Chap. 253 The Night Raider

Chap. 253 The Night Raider

K’ndar stood up and stretched. He wasn’t used to sitting for so long. There were parts of his job that entailed piloting a desk…and he wasn’t so sure he liked it.

The last few weeks had been unexceptional, almost boringly quiet. I’ve actually been able to get a lot of things done, he thought. Somehow that wasn’t comforting.

No flitting here and there across the continent like a flutter! he thought. No matter, it’s dragon maintenance time! The rest of the day, devoted to Raventh and Siskin!

He’d just finished putting away his work when his datalink spoke up. “K’ndar of Landing. K’ndar of Landing.”

Hmmph. Maybe I thought too soon?

“K’ndar here.”

“Leana here, K’ndar. If you have a moment, would you please come up to Admin, to Acquisition? I’ve a strange beast I’d like you to identify, please,” Leana, a green rider who had been made Chief Acquisition officer, said.

Grateful for the opportunity to stretch his legs, he said, “On my way!”

On the way out, he scanned his meager bookshelf, the one he was gradually filling. “The Natural History of Pern” was there, already well thumbed and bookmarked. He tucked it under his arm and headed for Admin.

It was of no use.

A grizzled man stood before Leana’s reception table. K’ndar felt just the slightest bit of pride when he entered through the main door to join Leana across from the man. I’m staff, now, he thought.

Then he saw the animal on the table. It was very obviously dead…and equally obviously something completely unknown.

He stared, jaw dropping.

” ‘Ello, and you might be?” the man said.

“Oh, I beg your pardon, sir, I’m K’ndar, rider of brown Raventh and Staff Biologist. I didn’t mean to be rude, but what in the world is this?”

The man laughed. ” “Ere and I thought you’d be telling me, sir. Me name’s Rand. I’m from Southern Hold. Well, mebbe not the Hold, you know. I’m a cotholder o’ Toric’s, but truth be known, sir and madam, I’m happiest not ever seein’ Lord Toric. He can be…difficult.”

K’ndar laughed, liking the man immediately. He kept his opinions to himself about Toric, though.

Leana said, “K’ndar, Rand just brought me this animal.”

K’ndar reached out and touched it. What in the world was it? Plank’s “Natural History” would be useless. He’d been through it so many times he knew this animal wasn’t in the book. Nor was it a mammal, so “Walker’s Mammals of the Galaxy” would be just as useless.

“Leana, ma’am, do you have a measuring tape?”

“Of course, K’ndar, right here,” she said. She opened a drawer and pulled it out. “If you dictate, I’ll copy,” she said.

“Thank you. I hope there’s a scale in there, as well?”

“Aye, but this animal is probably too big for it, we’ll have to measure it in the lab. Why don’t we wait to examine it after Rand tells us how it is he’s brought it to us,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am. Rand, tell us what you know about this animal. How did you get it? Do you have a name for it?”

Rand laughed. “Aye, but they’s not polite ‘uns. This is the beast that’s been killing me small animals. Roasting piglets, mostly, but I’ve been raising chickens, too, mostly for the eggs, you know? ‘Bout two months ago,I started losing them. Middle of the night, something’d get into me pens. I lives in the jungle, K’ndar, so I’ve built a boma almost two meters high, from the bigthorn. That plant, it’s like needle thorn but don’t shoot its thorns, them thorns’re long as your fingers and SHARP. You have to wear wherhide gloves to even handle it and don’t let it get near your eyes! It keeps the jungle wherries out, even though they’s smart, they don’t try to get past them thorns.

But I weren’t smart enough to put bars over the top. Pigs nor chickens don’t fly, at least not very well. I’ve been raising them a couple turns now, ever since I got me cothold approved by Toric. Long as I don’t let them pigs roam, he don’t mind, an’ tithing a few of ’em keeps him off my neck. Pigs’ll do an awful thing to the ‘vironment if they’s allowed to run free, but the jungle wherries are death on pigs. It’s no surprise they’ve never gone wild, not like herdbeasts.

Anyway, I started seeing fewer chickens. Then the piglets started turning up missing until all I have left is the sow. Them chickens, they’re not too smart, but the sow, she tells me something dangerous is after ’em. She was losing weight from fretting.

So I put me dog in the pen, thinking, oh, it’s a big snake. We get some big ‘uns in the jungle, we do, they’s quiet. I put up a lot of fencing at the bottom, them snakes, they’s too big to climb. It were a dirty trick on the dog, he weren’t too happy being in with the pig, but he’s a good dog and murder on snakes.

