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Chap. 283 The Range Finder

Chap. 283 The Range Finder

K’ndar of Landing K’ndar of Landing

He reached for the datalink with his left hand. I’m getting used to using it, he thought, as he brushed the screen lightly. Only took what, months? And the kids suck it in by osmosis without trying.

“K’ndar here. Who calls?”

“Good morning, K’ndar! D’mitran here, finally having figured out how to communicate with this blasted datalink. I can take data with it but until my boy explained how to use it as a communication device I was lost. The kids! They are smarter with this sort of thing than I’ll ever be.”

“D’mitran!! Where are you?”

He heard the man laugh.

“Well, right now, I’m, oh, about two winglengths away from Raventh.”

“Wow!! You’re right by my quarters! I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

He ran.

The tall, lanky brown rider was sitting in the shade just outside Raventh’s bay.

“I am so out of shape,” he groused, bending over to catch his breath.

D’mitran laughed. “Not as much as I, mate. Being at Singing Waters Hold has its benefits but there’s some disadvantages, as well. I’m doing a lot of naught, physically. And my wife is making sure I’m eating and she’s always been a top notch cook.”

“I know. The dragonriders here have started doing drills twice a week, just to keep our dragons in shape.”

“I never thought of doing that! Great idea! I’ll ping B’rant and see if I can’t join his Weyrlings doing drill.”

“Or join us?”

“I’d like that. Send me a schedule, please?”

“Will do.” He straightened up. Definitely I need to do more physical stuff. “The Weyr’s gone back to drilling?”

“They come out over Singing Waters as part of training. Remember, the Hold has a lot of navigation features, like the Falls. The weyrling’s dragons need the work, they need to build muscle and stamina while they’re growing. And the kids need to learn how to work as a team. I’m sure, though, that the weyrlings are complaining about the monotony, ‘specially dismounted drill. I’m sure you remember. It takes ‘em awhile to begin to understand the why of it. At least I was that way.”

“I do. I was one of the type that had to carry a rock in my left hand to remember left from right. But this class, D, might be different. Three adults impressed dragons.”

“Adults! I missed the Impression. I hadn’t heard that. I suppose I can understand why. The last clutch, by the egg, has it been two years? Mirth’s last clutch they were barely able to find enough candidates.”

“I bet they’d heard about M’rvin.”

D’mitran nodded. “Aye.”

“So, come on in. Something to drink? I’m sorry to say I’ve nothing alcoholic. You know me, I don’t drink.”

He opened Raventh’s bay door and led the way into his quarters and into the kitchen.

“Not to worry, I’m on duty right now. Lord Dorn’s in with the Council. And I want to get with you regarding this upcoming survey you’re heading.” He looked wistful.

“If I didn’t let you know earlier, please forgive me. I’ve been up to my ears with getting it arranged. I got your message and I’ll thank Lord Dorn for lending you. You’re my engineer, D’mitran, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bothered by giving you orders. I’m not comfortable being the boss. Klah? It’s still sort of warm.” He took a pair of mugs out of the small cupboard and flourished the tea kettle.

D’mitran looked relieved. “I’m good. And K’ndar, it’s okay. I don’t mind. If we’d been bronze riders, we both would eventually be superseded. Look at Kahrain, F’mart is Weyrleader? Who would have believed it? I’m sure the cadre did doubletakes when Kenth flew Mirth. Some of the older bronze riders left because of it. They didn’t think he had the experience, and they were right. Some of them found it hard to believe he wouldn’t be the mouthy, arrogant bully he’d been as a Weyrling. But everything I’ve heard says he’s proving to be better than one could have hoped. I can see Siena’s guiding hand, she’s sharp as a razor. M’rvin was marginal as a leader and even worse as a person. Let me change my mind, I’d like some klah, please.”

K’ndar filled the second mug and handed it over. They klinked mugs. “Kippiss”

“Outside or in?”

“Out. It’s a warm day out there, for early autumn.”

“I hope you don’t mind, D’mitran, that I’ll be picking your brains while we’re out there.”

“I expect that. It’s how we learn. Who else is on the team?”

“Risal, she’s a geologist and a surveyor, she currently works in Landing’s Flight Ops. And, I learned, I need TWO surveyors for this team, so my second is B’rost.”

D’mitran sputtered a mouthful of klah.

“B’rost? Is that little nomad back? Are you sure, K’ndar? You know he can be as flighty as a flutter. And sometimes he takes unnecessary risks. Stars knows how he’s managed to survive this long.”

“I know. I know. Quite honestly, I was sort of forced into it. He almost begged me into taking him on.”

He felt an odd sense, one of relief that he could discuss this with D’mitran without the two geologists hearing it.

“But he’s like F’mart, I think, he’s done a lot of maturing. He’s a journeyman healer, now, and it fits him like a glove.”

