Chap. 234 Identification

Chap. 234 Identification

“I’d change clothes, were I you,” D’nis said, “You’re fairly ripe.”

K’ndar laughed. They were in his quarters after examining the jaw. His mind was racing, trying to understand just what it was from.

He picked up the datalink from his desk.

“I should have taken my datalink,” he said. “I’m not used to using the thing, it’s just not the same as a pencil and a notebook,” he said, dropping the full notebook on his desk. His backpack was full of specimen jars. He noticed the ‘message’ light flashing on the datalink.

“Come to Security as soon as possible. We would like you to try to identify the person who assaulted you.”

He showed it to D’nis.

“Where’s Security?” D’nis asked.

“I have no idea. I’ll go to my office first, drop off these specimen jars with Miklos, and I’ll find out from there.”

“Your ‘office’,” D’nis repeated.

“Aye. It feels so odd to say that, never mind actually HAVING one.”

—————————————————————————————————————————-

Raylan met him at the door into the building.

“Did you figure out what that thing was? Is?”

“Well, yes and no. I do know now it’s not a skull, it’s a jaw to something a LOT bigger. What it’s from, not a clue. I’ve got samples of tissue, and drawings. I’ll have to borrow a camera to take shots of it, I think they’ll give the database a better grasp on what it IS,” he said.

“I talked with Lefsa, she’s itching to come and take a look at it. She’s turning into a good taxonomist! Jansen wants to see it, too. I’ll have them take the pictures, Jansen can then enter the data immediately. And I see you have specimen jars?”

“Yes, sir, and I’ll take them to Miklos now. Tell Lefsa and Jansen, and just about anyone else, if they want to take a crack at guessing what it the jaw is from, they’re welcome. It’s not MINE, after all, and once it’s all clean and thoroughly de-scented! I think it should go into the museum that’s being developed. They don’t need my permission or supervision to go examine it. The more minds bent to it, the better.”

“I will. In fact I’ll go take a long look at it myself. By the way, Security wants to talk to you.”

“I know. They sent me a message saying they’ve got a possible identification of the lout who clouted me,” K’ndar grinning at his alliteration. “Can you steer me to Security? I have no idea where they are.”

_________________________________________________________________________

Siskin spit, like an angry cat. At the same moment, Raventh chimed in.

That one.

“That one, ma’am,” K’ndar said, pointing at the picture amidst a dozen others.

“I gathered as much, judging from your fire lizard’s reaction.”

“That, and my dragon recognized him, and I do, too. Definitely that one.”

“Ah,” the Security Chief said, smiling, “I love it when the dragons testify. They make my job so much easier. They don’t lie.”

Siskin rattled.

“Nor do fire lizards, ma’am!”

She laughed and wagged a finger at Siskin on K’ndar’s shoulder.

“You’re a loyal little beastie you are, little blue!”

Siskin cheeped, always happy to be the center of attention.

The Security Chief dismissed all the photos save for the one he’d chosen. A second one appeared. That one was an official portrait, like the one K’ndar had had taken when he’d in-processed Landing. The first one showed the same man, disheveled, his face and mouth bloody from claw marks. Siskin had just barely missed the man’s eyes.

Siskin hissed again.

“That’s him, no doubt, ma’am,” he said, after scanning the photos. “Who is he? Is he in custody?”

The woman shook her head. “Not in custody. That and we need to know who we’re looking for, now we can begin that search after your solid identification. Give me a moment while I query the database.”

She motioned over her datalink screen.

“Ah. Odd. He’s staff. His name is Raimon. And he’s not been to work in three weeks. Nor is he shown as working elsewhere, or off Landing.”

The woman sighed and ran her hand through her graying hair. “Shards, a staffer. This is embarrassing. First Shawn, then Marsh..who’s a family member, not staff…now this one.”

The datalink peeped. She read it quickly.

“Ah…ah,” she said, in a tone that said a lot of questions were being answered. She looked up at K’ndar.

K’ndar resisted the urge to come around her desk to read the datalink.

“Last night, after you were attacked, Raimon,..no, actually, early this morning, perhaps a half hour after midnight, Raimon went to the healer clinic. The night shift healer is a journeyman, he’s only recently been graduated from Healer Hall and has been here less than a month. He was unaware that he should be looking for someone with a broken nose and a clawed face.

