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The Skies Of Pern
by Anne McCaffrey
Ballantine Books, 2001

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Turnover at Landing—1.1.31 Present Pass Aivas—Aivas Adjusted Turn 2553

Since it was not at all unusual for dragonriders to be found poring over the volumes in the extensive Aivas archives, F’lessan, rider of bronze Golanth, was not surprised to see a girl wearing the shoulder knots of a green rider from Monaco Bay deeply engrossed in study. What did strike him as odd was that anyone at all was here in the main archive reading room during Turnover. Tonight the planet, north and south continents, would officially celebrate the beginning of the thirty-second Turn of the present and, hopefully, final Pass of Threadfall. Even through the thick walls of the building, he could hear drums and oc-casionally the sound of the brass instruments from Landing’s Gather Square.

Why wasn’t the girl, especially a green rider, out dancing? Why wasn’t he? He grimaced. He was still trying to overcome the care-lessly lustful reputation that he had earned early in this Pass. Not that he was any different from many bronze and brown riders. “Just more noticeable,” Mirrim had told him in her candid fash-ion. Mirrim had astonished everyone, including herself, when she had Impressed green Path at a Benden Weyr Hatching. Being T’gellan’s weyrmate had mellowed her natural assertiveness, but she never spared him her blunt opinions.

The girl was engrossed in her study of a foldout page depicting Rukbat’s planetary system, spread across the tilted reading desk. Not everyone’s reading choice certainly, F’lessan thought.

Many of the younger riders, who would see the end of this Pass in sixteen Turns, were studying to become proficient in another craft. In that way they would be able to support themselves once the traditional tithe to the Weyrs ceased. While Thread still fell, Hold and Hall would continue to support the dragonriders, in exchange for aerial protection against the voracious organism that could de-stroy anything but metal and stone. But when Thread ceased, so would that support. Those riders whose families owned holds or halls might simply be reabsorbed, but weyrbred dragonriders like F’lessan had to find another way. Fortunately for F’lessan, he had discovered Honshu, in the foothills of the great Southern moun-tain range, and since the Weyrs had wrung out of the council that loosely governed the planet the concession that dragonriders might claim holdings on the Southern continent, F’lessan had claimed Honshu as his. He had based most of his argument on the fact that he intended to restore and preserve the Ancient habitation and its splendors for everyone to enjoy. He had used every ounce of his considerable charm and every jot of guile with other Weyrleaders, Craftmasters, and Lord Holders in order to secure that title to him-self. And once the formidable intelligence of the Artificial Intelli-gence Voice Address System—Aivas—and the combined might of all the Weyrs of Pern had diverted the orbit of the menacing Red Star, he had begun to spend all the time he could spare from his du-ties as a Benden Wingleader in refurbishing Honshu.

F’lessan had never been a studious youngster—his interests as well as his concentration span had been limited to escaping les-sons whenever he could and having the greatest amount of fun. Impressing bronze Golanth had imposed discipline at last, be-cause there was no way he would neglect his dragon. He had learned a determination and focus that had resulted in his becom-ing one of the most adept riders, held up as a fine example—at least of riding—by weyrlingmasters.

Honshu had become another passion. The Ancient holding, with the splendid murals in its main hall, had exerted a strange compulsion on him from the start: to preserve the ancient trea-sures found there and to discover as much as possible about its founders and residents. With the boyish impudence that was his most ingenuous characteristic, he had appointed himself Hon-shu’s guardian and caretaker. He had worked harder than anyone else in clearing out the muck and mold and restoring the fabric of the place. Tonight he had a puzzle he wanted to solve. He had specifically chosen this time to come to the Aivas facility, hoping to be its sole visitor. He preferred not to share his research—his fascination with Honshu was at odds with his reputation.

You protect Honshu. I like being there very much, said his dragon, Golanth, from where he had settled himself in the hot noontime sun among the dragons who had brought their riders to Landing’s Turnover festivities. Good sunning places, clear water, and many fat herdbeasts.

Still paused quietly on the threshold of the reading room, F’lessan grinned. You found it. We’ll keep it.

Yes, Golanth agreed amiably.

F’lessan stuffed his riding gloves into the Turnover gift of a fine carisak, giving the wide cuffs a good push; the new wher-hide leather was stiff, despite the good oiling he had given it yesterday evening. The carisak had been presented to him by Lessa and F’lar. He rarely thought of them as “mother” or “father”: they were his Weyrleaders, and that was more relevant. His birthing day, his Impression Day—the day marking the advent of Golanth into his life—and Turnover were, however, always recognized by some gift from them. F’lessan didn’t know if this was occasioned by their need to remind him of his parents, or themselves of their son. Fostering was the rule in a weyr, so no child was without several people, not necessarily the birth parents, who took special interest in him or her. As F’lessan grew up and saw how easygo-ing life was in a weyr, and the conformity required of children in the holds, he was as glad he’d been weyrbred.

He gave the gloves one more shove to store them completely, but still he hesitated to enter the room. He didn’t want to disturb the single reader who was so engrossed in her study that she was unaware of him standing there.

No one has ever disliked your company, said his dragon.

I don’t like to break into such concentration, F’lessan replied. How do we know she isn’t studying an alternative occupation for After?

Dragons will always be needed on Pern, Golanth said stoutly.

