Sweet Starfire (Lost Colony #1)

Chapter 20


“There is a man back in Clementia, isn’t there? A Saint.” He leaned against the console, irritated by the way she was sidestepping the subject.

Cidra turned to face him with quiet reproach. “There is a man,” she began very carefully, “but I am not ready for him.”

“He thinks he’s too good for you because he’s a Harmonic and you’re not?”

She shook her head. “Mercer would never think such a thing. He is a brilliant, kind, intuitive man. A fine Harmonic who has been both teacher and friend to me. He is in charge of the Archive where I work. I have never told him that I would like the relationship to become more… more intimate. I would not burden him with that knowledge until I can come to him as a true Harmonic.”

“You’ve just stood in the shadows, pining from afar, is that it? For how long?” Severance didn’t even bother to soften the words.

“Three and a half seasons,” Cidra admitted wistfully. “We have so much in common intellectually that I just know things will harmonize beautifully between us once I have overcome the barrier of my non-Harmonic mind.”

“I think I may get sick.”

Instantly Cidra swept forward, concern marking her features. “You’re ill? Why didn’t you say something sooner?” She took his arm. “Lie down while I get the med kit. Here, I’ll help you to the bunk—”

“You do take things literally, don’t you? Forget the med kit, Cidra. I’ll survive. Come here. I want to show you something.” He pushed her gently down into the seat in front of the ship’s second computer. “Ever seen one of these?”

“A Consac Four-ten. I’ve never seen one programmed for use on board a ship, but I’m familiar with the basic model. We use a Consac Sixteen hundred in the Archives.” She eyed him uncertainly. “You’re not sick?”

“Not the way you mean.” He nodded toward the computer control panel. “A Conny is a Conny. If I give you some introduction, you ought to be able to manipulate this one.”

“Probably,” she agreed with no false show of pride; the simple fact was that she could. “I learn very quickly. What do you want me to do with it?”

“You said you wanted to work your passage.”

Her eyes lit up. “Definitely. There’s something you want done on the computer?”

“I’d like some advice from someone who’s had a good education. Presumably, since you were raised in Clementia, you’ve had the best.”

She smiled. “The best.”

Chapter Five

Fifteen minutes later Cidra shook off her intense concentration long enough to smile up at Severance as he hovered over her and the computer. She understood now what he wanted.

“This is your lucky day, Teague Severance. I told you I’m a trained archivist. I could just as easily have been a micro-geologist or a professional poet. And then, while I might have been able to give you some general guidance or advice, I wouldn’t have been qualified to really dig in and program a first-class record-keeping system for you. But as it is…” She let the sentence drift off as she turned back to the computer.

“As it is,” Severance concluded, “this is my lucky day. I should have known. Wonder what I did to deserve having you on board?”

“There you go, being flippant again.”

“I think it’s more than flippancy,” Severance murmured. “I think at times I’m bordering on outright sarcasm. Postmen aren’t noted for their social graces.” He leaned closer, peering over her shoulder at the screen. “You really think you can get up some kind of workable records and business management program for me?”

“I’ve been designing and applying records management programs since the day I first set foot in the Archives.”

“Yeah, but the stuff you file and retrieve at Clementia is different. I’m not trying to figure out a way to handle a bunch of old slips filled with First Family diaries or middle-second-century poems. I need hard data I can call up on a second’s notice, and I’ll need it cross-indexed a hundred different ways. I figure that if my plan is going to work, I’ll have to be able to access everything from personnel information on company presidents to meteorological details on QED.”

“I thought the weather only came one way on QED: dry.”

Severance glared at her. “Now who’s being flippant?”

“I apologize.”

He ignored the formal, self-deprecating inclination of her head. “Weather on QED can be damned tricky when you’re trying to land a Class A mail ship in the mountains. In addition to that kind of stuff I’m going to need full payroll capabilities. That means I need to be able to zap credit into employee accounts from anywhere in the system.”

“Only the big exploration companies have payroll systems that flexible,” Cidra noted. “Just how big are you planning on becoming?”

He lifted one shoulder with seeming negligence, but Cidra saw the glittering determination in his eyes. “I want to build a real organization. Right now private mailmen like me operate on a haphazard basis. Each one of us functions independently with no set schedules. The competition can be cutthroat.”

“How cutthroat?”

“Pilots can get killed in this business.”

Cidra blinked. “You mean because of the dangers of landing on Renaissance or QED?”

“No, Cidra,” he said with patently false patience. “I mean, they can wind up dead because of the stiff competition.”

“Murdered?” She felt queasy. “I’ve heard of some criminal activity among the more aggressive pilots, of course, and occasionally one hears of a landing accident or some such incident, but murder?”

“I don’t imagine it makes the newscasts in Clementia. Harmonics probably prefer not to pay too close attention to Wolf news. It isn’t always intellectually stimulating.”

“You’ve got a point there.” She was beginning to feel mildly irked by his attitude. He was right, it did border on sarcasm. Stepped over the border, in fact. .For the first time she wondered if Teague Severance didn’t number among the more aggressive in his business. She had just decided not to ask any more questions about the criminal behavior of mail pilots when a thought came to her. As usual she sought an answer without even stopping to consider the consequences. “Do you think those fake safeguards who came aboard at Lovelorn were from a rival mail ship?”

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