story is being written in response to a challange for me to write in a totally
‘seat-of-the-pants’ linearly forward way. This means that there is none of
the plot line preplaning which I
normally do. It also means that I
have no clue what the characters are going to do from one chapter to the next.
When I begin a chapter, it is true that I may have a thought of
where that chapter will go but more often than not,
I fuss over the opening paragraph or two for a few minutes and
then, suddenly, the characters take over and off they go in a
completely different direction with me tagging along behind trying to writing
what they are doing. Other than
going back from time to time to clean up grammer and other such mistakes the
story is mostly just as it was first written.
Irina Tellen aka Ian Toldman aka Kent Swan
Star Trek : The Next Generation
By Irina Tellen
“Phew! That stinks!” exclaimed Deanna Troi as she reeled backwards, seeking refuge as a snort blew sulphurous phosphine fumes deeper into the cave.
“What do you expect, Dee. It’s a dragon.”
“Dragon... Smaggon! It still has bad breath. Do something. This is not the way I expected to end our leave.”
“What would have me do? Go out and dispatch it?”
Deanna stomped a foot and threw her hands in the air.
“Will Stop that! You’re making fun of me and...”
She could barely make out the white of his teeth as he grinned in the near darkness of their refuge. “And.. and you’re enjoying this a little too much!”
“Maybe... a little.” A wry grin suffused his face.
“Do you have any idea what that thing really is, anyway.”
“Hey! I didn’t take a detailed inventory but I did note large leathery wings, claws and puffs of what looked like flame coming from its mouth as it was attacked the shuttle. I think we can safely call it a dragon regardless of what it really is.”
“Great! We’ve been invited to lunch by an overgrown flying lizard.”
“Maybe it’ll get hungry enough to go somewhere else to feed.”
“When... this century. What if it only feeds once a week and it’s decided that now’s the time?”
“Did you see the size of that thing? It has at least a twenty or thirty meter wingspan and probably has a metabolism like a furnace. Deanna, for something that large we’d only be a light snack.”
“Oh now there’s an encouraging thought. What are we going to do? The shuttle’s damaged and we’re stuck on... where did you say we were?”
“On a planet, in a cave?”
“Argh! You know what I mean.”
“This system wasn’t listed in the navigation database when we were unceremoniously dumped out of warp.”
“Oh great! More good news. Not only are we going to be the main course for that lizard's lunch, but we’re lost! And I’m supposed to be at the sector medical conference next week.”
Deanna suddenly staggered as her head exploded in mental pain. In self defense she threw up her shields. The only one this she knew that could do that to her was her mother. Suddenly the pressure recoiled and was gone as quickly as it had come.
In the interplay of shadow and light within the cave Riker could see that her reach out and touch the wall for support.
“Deanna? Is something wrong?”
“Something touched me, Will.”
“How did it feel? Dangerous?” he asked knowing full well her ability to ‘read’ such events.
“No... more curious... but powerful... it hurt...”
“Dee, The air’s fresher back here. I think that there’s an air shaft.”
Shaking off the disquieted feelings, she followed him deeper into the cave, Deanna trailed a delicate hand along the stone wall as a guide. “Okay but you’ve got to behave yourself.”
She felt her foot touch his leg and then his hand slide up the inseam of her form fitting jump suit.
“Will, stop it!” she said, slapping his hand away.
Riker reached up and pulled her down onto his lap, enveloping her in his arms.
“Dee we’re engaged.”
Deanna did not resist but snuggled into his arms, seeking the shelter and comfort of his warmth.
“I know, but... something’s wrong here. ”
“Here, in this cave?”
“No, I mean in general. I can’t sense that thing out there the way I normally should.”
“Come on, Deanna. You’re just tired from the vacation. That thing can’t get to us in here so let’s get some sleep – if you can.”
Riker leaned back against the boulder and leaned his head against hers. He was more exhausted than he thought and sleep over took his body swiftly.
Deanna rested her head against his shoulder and stared into the night wondering just what they had gotten themselves into.
* * *
As the local sun crept up above the adjacent mountain peaks, its rays to penetrated deep into the sheltering cave, waking Riker and Troi from their slumber.