He asked Raimon how his nose had come to be broken, and his teeth shattered, and said the man claimed he’d been kicked by a horse. But the journeyman reports there were ‘no indications’ that the man had been kicked by a horse. Instead, he reports that the man had numerous claw marks on his face and neck, from ‘most likely a fire lizard’. He’d been kicked beneath the chin, ‘injuries consistent with those inflicted by someone’s boot’…that was probably yours? He notes that Raimon was lucky his jaw hadn’t been broken, but several teeth had been shattered. Raimon ‘wanted only pain medication’, which he provided. He didn’t want salves for the scratches, and seemed to be ‘in a hurry’. The journeyman offered to straighten the man’s nose but to do so, he wanted the supervision of the Master Healer. While he was on the datalink calling her-she was on another call-the man fled,” she said.

“He didn’t know? The men who came to take my report told the Healer to call if someone came in for a broken nose. “

“I know, and I’m a bit dismayed, but, sir, don’t be hard on the journeyman. Our Master Healer was elsewhere on Landing, and hadn’t had a chance to brief the journeyman. But mostly, it was, I’m sorry to say, it was my division’s slip up. With all these folks here for the Selection and Petitioning, it’s inevitable that there’s going to be a drunken fight, or someone lost something, or has been locked out of his or her guest quarters, or got lost themselves in this maze we call Landing. My people had their hands full. That, and in the last month, we’ve been seeing a lot of petty theft-a shirt here, a pair of boots there, food…To the journeyman, this was just one more loser of a fight. He’d already seen two people needing aid after some mishap or a fight, this lout was just ‘next’.

Fortunately, the Healers have a protocol in place that photos are taken of the patient, as well as much information as the person is willing to give. For that matter, the man gave a false name. Only the database disagreed, but by then, he’d been gone for hours,” she said.

“Hmmm. So, what do I do? Am I in trouble?”

“Of course not, K’ndar. This was obviously self defense. Even so, I’d keep an eye out for him. We will. The thing that bothers me, is that at first, we here at Security assumed it was just another guest here, or a petitioner, or someone who’s come in with a petitioner. Now with your positive identification, the database, as you just saw, picked him right up. Staffers are not supposed to be assaulting people. We’re here to teach, to research, to serve Pern. This one..he’s not shown up for work in three weeks. Nor has his family seen him since then.”

“He was staff.” K’ndar said, dismayed. And I seem to be the focus of three of these types, he thought. Are there any more? Will I always be looking over my shoulder?

“Yes. A chemist. I won’t go into details, because if we do apprehend him, you’ll be asked to testify against him. Have you ever been to a trial? A Charter trial?”

“Yes, ma’am, when I was assigned to Kahrain Steppe Weyr. Lord Dorn tried and convicted three criminals. One was a rapist, he’d raped a 12 year old girl.”

The woman glared.

“Please assure me that Lord Dorn executed him?” she growled through clenched teeth.

“Yes, ma’am. Lord Dorn relieved him of his head.”

She heaved a grateful sigh. “Good. That’s one less monster I need to be on the lookout for.”

She straightened her datalink. “Right then, back to business. Have you any idea why he attacked you?”

“As I told your men, no. I’d never seen him in my life, he said nothing, just nailed me from behind. Your men took his cudgel, saying they’d do a DNA check.”

“Aye, and it was inconclusive. It had lots of DNA on it, from both animals and humans. That’s why I am glad you and your blue, there, and dragon all identified him.”

She shook her head. “So odd. Was anything missing? Did he enter your quarters, steal anything?”

“Not that I know of, and I didn’t have anything of value anyway,” K’ndar said.

She shook her head, upset that it seemed so strange.

Her datalink buzzed and she read the text on the screen.

“Shaff it,” she said, standing up, “I”m sorry, K’ndar, but I’ll have to close this session up. Believe it or not, someone’s stolen a saddle horse from one of the petitioners.”

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Chap. 233 The Skull

Chap. 233 The Skull

(Author’s note: a drawing of the skull (at the end of this post) can be seen if you access my blog’s website. (https://dragonnomads.wordpress.com or https:// dragonnomads.blogspot.com.) I don’t think it will come through in email format.)

