Severance grabbed a runner outside Cidra’s hotel to take him to his ship, but his thoughts remained with the woman he had just left.
The essentially gentle quality that usually characterized Saints was a part of her, too, he mused, but in Cidra it came across differently. In true Harmonics Teague had always sensed a distant, controlled, broadly humanistic compassion. In Cidra he had seen something much more immediate, a more vivid and impulsive empathy. Severance remembered the way she had stopped to help the downed brawler in the first tavern and shook his head. It had been a long time since he’d enjoyed any special handling in the arms of a woman. Too long. Chances were that his imagination was interpreting Cidra’s actions in the wrong way. He was probably just hungry for the kind of gentleness a man sometimes needed from a woman. And, for some reason, a part of him had gone ahead and decided that Cidra could give him what he needed.
A picture of her soft, slender body lying under him, her gilded nails clutching his shoulders snapped into Severance’s head before he could stop it. For an instant he knew a sense of self-disgust. Surely he wasn’t one of those perverts who were attracted to the cerebral and remote female Harmonics. Such men were only drawn by the sick need to despoil something they could never understand or accept.
No, Severance reassured himself, his brooding awareness of Cidra was reasonably normal. She was, after all, by her own admission a Wolf in Harmonic clothing. And while he hadn’t been around many Harmonic women, he had met enough to know that they didn’t project any real sense of sexuality. Cidra, on the other hand, had struck him as a very sensual creature, even though her air of serenity partially masked the raw vitality in her. He had the feeling she wasn’t even aware of it herself.
A Saint among Wolves. To a certain extent Cidra would be safe because most people felt a certain instinctive protective-ness toward Harmonics. But there were all too many exceptions to that rule. Severance could think of several offhand, many of whom were fellow mail-run pilots.
At least she’d had the sense to choose a hotel in a reasonably safe section of town. Mankind’s penchant for building cities around ports had changed little during the course of human development; nor had the basic characteristics of those cities changed. There were still good and bad sections, safe and unsafe areas. Cidra Rainforest had been wandering through some of the less desirable streets of Port Valentine when she had found him earlier that evening. Severance tried to ignore the fact that she’d be back on those same streets tomorrow evening, searching for a more helpful postman.
She would probably find one, he reflected as he sprawled in the back of the runner and listened to the faint shushing sound of the vehicle’s twin blades on the pavement. Some renegade such as Neveril or Scates would lick his chops and produce a very neatly worded convenience contract before Cidra quite realized what was happening. She would be on her way to Renaissance, only to discover that her Harmonic trappings weren’t much protection from certain kinds of Wolves.
Severance shifted restlessly as the lights of the port facilities came into view. It wasn’t any of his business, he told himself angrily. By all accounts, Harmonics were quite intelligent; someone from Clementia had the ability to make her own decisions. She certainly didn’t need Severance’s help.
As the runner hissed to a halt Teague paid the fare with his credit plate and climbed out. He stood on the glowing sidewalk, staring at the tapering, floodlit outline of his ship out on the field. Severance Pay was poised for an immediate liftoff, her stubby, swept-back wings seeming to strain at the inconvenience of being planet bound. She was always ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The competition for lucrative mail runs was stiff, and Severance had no intention of missing out on prime cargo simply because his ship wasn’t ready to leave.
Automatically he removed one of two small remotes he carried on his utility loop and punched into Severance Pay’s primary on-board computer. He queried for messages and read the response on the small screen of the remote. A couple of friends had hit port and left word that they could be reached at one of the nearby bars if Severance happened to feel like a game of Free Market. There was a fuel tab that the computer had already been authorized to pay. And there was a terse message from one of the local postal agents saying that he’d had a special request from a client.
Severance knew what that meant. A patron had asked for him and his ship by name. With any luck that meant an important run. He started for the bank of comp-phones that were housed in a nearby terminal.
“Hey, Severance, you son of a renegade, where’s the little Saint?”
Severance hesitated and then decided that he couldn’t shake Scates by simply ignoring him. The other postman grinned and waved from the terminal doorway.
“I took her back to her hotel.” Severance made to step around the man who had obviously been doing the port-strip taverns.
“Heard she was looking for a contract.”
“Not the kind you mean.”
“I’m not particular,” Scates assured him. His broken nose twisted at an odd angle when he leered. “I take it you’re not going to give her a lift?”
“You’re missing a great opportunity, Severance. Me, I could think of plenty of things to teach a little Saint between here and QED.”
Severance didn’t bother to respond as he started through the open terminal door. But as the clear diazite panels slid shut behind him, he glanced back and saw that Scates was grinning more widely than ever. In the up-from-under pavement lighting his features seemed almost ludicrously demonic. Severance cursed his imagination again and turned away.
Even as he found a vacant comp-phone and punched in the postal agent’s code, Severance knew what Scates was going to do. And as he listened to the agent tell him that there was a rush shipment of small but vital robot sensors that would pay twice the usual rates, Teague Severance was visualizing Scates offering Cidra a contract of convenience. Scates’s convenience.
He shouldn’t have tried to touch her.
Cidra found herself shaking uncontrollably. Perhaps, she told herself, if the man who called himself Scates had only continued to wheedle or argue, nothing would have happened. But he had reached for her, and Cidra had seen the hot lust in his eyes. She had reacted instinctively because there had been no real time to think.
All her life her body had been kept supple and strong with the ancient exercise. The training had begun before she could walk. Cidra couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t know the essentials of Moonlight and Mirrors. Intellectually she had known, too, that the flowing, deceptively simple movements were based on an ancient form of self-defense, records of which had arrived with the First Families of Stanza Nine nearly two hundred years ago.