Sweet Starfire (Lost Colony #1)

Chapter 9


The silence in the runner seemed frozen as Severance regarded her taut features. Finally he said, “That’s why you want to ship out with me? You’re searching for a legend?”

She nodded once, sharply, wishing she had kept her mouth shut. “A Ghost legend.”

“Ah, Cidra. There are a million Ghost legends. All of them created by humans after they reached Stanza Nine and found all that junk lying around on Lovelady and Renaissance.”

“It’s not junk! We’re talking about the artifacts of a vanished civilization. And this legend is based on one of those artifacts. I found too many hints of it in the Archives. The tool is out there somewhere, and I’m going to find it.” She shook her head wonderingly. “How can you call the artifacts junk?”

Severance’s mouth curved wryly. “I’m sure that when they originally encountered the Ghost ruins, the First Families were suitably startled. But that was a couple hundred years ago, and when everyone realized how common the leftover Ghost garbage was, the novelty wore off. Even the Harmonics who are archaeologists are interested in only the most unusual finds. They don’t want to be bothered anymore with every little shard or carving that turns up. If Stanza Nine ever attracts any tourists, we’ll all make a fortune selling Ghost junk, but until then, it’s practically worthless. The legends are even more worthless. We invented them. Every company explorer who ever had a bad dream while camped out on Renaissance has a new so-called legend. And the miners on QED are just as bad. Hell, for that matter there is still enough unexplored territory right here on Lovelady to breed tales. If you’re chasing a legend, Cidra, you’re chasing moonlight.”

“Moonlight,” she said, thinking of the dance patterns that had recently subdued Scates, “is something I have been taught how to chase.”

Severance groaned. “I should have had the ship off the ground the minute I had the mail on board. I knew this was going to be a mistake.”

“Then why did you change your mind and come after me?”

“When I think of a sufficiently sound answer, you’ll be the first to know.” And with that, the runner that had been slowing as it neared the port terminal slid to a stop.

A few minutes later, her pack of clothing in hand, Cidra followed Severance toward the small, streamlined mail ship. She watched as he punched codes into both a computer remote and the gadget he’d used on Scates. Then he led her aboard. The interior lights came on as they stepped over the threshold. Cidra stood looking around at the compact, painfully limited cabin space and wondered for the first time if she had really given due consideration to the problems of living in such confined quarters with another human being, and a Wolf at that. She was still worrying the question when the scruffy rug beneath her feet moved abruptly. Startled, Cidra glanced down in time to see the motley piece of rug silently display three rows of tiny needle teeth.

“Watch out for Fred,” Severance said as she backed hastily. “He hates being mistaken for a rug.”

“Fred?” She watched the creature move in an undulating motion toward the seat in front of the command console.

“Fredalius is his full name. But I just call him Fred.”

“Who named him?” she asked.

“My brother,” Severance answered, his back to Cidra as he stowed away his pack.

“Does your brother fly with you occasionally?”

“Not anymore,” he answered in a clipped tone. “He’s dead.”

“Oh.” It didn’t take a Harmonic’s empathic abilities to realize that she had blundered onto a painfully raw topic. Automatically Cidra sought to soothe the discomfort she had caused. “I’m sorry, Severance. I had no idea. It was thoughtless of me to ask after him. I seem to be causing a great deal of unpleasantness tonight.”

“Forget it.” He busied himself with sealing the ship. “Stow your packs under my bunk for now. That’s where I had the ale put, so you’ll have to fiddle a bit to find room. We’ll decide what to do with those damn books later. Right now I just want to get off the ground.”

“We’re leaving for Renaissance?”

“First we’re hopping over to Lovelorn. I got word of another good shipment. Then we’ll off-planet for Renaissance. Once we’re in space we’ll have two solid weeks to drive each other crazy. If we reach Renaissance without having murdered each other, we’ll talk about extending the contract.”

Cidra decided that this wasn’t the time to argue her intention to stay aboard. It also didn’t appear to be a good time to discuss the exact nature of the contract she had apparently entered into. She finished shoving her travel packs under the safety net beneath Severance’s bunk. It wasn’t easy. The crate of Renaissance Rose ale took up a great deal of room. Cidra wondered if Severance intended to drink all of it before reaching Renaissance. The thought was unsettling.

Then she took the single passenger seat located behind and to the left of the pilot’s seat. Fascinated, she watched Severance run fluidly through the pre-liftoff procedures. It seemed to her that the computer had barely signaled that permission had been received to take Severance Pay into the air before they were, indeed, off the ground.

The lights of Port Valentine hung beneath them for a moment and then receded into the distance as Severance set a course that would take the ship to the mountain town of Lovelorn.

Cidra knew that within the confines of the planet’s atmospheric envelope Severance Pay was powered by standard jet engines. Only when the ship thrust into the freedom of space could they safely switch to the distance-crunching power of the STATR drive. Cidra studied Severance covertly. She admitted to herself now that he had been occupying her thoughts since the moment she had met him.

He was all business as he worked, his intent expression illuminated by the glow of the console lights. She was aware of being strangely fascinated by him in a way that was new to her, and the knowledge was disquieting. She should be viewing him simply as a man with whom she was doing business, but Cidra was honest enough and uneasy enough to admit that her reaction to him right from the start was far more jumbled and complex than such a simple arrangement warranted.

When he had first been pointed out in the tavern, she had experienced serious doubts about approaching him. It was obvious from the start that he was a hard man, a true Wolf. There was an aggressive harshness about him that made it clear he was a man who had not been softened or refined by too much contact with Harmonic values or ways. But she also sensed a quietly brooding element deep within Severance and wondered what had happened in his past to cause it. Something told Cidra it would be instinctive in Severance to avoid those ritualized behavior patterns and codes of conduct favored by people who tried to emulate Harmonics. He would have his own way of doing things, his own code of ethics and standards. And he would stick to it.

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