So a few nights ago, I hear a ruckus, the dog, he’s carrying on. Then he stops barking and starts yelling for help. Then he shut up. By the time I get out there, mind you, it’s blacker’n the inside of a cow, all I gots is a glow to see by, but I seen this beast with me last pig, me sow, in its jaws. And the dog all clawed up, he tried his best, he did, went for that beast. Poor lad…”

The man stopped, obviously stricken.

“The dog…didn’t make it?” Leana said, grimacing.

“Nay, ma’am, he were too cut up. Torn to ribbons, poor lad. He were a good dog.”

Rand paused, and heaved a sigh.

“So now this beast, he’s killed all me pigs and me dog. I knows he’s going to be back. I never seen this beast in the daylight, mind you. Just this ‘thing’ in the dark, carrying a 30 kilo full grown sow in his jaws like it were nothin’, going straight up like a dragon. Hit the tree trunk and run up it like he were a quorl and was gone.”

K’ndar shook his head. He looked at the animal on the table. It was lithe, and muscled. Even in death, it seemed to made of steel. The hide was a deep, dark green, speckled all over with pale yellow spots. Camouflage, he thought.

Rand continued. “So last night, I set him a trap. I put my last few chickens in a tiny cage, no openings so that he can’t get them, and put up a snare. The beast jumps down from the overhanging branches, gets hung up in the snare, and it’s screeching, fighting, bending double while upside down! but the snare’s got him, sure as sunrise.

I go out there, set the fire to goin’ so I can sees what I’ve caught. It’s spinning on the end of the snare line. It’s spitting and hissing, and I’m telling you, sir, I’ve been through some tough fights, I’ve hunted wherries with just a dagger and a spear, gone through the jungle after dark, but this things’ got me scared spitless. I suddenly realizes, there’s no way I’m going to be able to release this thing without being killed by it. But he’s crossed the line, pushed me over t’edge. He’s killed me livelihood, how I’m going to tithe Toric? And that makes me mad.

So I get my spear, and goes to stab him. This beast, he’s grabbing at the spear with his front feet, and trying to get loose with the middle pair, and hung up by his back un’s. That tail, it’s lashing, and this things’ screeching to part your hair from the inside. I’m stabbing but not getting nowhere, just pissing him off and setting him to spinning faster. Suddenly, I hit the snare by mistake and cut it, and the beast falls onto the ground, and then I’m so scared, I’m stabbing like a madman, knowing he’s coming for me. And he did, even with his hind legs all tangled up in the line, he come at me, scrabbling like, them front feet with claws like scythes. I were lucky, sir, I got him right behind t’head, just about cut his spinal cord, and that put him out o’ action,” Rand said. “Even then, he kept hissing for a while, can’t move, his eyes just a burnin’-but it were with terror, now. I felt bad, isn’t that crazy? Even all he’d done to me? Then he was dead. I was shaking afterwards, I’m not afraid to admit.”

Leana and K’ndar both gulped.

“Whew,” Leana said, “And so you brought him to us?”

“Yes’m. I’m thinking, I’ve never seen this beast in my life and I’ve spent most of it in this jungle. This beast needs to go to Landing, they’ll want to see it.”

He sighed.

“I have a horse, but she took one whiff of this beast and said No SIR I’m not letting you pack that thing on me!! And I realize, it’d be a week? afore I can get it to you by horseback. So’s I bundle this thing up in a bag, and run up a sweep signal for the next dragon what comes by. I wanted to get it to you quicklike, afore it goes off. It’s already starting to stink! I was lucky, ma’am, not a couple hours later, here comes a big dragon, he sees me signal and lands in the spot I’ve cut for wagons and dragons.

Dragonman hops off, says, what’s your problem and I says, I need to take this bundle to Landing, and he says, right, mate, that’s three marks.”

“THREE marks! That’s outrageous!” K’ndar almost shouted in fury. Then, “Sorry! Please continue.”

“Aye, sir, it surprised me, too. I’ve not needed transport before but I had no idee it cost money!

I says, I’m sorry, I don’t have but one and a half. The dragonrider says, “done, you can owe me, I’ll be by to collect it later.” So I pays him, he puts me aboard his dragon and just like that, we’re here. Now I know what ‘between’ means, it didn’t take but a few breaths but it were COLD. He dropped me off ’bout a kilometer south of here, I don’t know why, as I see you’ve got a dragon meadow and even some dragons in it. Then he’s off without a word, and I carried this beast up here, he’s heavier than he looks. Someone stops me and asks me what would I like to do, and I told her and she led me here. And that’s my story,” Rand said. He looked at them with a combination of embarrassment and hope. Leana could feel his reluctance to ask for remuneration.