D’mitran looked doubtful. “Well, I’ll trust your judgment. You always were able to get through to him. I think you were the only one.”

“Aye.”

“Just four, then?”

“Aye. We’ll be surveying Southern Holds boundaries, and Lord Dorn’s.”

D’mitran nodded. “He’s been fretting about it. We were down at the new cothold, the one the raiders had set up. He’s worried that he’s not legal, that he’s encroaching on dragonlands.”

“How’s that getting on?”

“Very well. The man Shawn had chained and beaten? He’s Random. He had two green firelizards? He’s Cotholder, and most of the folks who’d been coerced into being raiders stayed of their own accord. Most of them were good folks, K’ndar, their families were held hostage by Shawn. He had two people, one Scar and a woman named Vika, who’d been the main enforcers. She’d go into a Holdless camp, pretending to be one of them, and after dark, Scar and a handful of louts would sneak in, snatch up a couple kids or a pregnant woman, and then hold them hostage.”

“Killing him was the best thing that man, Alph? ever did.”

“Aye. He’s back there, too, by the way. Lord Dorn had him do six months of hard labor and then set him free. First thing he did was light out, back to the cothold. The cothold is running very well because of them and a few others.”

“What did Lord Dorn do to them all?”

“Most of them a mild punishment, nothing that was punitive. It was more a gentle warning, “don’t do this again”. There were a few he had us take away. Three of the bad ‘uns are still in cells, and K’ndar, I know this will bother you, but two of them I had to take out to the steppe and maroon.”


“Shaff it,” K’ndar swore, “That’s my steppe. Three and two makes five, what about the remaining two? He didn’t behead Scar and Vika?”

“No. They escaped.”

“Shabash. They were the worst of the lot.”

“Aye.”

“And now they’re loose.”

“Aye.”

Irritated, K’ndar emptied his mug. “D’mitran, sometimes I wish we’d never told anyone about the steppe. It’s not a garbage dump.”

“I know, K’ndar. I’m no happier than you are. But if it makes you feel any better, Scar and Vika both have prices on their head, and we have wanted posters out throughout the Hold. Even Toric is doing that, a good third of the livestock had been stolen from his herds. Shawn stole hand and foot from him after Toric had paid him. Apparently, this is just rumor, mind you, but Shawn had been double crossing Toric, and that man does NOT like being cheated. Not that he’s not above doing it himself, mind you.”

“Lie down with the pigs and get up filthy,” K’ndar said, “It serves him right. What troubles me with this survey is how Toric’s going to react when we-when Pern and the Council find he’s been cheating, claiming dragonlands for himself. Especially when he hears I’m in charge. He’s already got it out for me.”

“Are you afraid of him?”

Hmmm.

“He’s got a lot of power, D’mitran. He’s got rogue dragonriders flying for him. Don’t forget how he had spies all through his Gather hunting for me. I’d be a fool if I said no, I’m not afraid of him. But I’m not a fool. Not now. I don’t know if this is false bravado or just, oh, I don’t know the word.”

“Forewarned is forearmed, K’ndar. There’s only so much power he has or can do. You’re not his only enemy, just the newest one. I don’t think you have to worry, too much.”

“Hello, what’s this?”

A team of people came around the corner, two of them carrying odd looking pieces of equipment on tripods.

“Good morning, dragonriders!” one of them said.

“Good morning,” they both responded.

“Say, do you mind, can you make your dragons move? Just for a little while? We’re testing these new toys we’ve invented and need an open area.”

Where shall we go? Raventh asked.

Come up here with us.

What are they doing?

They said they’re testing new equipment

The two brown dragons waddled to where he and D’mitran were sitting. Even with Siskin atop Raventh’s head, he was still much smaller than Careth.

“Nice dragons,” said a woman on the team, “especially the little one. He’s pretty.”

“Thank you,” I think, he thought. Raventh “little”? Thank the stars dragons weren’t so impressed by size.

He recognized one of the team. “I remember you, you’re Nashua, from Research and Development?”

“That’s me. I remember you now, K’ndar. I hope your dragons don’t mind us commandeering their meadow for a while? We’re testing this laser, for your upcoming survey,” the man said.

D’mitran, always the engineer, said, “Laser? What’s a laser?” He got up to look and was immediately hooked.

“That will take some time to explain, sir, but for now, this is called a laser range finder. That laser beacon you found? We’ve had all sorts of fun with it. The database!! It’s like a puzzle, once you find the right words, it unlocks all sorts of information. This thing, for instance, will probably make surveying, you’re doing the surveying, yes? This will make it so much quicker to make a baseline, find accurate distance, than the old way we’ve done it in the past, with chains and rods. Your data will be absolutely precise.”

“How does it work?”