K’ndar reflected that this was the second time he’d unintentionally been released from a task due to a broken nose.

Thank the stars it’s not mine, this time, he thought.

Raylan had come to talk to him earlier in the morning.

“I guess you did get a head beating,” he said, shocked at the bandages on K’ndar’s head.

“I hope you aren’t put out by my being grounded. The healer said no dragon riding, horse riding or running, but…I can still water dragons, I can still work in my office,” K’ndar said, apologetically.

“I know. She came and told me after leaving your weyr. K’ndar, I want you to heal up. We have enough dragonriders here to take the Holders you transported back to their holds. If needed, Francie said to tell you she’ll take up the slack. So did G’aryk. I’m fairly sure the Selections will be made this afternoon, after which I expect most of the nominees to leave. The Petitioners will stay longer, depending on when they’re heard, but they all got here under their own power, so I’m not too concerned about them. What I want for you, is to take it easy. Do what you can, and if it gets too much, take a break. I know you well enough that you’re no slacker,” Raylan said.

K’ndar gently nodded his head. Last night had been a rough one. He’d slept very little, unable to find a sleeping position that didn’t, in some way, affect his head. But it was feeling much better this morning. The headache was gone. The wound itself wasn’t hurting as much, but was that from the healer’s apprentice changing the bandage or from the pain killer he’d slathered on the wound? He wasn’t sure, but it didn’t hurt as much to move his head around today.

“Thank you, sir. If you don’t mind, I’ll continue watering dragons. If I may, would it be alright for me to tackle that skull I brought in? I’d like to take some tissue samples before they completely rot away, maybe get some measurements?”

“I don’t mind, as long as you can handle it. From what I’ve heard, even swathed in canvas, it’s smelling pretty bad,” Raylan said.

____________________________________________________________________

“Shard’s right, mate, it stinks,” said the Farm Master. He was standing, hands on hips, upwind of the crate holding the skull. “Thank you for putting it downwind of my barns. I’d have probably had a mutiny on my hands if you’d put it where my crew had to smell it all day.”

“You’re welcome, sir. And thanks for allowing me to put it here. I didn’t know where else, and the compost area seemed as good a spot as any.”

The man nodded. “You’re about to uncrate it, I gather?”

“Yes, now, I have time, as someone decided to knock me in the head, so I’m on light duty. It’s not just my scalp that’s itching. Even the dolphins had no idea what it was, and they know everything in the ocean.”

“Any idea who the lout was who clobbered you?”

“Not a clue. I’ve never seen him before in my life. Not a word out of him,” K’ndar said, absently tugging on a part of bandage that was irritating his ear.

“Hmm,” the man said, “If you did manage to break his nose, unless he’s made of iron, he’s going to want to see a healer. Then we’ll find out who he is! Good on you, mate, for getting a lick in on him! Yobs like that don’t need to be here. Bad influence on the kids.”

The man looked closely at the bindings on the crate.

“Good work, here,” he said, “those seamen know their knots, what?”

“They do.”

“By the egg, I’d like to know what it is. What are your plans for it?”

“Ultimately, describe it and see if there’s anything in a book, or in the database, to tell me what it is. When even a dolphin is at a loss, it tells me it’s something that lives where they don’t go. The abyssal plain? Too deep even for the dolphins? Or it’s rare. It was alive just recently, so it’s not a fossil. I’ve been dreaming about this thing since I picked it up.”

“Ah, the lure of the unknown, eh?” the farmer said.

“Yes, sir. Once I get it out of the canvas, though, I’ll see how much flesh is still on it. I need to take some tissue samples that, hopefully, will begin to tell us what it is. But if there’s a lot of meat on it, I’m worried, it being a nuisance even if it’s downwind. I don’t know how long I will be able to tolerate it, while trying to clean it up with a scalpel. It might take weeks,” he said, feeling deflated at the enormity of the task. “Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to accept it. Maybe I should have just looked at it and tossed it overboard.”

