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    Mawgrim
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Recognized characters/events/plots from Dragonriders of Pern belong to Ann McCaffrey

Empty, Open, Dusty, Dead - 8. Going Ahead

Late the following morning, Zalna stretched and rubbed her back. She’d just finished copying down all of the information they needed. It had taken a couple of hours hard work, during which she’d had time to think about the implications of what had seemed so simple on first hearing. T’san’s enthusiasm was infective, but she had reservations about the plan. They’d both timed it before, but only when it was necessary, such as on the day N’rax and Bidralth went between. That seemed different, somehow. It had been a jump to a familiar place, with only a minor shift in time. This would be twenty-five Turns, maybe more.

After they’d gone back to their weyr the previous day, she and T’san had discussed it.

‘Twenty five Turns isn’t far,’ he’d said. ‘We know it can be done, because all of those dragons managed it. It shouldn’t take much longer than a between places jump, really. In fact, why shouldn’t we follow in their footsteps, so to speak? We could go all the way to the beginning of the next Pass, to check they really do return.’

‘Is that wise? What if we accidentally interfere with what should happen?’

‘Don’t you want to know? To be sure?’

‘Well, yes…’ Only she hadn’t been then and certainly wasn’t now.

However, both of them had agreed that while the charts were useful, they wanted to check the skies over Benden Weyr themselves for comparison. Tonight, if the weather held clear, they’d be up on the heights, observing the stars and fixing the patterns in their minds. Before that, she needed to talk to him.

T’san had taken his Wing out on routine patrol, from which they didn’t return until after lunchtime. The kitchen staff had kept back a pot of the hearty herdbeast stew they’d already served up for the rest of the Weyr. T’san always ate with his Wing, so she didn’t see him again until the afternoon was half done.

She busied herself by oiling Gemalth’s riding straps; essential maintenance during Benden’s wet winter. As she worked, she worried over the details of the venture, until T’san strode in.

‘Getting ready for our trip?’ he asked, looking at the tablets on which she’d copied the relevant parts of F’mon’s star charts.

‘I’ve been thinking about that.’

‘Oh, yes?’

‘Is it wise for us both to go? I mean if something goes wrong, that would leave Benden leaderless.’ Zalna rubbed oil into the leather with a rag.

‘We’re going to prepare well, aren’t we? Gemalth and Huylonth are both sensible, mature dragons. I’m sure they’d refuse if they thought what we were asking was too dangerous.’

‘Maybe. If they understand it in the first place.’ She’d tried explaining it to Gemalth already, but the gold dragon had been confused over what she meant. ‘Don’t you think we should do some trials first? A couple of shorter jumps using those star charts and our own observations.’

‘You’re probably right.’ T’san sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. ‘You’ve always been more sensible than I am.’

‘That’s because you’re a bronze rider,’ she joked. ‘Daring and brave. But seriously, I don’t want either of us taking unnecessary risks. I mean, you wouldn’t go to fight Thread without feeding Huylonth sufficient firestone first.’

‘True.’ he agreed. ‘So, tonight we’re going to look at the skies and see if the Red Star’s position matches up to F’mon’s charts for this far into the Interval?’

‘That’s it. I checked against his drawings for the end of a Pass and everything looked just as I remembered it. You might want to do the same, in case my recall isn’t what it used to be.’

‘Your memory is as sharp as ever.’ T’san leaned back against the cushions. ‘All this talk of time has led me to wondering where it all goes. Sometime it seems like only yesterday when I Impressed Huylonth, but it’s been over thirty Turns.’

‘Same here.’ Zalna nestled against him. ‘Funny how everything before Impression seems sort of… blurry. As if I didn’t fully exist as a person until Gemalth completed me.’

‘That’s it, exactly. I remember growing up at the Weyr and some of the escapades we got into. But from the time Huylonth hatched, it’s so much more memorable.’

Zalna let her mind drift back, aware of Gemalth’s presence, as she always was. We are here for each other, her dragon said. We always will be.

Later that evening, after the meal, Zalna and T’san climbed the steps from the Bowl to the heights. They had to stop a few times to catch their breath.

‘Not as fit as I used to be,’ T’san said. ‘Maybe I should start up Wing exercises again?’

‘You always stop in the winter. Too much risk of slipping on ice or mud and men getting injured, you’ve always said.’

‘True.’

‘Although you could always fly to somewhere where the weather’s better. Then you’d combine flying drills with fitness training.’

‘That might be an idea.’

They finally reached the spot where F’mon must have spent many a night. A raised piece of rock made a fairly comfortable seat. Zalna looked up at the night sky. A few scattered clouds blotted out some of the stars, but it was mostly clear. She found the Red Star almost immediately, although at this hour of the evening it was high in the sky and appeared only slightly ruddy, unlike when it was close to the horizon at dusk. She remembered it as being far closer throughout her childhood and when she’d first been Searched. ‘Looks harmless, doesn’t it?’ she commented. ‘So far away from us now.’