“Here’s the solar panels, they’re charging the laser, this barrel shaped thing? First we’ll get a beam straight down to insure we’re dead on the mark, then we fire the laser, it will send out a beam towards the receiver, way over there at the other end. We’ll do several tests at various distances. Once we’ve got things all dialed in, then we’ll get with you and train you all on its use.”

“How far can it go?” D’mitran said, entranced.

“We don’t know. Theoretically? Forever.”

“Forever?”

“Yes, sir. To the stars.”

K’ndar watched as the team began doing their testing. D’mitran was right there, soaking in every bit.

Why do I feel as if I’ve been slighted? They’re treating him as if he were team leader, not me. I was the one who found the beacon, not D’mitran.

So?

What do you mean, so?

You don’t want to be team leader but now you do?

Well, yes. I mean no. I mean, oh I don’t know what I’m feeling. Jealousy that they’re thinking D’mitran is the boss? Pride? But I don’t care, really. He IS much smarter than I am at this sort of thing. I still would be much happier if he were team leader, and me just the biologist.

The team set up two tripods a distance between the two, while another pair dragged a measuring tape between them. They set up their tripods directly over their end of the tape, a plumb bob dangling from it to insure accuracy.

“Tape says one hundred meters!” a woman called, “Ready!”

“K’ndar!! Be careful, we don’t plan on the beam going astray, but please, don’t let the beam hit your eyes!” Nashua called. The team donned yellow lensed goggles, one handing an extra to D’mitran.

“Why?”

“You can look at the beams from the side, but if you look at it directly, it might blind you,” Nashua called.

That sounds dangerous, he thought. “Do I need a goggle? And what about our dragons?”

“I don’t think so, honestly, I didn’t think of your dragons! As long as you don’t look INTO the beam you should be okay. And maintain a safe distance, where you are right now is far enough to be safe. Warn your dragons! But for your survey, we’ll provide goggles for you AND your dragons.”

Nashua returned to the task at hand.

“Set benchmark!”

Each range finder shot a red beam straight down. The teams re-arranged their tripods until they were perfectly aligned with their benchmark. “On benchmark!” each team called.

That beam looked like the laser pen he’d seen at the briefing. Siskin!

Raventh. Tell Siskin to stay up here with us. Do not let him go near that beam. For that matter, don’t look into it, like he said. I don’t want you hurt.

We know. Careth heard from D’mitran, too Raventh said. Siskin chipped but stayed atop his head.

“Okay,” Nashua called, behind the laser range finder. “Everyone ready?”

“Ready!”

“Right then. ‘Ware beam! On my mark, three, two, one, engage!”

An emerald green beam shot out from the range finder. It glittered, reflecting off the dust motes in the air.

It was beautiful. And silent. For some reason, I expected a noise, he thought.

“Ninety eight point two three seven meters!” called the woman at the receiver.

“Beam off. Reset!” Nashua called. The green beam vanished.

The woman’s team moved their tripod.

“Done!”

“ ‘Ware beam! Engaging!” The beam lanced out again, straight as an arrow.

“Ninety nine point zero zero five meters!”

“Beam off! Reset.”

“Done!”

“Beware beam! Engaging!”

“One hundred point zero one one meters!”

“Beam off! Reset!”

She moved the tripod just a tiny bit.

“Done!”

“Beware beam! Engaging!”

“One hundred point zero zero zero meters!”

They cheered.

D’mitran handed his goggles back to Nashua and rejoined K’ndar. His mind danced with all the possibilities a laser anything could provide. And we’ll get to play with it!

“That thing is amazing. What accuracy! It will definitely make things go a LOT faster, K’ndar. A lot,” he said, so enthused he could barely keep from laughing.

K’ndar kept his resentment to himself. I’m being silly, he thought. I don’t know why.

It’s okay. He knows this sort of thing but not biology. You know biology but not whatever D’mitran knows. When we are on expedition, we are a team. Like dragons when fighting thread. I can flame the big falls and fight for the whole fall, because I have endurance. The greens fly much faster so they can hit what we missed but they tire faster, too, and can’t fight a whole fall. So the greens take turns, some coming up as others are going down to rest. That’s why there are always more greens and blues. We all work as a team.

K’ndar grinned, letting his pride slide away. Just like a brother, he is. Just like D’mitran.

You are right. But you forgot something.

I did?

Yes, you are by far the smartest brown dragon in Pern.

I AM.

Chap. 282 The Geologists

Chap.282 The Geologists

“I have to get one of those slickers,” B’rost said, “I don’t mind getting wet but still, I thought we’d have until almost midnight before this came in.”

They were walking to the dining hall. The rain had come in, far earlier than Risal’s apprentice had predicted.