Golanth was fond of making that observation. Almost as if Golanth, too, needed to reassure himself. Maybe it was just the mind-set of a bronze dragon—or more likely Mnementh’s in par-ticular, since F’lar’s great bronze took a keen interest in the subtle tuition of any bronzes hatched on Benden’s sands. However, suc-ceeding F’lar as Weyrleader of Benden was most certainly not in F’lessan’s future plans. F’lessan earnestly hoped that F’lar would lead the Weyr out of this Pass: a triumph in itself, over and above what F’lar had done at its beginning with the slender force he’d had available then. Being Wingleader suited F’lessan’s blithe per-sonality, especially now that he had claimed Honshu as his spe-cial domain. Now, if the Weyrleaders—or rather F’lar—would just come out and say that he and Lessa would retire there, no one would dare contest his claim.

Unlike the position of Lord Holders, the Weyrleadership was not hereditary. A good example was the recent stepping down of R’mart and Bedella of Telgar. To establish the new leadership, the challenge had been for the best bronze in the Weyr to fly the first junior queen ready to mate. J’fery, rider of bronze Willerth, was now Telgar’s Weyrleader, and Palla, golden Talmanth’s rider, was Weyrwoman. F’lessan knew them both well, and knew they would lead Telgar Weyr well under Threadfree skies.

If we don’t make the arrogant mistakes that the Oldtimers did, F’lessan added to himself, and expect to continue receiving the perquisites due the Weyrs during a Pass, once there is no more Thread.

A movement brought him back to the present. The girl’s boots scraped over the stone floor as she recrossed her ankles. She was hunched forward over the reading desk and now leaned her el-bows on the table. Her profile was well lit by the softly dissemi-nated light, and she had thinned her lips over whatever it was she was reading. She frowned, then sighed over the wide page. F’lessan saw the well-defined arch of a black eyebrow as her frown relaxed. She had a long and very delicately formed nose, he observed with mild approval. Her hair, a midbrown sparking with red as she moved, was clipped short on top to reduce sweat-ing under her helmet. Left long at the nape of her neck, the wavy mass reached halfway down her back, where it was neatly cut off in a straight line.

She turned her head abruptly, suddenly aware of his scrutiny.

“Sorry. Thought I’d have the place to myself,” F’lessan said ge-nially, striding forward, his dress shoes making very little sound on the stone floor.

Her startlement suggested to him that she, too, had thought she could study in solitary quiet. She was in the act of pushing back her chair when he held out a hand to prevent her from rising. Most riders knew who he was: he made a habit of flying Thread with the two southern Weyrs and usually attended every Impres-sion. The latter was sheer indulgence on his part, for at each Im-pression, he and Golanth reaffirmed their lifelong commitment to each other.

Now that he could see her full face, he recognized her.

“You’re Tai, aren’t you? Zaranth’s rider?” he asked, hoping he remembered rightly.

You always do, Golanth murmured.

She’d Impressed, unexpectedly, nearly five Turns ago at Monaco Bay. She’d come south, though he couldn’t remember from where. There had been so many people flooding through Landing since Aivas was discovered in 2538. While she couldn’t be much older than her mid twenties, he wondered if she’d been part of the workforce during those astonishing five Turns of Aivas. After all, Aivas had demonstrated a distinct bias for green dragons and their riders.

F’lessan stepped forward, extending his hand to her. She looked embarrassed, dropping her eyes as soon as their hands had clasped politely. Her handshake was firm, if brisk almost to the point of rudeness, and he could feel some odd ridges, scars, on the back of her hand and on her forefinger. She wasn’t pretty; she didn’t act sensual, the way some green riders did, and she was only half a head shorter than he was. She wasn’t too thin, but the lack of flesh on her bones gave her a slightly boyish appearance.

“I’m F’lessan, Golanth’s rider, of Benden.”

“Yes,” she said, shooting him a sharp look. Her eyes were set at an unusual upward slant, but she looked away so quickly he couldn’t see what color they were. Oddly enough, she flushed. “I know.” She seemed to gather breath to continue. “Zaranth just told me that Golanth had apologized for disturbing her nap on the ledge.” She flicked him another almost contrite glance, awk-wardly clasping her left wrist with her right hand so that the knuckles turned white.

F’lessan grinned in his most ingratiating fashion. “By nature, Golanth is very considerate.” He gave a little bow and gestured toward the volume open on the reading desk. “Don’t let me dis-turb your studies. I’ll be over there.” He pointed to the far right.

He could just as easily work in the alcove as in the main room and not intrude on her solitude. In no time at all he had collected three of the records he thought most likely to contain the informa-tion he sought, and brought them to the smaller reading desk in the alcove. Anarrow window gave him a view of the eastern hills and the barest sparkle of the sea. He seated himself, placed the piece of paper that he had brought with him on the table, and started riffling through the thinly coated plastic pages of the COM Tower records. He was looking for one name: Stev Kimmer, listed in the colony records as Stakeholder on Bitkim Island, now called Ista Hold. He needed to find any connection between Kim-mer and Kenjo Fusaiyuki, who had been the original Honshu Stakeholder.

In his careful clearing of debris in the ancient dwelling place, he had found the initials SK carved or etched on several surfaces: on the metal worktop in the garage of the ancient sled and on several drawers. No other inhabitant had defaced or initialed anything. The only SK not listed as going north in the Second Crossing— when the Thread-beleaguered colonists had resettled at Fort— was Stev Kimmer. Previous research revealed that the man had disappeared with a sled after Ted Tubberman’s illegal launch of an appeal for help from old Earth. Kimmer had not been seen again. The loss of a functional sled had been officially regretted; Kimmer’s absence had not.

Excerpted from The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey Copyright 2001 by Anne McCaffrey. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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