“Nay, K’ndar, that’s not how science is done. This is a gift from the sea, a piece of this grand puzzle we live in. Take ‘er out of the canvas, leave it out here. The insects and the crawlers will have it stripped to the bone in a few weeks. It’s cool enough that the flesh-if there is some left, and the stink tells me there’s plenty-won’t dry out before the insects can get to work on it. In a few days, what the crawlers don’t eat, the insect larvae will. Just be careful, if the tumble bugs get to working on it, they’ll stink up the place worse than the skull, if they’re disturbed. But I’m certain you know about tumble bugs!”

K’ndar laughed. “I do…just like everyone else, I learned the hard way.”

The man laughed. “They’re good pollinators, I like having them around, even if they’re risky. But it’s pretty late in the year for them.” He backed away from the crate.”Once the insects clean it up for you, all you’ll need do is to degrease it. That’s…hmm, when the rains start, they might just do that, too. The best thing would have been to leave ‘er in the ocean but…we’re a ways from it. This will do. You’ll need some tools, K’ndar, I’m willing to lend ’em to you, long as you return them. You’ll need a good knife to cut the crate’s bindings, maybe a wrecking bar. Be careful, don’t cut up the wood too much. It’s good wood, especially for lightwood. The seamen may want it back. By the way, can you use some help?” Do you need a hand?”

“Um…yes, it would be nice, but…I don’t want to take any of your people away from their work,” he said.

“Worry not, dragon man I’ve just the bloke for the job. He’s a bit short, he asks a lot of questions, you get him rolling and he’ll talk your hind leg off. But he’s a good ‘un, a hard worker. He’s a dab hand at dismantling things. Woof, just ask my wife!”

“Your..wife?”

“Aye,” the man said, laughing, “the bloke’s my son, Jak. He’s seven, he’s keen as a razor on being a carpenter. He’ll jump at the chance to help you dismantle the crate. That’s the problem, you see, the hardest part with ‘im is trying to get him to understand that carpenters build things, not take ’em apart.”

————————————————————————————————————————

The boy was enchanted by Siskin…and even more by the project he’d been enlisted to help.

“What happened to your head? It’s all bandaged?” Jak asked.

“Um…a man hit me in the head,” K’ndar said. The boy had trundled a wheelbarrow with a bucket with tools, and a step stool. That was smart.

“Was he mad at you? Why did he hit you?”

“I don’t know, Jak. I’d never met him, I don’t know why he hit me.”

“Did you hit him back?”

“I did, but only after Siskin attacked him. Otherwise I’d have been hurt much worse.”

“I like fire lizards. He’s smart, isn’t he?”

Siskin twisted his head to the side, knowing he was being admired.

“He is. They’re very smart, you can teach them tricks, did you know that?”

“I do! I’ve seen miz Francie’s fire lizards, they do the funniest tricks, she puts on a show at Turnover with them. Are you going to be here for Turnover?”

K’ndar realized that his helper was going to be what his uncle, Fland, use to call a ‘loose why-er”-a person who’s brain was running fast with a million questions. Sort of like Glyena, he thought.

“I don’t know, yet, Jak. Up until getting my head bandaged, I was going to go back to my cothold to visit my family, but now? I don’t know. The healer told me to not fly my dragon for a while. Let’s get to work on this crate, shall we?”

_________________________________________________________________________

“Ooowee, it stinks!” Jak said.

“Aye”, K’ndar said. He wished he’d brought a respirator.

“What…what IS it?” the boy said, marveling at the skull. There had been enough flesh on it, despite being in the ocean, that K’ndar would be able to take plenty of samples.

“I have no idea, Jak. None whatsoever.” The size of it was amazing. The appearance was frightening.

“By the egg,” he said, “this thing is out of a nightmare.”

“I’m not scared of it. It’s dead. Can’t hurt me!” Jak said, puffing.

How in the world did it function? No animal he’d ever seen on the planet, or even in the books, looked like this.

“It looks like an upside down T,” Jak said, “Maybe it’s a T monster?” he giggled.

K’ndar laughed, but his biologists’ mind was racing. What IS this thing?

“To me, it looks like a W.” K’ndar said.

The boy looked at it critically. “Mebbe. You move those long things up, then it does,” he said. K’ndar was tickled by the seriousness of his comment.

