Sweet Starfire (Lost Colony #1)

Chapter 13


Her mind and body had settled down again. She would happily occupy the next hour reading. She deliberated between the elegantly worked volume of Nisco’s Serenity and Ritual and the anonymous collection of essays and poetry known as Passages to Appreciation. She knew she ought to choose something from one of them, but somehow she wasn’t in the mood. Cidra dug a little deeper into the pack and came up with a hidden bundle of data slips that contained her collection of novels. Novels didn’t warrant much more than cursory interest on the part of Harmonics specializing in social history. She’d had no competition when she’d chosen to become an expert on them. But Cidra loved novels. She had acquired a sizable collection on slips, and when the time had come to leave Clementia, she had been unable to abandon them.

Cidra removed the reader and a slip that contained one of her favorite tales and curled up on the lower berth to read once more the adventurous story of a mythical First Family colonist. Without any hesitation at all she skipped along until she came to the love scenes. The love scenes in such stories held an interest for her that she had never stopped to analyze. But she was more exhausted than she realized. Cidra was in the middle of a torrid seduction when she fell asleep.

It was the distinct impression of wrongness that awoke her a few minutes later. For a moment she lay quietly, eyes closed, and tried to analyze the feeling. She immediately realized that Fred was no longer wrapped around her arm. She could feel the warmth of him lying on her stomach, but he didn’t seem quite as boneless as he had earlier. There was a tension in him that had communicated itself to her and awakened her.

Cidra opened her eyes and looked up into the muzzle of a Garing Immobilizer. A part of her recognized the classic safeguard sidearm, even while her brain sought to adjust to the shock of seeing one pointed at her. A large, gloved hand was wrapped around the grip.

“Just keep calm, lady, and nothing’s going to happen to you.”

At the sound of the rough voice Cidra managed to jerk her eyes from the Immobilizer to the swarthy face of the safeguard holding it. When he saw her stricken look, he smiled bleakly and used his free hand to display his certificate of authorization.

“I don’t understand,” Cidra murmured; confusion replacing some of the initial fright. Harmonics never had trouble with the authorities for the simple reason that Harmonics never committed crimes. Both safeguards and Harmonics knew it. She had grown up with that serene knowledge. It was built into her. Then she remembered Scates lying on the floor of her hotel room. “What’s wrong? He’s all right, isn’t he?”

The man holding the Immobilizer appeared amused. “Who? Severance? As far as we know. Don’t worry about him, he’ll be back in about forty minutes. He ran into a little delay collecting his mail, you see. We arranged it that way.”

They didn’t seem to know about Scates. Feeling simultaneously relieved and guilty, Cidra relaxed slightly. “But what are you doing here?” She realized that a second uniformed man was standing near the command console, and her searching gaze rested briefly on him. “How did you get on board? The hatch was sealed.”

The man standing over her answered. “Didn’t you look at my certificate? We’re port security. We have bypass plates for all registered mail ships. Now sit up very slowly. You from Clementia?”

She nodded. Fred scuttled down into her lap as she sat up cross-legged on the bunk. Her hand brushed past the small switch that could activate the Screamer, but Cidra hardly noticed. She was watching Fred bare his teeth. He didn’t appear to be smiling this time.

“Good. That should make things nice and simple. We won’t have any trouble with you, will we?”

Obediently Cidra shook her head. “Of course not.”

“Fine.” He glanced at his companion. “We won’t even need to put a tangler on her, Des. She’s a Harmonic. She’ll stay out of trouble.”

“But what do you want? If you have business aboard, I would have been happy to open the hatch. I don’t understand what this is all about.” Cidra turned an unwavering gaze on the armed man. “Whatever it is you’re after, you should consult with the master of the ship.”

“We’re not quite as formal here in Lovelorn as you folks are in Clementia. We don’t always have time for good manners. What we’re after is in the cargo bay, and on this kind of ship it can only be unsealed through the command console.”

Cidra kept her hands carefully folded in front of her. “Then you should definitely speak to Teague Severance.”

The safeguard grinned. “He’s not likely to be very helpful under the circumstances. We’re here to remove some cargo he picked up in Port Valentine.”

“But the shipment from Port Valentine is scheduled to be taken to an outpost on Renaissance.” Cidra kept her voice very clear and polite. She betrayed nothing of the uneasiness she felt, realizing that her best defense right now lay in maintaining the impression these men had of her. They couldn’t have dealt with many Harmonics. In their line of work they simply weren’t likely to encounter people from Clementia. Her appearance and dress had led them to mistake her for a Saint, so she would play the part.

“Don’t worry yourself about it, Otanna. This isn’t Harmonic business. This is a matter of port security.” The man holding the weapon spoke to the silent figure by the console. “Find what we need, Des?”

“It’s here. The bypass is working through possible code combinations now. We’ll have the bay opened in a minute or so. What about her?”

“She’s not going to give us any trouble.”

The first man holstered the Immobilizer and smiled again. He smiled a lot, Cidra thought Too much. She didn’t like him, and neither, apparently, did Fred. There was a curious humming sound coming from the vicinity of the three rows of teeth. Automatically Cidra reached out to stroke the rockrug.

“We’re all set,” the man called Des announced with cool satisfaction. “The bay’s open. Let’s get the stuff and get out. I don’t want to be hanging around here when Severance returns.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” The first man started for the rear of the cabin where the inside cargo hatch was located.

The valuable shipment lay undefended. It was COD, Severance had said. He would get nothing for it if it wasn’t delivered. With a kind of stark clarity Cidra realized that she had to act. In Severance’s absence she was in charge of his ship. “Guard the castle,” he had told her.

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