“The slicker is nice and I think there are some for sale. But don’t worry, we’re about there,” K’ndar said. He motioned B’rost to go in ahead of him.

K’ndar stopped just short of entering the building. He removed the slicker and shook it.

“The problem with it is that you still get wet, like right now, because I have to take it off outside. If I take it off indoors, it makes a big puddle, and whomever has the task this week for floors gets rightly pissed. So I’m still getting wet.”

“Just not as wet as me.”

“Aye. Sorry. You can’t control the weather.” He rolled the slicker into a tight bundle and tucked it under his arm, getting the side of his shirt wet.

“Then you have to figure out what to do with it. I wish we…I’ll get with Orlon, see if he has a way of storing these things, like here in this hallway. Maybe he can install some hooks.”

“Who’s Orlon? And what do you mean by whoever is tasked for floors? Landers are maintenance? Isn’t everyone here a specialist, a technician?”

“Orlon’s maintenance chief and a right dinkum man. And yes, the vast majority of folks here are specialists, but, B’rost, we don’t have drudges to do the work. We clean the latrines, we muck out the barns, everyone takes turns sweeping and mopping the floors, we even take our turn at KP and managing waste. My last task was taking food garbage out to the compost piles and turning them. Here, I’m going to drop this slicker at at table over there, see by the end? You go ahead and go through the line and I’ll be right behind you.”

They’d just sat down to their meal when he saw Risal in the serving line. Now might be a good time to ping her regarding being my survey’s geologist.

She looked around. He caught her eye and waved, pointing at the empty space next to him. She caught it and smiled.

“There’s a friend of mine, B’rost, do you mind if she joins us?”

“Nopppf” B’rost said around a mouthful. He may have regained his original weight, K’ndar thought, but he’s still got the appetite of a dragon.

She came over with a loaded tray, looking apologetic. She set it down next to his and sat down.

“Um…your apprentice sort of misjudged the rain, Risal,” he said, teasing.

She shrugged.“Yeah, well…that’s weather. And he’s new, but he’ll get it. He’s pretty sharp.”

“Risal, I’d like you to meet B’rost, rider of blue Rath. We were classmates at Weyrlingschool, our dragons are brothers. B’rost, this is Risal, she works in our Flight Ops but she’s a geologist, just like you.”

B’rost, sitting across from them, looked up and waved his hand to indicate he still had a mouthful of food.

If I’d not seen her face change, I wouldn’t have believed it, he reflected later.

Risal took one look at B’rost and was smitten.

Whoa. Look at his eyes! You can fall into them, they’re sea green, my boot, he’s the best looking man I’ve ever seen in my life, she thought. She felt a pulse of heat rise from her toes to the top of her head. Whoa.

B’rost cleared his throat. “Hello, Risal, pleased to meet you. I’m also a journeyman healer….is something wrong?”

I’m staring, she thought, he’s going to think I don’t like him, oh what AM I doing, oh, wow, he’s so cute.

“Uh, uh, noo. Nothing’s wrong, yes, um, it’s…you’re a geologist, too?” she said, averting her stare. She began to pick at her food, her appetite suddenly gone. Get a grip, girl. Geology. Yes. Rocks. Sedimentation. Volcanoes. Plate tectonics. A stable platform for my suddenly vanished wits.

“I am, since I was a kid. What kind of geology have you done?”

“Uh..” Is he single? Shut up, silly woman, oh, my stars, look at him. Whew. What kind of geology what kind? Geology.

“Um, well, all kinds, I love to go fossil hunting, but ever since I’ve started working in flight ops, I’ve not had much time to do that.”

B’rost’s face lit up. “Have you ever been to Cove Hold? The beach there is covered with marine fossils, even hunks of fossilized limestone. Have you seen the paladen, we recovered it from one of our surveys, it’s enormous. It was exposed on the beach, almost complete. Oh, that beach, the one with the paladen, it isn’t a beach, it’s so high energy! But the boulders there, they’re just loaded with fossils.”

“What kinds?” Risal said, corralling her wits that had scattered like chickens. I hope you can’t hear me thinking like you do a dragon. I’d much rather talk to you about more intimate things but…calm down, girl, you just met him, he may be partnered or married with two kids, oh I hope NOT, he’s, he’s cute. Let’s talk about geology, I DO love it. Whew, it’s warm in here.

“The ones I collected are all of an age, about 50 million years or so. If you like I could take you down there, do you have a hammer? I always carry mine, even if I am a healer…”

“I do! And a collecting bag, it’s old but it’s still in good shape.”

Amazed, K’ndar realized that, once again, B’rost had snared a girlfriend. Snared? Snatched her right from under my nose!