Shards, he thought, I should have brought my datalink. Duh! I’ll never get used to using it.

But he did have a notebook.

He started sketching the skull.

The central portion was tubular, like a volcanic cone. It was hollow. The opening at the top was circular, lined with a series of bristles. They were of various sizes, some being mere stubs. They appeared to be brittle. Ah, he realized, the short ones had been broken off, either by the canvas, or being in the net. The intact bristles were each topped by a small bulb that gleamed faintly iridescent in the sunlight.

The two arms-the ‘long things’ Jak had pointed out-on either side of the tube were hinged at its base. Each was as long as his outstretched arms. They each had a channel alongside the inside of the arm. They appeared to be bone. The far end of each arm expanded into a scoop lined with fangs. Some fangs had been broken off, but the remaining ones were each as long as his forearm, thin and needle sharp.

Jak was struck dumb for a short moment.

“What IS this?”

“I have no idea, Jak. Not a clue.”

“Where are the eyes? Does it have eyes?”

He’d been thinking the same thing. There was nothing to indicate any sort of sensory apparatus. No eyes, no openings for nerves..nothing.

“I don’t see any place for eyes.”

Is this even an animal? No holes for eyes. No muscle attachments. He peered down into the interior of the cone. He could see what appeared to be circular bands of elastic material.

“Lookit those teeth,” the boy said, reaching to touch them.

“Jak, no. Don’t touch it, okay? There might be something dangerous on them,” he said, warily.

“Like poison?”

“Like bacteria,” K’ndar said, “This thing came out of the depths, and who knows what it was eating, how long it’s been rotting?”

“Okay. I know bacteria can be bad. What are you going to do with the wood from the crate? ‘Cuz I want to build something with it,” Jak said.

“Um, I don’t have plans for it, but the seamen who lent it to me would like it back. So don’t cut it up, please? I guess, if you want, take the wood up towards your dad’s barn for now, and build there? I need some room here.”

“Okay!”

The boy loaded the lightwood onto the wheelbarrow. “I’ll haf to make two trips, I think,” he said. “Okay if I take the tools back? They’re my dad’s, he keeps a close eye on his tools.”

K’ndar felt a bit of relief at the boy being distracted by the wood. But that was the difference between biologists and carpenters, he thought. “Yes, that would be fine. Tell your dad thank you for the tools. And thank YOU for your help!”

Jak beamed. “You’re welcome and wait till you see what I build!”

______________________________________________________________________

“There you are, K’ndar!”

D’nis broke into his examination of the skull. He turned to see his weyrleader, looking to be relieved to be out of the selections office.

He waved at the flies that were buzzing about the skull.

“Corvuth told me where to find you. So this is your treasure! Woof, it smells,” he said.

K’ndar grinned. “Believe it or not, it’s not as bad as it was when we first uncovered it. Either that or I’ve gotten used to it.”

D’nis laughed. “It’s the latter, K’ndar. What is this thing?”

“I have no idea, sir.”

“It’s D’nis from now on,” the bronze rider said.

“Um…” K’ndar hesitated.

D’nis grinned. “Got it?”

“Yes si…. um, got it.”

The two men looked at each other for a long moment. Then D’nis said, “So tell me what it is.”

“I can tell you what it ISN’T. It’s not avian, it’s not saurian. It’s not mammalian, of course. I thought of amphibian, but I doubt that, so it must be piscine, fish, but then again, it has no elements of being fishy. Or, it might be something completely new to us, something evolved here with no counterpart on old Earth,” he said.

D’nis examined the skull with his engineer’s eye. “Look at the channel on the inside of the arms. They correspond with those vertical bulges on the cone.”

“I hadn’t noticed them, you’re right.”

“The channels-they broaden right at the base of the scoops. Look at those teeth!! Here, let me use that step stool,” he said, “this thing is taller than me. Notice how the arms are the same length as the cone? I’m betting the arms, K’ndar, those arms, they have to swing up. The channel forms a seal with the bulges. See how the channel widens at the base of the scoop? I’m betting it forms a seal with the opening to the cone. But how…”

His mind working furiously, D’nis ignored the insects his examination disturbed.

