Chap. 330 Researching the Susi

Chap. 330 The Susi

“This is nice,” he thought, as he entered the newly opened Library.

There was a growing collection of books on freshly built shelves. A long table carried maps, another had blueprints of Landings buildings. On a sales table were neatly piled notebooks, along with sketching pads, pencils and colored pencils. In one corner was a horseshoe of tiny chairs, with a slate board in the opening. A small shelf unit held childrens’ books. Next to the circle was a table, obviously sized for little children. On it was a pile of papers with line drawings of Pern’s animals, both native and introduced. Alongside the pile was a box containing brightly colored sticks of an odd looking substance. The sign above it had a caricature of a dragon saying “Hi, kids! New from R&D! Crayons! Try me!”

He knew the Printer Hall, up north, and Landing’s smaller print shop, were working full out to print as many books, maps, and other forms of reading material as fast as they could. People are so hungry for reading material, he thought. Just like me. My books are my most valued possessions.

Elene came out from behind a large reception desk.

“Hello, K’ndar! It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, how ARE you?”

He smiled. “I’m well, ma’am, and you?”

“Oh, I’m fine, fine, even though I’ve being saddled with more and more tasks. First it was librarian, then equipment manager, now I’ve been promoted to Head Archivist-but no one to help me and the work doesn’t lessen. Not a jot,” she said.

“Oh, no. I’m sorry,” he said, genuinely disturbed. She sighed.

“Is there something I could do to help?” he asked, half automatically, half wondering how he’d find the time.

“No, thank you, you’re just as busy as I am, K’ndar. And don’t mind my whinging, it’s just what I do. I’ll manage. I’ve put in a request for two helpers. I’m told it’s ‘in the queue”. In the meantime, I will admit, I’ve been given free rein to arrange the library to my tastes. What do you think?” she asked, proudly.

“Wonderful,” he said, looking around. On one wall was an enormous topographic map of Pern, on another, a satellite photo, one that showed mountain tops with snow, desert sand dunes, volcanoes, forests, the steppes, the poles. A third showed the many biomes. The fourth was one that took him a moment to understand. Large parts of it was colored in varying shades of blue, and showed deep canyons, ridge lines and mountains. It took him a moment to recognize the outlines of the continents, those being merely labeled. For one long moment, he was perplexed-was this Pern? Then he realized what he was looking at-a reverse map, showing the sea floor rather than the continents.

“Is that the sea floor, that map there?”

“Yes, isn’t it amazing? You never think of what the planet looks like without water covering it. The blue colors show the depth of the water in meters. The darker the blue, the deeper the water at that point. The geologists come in here and drool. Risal, that young girl who also works in flight ops, came up with the idea. All it took was to ping the starship to use its lidar.”

“Amazing,” he echoed. The continents looked strange in their secondary portrayal. Some spots of the ocean were so deep the color was virtually black. It was as if he was seeing an entirely new planet, one partly familiar, one utterly strange. This is what the dolphins must see, he thought.

“What brings you here?”

“Well, I’m officially on sabbatical, but I discovered another beast that no one has ever seen before-and yet a wanderer told me its name. I was going to research it in my quarters, but Chief of Maintenance Orlon has the power shut off for repairs, so I thought I’d come here. I heard the library had been moved and improved, and now I have a chance to see what they’ve done.”

“Yes, yes,” Elene said, perking up, “and I would love to help you. What can you tell me about the beast? You’ve discovered several, K’ndar, it’s wonderful that you can do that, with your lovely Raventh.”

“It is, but I have had help, ma’am,” he said. He pulled out his datalink.

“I took two pictures of this beast, out on the steppe. Plus I picked up two eggs, Orlon’s put them in an incubator, and I also took samples that I’ll have Miklos do a DNA test on.”

He handed her the datalink.

“Oh, sweet! Now I can show off the new toys I’ve been given,” Elene said. She bustled to a workstation and set his datalink onto a pad. It woke up with a beedleep.

“Let’s see what you have,” she said to it. She touched a button and a keyboard appeared in front of her on a screen set into the top of the desk.

“I’ve never seen that before,” he said.

“Oh, those folks in Ar and Dee, they’re always coming up with something new. Or rather, finding more things in the database and then creating them from the data. Hello, there’s the picture. I think?”

A picture of the susi displayed on a large screen in front of the workstation.

Elene was stumped.

“I’ve never seen such a beast.”

“There’s another, showing it from the side.”

The picture changed.

“What is it?”

“The Wanderer said it was a “susi”. He said their people, right after landing, moved out onto the steppe. Something started killing off their livestock and they blamed this beast, the susi.So they killed them all off. But then-well, it’s common knowledge in biology- when you eradicate a predator, the prey population explodes. They learned too late that the susi must prey on the giant wherry, keeping their numbers in balance. When the susi population was eradicated, the giant wherry population exploded, proving to be an even bigger problem for stockmen. They still are, for that matter.”