Deanna woke first and found herself comfortably snuggled up to Will, her head pillowed on his shoulder and chest.
She yawned and stretched languorously before her senses began to right themselves. The incessant scratching and snuffling of the great lizard outside their refuge seemed to have ceased.
“Will.” She said softly.
Riker grunted as she poked him in the side.
“Will. Wake up. It’s morning.”
“Ow, stop it, I’m awake, I'm awake," he grumbled.
“Is this your normal behavior in the morning? Maybe I should reconsider--”
“Deanna please. My arms gone to sleep, and your fingernails are like claws...”
“Poor baby,” she moved to stand up. “Speaking of claws, our 'host' seems to have departed.” she observed. "At least I don't hear anything anymore."
"More to the point, you don't 'smell' anything," grinned Riker.
Deanna wrinkled her nose, "that too. Did you sleep all right?"
“No, not really. Rocks make a damn’d uncomfortable bed.”
“Too bad we couldn’t have gotten the sleeping bags from the shuttle's survival kit.”
“I know, but I seem to recall that we were in a bit of a hurry when we bailed out of the shuttle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you move so fast.”
“You were right on my heels.” She laughed then turned serious. “The shuttle? Do you think it can be fixed?”
“Don’t know. I had it under control until just before impact. I won’t have any idea how bad it’s broken until I can take a better look.”
“It might be safe to go outside and take a look,” she ventured. "I can't sense--"
Will stood up and groaned, gently cutting her off. “Dee, my kinks have kinks.”
Deanna smiled. Leaning forward, she kissed him lightly. “I know of one way to work those kinks out.”
Riker smiled against her lips, “You’re just trying to cheer me up and besides the sleeping bags are still in the shuttle.”
Deanna punched him on the arm. “You’re no fun.”
“Hey, right now I have to find a rock or a tree to take care of personal hygiene – providing that big bronze flying mountain of a lizard isn’t still around looking for breakfast.”
Deanna shivered. “I hope not.”
“As I'll ever be.”
Before they could move out into the morning sunlight, a voice echoed into the cave.
“Hello, Is anyone in there?”
Deanna dropped a firm hand on Riker's arm as he unsnapped the holster to his phaser.
“Put it away, Will.”
“But we don’t know who’s out there.”
“Will! It just a child. Put it away!”
"You're sure about that?"
“Helloooooo..” came the voice again. “It’s okay to come out. Really.”
Throwing Will a withering glance, Deanna moved towards the entrance of the cave, leaving him to stand behind in the dark.
“Hey, wait for me," he started after her.
* * *
Pausing near the mouth of the cave, Deanna cautiously peeked outside, looking about to see if the dragon was still lurking in the vicinity. “It seems clear, Will.”
“Umph!” he grumped, stifling the heat of his own embarrassment.
Deanna glanced over her shoulder and sighed, sensing what was going on in his head while she waited for him to join her.
Ignoring her meaningful look, Will frowned. “Should we announce ourselves?”
“Good idea," she smiled at his glower and raised her voice calling out. "We’re coming out! Is it okay?”
“Of course it is!” said the exasperated young voice.
* * *
Sitting on a good sized rock outside of the cave, they saw a long haired girl dressed in a supple leather jerkin and skirt. She had pulled her knees up and had her arms wrapped around her calf-length boots.
“Is there anyone else around?” asked Deanna.
“No, just me.”
“How did you know we were in the cave.” Riker asked.
“Menoth told me.”
“Um hum.” she said as if that answered the question fully.
“Uh.. Who told Menoth?”
“Ramoth, of course. Who else?”
Deanna was getting very confused, “Who are you?”
“I could ask the same of you?” the young girl countered.
“And I’m Will... Short for William.”
“Hello Deanna and William the Short.”
“No that’s Wi—“
By this time both the girl and Deanna were chuckling and Riker knew that he'd been had.
“All right, now that we've all had a laugh at 'William the short's expense," he grinned at both of them, "Who may I ask, are you, young lady?”
“Methany. I’m going to be a rider someday.”
Riker and Deanna exchanged a meaningful look. The words that Methany spoke were perfectly understandable but neither had any idea of what they meant.