“There’s muscle on the inside. I see little bristles lining the entire interior. I see…that has to be tendon. Yes, and it goes all the way to the base, where the arms are connected. Shaff it, I should have brought my camera! There’s a mass of tissue at the bottom of this cone. You can’t see it from the outside, the cone is sitting on it.”

“I’ll have to figure out how to get to it,” K’ndar said, grateful for a second set of eyes examining at the skull. But he felt embarassed. “You’re embarassing me, si..D’nis. You’re a more observant biologist than I am,” he said.

“Stow it, K’ndar. You’ve got a lump on your head the size of my fist. You didn’t get much sleep last night, and yes, I know, even when I was in the other room. I’m an engineer, K’ndar. Biologists figure out the why of a beast. Engineers figure out the how,” he said.

He stepped off the stool and stood back. Staring at the cone, he cupped his chin with one hand.

His eyebrows jumped.

“Huh!”

“What?”

“Sshhh. I’m thinking,” D’nis said, not harshly. He turned, looking around their feet.

“A stick. I need something…”

K’ndar looked uphill towards the barn, where Jak was industriously constructing something.

“Jak!! Can you bring me a long piece of lightwood?” he called.

The boy jumped to his feet.

“Here I come! What do you want it for?” he said, running with a meter long piece of lightwood.

He skidded to a stop.

D’nis put out his hand for the wood.

“Thank you.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“Watch, laddie,” he said, and turned back to the skull.

He reached the hollow rod towards one of the intact bristles on the cone’s lip.

He touched it, lightly.

The two arms snapped upwards with an audible CLAP!, the fanged scoops meshing tightly.

“Whoa” came from all three.

“I thought so,” D’nis said, a satisfied look on his face.

K’ndar was dumbfounded.

“Look, K’ndar. The scoops? They’re each one half of a trap. Something, a fish, maybe, touches those bristles, it triggers the scoops, they clap together and the victim is caged, with no way out except down the cone, which shoots the fish down into a stomach.

This isn’t a skull, K’ndar. It’s a jaw.”

Chap. 232 Headache

Chap. 232 Headache

The sun had set. Several dragons were launching in the last of the light, flying towards the mountain for the night.

Are you going to spend all night out? he asked Raventh.

I don’t know. I’m still talking to the others. I’ll be in after a while.

Okay. What about Siskin?

I think he’ll be joining you in the weyr, but for the moment, he’s still flirting. He thinks he has a chance at a gold.

K’ndar laughed.

He made his way to the trough. It didn’t really need much water. Nevertheless, he operated the faucet to start it filling. He looked up at the sky as he waited, seeing the first stars coming out. By the egg, I love the stars, even the ones that I don’t know their names.

A bolt of light flashed behind his eyes from the hammering blow to the back of his head. He shouted in pain. A force shoved him head first into the water. He felt it pushing him towards the bottom, his legs pinned against the side. Blind with pain and terror, he screamed.

The pressure on his back doubled, then tripled. He flailed his arms, helplessly. Then, just as suddenly, he heard a shriek and the pressure on him vanished. He pulled himself out of the trough, coughing, choking, trying to get his wits together and air back into his lungs. His head swam in agony so blinding he tottered.

He heard Siskin’s enraged screeching. He turned to see a stranger, swinging a cudgel at the fire lizard swirling over his head. Despite the growing darkness, K’ndar could still see blood streaming from the man’s face.

“No!” he shouted, distracting the man, and Siskin darted out of the cudgel’s reach. The cudgel came at K’ndar’s head. Trapped between the trough and the man, K’ndar had only one way out…through. He ducked the cudgel, and as it passed his head, he charged and hit the man in the nose as hard as he could.

He felt it break. The man shrieked and fell to his knees. With one hand, he swung the cudgel at K’ndar’s shins. K’ndar kicked, catching the man under the chin. He heard a crunch. The man fell back, blood spurting from his mouth. Siskin returned, going for the man’s eyes. He rolled over, covering his head.

Raventh landed on the other side of the trough, roaring. Corvuth was right behind him.

“What in the shaff is going on?” he heard D’nis yell.

The stranger scrambled to his feet and ran.

Siskin went after him, with a crowd of fire lizards by his side.

He attacked you! Raventh said.