“Oh, no, that’s not good. Killing them off, I mean, it states very clearly in the Charter that no native wildlife was to be eradicated. Ever. Not even the biting insects.”

“Yes, ma’am, but they did. Or so they thought. But he wasn’t sure if this was the beast, he said the only thing he knew about it was a part of a Wanderer’s Teaching Song.”

“Which is one of the many things we don’t have in the database,” she said, ruefully, “they’re so reclusive, so much of their history here on Pern is a blank. I don’t like to speak ill of the Wanderers, but what they did was wrong. I’m sure they’ve learned, though. I would dearly love to have some of them record their teaching songs into the database.

But in the meantime, let’s see what the database says about this beast. You called it a susi. Any idea how it’s spelled?”

“No. I guess it’s es oh oh es e e.”

She typed. The database was perplexed.

Soosee?

Yes, she typed.

Do you mean ‘Susie’? Susie, a girl’s name, from Terran English…

No.

A picture of an odd, soccer ball shaped fruit appeared, along with the leaves of the plant it grew on.

Do you mean ‘soozhee’, (aspirated suffix)? Soozhee is a fruit growing on Vulcan’s island of..

No.

A picture of a plate of sushi rolls appeared.

Do you mean ‘sushi’, a Japanese food composed of a steamed rice, raw fish, and seaweed, rolled…

“No!” Elene threw up her hands in exasperation. “At this rate, we might never figure it out. Let’s try another tack,”she said to the keyboard. She typed, “What is this beast?”

That’s what I would have done, right from the start, he thought.

The database thought for a few moments.

Unknown. Appears to be saurian.

“Okay, I give up. I’ll call your mum,” Elene said, typing.

“Its Mum?”

“Jansen.”

———————————————————————————————-

“K’ndar, you’re supposed to be on sabbatical,” the data tech said.

He shrugged.

“Oh, let me guess. You’ve found yet another new beast and want me and my problem child database to identify it.”

“Precisely,” he said, grinning, “I know better than to try and get it to play nicely with me.”

“You men just don’t know how to make her happy, K’ndar. She can be temperamental.”

“It’s not just men, Jansen, I can’t get this thing to mind me, either,” Elene complained. “We tried to get it to define its name and it can’t. Or won’t. That’s why I called you.”

Jansen laughed. “That’s okay, ma’am, you can always call me, day or night. I don’t mind. One look at that thing and I’m hooked. Look at the claws on that thing! And yet, gosh, it’s a beautiful beast, look at the stripes! That head and the fangs-it’s GOT to be a predator. Okay, ma’am, if you would let me talk to the database?”

Elene gave up her chair.

Jansen sat down, pushed an errant lock of hair from her face. “What’s it called and where did you find it?”

“The Wanderer called it a susi, and I took those pictures on the steppe.”

“Susi, huh? It could be a made up name by the Wanderer. Or from any one of the many languages on Terra, on Vulcan, on Eridanus, or from Aldebaran,” she said, “Or, even Nathi, although I doubt that. They weren’t scientists. But there’s only so many ways to spell ‘susi’, so, first, let’s try that.”

“We already did,” Elene said.

“Ah, yes, I see. But I’ve learned, with this database, it’s how to ask. If the database can’t figure out a beast, our best bet is to fall back on DeeArr Plank’s books and notes. In the ten or twelve years after Landing, but before Threadfall, he did an awful lot of cataloging the many creatures to be found here on Southern before they had to evacuate. Afterwards he wrote up his notes and his books on natural history and the oceans. I, amongst others, scanned and entered his notes.

I believe there’s still a crate full of his writing somewhere,hopefully here at Landing. I don’t know where he ended up after everyone moved North. He sometimes refers to data to be found in ‘notebook twenty five’ or ‘please see backup three oh seven’, but we’ve never found those books. Maybe, someday, we’ll find it, but for now, I’ll go..oh, hello. She’s been working on the name while we’ve been chatting. Here, entry number seventeen.”

A picture of a pair of gray wolves appeared on the screen. Underneath it said:

Susi, from the Terran Finnish. The name of an extinct Terran canid, Canis lupus. Any of a large group of flesh eating, doglike mammals widely distributed throughout Terra’s Northern Hemisphere. Originally “lupus” (Lat), then, etymologically ordered, ‘wolf’ (Ger), ‘lykos’ (Gr) ‘silfr (Icel), ‘ulf’ (Dan) ‘ulv’ (Swed), ‘ulfs’ (Goth). Further allied to Lithuanian, ‘wilkas’…

“Okay, okay, data. We get it,” Jansen said, halting the outpouring of data. She chuckled. “She does get wordy, what?”

“No kidding,” K’ndar said. “What do the words in parentheses mean?”

“Those are the abbreviations for some of the Terran languages,” Elene said. “For instance, “Ger” is short for German. I’m sure you know that Lat means Latin.”

