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by Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
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Home! The word sang in Acorna's mind, a song of chiming silver streams and drumming waterfalls, of wind fluting across the tops of bending blue-green grasses and through the spade-shaped leaves of gigantic trees in vast forests. The song echoed in the minds of every Linyaari present as they beheld Vhiliinyar-that-was.
The first homecoming place was on a high plateau, overshadowed by a conical mountain. Among deep purple and azure wildflowers lay a sprinkling of snow, while a pinkish cap of glacier frosted the distant peak, silhouetted against a delicate violet sky. A cascade flowed majestically from a plateau, the water forming a roaring curtain that plunged down to the mountain's base, ending in a froth of rainbow mists and white water that smoothed out into a broad plumcolored lake.
Acorna felt instinctively that this lake had tremendous significance for her but she didn't understand what that significance could possibly be. She wanted to stop and stay there, gazing into it, looking for something she was sure she could find if she just had time to look for it, but the world around her swooped onward, as if she and her traveling companions were flying through it in an open-topped flitter.
The violet skies of Vhiliinyar arched overhead, edged by the scalloped beauty of snow-covered mountains, as the spectacle swiftly segued from one glory to another.
Acorna almost forgot to breathe. This was the world she had dreamed of for so very long. She didn't hear the thoughts of the others, not even Aari or Neeva, nor did she seek them out. Surely they were as overwhelmed as she was by the sheer beauty of Vhiliinyar.
Abruptly the sky darkened, the moons rose, and sunsetcolored words blazed overhead:
Brought to You Courtesy of Harakamian Homeworld Holograms and Terrestoration -- Making Any World a Better One
A collective sigh went round the room as the images faded. Everyone began talking, aloud and with thought-talk, all at once, so that the resulting words were little more than confused babble.
Despite all the verbal confusion, Aari's communication was very clear. He was trembling and looked rather greenish. His jaw was firmly clenched and his brimming eyes stared straight ahead.
"What is it, yaazi?" Acorna asked, using the Linyaari term for "beloved." Taking Aari's arm, she led him quickly to the main exit from the holo-bubble. She felt, rather than saw, Aari's parents, his sister Maati, and Thariinye, who had become Aari's friend, following them.
Aari's answer to her question came into her mind in a wave of pain and shock, the sort of emotional trauma he had seemed to be free of for some time now. Acorna placed her gleaming horn against his cheek to reassure him. Normally, among Linyaari, this caress would have been horn-to-horn, but Aari had been mutilated during his capture by the evil Khleevi. His horn had been destroyed. Thanks to hard work by some of the best Linyaari healers and a tussue donation from his younger sister Maati. Aari's horn had regrown to a short, twisted knot protruding an inch or so from his forhead and in time would be fully restored, but horn-to-horn gestures weren't possible for him yet.
His friends and family, emerging from the holo-bubble that had been temporarily transformed into their lost home, sensed Aari's anguish and joined their horns with Acorna to try and soothe him.
Hafiz Harakamian bustled out, the silk panels of his robes flying behind him like the wings of varicolored butterflies. His round face retained its geniality, but Acorna, raising her head to watch her adopted uncle's approach, felt a subtle blend of pique and embarrassment beneath his surface cheer, and saw the right half of Hafiz's mustache twitch irritably.
"How is it that my small conjuring trick to bring to life your once-exquisite home world has so distressed our heroic Aari that all of you must leave so precipitously, 0 She Who Is Closer to My Heart than Any Daughter of My Flesh Could Ever Be?" Hafiz complained, addressing Acorna.
But it was Maati, a youngling not afraid to rush in where diplomats feared to tread, who raised her horn from her brother's chest and answered, "The Khleevi made him watch while they destroyed it all, Uncle Hafiz. It was awful. They killed all of those beautiful animals for sport, and ate every living plant and tree. Then they fouled the lakes and streams with their horrible excrement before they blew the mountains apart and filled the valleys with rubble."
"Yes, Yes, these regrettable circumstances are common knowledge. But have we not just demonstrated with our science which is so much like magic how the damage can be repaired and the planet reterraformed so it is as good as--nay, better than--new? You cannot but be aware of the extensive interviews we have conducted with Linyaari who lived on Vhiliinyar, in order that we may gather their memories of the place so that our scientists' efforts can bring them to life once more? Now all that remains is a simple aerial topographical mapping expedition and . . . "
"Nothing remains to map," Aari said, his voice flat with a lack of emotion that was painful to hear. "How will you know where to put a river when there are no mountains to feed it or seas for it to flow into? Even Joh Becker could find nothing to salvage from the planet except the bones of our ancestors."
Acorna considered this statement as the holo-bubble emptied of the rest of Hafiz's Linyaari guests. From them she heard random snatches of troubled thought.
(I don't remember that mountain as being quite so high.)
(No, and there was always a summer settlement near the mouth of the Paazo river. The channels were all wrong.)
"There is still at least one recognizable..."