I…I..my head hurts so bad K’ndar said, so much in pain he could hardly breathe. He forced himself to take in huge lungfuls of air.

“What! What is going on?” D’nis shouted. He was naked and still wet from the shower.

“Corvuth said you…..who the shaff was that?”

K’ndar put both his hands on his head, trying to keep it on his shoulders.

“I don’t know. He hit me from behind, tried to drown me in the trough. Oh, shaff, this hurts so bad, so bad, am I bleeding?”

D’nis, beginning to feel the night chill on his naked skin, grabbed K’ndar by the arms. “Shaff yes, you’re bleeding. But there’s a lot on the ground, that can’t be all yours! Come in to the weyr. Can you walk?”

“I can walk, but D’nis! Where’s Siskin?”

What can I do to help? Should I have chased the man? Raventh interrupted, his voice thick with worry and anger.

No. Call Siskin back.

I can smell blood. You need a healer.

I do. Call Motanith. Tell Francie I need a healer. 2001 Belior.

I remembered my address, even with my head splitting in two, he thought.

______________________________________________________________________

“You’ll have a big lump, K’ndar, and a headache for certain, but I think you’re lucky, I don’t think you’ve a concussion.”

She’d wrapped thick bandages around his head, even covering his ears. She placed her scissors and razor in a bucket full of alcohol and stepped back to look at her work.

He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes, wary of moving his head any further than necessary.

“What’s a concussion? And can you give me something for the pain? My head is splitting.” He was dismayed to see D’nis-who’d dressed-on his hands and knees, cleaning up hair and bits of bloody bandage off the floor. My weyrleader? Doing drudge work? But there are no drudges at Landing.

“No doubt. A concussion, to put it simply, is a bruised brain. You’ve a large gash on your head, but it didn’t break the skull. We have a thick layer of skin on our heads, that’s where all the blood came from, but it’s stopped. You shouldn’t lose any more. Call my clinic tomorrow and I’ll have someone come by to check on you and change the bandages. Call my clinic IMMEDIATELY if you start vomiting, okay? In the meantime, I’ve slathered the wound with numbweed, and I’ll give you some to put on it later. I don’t know if you’ll need stitches, I’ll re-assess it tomorrow. Sorry about your hair, I had to cut it away from the wound, so it will look odd until the hair grows out.”

She dug through her emergency aid kit and pulled out several packets of powder. “Put one of these packets in a mug of warm water, drink it, and the pain should ease up,” she said, “One dose every 6 hours. Not sooner…it’s powerful stuff,” she said. “And no alcohol for as long as you’re taking this.”

K’ndar tried to shake his head. “Stop that,” the healer said,”Don’t do that.”

That was an easy order to obey.

“Okay. Don’t worry about alcohol, I don’t drink it. I’m allergic to it.”

“Huh! So am I,” she said.

That astonished..and delighted him.

“Really? I thought I was the only one on Pern,” he said.

“No, lad, but it’s not common. I know of only one other person like us.”

D’nis got off the floor and reached for the packets. “Here, give that to me, I’ll do it,” D’nis said, feeling useless. Threadscore, he could provide first aid for, but a head wound?

The healer handed the packets to him. D’nis was headed for the kitchen when they heard voices outside the pedestrian door.

“Hello, hello! Security here, 2001 Belior? Security here,” they heard a voice from outside.

“Siskin? Open the door, please?” he called.

The blue fire lizard was perched on the shelf K’ndar had installed for him, right next to the door that opened onto Raventh’s bay. That door was open at the moment, Raventh having opened it so that he could watch every move.

Siskin chipped, always eager to show off. He flew to the door and hovered in front of the wave plate. The door swished open.

“Would you look at that!” the healer said, “He knows how to open doors?”

K’ndar smiled, proud of the blue’s intelligence. “And a lot of other things,” he said.

The Security men were the same ones who’d marched Marsh out a week earlier.

“Woof, K’ndar! You’re a mess!” one said. “We’ve been alerted that you’d been attacked. What happened?” one said.

“I was hit by behind. I didn’t see him coming. A man, I’ve never seen him before. He hit me in the head and shoved me in the water trough, he tried to drown me! Then he let up, I think because my fire lizard attacked him. He came at me with a cudgel and I hit him in the nose. Then he ran off, no wait, he fell down and swung at my knees with the cudgel and I kicked him. THEN he ran off.”