“I know the Latin, it’s used in science all the time. In fact, Canis is the genus name for our dogs, Canis domesticus. But you have to wonder how in the world anyone on Earth managed to communicate. There must have been a dozen languages.”

“No, K’ndar,” Elene said, ever the librarian, “Not dozens. Thousands. Some died out, some still exist on Terra, I bet, but they all changed. Even Pernese, it was called ‘Global’ before our ancestors boarded the starships to come here. Our language is changing as we speak. For instance, ‘database’. When I was born, until Aivas, there was no such word. Now we say “year” instead of turn, ‘month’ instead of sevenday, ‘horse’ instead of runnerbeast’- languages change like the seasons. Let’s never mind some of the languages on other planets, Vulcan, for instance, they apparently have what are called ‘dialects’, where one word can mean different things, depending on where you are. The Nathi had theirs, every planet in the Aldebaran system has their own.”

“I’m glad Pern has just one language that everyone speaks,” K’ndar said.

“Me, too,” Jansen said. “Ah, there’s my girl. Here, this is the earliest, and so far only mention of a susi, by DeeArr Plank.” She touched a key.

A picture of a badly decomposed skeleton of what may have been the beast in K’ndar’s photos appeared. Beneath it, text rolled.

“…a man, claiming to be a Roma, came in with the skeletal remains of a doglike saurian. He said he’d heard I was paying money for specimens and claimed he’d ‘found’ it on the steppe, that it had been kicked to death by a horse, ‘probably after the beast attacked a foal’. I am not convinced he didn’t kill it for the bounty, as it looks to me as if it had been shot rather than kicked.

I paid him for it, and reminded him of the Charter forbidding killing any native creature for any reason other than personal self defense or (as in the case of the ongoing attempts to domesticate the ostrich like giant wherry), for food. He said his clan is living out on the steppe, with their cattle being their main sustenance, and that he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t defend what was his against a marauding beast like this ‘susi’. He claimed they were nocturnal and hunted in packs.

‘Susi’ is Finnish for wolf, and after examining it I have to believe it is definitely predatory, living in the style that the wild canid did.

The closest I can come to a Terran analogy to this beast is that of a dinosaur from Terra’s lower Cretaceous era. Pictured here, that beast was Sinocalliopteryx, the fossils of which were found in western China, not long before the People’s Second Glorious Revolution of 2029 split that enormous country into five separate nations. I am temporarily assigning it the name of Pernocalliopteryx lupus. A mouthful, yes, so “susi” works well for common usage.

Sinocalliopteryx, by Cheung Chungtai

As it is heavily degraded, I cannot take a tissue sample, but will submit one of its teeth for a DNA assay. Currently I am backlogged with other specimens, so I will report later after a full examination of the skeleton. It will be stored in Freezer 15 until then.”

“That’s a mouthful, for sure,” K’ndar said. “I’m so grateful I don’t have to think up a name for it. I didn’t like the symposium for the musk lizard’s naming. So many egotistical people came out of nowhere, people who didn’t do a bit of the work but still insisted they had the right to name it,” he said.

“That’s pretty typical, K’ndar,” Jansen said. “I deal with that a lot.”

“Is there anything else, Jansen?” Elene asked.

The tech shook her head. “I don’t think so, but, there’s just so much in the database, I could probably spend a lifetime just searching. For instance, I have never heard of ‘freezer fifteen’-it may be in one of the many buildings here that have yet to be uncovered and opened. And, I’m supposing that if we do find that freezer, what ever is inside it is probably nothing but dust now.”

“And you, K’ndar, what now?” Elene turned to him.

“What?”

“What will you do now?”

“I don’t want to interfere with the mother susi, so we’ll just have to wait until the eggs hatch. That may take a while. In the meantime, I’m going to continue my sabbatical.”

Chap. 329 The Incubator

Chap. 329 The Incubator

It felt odd, being back in his quarters when everyone thought he was gone.

He fired up his datalink, and immediately a note appeared on the screen that said that his quarters had a repair ticket out. Yes. Raventh’s bay door was sticking again. As he read it, his quarters door pinged, then admitted someone without permission.

He jumped up, almost losing the eggs at his belly. I HAVE to find somewhere to thing to put these.

“‘Allo! You’re supposed to be gone,” a voice said. “Your quarters are scheduled for some annual maintenance.”

It was Orlon, Landing’s chief maintenance man.

“I was, but…something came up and I had to return,” K’ndar said.

“I can come back later,” the man said, hoping against it.

“No, that’s okay, I don’t mind. Don’t let me interfere.”

“Thanks, mate.” Orlon put down his toolbox and consulted his datalink. “Aye, ‘ere’s the ticket. That bay door still giving yon dragon problems?”

“Um, sometimes. But I’ve been out for quite a while, I’m not sure if it’s still sticking.”

“No matter, K’ndar, I’ll fix ‘er up right. Just a bit o’ lubing,” Orlon said.