“Three marks? Three? That’s robbery,” K’ndar said. “The going rate for unscheduled transport is two, all the weyrs agreed to it.”

Leana touched his arm, her unspoken reassurance to K’ndar. “You’re correct, Rand, we will be more than happy to take this specimen. Thank you for thinking of us! You’ve lost a lot, and I’d like to make you whole. If you would excuse me, I’ve got to get some money,” Leana said, and left the intake office.

Rand’s face lit up in relief.

K’ndar reached out to touch the animal. It had been dead long enough for rigor mortis to set in. It was starting to smell, but it was more than just the smell of deterioration. I’ll have to put it somewhere cool, so it doesn’t get any worse.

“Sir, this all happened this morning?”

“Before dawn, yes sir,” Rand said.

“And you said you live in the jungle? Toric’s Holdlands?”

“Aye, I do, dragonrider,” Rand said, “lived in it most of my life, but only recently got the money for a cothold of me own. That mark and a half was all I had.”

K’ndar felt excitement growing in him. I’ve wanted to do some exploring in the jungle for a long time. Imagine finding more of these creatures! Imagine being the first one to describe it!

“And you’ve never seen this beast before?”

“No, sir. Not once. Never even heard talk of it, but, dragonrider, more and more people be coming to Southern Hold. Most of ’em from North and they don’t know diddly about living in the jungle, or how to make a living from it. Me parents were woodsmen from Northern, and I were just barely 9 when we moved here to Southern. I turned into a jungle beast myself, spent all day in it when I weren’t doing my chores. The jungle taught me what’s safe to eat, how to navigate. Sir, there’s places in the jungle where you can’t stretch your arm out without it being tangled up, tripping you up with vines that grab you and hold on, and big trees everwhere. And snakes, thick as your leg. I’ve gone through a lot of machetes, carving my place out of the jungle, but I’m respectful of her, and she takes care of me. She feeds me, she feeds me livestock, and I respect her. I don’t take more than I need, and I try to keep me cothold small. Truth be told, sir, I don’t like seeing all them folks coming here. They don’t respect the jungle, they treat it like it’s something to kill, something to fight. They don’t seem to know you can’t fight her. They’re pushing further into the jungle, ‘n I don’t think the jungle likes it. I think this beast is her way of saying, stay out, this is my home.”

“I know the feeling. I feel the same way about my steppe,” K’ndar said.

Leana emerged, with a small pouch in her hand. She looked troubled, though.

“Rand, I’m prepared to pay you for this beast, but before I do, tell me again…the dragon rider CHARGED you? While on a sweep?”

“Aye, ma’am, wanted three marks up front. No discussion, not even a chance to barter. Like it were a contract,” he said.

“Did he tell you who he was?”

“No, ma’am. Not a word. Not polite, at all.”

“And he was from Southern Weyr? Because they usually provide transport for no fee if they’re sweeping,” she said. K’ndar could tell she was upset at the anonymous dragonrider’s usury.

“I don’t think he were from Southern Weyr, ma’am. I’ve talked with Southern Weyr’s dragonriders on occasions, they stop sometimes. They’re always civil, always polite. Not like this yob. He had the look of a brigand, like he was a raider, but I’ve never heard of a dragonrider turning rogue. I want to think he were Toric’s man. Same attitude. I see that a lot with Toric’s men. Lord Toric, he seems to attract the low lifes. You’d think at his age, he’d have changed? But I shouldn’t be saying things about him, he IS my Holder. So this is between us, please? I keep my nose outa Toric’s business. He’s not a man to cross, not when you’re like me, a nobody. With Toric, the wise man keeps his mouth shut and his eyes elsewhere.”

Toric has his own dragonriders? Or was this dragonrider a true nomad, a free lancer? If so, he’s giving the rest of us a bad name. Three marks is much too much, K’ndar thought.

Leana sighed. This was something that would have to be discussed with higher ups, she thought. Weyrs and Holders were autonomous and for the most part, kept out of each other’s business…but this was different.

“Rand, I’m prepared to pay you for this beast, as well as cover your transportation both here and back to your cothold. In addition, can you tell me how many animals you lost?”