He’s gay! Females! I guess they like gay men? She doesn’t know, does she? Can you tell just by looking? Maybe that’s why I can’t get a girl? But do I want one right now? HOW does he do that? It didn’t take him ten seconds. Ten? My arse. It didn’t take him three. She’s looking at him as if she’s ready to shed her clothes and jump him. I thought she liked me, but listen to them, they’re off talking rocks like they’ve been friends for life. He’s already asked her for a date! Sheesh, he’s smooth as ice. Maybe I’ve misjudged you all these years, B’rost, you work fast. But no, it’s her with the gooey eyes. She didn’t look at me like that.

And I liked her. I still like her. I took her to Kahrain on a date. But it seems I’m just K’ndar, a friend of B’rost?

Are you jealous? Of B’rost? A blue rider? Raventh asked, drolly.

Well…….yeah.

Raventh laughed. Rath says what’s wrong with being a blue dragon?

Suddenly the humor of it all hit him and he began to laugh.

“Oh, I’m sorry, K’ndar, I guess I’m monopolizing the conversation,” B’rost said, “but it’s not often I meet another geologist, other than, oh, you know..”

“That’s okay, geology is just rocks, to me. If I can get a word in edgewise, and it’s about geology, Risal, I’m forming a team to do a survey, and I need a geologist who can also survey. I’ve been told you meet those criteria, would you be interested?”

Risal calmed, realizing she was acting like a lovestruck fool. Come ‘ere, thoughts, stop drooling, think. Think. No, not that kind of thought, think about the question!

“Wow. Yes. I mean, I’d love to, but how long would it be? I have to check on my availability, and I’d have to tell my apprentice how to manage Howel, and now I’m not so comfortable because he DID mistime this rain…”

“Right now it’s just in the planning stages, but Raylan said it would be a few weeks, and they’ve already are working on a sub for you in Ops.”

Okay, she thought, now I can think.

“Yes, I’m up for it. Yes.”

“Wait, wait, K’ndar, what about me? I’m a geologist, too, you know,” B’rost said, suddenly aggrieved.

He met B’rost’s eyes, seeing right through them.

Yeah. I know. You’ve also demonstrated a lack of common sense on more than one occasion. But you seemed to have matured, like F’mart, he thought.

“B’rost, until this morning, I had no idea where you were, or even if you were still alive. So I’ve got to work with the folks available,” he said, just a wee bit too harshly.

The blue rider quailed, than straightened up. “Okay, that’s fair, I guess. You’re right. How many would be going?”

“Right now it’s me as team leader, not as staff biologist. It’s strictly a surveying thing, not a specimen collection. I really didn’t want the job, but I’ve got the experience. I already have D’mitran as engineer. We’ll be surveying the boundaries of Singing Waters Hold, Southern Hold, and all the little cotholds out there.”

“Will D’nis be going?”

“Lord Councilman D’nis would love to go, but he seldom has more than a minute or two of free time.”

B’rost gaped.

“D’nis? Lord Councilman? Like THE Council? For Pern?”

“Yes, didn’t they tell you of the Selection at Healer Hall?”

B’rost shook his head. “If they did, I didn’t hear it. Or care. I’ve been working so hard to gain my journeyman’s badge.”

“So I see. No matter, he’d love to go but he just can’t. And it’s not as extensive as our earlier expeditions. We’d be commuting, no sleeping in the field this time. I’d be taking Risal on Raventh.”

Both of them shook their heads. Sheesh, it’s like they’re already a mated pair, he thought.

“You’ll need someone else,” Risal said, “another geologist, or surveyor.”

“What do you mean?”

“One surveyor isn’t enough. If I’m to do my job, get the data correctly, I need a second person, one to bushwhack, shoot the sun, one to handle the other end of a baseline, a tape, you know, taking readings, azimuths, both forward and back. Both people need to know what they’re doing, otherwise it’s just wasted time. It’s like walking with just one shoe on.”

“Um, I didn’t know that.”

B’rost looked at him with beseeching eyes.

“She’s right, K’ndar, she needs a stikdik, and while I’m not rated as a surveyor, I do know how to do it. I do! So I volunteer as her assistant, you know I’m good at surveys, expeditions, you KNOW me, K’ndar! I can take Risal on Rath. My time is my own, and if someone gets hurt, well, B’rost, Journeyman Healer at your service!”

I’m cornered, he thought, looking at both of them with their eyes aglow. Was it with emotional attraction or true scientific fascination? I don’t have to clear this with Raylan, it’s my choice as team leader. And it does make my job easier. I think. I can handle B’rost. It’s Risal who’s the wild card. Can I trust her to do her job rather than make gooey eyes at B’rost? Well…Flight Ops works like a well oiled clock with her at the helm. She’s got a good head on her shoulders, even if it looks like it’s whirling at the moment.

Oh, what the shaff. Give them a chance.

He shrugged, admitting to defeat.