He remembered his first days at Landing, when this humble man managed to make even the most recalcitrant mechanical thing sit up and beg.

“Didn’t you have a helper? Your brother?”

“Aye, that lout. He’s been gone quite a while, now. I’m not ‘shamed to say he wasn’t much good for anything but cleaning up his meals. Don’t know where ‘e’s gone and don’t rightly care.”

For no reason that he could later fathom, K’ndar said, “By any chance do you know how to culture eggs?”

“Culture eggs? What kind of eggs? Fire lizard eggs? Fish eggs? Reptile eggs? Chicken eggs?”

“Um…” K’ndar pulled the eggs from his shirt and showed them.

“They’re not eggs like I’ve ever seen,” Orlon said, “but they’re saurian. What do you intend to do with ’em?”

“I guess, hatch them out. I took them from the mother’s nest.”

“From a dragon?”

“No, it’s a beast I’ve never seen before, I believe it’s called a susi, but again, I don’t know. I was thinking of perhaps seeing if they’d hatch and then I’d be able to figure out what they are.”

Orlon scratched his head. “Susi, eh?” Something went ping! in his mind. “Huh. Maybe put them in an incubator?”

“A what?”

“It’s a small box, insulated to maintain a constant set temperature to allow the eggs to grow and then hatch. There’s one down at the barns, sometimes a hen is taken by a raptor or a tunnel snake and the eggs are put in it. It works pretty well.”

“I’ve nothing better to do, can you show me?”

______________________________________________________________

As always, the barn was a welcoming place for him. Landing’s livestock were out to pasture right now, but still, the ledges along the sides of the cavern were alive with the tiny wherries and avians. Siskin darted here and there among the crannies in the volcanic rock, looking for nests. The avians dive bombed him. After a flurry of activity, he realized he would not get their eggs today and returned to K’ndar’s shoulder.

“Siskin, why don’t you go hunting outside?” K’ndar said.

As if hearing him, four fire lizards flew in. He recognized Fafhrd, Headman Grafton’s bronze, and Francie’s trio. Siskin flew to them, then all five left.

I think I’ll join them Raventh said, Motanith is already out hunting and says the hunting is good.

What about the bronzes? Corvuth and Mondevuth?

They’re up north, at Benden.

It felt odd, knowing that Landing was now down to four dragons.

Good hunting!

“Now, then, if I remember correctly, that incubator should be in here,” Orlon said. He opened the door into the storeroom of the barn.

The barn was a vast cavern, the volcano having helpfully created coves inside, and what the original settlers had stored in them, K’ndar had no idea. Over the centuries, erosion had created thin gaps in the top, allowing sunshine in to illuminate most of the interior. After Landing had been re-inhabited, the staff had added rails of lightwood that delineated livestock pens. One of the largest had been turned into an office and storeroom, separated from the rest of cavern by a wall of volcanic rock.

K’ndar laughed. “It’s almost as if Mt. Garben had a blueprint for this barn,” he said. “Look, this opening is just a little higher and wider than a human.”

“Aye, it IS conveniently made, what? But just pure luck, K’ndar,” Orlon said. “Gas bubbles from the last lava flow created this entire cavern.” He opened the lightwood door and went through the entryway. A manylegs web plastered his face, the insect scuttling away. Swiping it from his face, he swore. “Blast, look at this! No one’s been in here to clean, not in a while,” he said, irritated.

“Who’s turn is it?”

Not mine, he thought, I’ve not been tasked to clean the barn in a long time. Not that I would have minded.

“Grafton could tell you, but I know it’s one of the kids’ tasking, and obviously, no one’s checked up on him. Or her. Either way, I’ll be sure to let Grafton know. Ah, there they are. See this big one, it was brought by the ancients and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Twenty five hundred years takes a lot out of electronic things. So it’s more a museum piece, but we made this smaller one like it, using solar power OR thermal heat. Let’s look at those eggs, they should fit in this smaller ‘un. It’s far more portable, and we can put it in my quarters. My wife won’t mind keeping an eye on the eggs,” Orlon said, hoping he wasn’t lying.

“Um, YOUR quarters? You want to take the eggs and hatch them out?”

Orlon grinned. “Yup, they’ll fit with room t’spare. As for my wife, well, maybe she won’t be too happy ’bout it, but she’s used to me bringing critters home to raise up. Stars, we did that with a girl, fostered her after her mum was killed in Threadfall. Didn’t have no kids of our own, you see. That girl, she’s now a topman on a three masted ship out of Half-Circle Sea Hold. She took to the sea like she’d been raised by dolphins. Dian, my wife, well, she’s a dab hand at animal healing and raising. Right now we have Lord T’balt’s dog, she’s about to whelp and he’s up at Benden at the moment.”

“But, um,”

“K’ndar, aren’t you on sabbatical? Do you intend to sit around watching these eggs instead of taking your time off?”