The man raised his eyes to the ceiling. K’ndar watched as he clenched his fists then raised eight fingers, one after another.

He met Leana’s eyes. “Six pigs, including the sow, two chickens. One I don’t know if it got et by a snake or what, it were the first one to go missing.”

“So, nine in all?”

“Eight I’m sure of, ma’am.”

“Let’s call it nine. I would like to reimburse you for your nine animals lost. AND your dog.”

Rand looked surprised-and grateful.

“That would be wonderful ma’am but it t’aint necessary,” he said.

“I insist. Will fifteen marks be enough?”

Rand’s eyes flew open in amazed appreciation.

“That would be more than fair,” he sputtered.

She counted out fifteen one mark coins. She and K’ndar both appreciated that he didn’t snatch them up, but picked them up with dignity.

“Thank you, ma’am, thank you,” Rand said.

“Rand, would you be willing to show me where it lives?” K’ndar asked.

“You mean, back at my cothold?” Rain asked.

“Yes, sir. Once I know where it lives, I’ll be coming back later on, to see what I can learn about it. For now, I’d be happy to take you back to your cothold on my dragon-at no charge, of course,” K’ndar said, his mind still whirling with the implications.

“I’d be glad to take you into the jungle, I’ll even put you up, if that’s your wish. I was wondering how I was going to get back home. It’d be a long, long walk,” Rand said.

“If you’ll give me about half an hour to harness my dragon and get my gear ready, I’ll take you home. I’ll have to go to Southern Weyr to get the coordinates for your cothold but that shouldn’t be too difficult.” He was already visualizing Southern Weyr’s dragonstones.

Leana said, “By the way, sir? Don’t let on how much money we paid you for the beast. I don’t want people going out and killing them for what they would consider a bounty.”

The man put the coins in a pouch tied to his side.

“Yes,’m. I wouldn’t have said a word, anyway, it don’t pay to let on that one has money,” he said.

He paused, then reached out to the animal on the table. He ran his hand over its side.

“I don’t blame this beast. He were just trying to make a living, just like me.”

Chap. 252 Pacing the Thought Out

Chap. 252 Pacing the Thought Out

Jansen turned the corner on her lunch time walk to see K’ndar pacing back and forth in front of his work building.

She watched for several moments. It was obvious he had something on his mind.

Do I interrupt him? she wondered. He didn’t seem unhappy, just…oh, shards, Jansen, just go ask him.

He was really deep in thought, she thought, as she approached.


Siskin had left his usual perch on K’ndar’s shoulders to perch atop the building.

She stopped at the corner of his building and cleared her throat.

“Oh!” K’ndar said, stopping. “I’m sorry, I’m thinking, I didn’t mean to ignore you.”

“You didn’t. I just got here, I see you walking kilometers in a few meters. Are you okay?”

He stopped.

“I’m okay. I’ve got this thought stuck far back in my mind that just refuses to come out, and it’s driving me crazy,” he said. He realized he had been pacing for a fairly long time.

“And walking back and forth helps?”

“Sometimes I make it come out by doing this. Pacing. What’s even odder is, you know how sometimes you enter a room or a weyr and forget why you did so?”

“Arrgh, yes, I do that all the time!”

“I seem to be doing it more often as I get older. I figured out how tomake myself remember the thought. I walk backwards through the doorway or portal.”

“Backwards,” Jansen said, muffling a laugh.

“Aye, backwards. It’s odd, but it usually works. But this? I’ve got this thing twitching in the back of my mind, it’s demanding I think of it but it Won’t Come Out.”

Jansen nodded, grimacing. “I know the feeling. What I do is try to figure out the pathway to the thought. Or I’ll get into the shower! The water pounding on my head? It’s where I do my best thinking, and I don’t know why.”

“It’s too early for my shower, but I’ll try that. Are you busy? How do you like your new office?”

“I have to walk at lunch time. I sit too much, I’m getting fat! It’s nice to get outside at least once in a day’s work. I like the new office, it’s not as cozy as the old one, but I have a lot more room for all my stuff. I’ve been working on getting the museum going, I think you know? And there’s stuff EVERYWHERE. I just hope I get it all properly labeled. THEN I have to find room for it. At least I didn’t have to find room for the deep diver, that is being assembled in front. It was just too big.”

Siskin, seeing his mount had stopped pacing, dropped from his perch to land on K’ndar’s shoulder. He absent-mindedly reached up to give the fire lizard a head scritch.