‘But it will return.’ T’san traced its path in the sky with a finger. ‘In seventy five Turns from now, it will be right there and even smaller.’

Zalna recalled the drawing. ‘That’s right. Lined up with the larger of the Two Peaks. The furthest point away from Pern before swinging back towards us. You know, it doesn’t behave like other stars at all.’

‘No. That’s why it’s dangerous, I suppose. Because it’s not a normal star. None of the others up there cause us any problems.’ T’san stared up again. ‘So, with the aid of those charts, we can work out where it will be in twenty-five Turns from now, fifty and so on. And if the other stars are where they are now, we’d arrive during the same season, if not exactly the same day.’

Zalna pulled her coat tighter. She’d been warm while they were climbing the stairs, but up here, the wind was bitter. She glanced across to the watch pair, feeling slightly sorry for the young man who huddled close to his green dragon. ‘Yes, but there’s one thing we haven’t considered. What’s the point in us going from here?’

‘Because we have the charts. Once we’re in the future, we can easily go between to the other Weyrs to check if anyone’s been there.’

‘Can we, though? What if there’s been an earthquake, or something that’s changed the way a place looks. Jumping on our recollections of how it is now could be really dangerous.’

T’san scanned the Weyr. ‘Nothing’s changed about this place in my lifetime. Or for hundreds of Turns before that.’

‘That doesn’t mean it won’t ever. There was a time before the rockslide at the far end of the Bowl at Fort Weyr. So, maybe we should check the star positions at another Weyr. Fort, for example. It’s further west and south, so there’ll be a difference. Then we can go between using those rather than land features.’

T’san scanned the sky again. ‘You’re being very cautious about this.’

‘It’s a big venture. Going back is different; we can remember how things looked in our own lifetime and consult records for anything before we were born. The future, for us, is an unknown quantity.’

‘Maybe I should go alone? Halve the risk?’

‘No!’ If T’san was lost, what would she do? ‘I’m not saying we shouldn’t go, just that we need to consider all the pitfalls before we do it. Anyway, if we start from one of the deserted Weyrs, no one will be there to ask questions. And however long we spend exploring, we can return just an hour or so after we’ve left.’

T’san looked up again. ‘Let’s have a look at that tablet again. I want to check everything I can while we’re up here. Then tomorrow night, we’ll take a ride to Fort.’

It took several trips for them to map out the stars above Fort Weyr, making sure to do so from the same point each time. They also checked from dragon back, to work out the positional difference the extra height made. Coming back would require even more precision. Eventually, after some discussion, they decided the best way to ensure they didn’t return before they’d left, would be to place something that was easily visible from the air on the heights. A brightly coloured rug or wall hanging would do the job. If they put it down just before leaving and removed it immediately after returning, it would serve as a time marker.

‘Now we just need to test out the theory,’ T’san said. ‘I’ll try a jump ten turns ahead. Once I’ve gone, you and Gemalth fly up to the Star Stones and wait there. I’ll use both of you as my mark to get back.’

‘All right.’ Zalna was reluctant to let him be the first to take the risk, but she knew he’d be equally worried if she did. ‘Just ten Turns, mind, and come straight back.’ They both double checked the calculations on the position of the Red Star in the sky, then T’san climbed up on Huylonth, fastening his riding straps carefully.

‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘You’ll barely know I’ve gone.’

‘Remember, we’ll be to the right of the Star Stones, facing them.’

He nodded. ‘Here goes.’

Huylonth launched himself into the night sky, up to the height they’d been previously, then was abruptly gone. Zalna climbed aboard and let Gemalth take her to the Star Stones. It wasn’t as cold as it would have been at Benden, but she still shivered as she waited. How long would they be gone? What if he couldn’t get back to the right when?

I can still hear Huylonth, Gemalth said. He is a long way off.

That reassured Zalna slightly. Then she began to have other fears. What if T’san decided to investigate the Weyr Bowl while he was there and Holdless folk were using the empty Weyr as a hideout? She should have told him to stay aloft…

A blast of air colder than a winter night washed over her as Huylonth descended to land beside Gemalth. As soon as T’san dismounted, Zalna pulled him into a hug. ‘I was getting worried about you.’

‘We’re both fine. Took a little look round while we were there. It was definitely the future. Those shrubs over by the lake had spread and grown.’ He pointed in their direction. ‘Do you want to try it next?’

‘I suppose I should.’ Better to have some practice before the bigger jumps.

‘Huylonth can give Gemalth the co-ordinates. We’ll move to the other side of the Star Stones once you’ve gone.’

