The RedeemerHarry Hole investigates a mistaken assassination
The way forward is dark and long. A dragon gold is only the first price you’ll pay for Pern.
Cold. Black. Silent.
Between. That strange nothingness where dragons can go that can only be described as “between one place and another.”
“Between only lasts as long as it takes to cough three times.” For a short journey, yes. For a journey from one place to another, anywhere on Pern--yes, three coughs is enough. But when traveling between one time and another--it takes longer. A cold, silent, freezing longer that saps life.
Lorana felt nothing, not the warmth of the queen dragon beneath her, not even the tiny, tender presence that warmed her womb.
I’m sorry! Lorana cried, her hand going to her belly. There was no other way!
Pern was dying, there were too few dragons and riders to protect it from Thread. Slowly, steadily, inexorably, the protection of Pern was being eroded, was dying out. The dragonriders, including Weyrleader T’mar, Weyrwoman Fiona, and all the Weyrleaders of the four other Weyrs, had tried their best, had developed new tactics, had kept adapting, kept striving, kept searching for some way out of their trap. But the problem was that there were too few dragons, less than a third the number required, and more were being lost each Fall.
The dragons’ numbers were so few because of the strange sickness that had come upon them just before the start of this new Pass of the Red Star. Lorana, with Kindan’s stout aid, had succeeded in finding help from the distant past and that help had led them to a cure for the sickness. In the meantime, however, too many dragons had succumbed to the sickness--and more to Thread--leaving too few dragons to protect the planet. In desperation, because no one could conceive of getting further help from the past, Lorana had decided to jump forward in time, to jump ahead to a time after the Third Pass and beg for aid from the future.
She was the only one with a sure sense of time and place--a gift, she thought, from her special link with all the dragons of Pern--and only she could make the journey forward to such an unknown, unseen time. She used the Red Star to guide her, picturing it and the stars in their stations where they would be fifty Turns from her present.
Using her gift came at a price, however. A jump of this length would be a terrible strain on her and gold Minith. But it would be fatal to the life stirring inside her.
Lorana wailed silently. Go back! she urged herself. Go back before it’s too late.
I can’t, she decided a moment later. It’s too late. I’m all alone.
I’m here! Minith called to her feebly, her touch full of support. You are not alone.
“How much for that pretty kittycat you got there, young lady?”
Janina started, jarring Chessie out of her brooding nap. Chessie laid her ears back, stretched, and gazed up into the face of the man who stood smiling down at them. He was a grizzled-looking spacer in the middle of the human life span, she judged, wearing a uniform, the arms of which sported a collection of ships’ patches bearing insignias she did not recognize. But then, Hood Station, where they had just docked, was a backwater facility providing the interface between the agro-based planet Sherwood and the rest of the universe. A wide variety of human types roamed the corridors. Though the man didn’t seem threatening, he certainly seemed ignorant about cats, as Janina, Chessie’s Cat Person, immediately informed him. Had Janina been a cat, Chessie thought, she’d have been bristling.
“Excuse me, sir, but if you are referring to Thomas’s Duchess, descendant of Tuxedo Thomas, the original Barque Cat himself, she is not for sale at any price.” Janina tightened her arms protectively around Chessie’s kitten-heavy body. “Beggin’ your pardon, miss, I had no idea the lady was such a celebrity. She’s just such a beauty and I’m looking for a cat for my kid. Looks like she’s going to litter soon. How many kittens do you reckon she’s got in there?”
“Dr. Vlast says no fewer than five and perhaps as many as eight!” Janina replied proudly. “Chessie is a good breeder and a good mother.”
“Glad to hear it. Glad to hear it. Still, that’s a lot of kittens. You’ll be looking for homes for them, won’t you?”
This fellow just didn’t get it, did he? Chessie knew her kittens were far too valuable to be given away as pets! How could a spacer not know the history of Barque Cats? Had she been able to speak to Janina, she’d have asked, “Doesn’t he know we save lives, that we patrol the tight areas of our spaceships, keeping rodents from eating the coating on cables, smelling hazardous gases and even escaping oxygen?” Chessie looked into Janina’s face, which was flushing a pretty pink, and mewed her confusion.
“Chessie’s-the Duchess’s-kittens were spoken for three litters ago, sir,” Janina informed him politely, then added, reeling off the little speech the crew’s communication’s officer had prepared for her, “They are highly prized, as her progeny are not only superbly bred but have all grown into the best ships’ cats in the universe. The sire of this particular litter is Space Jockey, a cat as renowned as the Duchess herself for his breeding and spirit.”
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