“He’s so pretty, K’ndar,” she said. She idly contemplated the idea of getting a fire lizard, and then returned to her same argument..no time. But she had time for a cat, why not a fire lizard?

“How do you like your new quarters?” she asked, to distract herself.

“They’re nice,” he said, ”but sometimes I miss living high in the air, with the ocean as my front ledge. And Raventh liked being able to just drop into the air from it rather than having to launch. But I will admit, I like the toilet, and the little kitchen. I sometimes feel guilty, knowing people like my family are still using a pit latrine, a well, and cooking over a hot fire.”

She nodded. “It didn’t take me long to get used to these amenities.I’d have made a pitifully sad colonist,” she said.

He laughed. “They did have to start from scratch, eh? I can’t imagine what a shock it must have been, to leave Earth with what had to have been the best technology, sleep for years aboard the starships, then come here..to nothing but wilderness? You’re right, I wouldn’t have managed, either.”

“I read a book from thousands of years ago. I didn’t understand most of it, but it was called “Giants in the Earth”. It was about colonists on Earth. These people left their home hold and moved out to the steppe. They had a wagon pulled by an ox, and the husband had a horse. All of their belongings were on the wagon. They walked beside it, there was no room for them to ride. Except for a baby, I think the baby got to ride in the wagon. They went a long ways out onto the steppe, it was called ‘prairie’ and then the husband said, stop, we’re here. And there was NOTHING but grassland. Nothing, not a soul, not a tree, not even water.”

“Why did they leave their hold? What was the giant? A giant what?”

“I don’t know. There was nothing about giants. I’m not even sure what the author meant by ‘giant’. They left their hold, I think, because they wanted to start their own hold. Like Wanderers, they didn’t get along with others, there were too many people where they lived.”

“And they just stopped? They went out a hundred kilometers onto the steppe and then decided this is where they were going to live?”

“Yes.”

“They lived in the wagon? But you said they had no room in the wagon?”

“They slept underneath it. Then they dug up pieces of the prairie, they called it ‘sod’ and piled it up into a little hut, I guess, and lived in that.”

K’ndar shook his head. “That’s primitive! Even the Wanderers have nice little caravans to live in. What did they eat? Was the wagon big enough for a year’s supply of preserved food? Unless they had a giant ox to pull a big wagon? Maybe that was the giant?”

“I don’t know, K’ndar!! I said a lot of it didn’t make sense to me. It was a very sad book, a sad story,” she said. “It was like the prairie was their enemy, they had to fight it, rather than live with it. There were people who lived on the steppe, already, they were um, called indians, they rode horses and hunted, and did very well on the prairie. Why these people didn’t talk to the indians, or live with them until they learned how to go it alone, I don’t know. They would have been better off, I think.”

“If it was like our steppe, there was no firewood?”

She thought for several seconds. “No, no firewood, no trees. There were wild cattle out on the prairie called buffalo. I looked them up, they look nothing like our cows. They probably killed them to eat and picked up the dung and burned that. I think.”

K’ndar nodded. “I can say that that works. When I’d go out wandering on the steppe, I’d use cattle dung for fire, but it’s smoky and everything you cook over it smells like…well, like cattle dung.”

Jansen laughed. “If it had been me, I’d have given it a go, but I’d have said to my husband, I’m done, I’m going back home. But he wouldn’t have gone in the first place.”

“What else did it say?”

“When I read it, I remembered your report on your steppe survey. Remember, you discovered the locusts?”

K’ndar nodded, remembering that day. The locusts had suddenly appeared in a roiling, malevolent cloud, and had landed near the survey team. Within seconds, they’d eaten up all the grass, even B’rost’s boots, as he’d been slower than the rest to jump aboard his dragon and escape into the sky.

“I sure do. There were millions of them, millions. They ate everything. They were like a carpet, they came at us and I’m sure they would have eaten US if we’d stood still long enough.”

“I remember reading your report. These people on the prairie, they had locusts, too. Only they didn’t call them locusts, they had no idea what they were. The author didn’t either, I think, the writer didn’t say that word. Just described it as a metallic, hissing thing, a million creatures that ate all the crops. They almost starved.”

“Huh. Why do people DO that? Intentionally subject themselves to such privations?”

Jansen shrugged.