Zalna climbed up onto her dragon and fastened the straps. She was beginning to feel slightly nervous, no matter how much she tried to reassure herself that T’san and Huylonth had come back safely.

I will look after us. Huylonth gives me coordinates now. Gemalth sent the picture to her. She memorised the location of the Red Star and the other stars close to it. They made a diamond shaped pattern, with a tail curving to the right. The third star of the tail was brighter than the others.

Let’s go.

Gemalth took off and flew to the correct position. Zalna took a deep breath, then they went between. It took longer than a normal place to place jump, although not appreciably so. She didn’t count, as she’d intended, so intent was she in keeping the destination in mind. They emerged in the same airspace as they’d left.

As Gemalth took up an easy circling pattern, Zalna took in the appearance of the Weyr below. Her eyes were well adjusted to darkness by now and it was easy to see the black mass of bare-branched shrubs next to the lake. The absence of Huylonth beside the Star Stones confirmed they had, indeed, travelled through time.

Can you talk to Huylonth from here? she asked, curious to find out the limits of dragon communication.

No, but I sense him. As he can sense me.

Zalna felt dizzy as the idea of them having travelled forward in time sank in. It was strangely unsettling. We should go back now, she said, picturing Fort Weyr as she’d last seen it, with Huylonth next to the Star Stones.

Freezing blackness assailed her senses as they plunged back into between. It seemed to take so much longer this time, to the point she was beginning to worry, but finally they came out above the Star Stones at Fort, Gemalth bugling a greeting to her mate.

‘You were away for ages,’ T’san said. ‘I was starting to get concerned.’

‘Just as I was when you went. It didn’t seem as if I was there for long.’ Zalna slipped down Gemalth’s shoulder and was caught up into his arms. Despite being warmly dressed, the two trips between, so close together, had chilled her. She was glad of his familiar, comforting scent.

‘You see. It’s better for us to go together. Then we won’t be worrying about each other.’

‘That’s true. Although we’ll need to tell someone, just in case. You and I both know what it’s like when folk just disappear without warning.’ Zalna could imagine all too well the confusion at the Weyr and the inevitable speculation.

‘I’ll tell W’sir. We’ve been good friends for a long while and he’s probably the most practical of all my Wingleaders.’

‘I think I’ll tell Morna. She’s sensible. She’ll also understand why we need to do this.’

‘Shall we get back? I’m cold and your nose is freezing.’

‘Well have some hot klah then snuggle together in bed.’ It would be after midnight at Benden, but there was always klah in the kettle by the night hearth.

‘I like the sound of that. We can warm each other up.’ T’san gave her that smile; the one that melted her insides.

‘Let’s go home, then.’

Zalna visited Morna at Ista the next day. The retired Weyrwoman sat beneath an awning, working on an elaborate embroidered design, stretched out on the table in front of her. ‘It’s good to see you again so soon.’

‘You too.’ Zalna took off her heavy wherhide jacket and gloves.

‘Not just a social call, I imagine?’

‘I wish it was.’

‘Anything to do with our surprise visitors?’

‘That’s what I came to talk to you about. T’san and I have worked out how they must have gone forward.’ She outlined their discoveries in the archives following the meeting with Creline and the observations they’d made, ending with last night’s test at Fort Weyr.

Morna mulled over it for a while. ‘So, you went ten Turns ahead?’

‘As you said, it didn’t take much longer than going between places.’

‘And now what?’ Morna’s eyes travelled over her embroidery.

‘We want to go twenty-five Turns ahead to see if the Weyrs appear again. And then, we thought we’d follow them to the start of the next Pass, to confirm they return.’

‘I can see why you’d want to do that, but isn’t it something of a risk?’

‘It’s more of a risk not to know. If they don’t come back, we need to think about how we can make best use of the dragons we’ll have available.’

‘Well, that’s for you two to decide. But…’ she paused. ‘What if it should go wrong?’

‘That’s why I’m telling you this. I wouldn’t want us to just… disappear with no one knowing what happened. But we’ll be fine. After all, the other Weyrs have already gone ahead of us.’

Morna pursed her lips. ‘You can’t be sure how many of them will be lost on the way.’

‘I realise that.’ It was paramount in her mind. ‘But T’san and I have decided we have no alternative.’

‘Just one of you could go. It would be less of a loss to Benden, if…’

Zalna had already considered that. ‘If T’san didn’t come back, I don’t know how I’d cope.’

‘We all have to cope with losing loved ones. Whether through Thread, illness or age.’ She sighed. ‘It’s never easy, but as leaders, we have a duty not just to ourselves, but to the Weyr.’