“Um,”

“Um isn’t an answer, lad. I don’t mind, really. In fact I’m interested in finding out just what’s in these eggs.”

“Well, that would be load off my shoulders, I agree, but I hate to impose on you. I have been second guessing myself at taking the eggs in the first place.”

“It’s no problem, K’ndar. ‘E’re, let’s load it on that small wagon. I won’t bother hooking up the pony, it’s small enough a load that I can just pull it meself. Once we finish at your quarters, I’ll pull it up to mine. You said someone told you it was a susi?”

“Yes, although I’ve never heard of it, and for that matter, never seen such a beast before, which is why I took two of her eggs.”

Susi. The pinging in his mind got louder.

______________________________________________________________

“Orlon, not again,” his wife said. “I DO have other things to do.”

“Shh. K’ndar’s right outside.”

“For Pern’s sakes, then, invite him in!”

K’ndar entered the mechanic’s quarters, abashed. A very pregnant dog greeted him, lashing his legs with her tail. He absently reached down to rub her ears. Behind Dian, a cat regarded him suspiciously.

“K’ndar, rider of brown Raventh, ma’am.”

“AND Staff biologist,” Orlon added.

“Dian, dragonrider K’ndar. Pleased to meet you. Orlon speaks highly of you,” the woman said, graciously extending her hand.

He shook it. It felt strong. This was a woman who’d worked with her hands for most of her life.

“Orlon’s helped me a lot, ma’am. He’s a genius with mechanical things.”

Orlon started the incubator. “Ah. Still works, of course! Shouldn’t take too long to reach temperature, I’m guessing it should be the same as for other saurians.”

“So, then let’s see these eggs I can see tucked into your shirt. They must be getting cool,” Dian said. “We mammals don’t have as high a body temperature as anything on Pern.”

He withdrew them from his shirt and handed them to her. She shut her eyes to keep them from distracting her hand’s examination.

“Still alive, whatever they are,” she said, opening her eyes. “They’re definitely saurian, although not fire lizard. The size would say steppe wherry, but wherrys aren’t saurians, and they’re not avian. What did you say the animal is?”

“I didn’t. I don’t really know. There was a man at my family cothold who said it’s a susi. I have some pictures of the mother on my datalink.”

“Susi. Susi,” Dian said, her gaze inward, “I’ve heard that word before.”

Orlon came over to take the eggs. “Me, too, I’m having one ding of a time pulling it out of me memory.” He sent a query into the vast archive in his mind.

“Do you have your datalink? Can I see the pictures?” Dian said. Her expression was one of intense focus.

“I do. It took me forever to learn to carry it everywhere I go, and there are times I’d like to just chuck it into the sea and be done with it,” K’ndar said, grateful at being relieved of his egg burden.

Orlon laughed. “Aye, I feel the same way about mine. Mine’ll be quiet all day, then because nothing seems to break down until after I’m in bed, and then everyone wants it fixed right now.”

“Look at this, Orlon. Look!” Dian exclaimed over the pictures.

“I’ve never seen such a beast,” he said. His memory search began to jump up and down, excited.

“It’s definitely a predator. If the eggs hatch, I’ll have to be sure they’re not near the chickens.”

How many predators on Pern were precocious, K’ndar wondered. Fire lizards could fly almost immediately after hatching, dragons took a little longer, but neither needed mothering.

But this susi wasn’t either, he thought, and I don’t have experience with anything else.

“This man who called it a susi, K’ndar. What do you know of him?”

“Um, I’d just met him that one time. His name was Cord, and he said he was a Wanderer. He had a crew at the cothold, digging a new well and erecting a wind turbine in barter for a team of oxen.”

“A Wanderer?”

“Yes, is that important?”

Orlon gave him a strange look.

“What do you think of Wanderers?”

“What? I beg your pardon?”

“Some folks don’t trust Wanderers. They say it’s because they really haven’t assimilated into regular Pern society.”

What an odd question, he thought. “I’ve never had any trouble with them, Orlon. I really don’t have an opinion, I don’t know why I would. They’re just people who, well, seem to be a bit reclusive, stand offish, I guess, but I don’t think it’s because they don’t like us. It’s just who they are. I guess they’re the original nomads.

The few I’ve met as a dragonrider, the few who’ve come to my cothold, were always reserved, but honest and hard working. Anytime they came to our cothold, one would do all the interacting, like Cord did, and the rest stay on the job. They wouldn’t even enter our caverns for meals.

Mum wanted them to eat with us, but they’d refuse, so she’d put out a big feed for them outside. That always bothered her, Mum says if they’re doing the work for the family, they need to be treated like family.

I can’t remember ever hearing of one being a thief or a raider. And, Orlon, there’s no one better with horses. In fact, one Wanderer took me aside at last year’s Ruatha Races and told me to bet on his filly, and I’ll be switched if I didn’t win a pot of money. They have a way with horses that puts horsemen like me and my family to shame. Why do you ask?

