Sweet Starfire (Lost Colony #1)

Chapter 5

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“Cidra Rainforest.”

“Rainforest,” he repeated, tasting the word. “That’s your chosen name?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever seen a rain forest, Cidra?” Severance asked, his tone unexpectedly gentle. “A real rain forest?”

“No. This is my first time away from Clementia.”

“How did you come to choose the word as a name?”

Cidra wanted to point out that they were not here for purposes of casual conversation, but she was too fundamentally polite to say the censuring words. “I read about rain forests on Renaissance when I was fifteen. There were holotapes and slips of them in the Archives. They seemed so beautiful, so rich and full of life. Endless blooms and endless green. I suppose the forests were very much in my mind that year, and fifteen is the age at which Harmonics traditionally choose their names. I understand that among Wolves the age of choice varies.”

“You could say that. The truth is that we sometimes go through two or three names before settling on the right one. Occasionally a Wolf finds it very useful to select a new name quite frequently.” When she just looked at him with a puzzled expression, Severance abandoned the subject. “Never mind. Tell me what made you decide to go planet-hopping.”

“My reasons are personal, Severance.”

His eyebrows climbed. “Is that so?”

She flushed a little at his tone. “In Clementia privacy is greatly respected,” Cidra reminded him.

“Another good reason to abandon your idea of bunking down on a mail boat. There’s very little privacy available on one of those ships.”

“I am prepared to accommodate myself.”

“Oh, yeah? How far?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Those convenience contracts we just talked about? Do you know just what that entails?”

“I assume it implies a sharing of responsibilities and tasks.”

“Sweet Harmony, what an innocent. It means a sharing of bunks, Cidra. Convenience contracts are short-term sexual alliances. Contracted for purposes of sex and companionship. The six-week run to QED can be very long and lonely, Otanna Rainforest. Now do you understand?”

Her face grew very still as she contemplated his words. Then Cidra nodded thoughtfully. She should have realized that something like this was involved in the contractual situations she had heard about. Wolves were said to be prodigiously interested in sex. “Yes, now I understand. Well, I would not be interested in that sort of arrangement.”

“Somehow I didn’t think you would.”

“Is that the only type of contract you would be willing to extend?”

“If you had been listening carefully, you would have heard me say that I’m not even interested in a convenience contract. I told you, I tried it once and it was a disaster. I’ll stick to finding a little special handling in between mail hops. I’m grateful to you for getting this place to serve me a decent steak, Cidra, but I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to do business together.”

Cidra tried to hide her disappointment behind her mask of serene acceptance. “So it would seem. You must allow me to pay for your meal, Otan Severance. It is the least I can do under the circumstances.”

He looked vaguely irritated. “Skip it. You said you were running on short credit, and I just had a fairly decent run from Renaissance. I’ll get the tab.”

“Oh, no, I could not allow you to do that,” she protested, genuinely shocked. “It was I who approached you and took up your valuable time.”

“I was sitting in a tavern about to get drunk. You didn’t waste any of my time. I can always get drunk. I can’t always get my steaks cooked properly.” He picked up his mug and downed another healthy swallow of the potent ale. “So. What are you going to do now? Go back to Clementia?”

Cidra’s eyes widened in astonishment. “Of course not. You are only the first mail pilot I have approached. There are half a dozen more here in Port Valentine at the moment, or so the Port authorities told me. I will work my way through the list. Surely there must be someone interested in a working passenger. And if not, I will wait until other postmen or postwomen arrive. They come and go constantly from what I have been told.”

Severance regarded her coolly. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Cidra.”

Some of her anxiety bubbled to the surface and emerged in a flash of hostility that took Cidra by surprise more than it did her companion. “Still, it is my idea, is it not, Severance? You needn’t concern yourself with it or with me.”

“Isn’t there someone in Clementia who might be concerned with your notions and where they’re liable to take you?”

She put down the all-purpose fork she had been using and sat very straight in the booth. “I am not a child, Severance. I reached the age of maturity four years ago and am fully responsible for my own actions. Just as you are.”

“Far be it from me to give advice to someone reared among Saints,” Severance growled. “Good luck, lady. Just watch out what kind of contract you end up signing. Don’t forget to read the fine print.” He got to his feet. “If you’ve finished eating, I’ll see you back to wherever you’re staying.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“It is, unless you want a scene.” He slipped a credit plate into the small slot embedded in the table. When the faint glow confirmed that the meal had been paid for, he removed the plate and reached for Cidra’s arm.

She hadn’t argued, Severance thought later, after having dropped Cidra off at her hotel. But, then, Harmonics rarely argued, except about philosophical or mathematical problems. He remembered how his brother Jeude had always backed away from a disagreement, putting on the same mask of serene contentment he had seen on Cidra’s face that evening. Emotional confrontations with other people were very uncomfortable for Saints, Severance knew. Belatedly he reminded himself that Cidra wasn’t technically a Harmonic.

It was easy to forget. He could understand why others such as the restaurant personnel reacted to her as if she were indeed a full-fledged Saint. There was something very serene and innately dignified about Cidra Rainforest. Perhaps it had to do with the way she wore her long, red-brown hair in that formal coronet of braids. Or it might have been the way the elegant yellow robes flowed around a body that was as slender, graceful, and proud as that of a dancer. The clothing worn by Harmonics was naturally as dignified and graceful as those who wore and designed it. The women’s high-collared gowns, with their long, wide-banded sleeves, fit closely to the waist and then flared in an elegant line from hips to ankles. The fabric was uniformly the fine, beautifully worked crystal moss. Cidra’s gown was no exception. She was not a tall woman, but her robes provided an illusion of height. She was a young woman, probably about eight years younger than himself, but her eyes held more refined intelligence than a man usually saw in a woman that age. Of course, Teague reminded himself, if she’d been raised in Clementia, her education would have been thorough and sophisticated.


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