“Okay. You’re both on.”

Chap. 281 The Screamer

Chap. 281 The Screamer

Maybe I should have just told this L’ichen the coordinates to Landing and left it for him to find it himself. He’s taking an awfully long time collecting a handful of notebooks.

He was waiting for the botanist to return to the Weyr’s dragon meadow. Many of the dragonriding guests had already left. He looked up at the sky. It’s going to rain sooner than that journeyman meteorologist said, he thought.

Rath is coming Raventh said.

RATH?

Yes, he’s popped out of between, see him approaching?

I do!

The blue dragon landed. Raventh bugled a hello.

B’rost called “Well, I’ll be switched! K’ndar, hey there, give me a minute.”

K’ndar headed for Rath. B’rost unbuckled, dropped to the ground and met him. K’ndar stuck out his hand for a fist bump. B’rost, instead, gave him a bear hug.

“By the egg, it’s good to see you! Did I miss Impression?”

“It’s been a while, B! Yes, you missed Impression. It was yesterday. It was a good one. Mirth went almost two years without a clutch, so getting a couple bronzes and a gold was a relief.”

“Oh, well. I like Impressions, but duty called. I wanted to be here yesterday but I had a broken leg, and that took me until last night.”

Shocked, K’ndar looked at the man’s legs. “Um, they look fine to me, you must be a great healer.”

B’rost laughed. “No, one of my patients had a broken leg. I was just leaving a little cothold west of Southern Weyr when one of their herdsman sustained a broken leg from a cow kick. You know, I milked cows from the time I was a pup and not once did I ever have one try to kick me.”

“Maybe it was a beef cow? Ours would get pretty rank after a summer on the steppe. They didn’t want to come in for the winter. But with a good horse and a loud whip you usually can convince them to change their mind.”

“You WHIPPED them?”

“No. Just popped it, it makes one shaff of a loud crack. They think they’re about to get hit. I did have a horse, though, who, if the cow was acting stupid, would bite her on the rump. THEN she’d kick, you bet, but never made contact.”

“So, how did Impression go?”

“Very well. It was Mirth’s first clutch in two years. A bronze hatched first. Ultimately there was one gold and two bronzes in a clutch of twenty four.”

“Two years, that’s a long time between clutches. I bet the Weyrleaders were worried.”

“Aye, but they were the problem in the first place.”

“Let me guess, M’rvin being a knothead? Don’t tell him I said so.”

“Of course not. Yeah, it was mostly M’rvin. He…well, Siena has been the true Weyrleader for quite a while. She’s made a lot of changes, for instance, letting Candidates on the hatching sands wear sandals.”

“I would have loved that, I never knew why we had to be barefoot. So Siena’s running things and M’rvin’s just resting on his position?”

“Nope. M’rvin left. Resigned his position and just disappeared.”

B’rost thought for several moments. “Resigned! That’s a new one. Huh. So who flew Mirth? Who’s Weyrleader?”

K’ndar grinned, suddenly understanding why people played guessing games. I hate them, it would be hypocritical of me to indulge in them. But I understand the basis for them, now. It’s for the predictable reaction.

“F’mart.”

B’rost gaped. “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa? F’mart? You’re kidding me.”

Yup. That was the reaction I knew I’d get.

“Nope. Kenth flew Mirth. Even with two other older bronzes, I hear it wasn’t even close.”

“F’mart. Of all the people in the weyr, he’d have been the last bronze rider I would believe make it to Weyrleader.”

“I know. I was amazed, too, but he’s done a lot of changing, B’rost. Where do you live, now? How long has it been since you left?”

“I don’t have a permanent home. As for how long since I left? I can’t remember, over a year? After I left the Weyr, I went up to Healer Hall. I decided being a geologist wasn’t using up enough of my time, and I’ve learned, when I have time on my hands, I find ways of using it to get into trouble.”

K’ndar laughed.

“Huh. F’mart. Well, I learn something new every day. So, I see you’ve got Raventh all harnessed up?”

“I was just about to leave. I’m at Landing now. I’m staff biologist! And I’m waiting on this, well, oaf, for lack of a better word, to take him to Landing. It’s a long story.”

“Landing! Good on you, I always knew you were a bright spark, ‘specially with biology. Do you mind if I come along? I’ve no reason to be here other than Impression and I was hoping to run into you. And now you’re at Landing permanently, huh?”

“Aye. Come with me.You can bunk in my quarters for a day or two, I’m pretty busy so I won’t have the time to just hang out, but you’re welcome. How is it you’re so footloose? Don’t you want to be based at a Hold, or a Weyr?”

“Naw, I’m a nomad, a journeyman Healer, in the truest essence of the word.

I like it, K’ndar. Remember when Greta and I skyhooted off?”

“YES, I sure do, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t piss me off.”