Orlon’s mental searcher happily delivered his request. I can’t remember all of the song other than the description of a susi, but I do remember the tune, he thought. He started to hum a tune.

“That’s the same tune I heard from Cord!” K’ndar gasped.

“It’s incredibly old, K’ndar. I’ve not heard it since I was a kid, but it’s still in my memory, just like so many other songs before we had paper and books. Wanderers have their own culture, their own Teaching Songs, like this one, in addition to those of Pern. Many of them, like the susi song, is thousands of years old. It was first created when we still lived on the steppe, before Thread killed us, before the Intervals, even.”

“Your people”? You’re a Wanderer?”

Orlon and Dian looked at each other, their eyes laughing.

“Well, maybe we can’t call ourselves that because obviously, we’re here, settled, and have, excuse me, ‘assimilated’. We don’t even have a horse. But aye, we’re Wanderers, too. We were both born in caravans,” Orlon said.

K’ndar was astonished. “But…”

Dian laughed. “I know. Wanderers choose to stay on the road. They don’t use electricity or running water. They don’t work at Landing. Wanderers refuse to be Searched, we don’t grow up to be scientists or seamen, we won’t ride a dragon. Wanderers roam the planet in caravans and horseback. But some clans, like mine, like Orlon’s, some of us have decided you Pern folk are alright.”

“And some of us like a hot shower after a long day’s work,” Orlon grinned.

Chap. 328 The Eggs

Chap. 328 1 The Eggs

Keep an eye out for the beast. I hope she returns.

She is watching from the steppe. She is crouching, I can just see her head above the grass. She blends in with the grass.

He took several pictures of the nest and the remains of the kills. Having learned to always carry sample bags, he also collected feces on the floor of the cave.

Then he paused, looking at the eggs. There were nine of them, larger than a fire lizard’s egg. Each one was about as large as his cupped hand. Should I take one? Two? I don’t want to take them all, should I even take any?

But how else will I learn what she is? Will they even hatch? What have I done?

When you entered the cave, she stood up and is lashing her tail. She is very angry.

He decided. He picked up two eggs. They were warm, and he could feel something under the soft, leathery shell. He tucked the two into his shirt, next to his belly, to keep them warm. If they were like typical saurian eggs, the shells would harden as the embryo developed, eventually turning brittle and easily broken.

From the entrance, he could see the animal, approaching slowly. He took several pictures of her, wondering if they’d be good enough to identify her.

She wasn’t afraid, that was clear.

She might attack me, he suddenly realized. Stuffing the camera into his backpack, he walked towards Raventh. When she saw him emerge from the cave, she picked up her pace. His heart kicked into high gear. She’s coming for me!

He wasted no time mounting Raventh. Siskin swirled over his head.

Launch, please?

Don’t let the eggs get pinched.

I won’t.

They were airborne. The beast came running back and stopped underneath them, looking up.

She is definitely intelligent, he thought. Feeling the warm lumps against his belly, he felt a surge of guilt. She can probably count, I’ve probably made an enemy of her. That’s not what I want. But I want to know what she is, and I don’t want to kill her to find out.

Raventh climbed high into the sky. He circled the kopje.

K’ndar hoped to see the beast return to the cave, but she sat and just stared at the circling dragon overhead.


Tell Siskin I’ll want him to come check on her to see if she’s returned to the eggs.

If she hasn’t?

He sighed. In for a berry, in for the pie, he thought.

I’ll come back and rescue the rest of the eggs. If she’s abandoned them because of my theft, I’ll be responsible.

And what will you do with the ones you took?

Yes. What shall I do. Will they survive between?

They’re saurian. Meaning, they need heat to continue to develop. I don’t want them to die.

Sandriss has hatching sands for his fire lizards. I hope he lets me leave them with him. If not, I’ll have to take them back to Landing.

Shall I fly there rather than go between? I’d like to, I need the work.

Yes, that’s a good idea.

___________________________________________________________

They were standing under the redtree in the center of his family cothold’s compound. His brother, Sandriss and his mother had greeted him. He saw Uncle Fland and a stranger walking towards them from a structure that was almost completed.

Sandriss coddled one of the leathery eggs, doubt suffusing his face.

“Um, I’m not really comfortable with putting these in my queen’s hatching sands,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be for long,” K’ndar countered, wondering if he sounded as if he were whining, “I don’t think they’re close to hatching.”

“But you don’t know what they ARE, K’ndar,” Sandriss said. He handed the egg back to K’ndar, who returned it to the spot next to his belly. He remembered the mother’s talons and her fangs, and felt trepidation. What if the things hatched next to his skin? Would he be eaten in mid flight?

Raventh laughed in his mind. I doubt it. They’re still soft. Once they harden, then they will hatch. It is this way with all of us.

She’s not a dragon.

But she is a ‘saurian’.