‘There’s another reason, too.’ Zalna didn’t want Morna to think she was being selfish. ‘Supposing one of us gets into trouble, on the way forward? When T’san left me alone I started wondering what would happen if he found Holdless folk living in the Weyr. He might be attacked. If there are two of us, it’s less likely.’

‘True, true,’ Morna agreed. ‘Although the chance of attack when you’re riding a dragon is slim. But I see what you’re getting at. If either of you went alone and didn’t return, no one would never know if it was an accident or not. Nor, of course, what you’d discovered on the journey. If there are two of you, one might still make it back to tell their story.’

It sounded brutal, put like that. ‘Let’s hope it doesn’t happen.’

‘Still, it’s as well to make contingency plans.’ Morna picked up a needle threaded with bright green yarn. ‘If you were lost, Pern would be left with just two queen dragons of breeding age. One of them might hopefully produce another golden egg in a couple of Turns. But then, Gemalth might still do that. She’s given us one already. Whereas Terirth…’ she trailed off, leaving the implications unsaid.

‘You think I’m being irresponsible, don’t you?’ Morna’s words were like a prickle in Zalna’s shoe; irritating. ‘We did consider sending two other pairs instead. But neither T’san nor I would ask any of our riders to do something we’re not prepared to risk ourselves.’

‘Don’t get yourself flustered,’ Morna said. ‘I’m not accusing you of anything. If I was your age, I’d want to go myself, too. I just wanted to be sure you’d thought it through and made your decisions wisely.’

‘Do I have your blessing, then?’

‘You don’t need it. You’re Weyrwoman of Benden and I’m just a retired gold rider.’

Zalna put her hand over Morna’s. ‘I’d like it, though. You taught me everything…’

Morna smiled. ‘Do what you both have to, for the good of Pern. You can tell me all about it, afterwards.’

Copyright © 2021 Mawgrim; All Rights Reserved.
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Recognized characters/events/plots from Dragonriders of Pern belong to Ann McCaffrey

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Chapter Comments

Loved this chapter, well thought out and ever so believable!!

Zalna and T'san make a formidable couple. 

Lot to ponder over the following snippet...

‘We want to go twenty-five Turns ahead to see if the Weyrs appear again. And then, we thought we’d follow them to the start of the next Pass, to confirm they return.’

Eagerly awaiting the next chapter!!!

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A great chapter, and can't wait for them to jump that far in advance.  We do know that this will be a long interval and when they are jumping to; will not have the Red star bracketed in the sites.  Will this confuse them and make them think they jump incorrectly?  While I understand why they are doing this; I do questions whether it is the right thing to do.  I fully understand why they want to go together however.

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58 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

 

Loved this chapter, well thought out and ever so believable!!

Zalna and T'san make a formidable couple. 

Lot to ponder over the following snippet...

‘We want to go twenty-five Turns ahead to see if the Weyrs appear again. And then, we thought we’d follow them to the start of the next Pass, to confirm they return.’

Eagerly awaiting the next chapter!!!

 

It's a big risk, but they have to know.

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2 hours ago, centexhairysub said:

 

A great chapter, and can't wait for them to jump that far in advance.  We do know that this will be a long interval and when they are jumping to; will not have the Red star bracketed in the sites.  Will this confuse them and make them think they jump incorrectly?  While I understand why they are doing this; I do questions whether it is the right thing to do.  I fully understand why they want to go together however.

 

Good point with regard to the long Interval, although I don't think this will have a huge affect on the orbit of the Red Star, only that it doesn't come quite close enough to Pern to drop Thread. It's not until later in the Ninth Pass, with AIVAS help that it's totally diverted.

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Good planning for this expedition, but we have to wonder about the outcome because no records survive documenting it, and we know no other dragons came from the posting of Benden dragons at any other weyrs...so, at what point was that plan abandoned?  When Zalna and T'san discovered the others did come forwrd, or when they didn't return?

Wouldn't they find themselves unable to go beyond the mid point of the Interval since they figured on only 200 Turns rather than the actual 400 we know passed?

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5 hours ago, ColumbusGuy said:

Good planning for this expedition, but we have to wonder about the outcome because no records survive documenting it, and we know no other dragons came from the posting of Benden dragons at any other weyrs...so, at what point was that plan abandoned?  When Zalna and T'san discovered the others did come forwrd, or when they didn't return?

Wouldn't they find themselves unable to go beyond the mid point of the Interval since they figured on only 200 Turns rather than the actual 400 we know passed?

The outcome will be revealed in the next chapter!

Whether there is a Pass or not, the Red Star still keeps to it orbit between Pern and the Oort cloud. After 200 Turns it would have returned to the skies of Pern, but as it was a long Interval, not come close enough to drop Thread. Then it would be off on its orbit again. Lessa and the five Weyrs were able to follow it forward, so no reason others couldn't follow using the same calculations.

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