“Yeah,” B’rost said, “You’re right. I will admit that I did enjoy the nomading, the wandering, seeing the planet. Me and Greta, we were giddy with the freedom, but we did some things that were pretty stupid, K’ndar. We took risks that, in retrospect I’m thinking I did THAT? Idiot! And as time went on, it stopped being fun. Greta was..she was driven by something I never understood. Climbing rocks and finding fossils, that I loved. I didn’t like the times when we’d not had a full stomach for weeks, or a hot shower, which was pretty much most of them. Sorry to say, but had someone thumped me in the head and told me I was an idiot I would have ignored them. It was Rath who finally had had enough. I’m starving, he said, I’m hungry all the time. I’m ashamed to say he was right. I was so caught up with Greta, trying to figure her out, trying to make sense of why I was so smitten with her in the first place. It was always her deciding where to go next. After awhile it was just a matter of trying to survive. It’s not easy, being a nomad, K’ndar, if you don’t have a skill or a place to live and food to eat. How the Holdless do it, I have no idea.”

“I well remember when you returned. I’m not going to apologize, B’rost, you’d neglected Rath and yourself. Rath and you both looked like a rack of bones. Dirty ones.”

B’rost nodded, his eyes downcast. “You’re right. I was so wrong. I still apologize to Rath.”

He saw L’ichen approaching with a bulging backpack. “Is this your oaf?”

“Aye. He’s not much for words, he’s antisocial, so don’t worry about starting up a conversation. He’s..focused. Obsessed, really, and lacking in civility. But I’m merely showing him how to get to Landing, once I drop him off at Admin, I’m free to swap stories. Do you need the coordinates to Landing?”

“Naw, I’ve got Landing in my head. I’ll take you up on the offer to stay at your weyr.”

“Good. Because among the other stuff I want to tell you, I found out what happened to Greta.”

_______________________________________________________________

“All this is just for you? Just one inhabitant?” B’rost said, looking around his quarters.

“Yup. Just me and Raventh has his big bay. I felt lost at first, it’s so big and empty, but now I’ve been loaned some furniture and it has a lot of things we never had in a Weyr. Like this thing here, it’s a refrigerator. It keeps things cold.”

“I saw them at Healer Hall. Have anything to drink in it?”

“Water, and wine, but I don’t know how good the wine might be. It’s been in there a while. It’s called Kahrain, Lord Dorn’s gone into the ale and wine business.”

B’rost pulled the wine out. K’ndar handed him a mug. He poured some in it and took a sip. “It’s good. Aren’t you going to have some?”

“Nope, I keep it for guests. I can’t drink alcohol, I’m allergic to it.”

“Huh, that’s unusual, but not unheard of.”

“I kept it secret, for a long time. You know how it is, so many men think that if we can’t drink, our bollocks will fall off.”

B’rost giggled. “Still got yours?”

Laughing, he punched B’rost.

“Shards, it’s good to see you. So tell me, how is it you’re a healer now?”

“A JOURNEYman Healer, K’ndar, in the true essence of the word. I wander, but this time I have a skill that’s welcome everywhere, and money in my pouch to pay for food and lodging. And it takes years to make Master. I may never reach that point.”

He sipped the wine and relaxed in the comfortable lounge chair. Sunlight streamed through a nearby window and he could see Rath, Raventh and several other dragons sunning themselves in the meadow beyond. But the clouds in the sky foretold of rain.

“This is nice, K’ndar.”

“The chair? The quarters? The wine?”

“All of it. So, let me tell you the story of how a crazy blue dragonrider geologist turn into a healer.

It was Harve, K’ndar. Remember that boy we rescued? When I saw those hideous wounds on his legs, part of me cringed, but another part of me wanted to help him. I wanted to make his legs work, so he could be a normal boy. That meant being a Healer. I was being typical B’rost. One morning I decided, I’m going to be a healer, as if it were just as easy as lacing on a pair of boots. If I’d known beforehand what it entailed, I doubt I would have done it.”

“Tough?”

“Whew. Fighting Thread was easy, K’ndar. There was so much to learn, I think I broke my brain trying to memorize it all. It was tough, K’ndar. Those teachers can be brutal. Not mean, just…exacting. So much skull work, learning muscles, learning diagnosing, gestation, digestion, neurology…and that was the easy stuff. Then we had application of what we’d learned.

We had actors, you know, people pretending to be sick or injured in various ways, and we had to use what we’d learned to heal them. Sometimes we’d get a hint of what was wrong, they’d make it look like an arm was broken, but other times, you had to figure it out without help. The patients could tell you where they hurt, but you had to figure out why. Sometimes it was easy, some lout was puking because he’d drunk too much. But others, they’d be sick with something far less easily diagnosed. Field work was even more difficult. The instructors would throw us into scenarios..a rockfall in a mine, or someone having been bitten by something venomous. The actors usually couldn’t or didn’t tell you what was wrong, you had to do triage, you had to prioritize what to work on first.