“Why did the Ancients come here? To escape a dying earth. They were tired of fighting the Nathi, tired of a poisoned planet, they wanted a clean place to live and raise families. They were lucky, they didn’t come with just a wagon. The starships provided an awful lot of equipment, they made these buildings! They built all these very nice homes, and then Mt. Garben decided to make one last eruption before it died for good. They left here and moved to Northern. The eruption was all ash, pretty much, hardly a bit of lava. Now we’re removing the last of the ash and finding wonderful buildings to live in. AIVAS helped, so much. I’d never have read the book if it hadn’t been in the database’s library.”

“AIVAS definitely changed the course of our lives. I’m glad I’m alive today, being the last generation of dragonriders to fight thread. The kids coming up now in Weyrlingschool will never know what it was like. And even then, I didn’t have too many Falls. Not like some of our older dragonriders. D’nis grew up fighting it from the age of 16.”

He regarded the tree line. Landing was so much different than his natal cothold on the steppe. He loved the steppe. It had never been an enemy, just a large thing to learn to live with. Prairie. It was Earth’s steppe? Nice word, prairie. Maybe the prairie was the giant. Ours is certainly big.

“Did they ever go back?”

“To their original holds? No, others joined them, from their own people. They all spoke a different language then the rest of the world,” she said.

“That’s one thing I find confusing. So many languages on Earth! I’m so glad we have only Pernese. I can’t imagine what it would be like to meet someone who didn’t speak Pernese.”

“I think Pernese is a collection of all the languages. The Ancients came from all over Earth. I guess they all spoke the same language on the ships? I don’t know, K’ndar.”

He looked at the sky over his head. There were many things he didn’t know about the Ancients. So much had been lost or forgotten, and only now, in the last fifty years, had the database become available for all sorts of research. What was sad was how Pern’s history stopped being recorded ten or fifteen years after Landing. Why did they stop? Thread? The database had more information about Earth, about Vulcan, even, than it had for Pern. How did Thread affect that? It had killed half the population, he remembered reading. Someone had even tried to send a call for help back to earth.

The sneaky thought in his mind went ‘ping’. He mentally grabbed at it, but it slipped away again.

“SHARDS!”, he shouted.

Jansen startled, the said, “Almost had it?”

“Yes,” he said, “something about research, something about sending a message.”

“To Earth?”

Frustrated, he pulled at his hair. “Arrgh,it’s driving me nuts! Not to earth, something..something to do with Greta. I told you about finding Greta’s remains at the base of the Western Straits cliff side?”

“I heard a little about it,” Jansen said. “Such a nice girl, but so odd. Very wild, in a way. Feral.”

“Yes. I don’t know for certain how she died. I can’t figure out why she was there in the Strait. She KNEW how strong the winds are. They’re ferocious,” he said.

“Was she looking for something?”

The thought emerged. He allowed it come out.

His eyes suddenly wild, he said, “Yesssssss! Rahman told me the dolphins report there’s something at the bottom of the strait. An artifact, a big one. And I found a bulwark, a bulwark on the very edge of the cliff, and no obvious reason for it. I don’t know if it’s rock or that substance the ancients created. It’s big, big enough for a couple bronzes to land on..oh, and I remember the pictures at Honshu Weyr of the vessels they used to transfer things down here from the starships! That bulwark! It was made for a shuttle! It was MADE FOR A SHUTTLE TO LAND ON!” he shouted.

Jansen covered her ears, protesting, “Too loud, mate!”

“Sorry,” he said.

“Why so far out, on Western? Didn’t you say there’s nothing out there?

“Yes, yes.” he deflated, realizing that he was probably wrong. There was nothing out there but the bulwark amidst vegetation. No sign of transport.

“No, it probably wasn’t. You’re right. There’s absolutely no sign of how it got there, how it was made, or even why it would be right THERE. There’s nothing on the other side, D’mitran thought it might have been for a bridge. But the winds are terrifying, I can’t believe even the Ancients could make a bridge that could withstand those winds. Even if they did, a bridge to nowhere? The southern island is exactly the same-armored willows, rocks and sand,” he said. “You can’t farm or raise livestock on Western, it’s just too extreme.”

The thought was clarifying, though.

“Did Greta..” she asked.

“Shh, please?” he held his hand up to Jansen. He relaxed his mind.

The picture came to him.

Greta, swooping through the strait, trying to find the ‘thing’ at the bottom, the thing the dolphins said was man made. He’d tried it, on Raventh, when the winds were gentle and manageable. But the waters were too deep, too dark, too violent, keeping the artifact secret from a dragon’s height. How in the world did Greta’s dragon manage? For he was certain the winds had been howling. Even as good a flier as any green was, they couldn’t have been successful in hovering.

