Read an Excerpt
Present (Ninth) Pass, 17th Turn
By the time the Aivas had finished its recital of the first nine years of the colonization of Pern, the sun Rukbat had set with an unusually fine display. Not that many of the reverent listeners of the history that the Artificial Intelligence Voice-Address System narrated were aware of such externals.
During the hours that the Aivas’s resonant tones had filled the chamber and penetrated to the hallway beyond, more people had crowded in to hear what it said, jostling each other to get an occasional look at the incredible moving pictures with which Aivas illustrated its narrative. Those Lord Holders and Craftmasters hastily summoned by fire-lizard messengers willingly crowded into the stuffy inner room.
Lord Jaxom of Ruatha had asked his white dragon, Ruth, to summon the Benden Weyrleaders, so they were the first to join the Masterharper Robinton and Mastersmith Fandarel. Lessa and F’lar slid onto the stools that Jaxom and Journeyman Harper Piemur vacated for them. Piemur frowned at his mate, Mastersmith Jancis, when she started to get down and gestured to Breide, standing gawking in the doorway, to bring more seating. When F’nor, the Benden Wingleader, came, he sat on the floor, where he had to crane his neck to see the screen, though he quickly became too engrossed in the history to notice any discomfort. Room was made in the small, crowded chamber for the Lord Holders, Groghe of Fort, Asgenar of Lemos, “and Larad of Telgar. By then, Jaxom had been pushed back to the doorway and politely but firmly refused entry to anyone else.
Subtly the Aivas increased its volume so that the tale was audible to all those in the corridor. No one seemed to mind the stifling closeness of room and corridor, though matters improved when someone considerately passed around water and redfruit juice and, later, meatrolls. Someone also had the foresight to open as many of the windows in the building as possible, thus circulating some air down the corridor, though little enough reached the Aivas chamber.
“The final message received by this facility from Captain Keroon was to confirm that Fort Hold was operational. This message was logged in at 1700, fourth day of the tenth month, eleventh year after Landing.”
When the Aivas ceased speaking, there was a profound and awed silence, finally broken by small scufflings as people shifted, almost apologetically, from long-held positions. A few polite coughs were quickly muffled.
Feeling it incumbent on him to make some response to these historic and unexpected revelations, the Masterharper cleared his throat.
“We are deeply indebted to you, Aivas, for this amazing tale.” Robinton spoke with deep humility and respect. A murmur of agreement circulated room and corridor. “We have lost so much of our early history: It’s been reduced to myth and legend in many cases. You have clarified much that puzzled us. But why does it end so abruptly?”
“There was no further input from the authorized operators.”
“No explanation was given. Failing prior instructions, this facility continued observations until the solar panels became clogged and power was reduced to the minimum needed to retain core integrity.”
“Those panels are the source of your power?” Fandarel asked, his bass voice rumbling with eagerness.
“Those pictures? How did you do that?” Fandarel’s usual reserved manner was discarded in his excitement.
“You no longer have recording devices?”
“No.” Fandarel shook his head in disgust. “Among many of the other marvels you mentioned in passing. Can you teach us what we have forgotten?” His eyes glowed in anticipation.
“The memory banks contain Planetary Engineering and Colonizing data, and the multicultural and historical files considered relevant by the Colony Administrators.”
Before Fandarel could organize another question, F’lar held up one hand.
“With respect, Master Fandarel, we all have questions to ask Aivas.” He turned around to signal Master Esselin and the ubiquitous Breide to come to the door. “I want this corridor cleared, Master Esselin. This room is not to be entered without express permission from one of us present now. Do I make myself plain?” He looked sternly from one to the other.
“Indeed, Weyrleader, perfectly plain,” Breide said, his manner as obsequious as ever.
“Of course, Weyrleader, certainly, Weyrleader,” Master Esselin said, bowing with each use of F’lar’s title.
“Breide, make sure you report today’s event to Lord Toric,” F’lar added, knowing perfectly well that Breide would do just that without permission. “Esselin, bring enough glowbaskets to light the hall and the adjacent rooms. Bring a few cots or pallets, as well, and blankets. Some food.”
