Sweet Starfire (Lost Colony #1)

Chapter 14

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Yet these men were official representatives of Lovelorn law. The law was one of the few formalized institutions Wolves had. It was to be respected. Harmonics knew it often fell short of the ideal, but that was no excuse for failing to honor it. Still, she felt she had to do something.

“Wait,” Cidra called urgently as the first man was about to step into the cargo bay. “I must protest this action. I insist you wait until Teague Severance returns. This is his ship and his cargo. You must discuss this with him.”

“Why don’t I just go ahead and put her out?” Des unholstered his weapon and calmly pointed it at Cidra.

“Forget it. She’s not going to get in our way. Give me a hand, Des. I knew we should have brought a servocart. This thing’s heavy.”

“Please,” Cidra said, “I’m asking one last time that you wait and take this up with the ship’s master.”

“Shut up, lady. You’re beginning to annoy me. Why don’t you meditate or something?” Des started to follow his companion into the cargo bay.

Fred suddenly leapt from Cidra’s lap, undulating with incredible speed across the cabin floor. Des whirled around, aiming his sidearm at the small creature.

“No!” Cidra stopped debating the philosophical quandary in which she found herself. Her hand swept out, yanking at the Screamer trigger imbedded in the wall behind her.

And then she found out why the shipboard defense system was called a Screamer. She was barely aware of the strangled cries of the two safeguards. Her own mind was suddenly bursting with the screams of every nerve in her body.

She had never experienced anything approaching such pain, and after the first few seconds, it held her totally immobilized. Lights flashed in front of her eyes, her ears seemed to hear every harsh, discordant sound in the universe, and her skin was on fire with a rash that made her want to claw at herself with her own nails. But she couldn’t even move her hand far enough to switch off the screamer. Cidra could only sit on the bunk and struggle to maintain some hint of sanity, for a primitive part of her was still alert enough to fear being driven insane by the cacophony. And that was the most terrifying prospect of all.

Instinctively she mentally grabbed for and clung to the intense discipline that was a fundamental part of her Harmonic training, using it to search for and find a thin sliver of consciousness and sanity to guide her through the pain. A true Harmonic would not have been able to apply her training under such fearsome circumstances. It was an ironic indication of Cidra’s lack of true talent that she could use the training now in a way for which it had never been intended. But Cidra was not contemplating the right or wrong of it all; she was simply holding on for her life.

Severance was worried even before he got out of the runner. He stood for a moment on the curb, the small courier pack locked to his wrist. Then he fished the computer remote out of his utility loop. The tiny notation on the screen informed him calmly that the Screamer had been activated. He stared at the object in his hand, unable to believe what he was seeing. He picked up the package of preserved vegetarian meals he’d wasted valuable time purchasing on the way back to the ship and broke into a run.

Severance Pay sat in heavy shadow on the landing field, giving no hint that all was pain and chaos aboard. The Screamer put out no audible sound. When Severance punched the remote to open the hatch, he found that it hadn’t been locked. Had Cidra left the ship after all? The knowledge infuriated him, but he found himself praying that she had. If she was still on board when the Screamer had activated, she would be limp, quivering marshjelly by now. He knew what the Screamer could do to the most hardened of Wolves. He couldn’t bring himself to imagine what it would do to someone who was almost a Harmonic in so many ways.

Damning everything and everyone around him, Severance used the Screamer’s remote to cancel the defense system. But he knew that if Cidra was inside, the damage had been done. He leapt aboard, his eyes sweeping the ominously still cabin.

For an instant he couldn’t see his passenger. She wasn’t on her bunk and she wasn’t lying on the floor. He saw the prone bodies of two men near the open cargo bay before he realized that Cidra was slumped on his bunk.

“Damn it to a renegade’s hell. Cidra. Cidra.” He crouched beside the berth, searching for her throat pulse. It beat far too rapidly beneath his fingers. The stiffness in her body alarmed him more than anything else. She should be unconscious by now. Even a minute of the Screamer’s effects was sufficient to knock most people out. Yet the tension in her body indicated that on some level she was still aware, still trying to fight the nerve-jamming impulses even though they had ceased. He began stroking her, petting her as if she were a wild creature he was trying to soothe and tame. There was no quick remedy for the Screamer’s damage. It took time to recover. Victims knocked unconscious generally awoke a long time later with a headache that could only be described as violent.

“Cidra, can you hear me? It’s over. Listen to me. It’s over. Let go, lady. Let go.”

Severance caught a brief movement out of the corner of his eye. He glanced toward the cargo bay and saw Fred release the leg on which he had been gnawing. The rockrug flowed toward his master. “What the hell happened in here?” Severance asked softly, wishing the rockrug could answer.

Fred hummed a little in response and undulated up into the bunk to settle on Cidra’s stomach. Then he began shifting his pliable body in a rhythm that didn’t take him anywhere but seemed to emulate the stroking movements Severance’s hands were making.

“It’s all right, Cidra. It’s all over. Can you hear me? All over. You’re safe now.”

Very slowly some of the unnatural tension seemed to seep from her body. Beneath his hand Severance could feel the gradual unknowing of the muscles in her arms. Her head began to move restlessly. He kept talking to her, muttering meaningless words of comfort. Even though he knew there was no instant cure for the Screamer’s results, Severance decided to get Cidra to the nearest med facility. If nothing else, they could tranquilize her into unconsciousness.

Her lashes lifted just as he started to get to his feet. Instantly he knelt again beside the bunk.

“Cidra?”

She seemed to have trouble focusing on him, but at last she realized who was beside her. Her lips moved, shaping soundless words. She touched her tongue to the dry surfaces and tried again.

“Is the castle… safe?”

“Everything’s safe, Cidra. Don’t try to talk. Just try to sleep. It’s the only way out of this. Try to sleep.”


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