Sweet Starfire (Lost Colony #1)

Chapter 18

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“Oh, good.” She felt vastly relieved. “Well, in that case, I suppose I could attempt to learn to play Free Market.”

“We’ll give it a whirl after we’ve had some sleep. I keep standard Lovelady days on board ship.” He got to his feet. “Think you can make it up into your own bunk? Or do you want me to carry you?”

Gingerly Cidra started to sit up. Fred moved off her feet with a low, grumbling sound. Cidra ignored him, concentrating on her body’s reactions to the movement. Her head still hurt, but the pain seemed distant, a dull threat but not a major disaster any longer. She massaged her temple, aware of a vague sense of weary disappointment.

“What’s the matter? Still feel like your head’s going to explode?” Severance slid a rough hand under her curtain of hair and began kneading the nape of her neck.

“It’s not that. I feel much better. It’s just that—” She broke off and moved her hand in a gesture of dismay. “I shouldn’t.”

“Shouldn’t feel much better?”

“Never mind. It’s hard to explain.”

Severance continued to work on the base of her neck. “Still worrying because you don’t have a Saint’s catatonic reaction to pain?”

“It’s just one more reminder that I have a long way to go before I become a Harmonic. You must understand. I don’t want to feel pain. No one does. But every time I do, I’m aware of the fact that I don’t react to it in a normal fashion.”

“Normal for a Saint.”

“That’s what I was born to be, Severance,” she said with soft insistence. “I remember once when I was very young. I had slipped away from my parents and was trying to climb into one of the plaza fountains in Clementia. They’re so beautiful with the light beads mixed into the water. I wanted to go swimming in that beautiful, shining water. That was before I realized that one didn’t do that sort of thing,” she added hastily.

“Naturally. Very un-Saintlike, climbing into a fountain.”

“Yes, well, I slipped and fell, cutting myself. But I was so excited by having gotten into the fountain at last that I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that I was bleeding into the water. When my mother found me, she nearly went into shock. Everyone nearby was horrified. Someone came rushing up with a dose of oblivo, and the next thing I knew, I woke up in a med facility. I found out several years later that small wounds such as the one I had gotten in the fountain are treated rather casually among Wolves.”

“And you had automatically reacted casually at the time. Because you’re a Wolf in Harmonic’s clothing.” Severance removed his hand from the nape of her neck. “Stop worrying about it, Cidra. We both need some sleep. You want a bath?”

She stood up a little shakily but without kick-starting the headache. “That sounds wonderful.” With a sigh she examined her rumpled sleeping robe. “Have you got a fresher on board?”

“Sure. Give me the dress and I’ll run it through a cleaning cycle while you hit the lav.”

“Thank you.” She moved toward the tiny lavatory facility, wondering how she was going to find room even to turn around inside, let alone undress. The ship’s lav was nothing like the comfortable facility in her parents’ home. When the privacy panel hissed shut behind her, she struggled free of the sleeping surplice with some difficulty. Every time she shifted position she came into contact with some object in the miniature room. Severance knocked on the door just as she finally freed herself of the gown.

“Ready?”

“Here. I appreciate your help.” She opened the panel a tiny distance and pushed the black-and-silver robe into his outstretched hand. “How do you move around in here? It’s barely big enough for me, let alone someone your size.”

“I leave the panel open,” he told her calmly. The robe and his hand disappeared.

Never in a million seasons would she leave the panel open, Cidra decided. Turning carefully, she activated the orange controls set in the bulkhead. A wonderfully refreshing hot spray filled the small room. Cidra closed her eyes and gave herself up to the pleasure of it.

It was a long time before she reluctantly deactivated the spray, dried herself with the warm air jets, and plaited her hair into one long braid that hung over her shoulder. Feeling infinitely better and deliciously sleepy, she cautiously cracked the panel.

“Severance? Is my robe ready?”

There was no answer. Pushing the panel open a little farther, Cidra tried again. “Teague?” Still no response. The cabin lights had been dimmed. In the faint glow of the control console she could see the black-and-silver surplice draped over the back of the command seat. There was no sign of Severance. Belatedly Cidra realized that he was in his bunk.

She waited another moment or two, the sight of her robe on the seat tantalizing her. It was obvious that Severance had gone to sleep in the same quick, uncomplicated way he had napped on the flight between Valentine and Lovelorn. The only option she had was to get the robe herself.

Taking a deep breath, she slipped out of the lav and stood poised for a few seconds in the shadows. There was no movement from the lower bunk. Cidra padded barefoot across to the command console and quickly put on the surplice. She relaxed as the garment swirled comfortably around her. Running around naked in front of a strange man and an even odder beast was not her idea of proper decorum. Gathering up the hem of the robe, she went to stand at the foot of the bunks. There was a narrow rope ladder hanging from the upper berth. Presumably that was how one climbed into it.

Experimentally Cidra took hold of the flexible side of the ladder and fit her foot into the bottom rung. After that it was easy. She was safely into her berth a few seconds later. The knowledge that she was truly at the beginning of her quest once again swept over her, making her considerably less sleepy than she had been only moments before. She sat cross-legged on the bunk, closed her eyes, and sought the calming influence of the evening meditation ritual. She was halfway through the elaborate sequence, of silent logic when Severance spoke from die bottom bunk.

“Do you always spend that long in the lav?”

Cidra opened her eyes with a start. Instantly visions of herself darting naked across the cabin to retrieve her robe leapt into her mind. “I thought you were asleep,” she said weakly.

“I dozed off waiting for you to emerge from your bath. Rule number one on board Severance Pay is that passengers don’t treat the water supply as if it comes from one of those inexhaustable fountains in Clementia.”


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