“And wine. Don’t forget wine, F’lar,” Robinton called. “Benden wine, if you please, Esselin, and make that two wineskins. This could be very thirsty work,” he added in a conversational tone, grinning at Lessa.
“Well, you’re not going to drink up two skinsful, Robinton,” Lessa said at her sternest, “talking yourself hoarse with Aivas. Which I can see is what you have in mind. I’d say you already had quite enough excitement for one day. It’s certainly more than I can believe in one day.”
“Be assured, Madam Lessa,” Aivas said in a placatory voice, “that every word you have heard is factual.”
Lessa turned toward the screen that had displayed marvels to her, images of people who had turned to dust centuries before and objects totally foreign to her eyes. “I don’t doubt you, Aivas. I doubt my ability to absorb half the wonders you have described and shown us.”
“Be assured that you have achieved wonders of your own,” Aivas replied, “to survive the menace that nearly overwhelmed the settlers. Are those immense and magnificent creatures ranged on the slopes outside the descendants of the dragons which Madam Kitti Ping Yung created?”
“Yes, they are,” Lessa replied with proprietary pride. “The golden queen is Ramoth—”
“The largest dragon on all Pern,” the Masterharper said in a sly tone, his eyes twinkling.
Lessa started to glare at him but instead burst out laughing. “Well, she is.”
“The bronze who is probably resting beside her is Mnementh, and I am his rider,” F’lar said, grinning at his mate’s discomfort.
“How do you know what is outside?” Fandarel blurted out.
“The exterior sensors of this facility are now operational.”
“Exterior sensors …” Fandarel subsided into silent amazement.
“And the white one?” Aivas went on. “It—”
“He,” Jaxom said firmly but without rancor, “is Ruth, and I am his rider.”
“Remarkable. The bioengineering report indicated that there were to be five variations, imitating the genetic material of the fire-dragons.”
“Ruth is a sport,” Jaxom replied. He had long since stopped being defensive about his dragon. Ruth had his own special abilities.
“A part of our history,” Robinton said soothingly.
“Which,” Lessa said with another stern glare at the Harper, “will wait until some of us have rested.”
“My curiosity will be contained, Madam.”
Lessa darted a suspicious look at the dim screen panel. “You have curiosity? And what is this ‘madam’?”
“Gathering information is not restricted to humans. Madam is a title of respect.”
“Lessa’s respectful title is Weyrwoman, Aivas,” F’lar said with another grin. “Or Ramoth’s rider.”
“And yours, sir?”
“Weyrleader, or Mnementh’s rider. You have already met Masterharper Robinton, Harper Journeyman Piemur, Mastersmith Jancis, and Lord Jaxom of Ruatha Hold, but let me make known to you the Mastersmith Fandarel, Lord Groghe of Fort Hold, which we have always known was the first to be founded—” F’lar hid a grin at Lord Groghe’s suddenly modest demeanor. “—though certainly not why. Lord of Telgar, Larad, and Lord of Lemos, Asgenar.”
“Lemos? Indeed.” But before the listeners could react to the mild surprise in Aivas’s tone, it continued. “It is good to know that the name Telgar survived.”
“We have lost the knowledge of the naming,” Larad murmured. “And are prouder to know that the sacrifices of Sallah and Tarvi are remembered so lastingly.”
“Aivas,” F’lar said, standing squarely in front of the screen, “you said that you were attempting to discover where Thread came from and how to exterminate it. Did you come to any conclusion?”
“Several. The organism known as Thread is somehow attracted to the eccentric planet which, at aphelion, pierces the Oort Cloud; as it approaches perihelion, it drags matter with it into this sector of space. This trailing cloud disgorged a little of its burden into the skies of this planet. Calculations at the time indicated that this would continue for approximately fifty years, at which time the material in Pern’s orbit would be exhausted. Calculations also indicated that there would be recurrences of the phenomenon at intervals of two hundred fifty years, give or take a decade either way.”
F’lar glanced about to see if anyone had understood what the Aivas was saying.
“With due respect, Aivas, we do not understand your explanation,” the Harper said wryly. “A great deal of time has passed since Admiral Benden and Governor Boll led the settlers north. We are currently in the seventeenth Turn—what you call a year, I think—of the Ninth Pass of the Red Star.”