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.
Yes, she typed.
Do you mean ‘Susie’? Susie, a girl’s name, from Terran English…
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..
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.
“K’ndar, you’re supposed to be on sabbatical,” the data tech said.
“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.
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 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.”