He remembered seeing Greta running transects and establishing baselines. Her dragon flying straight and true, Greta would lean over the green’s shoulder, holding her lidar. She’d done it every day in the field.

“The LIDAR!! She was using the lidar to see what was on the bottom!”

“Greta?”

“Yes. YES!’ he shouted, the realization unfolding like a relaxing origami.


“That’s what happened. Rahman told her what the dolphins had seen. She’d been with us when we examined the bulwark. I thought the bulwark was made for a shuttle, but no. It was involved in someway with the thing on the bottom of the seaway!! By the egg, she must have got readings and then..oh, poor Greta, got killed by the winds. Blew her and her dragon right into the rocks. Oh, poor Greta.”

“She’d have taken that risk?”

He looked at Jansen.

“Not a doubt in my mind, Jansen. She was afraid of nothing. She could fly like nobody’s business.”

“But she was killed. The lidar is useless, I think they’ve just about given up getting anything out of it. Any data is lost.”

Jansen shook her head, then she brightened.

“Didn’t you upload data every night?”

“I didn’t, I didn’t have anything electronic, just my mind and my nocs,” he said.”I wrote up my notes and data in notebooks. Then when we’d get back home, I’d re-write them neatly, make all the sketches readable, and turn the neat ones in. So I have all my data in my messy notes. But D’mitran and Greta did, they’d upload every evening. It was part of our routine.”

“If she uploaded it, it is probably somewhere in the database,” Jansen said. “I know the rest of your survey’s data has been digitized, even your drawings. I didn’t do the digitizing, one of the people in Imaging did. So if she did upload, it’s there.”

“Maybe,” he said. “How would you know? She probably didn’t take the time to upload. She died trying to find the thing. I wouldn’t dream of trying that strait with those winds. I was lucky to have the hour or so of light winds when I had them.”

He sighed. So that’s what she did. Greta! What a lion in courage, what a fool in common sense.

“And here we all thought she’d tried to go to the starship,” he said, shaking his head.

“What?” Jansen gasped.

“B’rost. He said she’d mentioned she wanted to go to the starship. And Rahman said she’d studied the Yokohama through the old scope.”

“That’s crazy! And forbidden!”

“I know. You know, she knew. But she would have tried, but why?”

“To use the starship’s lidar?”

The epiphany was like a thunderclap.

What did you say?”

“I said, to use the starship’s lidar.”

“It has a lidar?”

“Of course. It has everything we have down here, only ours is miniature. Of course the Yokohama has a lidar.”

“By the egg, Jansen, that’s it!! Even Rahman didn’t think of it! If we can access the Yokohama‘s lidar, we can SEE what’s on the seaway floor!”

Chap. 251 The Daylight Star

Chap. 251 Daylight Star

They had mounted their dragons when a tumult arose. Ista Weyr’s residents who were outside began to point skyward and shout in fear.

“Look! Look up! There’s a star!”

“In the daylight! It’s a star in the daytime!”

“It’s so bright, it must be coming right at us!!”

“Nooo, not another fireball!!”

K’ndar and B’rant both looked up. Despite the bright sunshine, a brilliant star had suddenly appeared in the blue skies over the Northern island.

Several people began to run, but from atop the ridge, a young woman called out, “Don’t worry! It’s not a fireball! It’s okay, don’t panic! Don’t be afraid, it’s harmless!”

B’rant frowned. “Let’s go up there, I think there’s room for our dragons,” he said.

They launched and flew up to the peak of Ista Weyr’s volcanic rim. The watch dragon, a green, warbled a greeting to Banarth, B’rant’s bronze.

I greeted her and she ignored me. It’s as if I don’t exist Raventh said, sadly.

Females are like that, sometimes

But I am handsome, and Banarth is old.

It’s okay. You ARE handsome, it’s just, he’s a bronze

He says he’s not old.

Never mind. Can you land here?

If this big brute of a bronze moves, yes.

Banarth folded his wings and shuffled closer to the green. Raventh, miffed, stayed on the far side of the bronze.

“Good on you for trying to calm everyone. What IS that, do you know?” B’rant asked the girl aboard the green.

“Yes, sir, it’s the black hole. Our star smith told me the black hole at the center of our galaxy is feeding right now, right now we’re seeing ‘jets’.”