It hurt to talk. It hurt to move his eyes. It hurt.

“Did you break it? His nose?”

K’ndar thought for a moment. He’d never punched anyone so hard in his life. He remembered how satisfying the sensation of cartilage flattening under his fist felt.

“Yes,” he said, raising his fist to eye level to get a good look at it, “I think I broke it. I hope I broke it.”

He twisted the fist, admiring it for its sudden change into a weapon. It hurt, a little, but not as much as his head. It was worth the pain. F’mart. F’mart! You taught me that. Thank you. I owe you a beer.

The other man was writing in a notebook. He looked up at K’ndar and said, “This is the second time we’ve been here. What IS it with you, K’ndar? Picking fights?”

“AVAST THAT, ” D’nis snapped. Raventh rumbled, his eyes orange. The security man flinched and stared at Raventh with wide eyes. “He understood me?”

“Of course he understood you, ” D’nis froze the man with his eyes, daring him to argue. “You are blaming the victim, sir. I was with K’ndar not five minutes before, we were alone. I’d just gotten into the shower when my dragon told me a man was pushing K’ndar into the water trough. I ran out just in time to see him run off.”

K’ndar glared at the security man through a haze of pain.

“No, I didn’t pick a fight, I’d never seen the man before. I was minding my own business outside my quarters. Nor did I ask for Marsh to steal from my quarters. It’s YOUR folks here, picking fights with me!”

Stop talking so loud, his head said. Okay.

The first security guard put up his hand. “It’s okay, K’ndar, and stand down, mate. He’s right. Whomever hit him is on the loose, he might have come in with these folks today, I don’t know. If we catch him, he’ll have a story, I’m sure. If we have any doubts, the dragons will attest, but I believe you, K’ndar,” he said.

“You’ve never seen him before?”

He shook his head, gently.

“Never. I can’t even describe him, it was getting dark, I was coughing up water, and I was so blind with pain. My height and weight, I guess. A little older?”

“Did he say anything?”

“Not a word. Just hit me from behind and shoved me into the water trough and pushed me to the bottom. Hard.”

The two nodded.

“Where’s the cudgel?”

“I don’t know. Maybe outside the dragon bay, where he dropped it. I think,” K’ndar said. Why all these questions when he could barely think of his name?

“Right then. We’ll pick it up, take it in for examination. We’ll probably find your DNA on it, judging from the amount of blood you’ve lost, but sure as sunrise, we’ll find his, too. One way or another, we’ll find this man. Ma’am, you know what you need to do should someone come into your clinic with a busted nose. K’ndar, contact Security tomorrow to make an official report.”

“Yes, sir.”

They left. The healer finished her administrations. D’nis handed him a mug of hot water. He sipped it, forcing himself to drink despite the bitterness. He knew it would help.

“Who’s your supervisor?” she asked.

Why are you asking me this, he wondered, cross with the pain.

“Raylan, of Science Division. Why?”

She smiled, understanding his testiness.

“Because you’re going to be on rest tomorrow, maybe the next day. I don’t want you dragon riding, or horse riding, or running, or doing anything more active than sitting in the sunshine. Walking is okay. Reading is okay. Understand? I’ll report your condition to Raylan,” she said. “Should you need more pain meds, just call the Healer’s clinic and I’ll see you get more. Remember, if you start vomiting, call the clinic immediately. Sir, can you help with that?”

She looked at D’nis.

“Of course,” D’nis said, worried.

She turned back to K’ndar. “If you can, you need to get out of those clothes, maybe clean up a little? Don’t get the bandages wet, but you need a bath, at least. You’re bloody to your waist,” she said.

He looked down at himself. He was still damp. Most of it was blood.

“Whoa,” he said, shocked.

“Actually, it’s mostly superficial, K’ndar. Head wounds bleed copiously. If you don’t mind me saying so, you’re pretty lucky. He could have fractured your skull. You must have a hard head.”

For the first time in what seemed hours, K’ndar grinned, even laughing, gently.

“That’s what my mum always said.”