One of the actors would scream from even the slightest of injuries. She had just the right pitch to scare the shit out of you. Rattled? Boy, she had my number. At least Thread didn’t scream when you flamed it. I always screwed up with her, when she’d scream I’d lose all concentration. Which was the point, I guess. Whenever I saw her I knew it was going to be bad. How she managed to not deafen herself, I don’t know. She sure did it to me.

And all the time, you have an instructor hanging over you, at first, they’d help you, point out what was wrong, help you sort out what to do, but as we got more and more into it, they stopped helping. By this time you’re supposed to have memorized the things to do, or just intuit it. They were hard on me, K’ndar, harder than any Weyrlingmaster. They’d let you go through the entire scenario without a word. It was After Action that was the worst. All the students are in one room with the instructors and the actors. They’d critique you and at first they were kindly and supportive, but as we progressed, they got increasingly critical. How did you do this, why did you diagnose that, you messed up on this other thing. I got nailed a LOT, K’ndar. In fact, I was ‘recycled’ twice. That means being set back, put into the class behind you, with new people. That’s even harder because you grow to like your fellow students and then you have to be with a couple of strangers and go through that entire segment of training all over again.”

“Didn’t you think of quitting?”

“All the time, K’ndar. In fact, I did. But, well, let me tell you what made the difference.

The scenario was where a bunch of fishermen had their ship break up on the reef. We had to bring them out of the water and stabilize them for transport. That was real, that part, the setting. We were knee deep in the surf, there was an old wreck, I don’t know if it was purpose built or just happened upon, but you’d go through it trying to pull people out. They’d put us out in the desert, out in the water, in mines, on a hillside-those instructors were, if nothing else, inventive.

Anyway, I thought I’d have it easy because my casualty had dragged herself out of the surf with a broken leg. She wasn’t saying a word, I though, oh good, I don’t have a screamer. This would be easy. Or so I thought. I got to work on her, made a great splint out of a piece of driftwood, and then sat back on my heels, satisfied. I told her she’d be fine and then went to help one of my classmates bring another casualty out of the water.

At AA..After Action, I got smashed. I felt I’d done a good job, but my instructor said, “B’rost-Fail”

“What? I yelled, I did a great job on her leg.”Then my instructor, he says, “You did, B’rost, you‘ve mastered stabilizing a broken leg. But your casualty died of blood loss. She bled to death.”

“REALLY?”

“No, not really, K’ndar, she was acting! But I’d failed to prioritize. I should have checked her in order, first, is she breathing, if so, then is she bleeding, stop that, then treat her for shock, and THEN try to splint the leg.”

K’ndar shook his head. “I would have given up, B’rost.”

The blue rider nodded.

“I did. K’ndar. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. I had tried so hard, I’d been working my arse off, studying late into the night, getting up extra early to make sure Rath was fed, groomed, then gulp down a meal and go to class, being recycled despite my best efforts, and all for naught. I wasn’t ever going make it. So I stood up and said, Sir, I quit. Thank you for your time but I am not cut out for this.”

The instructors all just look at me, and I’m surrounded by my classmates, the third set, mind you, I’m humiliated, I’m embarrassed, I feel like an utter moron, I’m Stupid B’rost, and most of all, I’m discouraged. I’m no good at this, I said, I’m sorry but I just don’t fit here. I quit.

I intended to pack my bag and take off on my dragon and go anywhere but there.

B’rost gulped, and K’ndar saw tears start in his eyes.

“You okay?” he said, afraid he’d opened a wound he had no idea existed in the man.

The blue rider looked at him. “K’ndar, all my life, my self esteem has been under my feet. I was never good enough, never given credit for being anything but a silly gay boy, one with no friends, even at Kahrain my only friend was you, and I’d broken your nose because I was stupid. I was someone who’d never amount to much, someone who’d never be missed. Impressing Rath was the best thing that ever happened to me and I’d let him down while I was out with Greta.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself, B’rost.”

“No, I’m not, K’ndar. I was beaten. I was done. I’d let everyone down, even my dragon.

So I stood up and said, thank you for your time, but I’m no good, I quit.”

Then one of the actors, the Screamer-they get to be in on the After Action to critique your handling of them-she says, “Don’t you dare quit, B’rost, you have more empathy than anyone I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been doing this for a while. You can do this. You must. You’re a healer, you just don’t know it yet.”

“And then my classmates all started saying, “No, don’t go, no, B’rost, you can do this. Stay, with us, stay.”

He gulped again, a tear rolling down his cheek.

“They said, “Stay.”