K’ndar grinned. Rahman had passed on the sighting of the suddenly active black hole to the planet’s astronomers!! That was smart. Of course people would be afraid, after the fireball of how many years ago? had caused so much destruction to Pern. No, it was the resulting tsunami’s that wrought such devastation. Still, no one would ever forget the fireball. It was why so much attention had been paid to astronomy in general. Now every Weyr, Hall and Hold had a telescope to watch the sky, and plans in place on what to do in case of another fireball.

B’rant broke through his reverie.

” “Feeding? A black hole?” B’rant said.

K’ndar felt the odd sense of superiority over his former Weyrlingmaster. He didn’t know of the black hole? But not everyone had had the intense curiosity he’d had since childhood, of wanting to know everything. Not everyone had thirsted for knowledge of things you couldn’t always see. Not everyone was as scientifically minded as he was, or had a mentor-Rahman-who’d lent four science books to him when he was a new Weyrling. He still could not quite grasp how a black hole worked, or even what it really WAS, but, as Rahman had said, “neither did Einstein.”

“You’re right, ma’am, I was with Rahman, the astronomer when it first started feeding. He didn’t mention that we’d actually be able to see it, but your starsmith is correct. I think the ‘star’ will only last a few weeks.”

K’ndar saw T’mos, Ista’s Weyrleader, come out into the bowl of the Weyr and hold his hand over his eyes, looking up in the sky. Shirvan, his Weyrwoman, was alongside, calling out to her weyrfolk to calm down.

“Watch dragon, report!” T’mos bellowed, his voice amplified by the surrounding crater’s walls.

“Excuse me,” the watch rider called, “I’ve got to launch, please.”

“Aye, ma’am, we’re leaving now, before things get crowded,” B’rant said.

“Aye,” K’ndar said.

“Launching,” B’rant said to the watchdragon’s rider. The green huddled to allow their two dragons enough room to launch.

As they circled for height, K’ndar watched as the “star” grew in intensity. Soon it might outshine the sun!

“A black hole, K’ndar?” B’rant called, puzzled. “How can a ‘black’ ‘hole’ be brighter than the stars in the night sky? It’s even brighter than Betelgeuse!”

“It’s a long tale, sir, and I’ll tell you when we get home. I think Rahman said we wouldn’t be able to see it from Southern, so take a long look now. It’s the first time in thousands of years that something like this has ever been visible.”

They caught an obliging thermal that carried them safely into the sky.

Just before going between, K’ndar noticed something.

Where’s Roany?

Siskin chipped, a worried note to his voice.

He disappeared a few moments after we landed at Ista.

Dismayed, he felt a rush of guilt. He’d lost Greta’s fire lizard!

Not lost. I shouldn’t feel any guilt, he thought. We rescued him, we didn’t impress him. He’d never ‘made friends’ with us, he’d always kept himself to himself. Distant and aloof.

“Not like you, Sisk, my always happy little one,” he said, reaching forward to scritch his blue fire lizard, who was firmly settled just in front of his riding harness. Siskin weeked in agreement.

Funny how two creatures of the same species could be so different in temperament. But then, every animal was like that, just like humans. He could remember a dozen horses, all with a different mind and temperment.

He remembered how engaged Roany had been with Greta. Quite unlike the lonely and rather forlorn lizard they’d brought back from Western.

How do you comfort a pet who’d lost his family?

I didn’t realize how much I’d come to like him. He’d made himself a member of our family, even being cold as he was he said to Raventh.

That was just him, returning to the wild. He’ll never forget Greta or Earth, but he won’t forget us, either. He’s free to be himself Raventh said, in a comforting tone.

I was, well, I don’t know what to feel. He’s free to go, of course, but I’ve gotten sort of attached to him. Now I’m worried.

He’ll be okay. He’s regained a lot of weight. I believe he was hatched near here. Don’t worry. He knows where we are, now. If he wants to stay with us, he will be back.

“K’ndar, now that we’re out of hearing range, are we in any danger? It’s getting brighter by the moment!”

He felt so odd, giving his elder advice.

“Don’t worry, sir. It’s 25,000 light years from us, give or take a couple hundred. What we’re seeing is ancient history. It can’t hurt us, we’re much too far away to see anything but the light,” he called back.

“That’s a relief. Do instruct me on black holes when we get home,” B’rant replied, then slapped his forehead. “Oh, wait. I forgot, you’re at Landing, now!”

“If you come with me to Landing, sir, I’ll have Rahman do that…he’s the master of the stars!”

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