“You said the mother looks like a predator, right? This egg is twice the size that of a fire lizard. My queen hasn’t laid eggs yet, but I’d hate to have whatever beast is in these eggs hatch and eat her, or her eggs!”

Hearing him, Sandriss’s queen circled overhead, irking her irritation. Siskin had vanished when they landed, but re-appeared, rattling a battle cry as he swooped to interpose himself between the queen and K’ndar’s head. The bronze hissed and dove at him. For several seconds, the three fire lizards skirmished.

Sandriss whistled and his two fire lizards flew up into the redtree’s limbs.

“Siskin, to me!” K’ndar shouted to them. Siskin landed on his shoulder, his eyes orange.

“K’ndar, those beasts in the eggs, I don’t want them eating my chickens,” his mother warned.

“Mum,” he said, then gave up. Sandriss tried unsuccessfully to hide his reluctance. They were right.

“Okay. You’re right, I understand. I really do,” he said.

Fland and the stranger stopped.

“Understand what?”

Before Sandriss could say anything, K’ndar said, “I was out on the steppe. I’m on sabbatical, I thought I’d spend a few days in a cave I found when I was a kid. Remember when I’d take off to get away from Dad? I landed at the cave, but there was a beast living in it, one I’ve never seen before. She looked like a predator. She had this clutch of eggs. She wasn’t afraid of us, not even of Raventh. I took some pictures of her and then she fled, but only far enough to keep an eye on us. I took two of her eggs, thinking I’d hatch them out here, and see what they are.”

Siskin saw her return to her eggs Raventh said.

That was a relief, at least.

Fland nodded. “Why not take them to Landing? Don’t they have hatching sands there?”

“No, at least I don’t think so, but, it IS right atop a thermal vent, it’s how the water is heated, as well as the quarters. What I’m worried about is if they will survive the trip back to Landing if I go between.”

“As far as I know, only human embryos die in between. I’m not sure about livestock,” Fland said, “I don’t think anyone has ever transported a pregnant cow by dragon.” He grimaced.

It still hurts him, after spending most of his life without his dragon, K’ndar thought. I hope I never survive losing Raventh.

After an uncomfortable silence, Fland said, “Oh, sorry. K’ndar, this is Cord. Cord, this is my nephew, K’ndar. He’s a dragonrider as well as a staff member of Landing.”

K’ndar shook his hand.

The man smiled. “I believe I’ve seen you before, K’ndar. Weren’t you at the Ruatha races last Turn?”

It took a moment for K’ndar to realize the man was still using the archaic term for year. Most of Pernese had switched without problems. He must be a Wanderer, he thought. Or Holdless, but he doesn’t act like he’s Holdless. “I was, along with my little sister. I don’t remember meeting you.”

“You didn’t. I was handling our racers. We had several in the races. You met my uncle. He told you to bet on a filly named Sunrise in the 3 Kilometer. I hope you did?”

K’ndar grinned. “I did. I confess I had no idea what betting entailed, as I’ve never had much money, but-yes, I did take his advice and didn’t she come through!”

Cord smiled. “Thank you. He doesn’t often talk to you Pern folk, but you’d done one of my people a good turn, and as he probably said, we like to repay our debts. And I’ll admit to boasting, for she earned it-she was the best horse in that race!”

His family looked curiously at him. I’ll tell that story at a later date when I don’t have eggs in my belly, he thought. “It was my pleasure, Cord. He bought Lord Jaxom’s bay gelding? The one who threw the race?”

“He did. We swapped the filly who won the race for Lord Jaxom’s runner, who didn’t. He was a handful, wasn’t he! He’s a proper sod under saddle, but he’ll trot all day in harness. I’d say both parties were satisfied with the um, transaction.”

“How is it, uh..” In his limited experience with Wanderers, K’ndar hadn’t met one as open as Cord. Normally they kept their interactions with the rest of non wanderers to a minimum.

“Why am I, a Wanderer, here?” Cord laughed. “A trader, Fire Lizard Man, told us you had a team of oxen for sale or barter.”

“Lizard! Is there anything or anybody he doesn’t know?” K’ndar said.

Sandriss laughed. “I don’t think so.

K’ndar remembered the team of oxen that had been left to his brother by a couple of wannabe settlers.

“If they’re the ones I’m thinking of,” he started, “You’ll be getting as good a team as any my family have bred, and we breed the best.”

Fland interrupted. “They are. The very same. We’ve put weight back on them, their feet are healed up, and Cord, here, and his crew are erecting the windmill as barter.”

“Oh! I though D’mitran was going to come out and build it?”

Sandriss shook his head. “He’s been busier than a one legged man in an arse kicking contest. Begging your pardon, Fland.”

The older man looked rueful, but softened it with a chuckle. “I didn’t lose it, Sand. Just buggered it up in the fall.”

Cord looked at them, wondering. This is family, he thought, and like us, they keep these things to themselves. There are two dragonriders here, this K’ndar, and Fland, who carries himself as if he were a dragonrider, but no dragon? But I won’t ask.

