credit will probably try.”

“I’m not that naive, Severance.”

“You’d better exercise some common sense while I’m gone. If I get back and find out you’ve done something foolish, I’ll—”

“You’ll what?” she challenged.

“I’ll feed whoever succeeded in seducing you to the river. And when I’m finished with him, I’ll tear several long and painful strips off your soft hide.”

Uneasily Cidra tried to outglare him. “You have no rights over me.”

“Don’t bet on it. Officially you’re still a member of my crew. And I’m still the pilot in command.” He stepped closer and seized her by the shoulders, pulling her against his hard body. “Good-bye, Cidra. Behave yourself while I’m gone or there’ll be hell to pay when I get back. I promise you.” His mouth came down on hers, quick and hard. Then he turned on his booted heel and started down the street.


He halted and glanced back, his face set in forbidding lines. “What?”

“Don’t you dare give away those sensors. You make sure you get paid for delivering them, do you hear me?”

“I can hear you just fine. So can everyone else in the vicinity.” He vanished into the night.

Cidra awoke the next morning to find Fred collapsed across her ankle. She opened one eye and tentatively wriggled her foot. “Up and at ‘em, Fred. You can’t sleep all day.”

The rockrug wriggled into a more comfortable position. He had been as happy as a rockrug could be to see both Severance and herself when they had returned, although Desma claimed that he had made himself at home in her household. So much at home, in fact, that he had munched two of her valued exhibits before someone discovered he’d wriggled into a cage. The huge flutter moths inside hadn’t stood a chance. Fred had been discovered with a wingtip still draped rakishly from one corner of his mouth.

Cidra worked free of the rockrug’s light weight and headed for the large, comfortable lav. It was a joy to spend as long as she wanted under the invigorating spray without worrying about Severance reading her a lecture on conservation.

The thought of Severance sent Cidra into a reverie that lasted for nearly half an hour. The spray pummeled her as she considered her parting argument with the self-proclaimed pilot in command. He hadn’t been pleased by her lack of trust.

“Well what did he expect?” she demanded at Desma at breakfast. “Sometimes he makes me very angry. He’s being so arbitrary about packing me off to Clementia.”

“So arbitrary that you felt compelled to get even?” Desma poured coffade and savored the aroma.

Cidra winced. “I don’t know what came over me. I hadn’t planned to insist on a contract for my share of the credit. Severance would never have cheated me. But when he came into the restaurant looking so smug and in charge last night, I couldn’t stand it.”

“There’s nothing wrong with insuring your half of the deal.”

“Except that I insulted Severance in the process. I think he sees himself as having some obligation to protect me. He’s got a very overdeveloped sense of responsibility, Desma. That’s the real reason I’m being shipped back to Clementia. Severance feels obligated to give me a chance to make up my own mind about the future. He feels guilty for having pushed me into everything that happened here on Renaissance.”

“The decision to come to Renaissance was yours, wasn’t it?” Desma looked at her searchingly.

“Oh, definitely. But that doesn’t seem to keep Severance from assuming the responsibility.”

“Maybe it’s because you remind him of Jeude. He’s always felt responsible for what happened to his brother.”

“Well, I’m not Jeude. What’s more, I’ve learned that I never will be a Harmonic. The truth is,” Cidra added slowly, “I wouldn’t want to be one now, even if someone could wave a wand and turn my mind into a harmonically tuned brain.”

“Because of Severance?”

“Because of a lot of things. Severance is the main reason, but there are others.” Cidra paused, remembering the scenes in the safehold. “Wait until you see the tapes of the Ghosts’ history, Desma. It’s very sad. From what I can tell they were once a strong, aggressive race mat managed to control Renaissance. Then they moved on to populate Lovelady and QED. But they never went any farther. Something happened. It’s hard to tell from the visual record, but it looks as though they simply stopped expanding and started turning inward. For a while toward the end of the history, everything appears idyllic. The architecture is beautiful, the faces are serene, the lifestyle looks gentle and harmonious. But it doesn’t last long. There are no children in the later images, just fewer and fewer Ghosts, gradually fading away until the jungle swamps them. I realized later that it made me angry to see them just give up and die out. I wanted them to go on living, to fight back, to expand. Instead they became so serene and so passive, they lost the will to survive as a species. It made me think of what might happen if all humans suddenly became Harmonics.”

 “You don’t think they’d survive?”

“I think they’d go the way of the Ghosts,” Cidra said bluntly. “The truth is, Harmonics are not really constitutionally built to survive under adverse circumstances. Do you know that my mother had to be totally unconscious for hours before I was born? The trauma of childbirth is enough to kill a Harmonic female, even if there are no complications. That’s one of the reasons why it’s such a major decision when a Harmonic couple decides to have a child. Desma, I don’t want to be that weak. I’ve learned a great deal about myself during the past few days. Given a choice, I’ll fight. I think, under the right circumstances, I could actually kill another human being. And I’ve already proven that I can kill other creatures.”