“You said something about a strange beast? You have eggs?”

K’ndar nodded. “I’ve never seen the beast in my life, and I grew up here, Cord.”

“Where did you see it?”

“On the steppe, about forty klicks from here. I got some pictures of her.”

“Pictures? You drew her?”

“No, I photo-ed her with a camera. I’ll show you.”

He shrugged Siskin off his shoulder. The blue fire lizard flew up into the branches of the tree, the spat with Sandriss’s pair forgotten.

Feeling a bit of a showoff, he withdrew both camera and datalink from his backpack and put the two back to back.

beedleeep! the datalink said.

Cord backed up, surprised.

“That’s a?”

“This is the camera, and this is a datalink. It talks to the starship,” he said, trying to cut a lengthy explanation to a short sentence.

“Ah. Yes, I have heard of datalink. But I’ve never seen one, or a camera.”

It was odd, he thought, that I’m so used to it, now, that there’s still a huge part of Pern that has never seen a datalink and probably never will. And they still get on just fine.

He thumbed the datalink awake.

Data acquired. Display subject? it said.

He touched ‘yes’.

“It…talks?” Cord said, amazed.

“Well, yes. Not only can I talk to people with datalinks, like you and I talking here, but in this case, the datalink asked me if I want it to show the pictures I took with the camera.”

“Oh,” Cord mumbled, trying to look less than clueless.

The pictures of the nest and the cave appeared. He forwarded it to what he hoped was a decent picture of the beast.

Everyone crowded around, til he raised it up and showed it.

“Oh,” Daryat said, “It’s big, big as a dog. Look at those stripes! It’s beautiful!”

“Aye. I’m surprised I got as good a picture as this, I was in a hurry. See, here, she’s coming at me. Oh, good, I got a good shot of her sideways, see those talons? When she leaped at Siskin, she reached for him, those claws are like scythes! You can’t see her tail too well, but it’s long, like a cheetah’s. And she ran almost as fast as one! When she came back, she stopped right underneath Raventh as we circled. You could see her thinking.”

“What is it?” Sandriss asked.

“I have no idea, which is why I took the eggs. If I can hatch them out, we can figure that out.”

Cord hid his astonishment at seeing a photo for the first time in his life.

Then something deep, deep in his mind tingled. He invited it in. A song. A song from his great greats? Oh.

“I think I know what it might be,” he said. The others looked at him, surprised.

“My people,” he started, “When we first landed here, when we finally were given our horses, our cattle, my people scattered. We were afraid your people would make us move again. So some of us moved onto the steppe. None of your people wanted it, and we liked it. We had our caravans and our beasts. They grew fat on the grass. Then Thread came. It didn’t hurt the steppe, but it killed us. We learned too late that only stone over our heads would save us. So those of us who survived, left the steppe, forever. Once again, we had been forced to move, but this time, not by people.

But before we were forced off the steppe, we were out there long enough to learn that there were beasts that no one had ever seen before. Every once in a while, beasts would come silently in the night and take our calves, our foals, even our dogs.”

He stopped and began to hum, very softly.

K’ndar and his family watched as Cord’s eyes closed. His lips began to move, whispering words in rhythm. He began to nod as his memory dug up a tune so ancient it no longer had a name.

He opened his eyes and looked at the picture again. “Yes. Yes. I think I know what she is, we had a song, so old, so very old, from the First Days. I don’t even know why I know the song, we don’t sing it any longer.”

“Let’s hear it, ” Daryat encouraged.

“Um, I don’t sing so well,” he said, “and I only remember a part of it.”

“Ha! You’ve never heard me sing, and you won’t ever. I have hoppers come to mate when I sing,” K’ndar laughed.

Cord began to sing, softly, “…razor clawed and rudder tailed, striped one hunts the lame and frail. Pen the oxen at falling light, Susi runs in packs at night.”

He turned to them as if seeing them for the first time.

“That’s a teaching song, I heard it once or twice as a kid, from a great great GREAT grandmum. And she said, we don’t have to sing this anymore, and I didn’t understand why.

This beast, K’ndar? I have never seen one, but I think it’s a susi. I bet on it. Out on the steppe, no one thought there was a danger. There were only a few wherries, then. At night, we would lose one beast, two. We began to put up a night watch, and one night, someone killed this beast, and said his people on Earth called it a susi. We believed they were the killers. So we killed the killers. We trained our dogs to search out their dens, and we would crush their eggs. Only after they were all gone did we realize we’d made a big mistake. By killing them off, we allowed other beasts, especially the wherries, to gain in numbers. They ate off their normal prey and learned that calves and foals are easy. Now we don’t dare leave our beasts out at night because the wherries have learned cattle, especially, are easy prey. We thought we’d completely killed off the susi. I don’t think we’ve seen one in over two thousand years.”

He nodded at the picture.

“What we did was wrong. I am glad that we didn’t kill them all.”