“Lets try something a little easier," Deanna interjected, "Where are we?”
“In the high valley of Benden.”
“Benden?” Riker smiled at Troi, "Well that worked like a charm, Counselor."
Deanna glowered at him. “Okay. We’re somewhere near a place called Benden," she turned to Methany, "Where do you live?”
“At the smithcraft hall. I’m apprenticed there until I can impress to be a rider. You’re both dressed funny. You’re not from around here are you.”
“I think that's a fair assessment, yes” said Riker.
“Did you come in a thing that looks something like a boat and a covered cart?”
“You saw it?” asked Deanna.
“Of course. You can hardly miss the furrow gouged in the meadow where your wagon came down. You frightened all of the herdbeasts and I’ve been collecting them from deep in the woods where they’ve hidden.”
“So it doesn’t surprise you that we came from up there?” Deanna pointed a graceful finger toward the sky.
“Oh no. We came from up there long ago, too.”
A dark shadow suddenly passed over Deanna’s head. There was no time to move before she felt the sting of razor-sharp claws bite into her shoulder, so she did the only thing she could.
Riker spun at the sound of Deanna’s terrified cry. His instincts took over and the phaser on his hip seemed to leap into his hand. As he thumbed it to stun and pointed it at the thing that was attacking Deanna, a second voice screamed.
“No! Oh God, pl....”
Riker wasn’t listening as he pulled the trigger and passed the visible guide beam across the animal's body. The hum of the displaced air sang then snapped off as the beast dropped in a lifeless heap; its leathery wings crumpled around a tiny body.
The young girl was instantly at its side, cradling the small creature's inert form, tears running down her face.
“WHY?!” she screamed at Riker. “WHY DID YOU KILL MENOTH!”
Riker was stunned. “Menoth? That thing is Menoth?”
Deanna was bowled back by the wave of grief coming from the young girl. Turning to Riker, she ignored the pain she felt from where the thing had grabbed her. “Will... Did you...”
“No, Of course not. It was too close to you not to set it to stun. Are you all right?”
The girl was sobbing frantically, cradling the little dragon as though it were a kitten. “Menoth... My Menoth... Why....”
Deanna instantly went to the young girl and put her arm around her while waving Will away from them.
She wasn’t getting through to her.
“METHANY. LOOK AT ME. MENOTH'S JUST ASLEEP.”
Methany turned her head and looked into the dark eyes of the strange lady. She sensed something. Something like when she and Menoth would ‘talk’.
“Asleep?” her child's voice quivered as she sniffed back tears and stroked the wings and body of the small creature.
“Yes. The thing that Will used can put things that are alive to sleep. That’s what he did to your... your... Menoth?”
Methany hugged the small creature and whispered. “Wake up. Wake up.”
“It will be a while before that happens, Methany."
Methany looked around and found Will leaning rather dejectedly against the tree wondering just how he had gotten things so messed up just trying to protect Deanna.
“Why did he do this?” she sniffed. “Menoth always lands on peoples shoulders. All impressed Fire Lizards do.”
“Fire Lizard? Is that what that thing is?” Will grumbled.
“Menoth’s not a thing!” she retorted.
Deanna was wondering just how long it would take them to piece together enough of this culture of this world to be able to stop embarrassing themselves.
“Methany, Will didn’t know. He thought Menoth was attacking me.”
“Miss Deanna? Are you sure that Menoth’s going to be all right?”
“It’ll take a half an hour or so before he starts to wake up.”
“What’s an hour?”
“Let’s at least make it a little more comfortable.” Deanna moved to help her and then winced where the little creature's claws had penetrated the cloth of her jumpsuit.
Methany’s eyes widened as she realized what had happened. “You don’t have any leathers on you clothes and Menoth’s claws dug in.”
“Ah... Yes.. I think that’s what happened,” said Deanna as she rubbed the tender area, wondering if the skin had been punctured.
“Shoulder leather protects against their claws.”
“I’ll have to remember that.”
Without warning the huge bronze monster from the cave was back. Not diving, not flying, it was simply not there one moment, and in the next it was gliding down towards them, eyes roiling as if sparks were going off.
Riker pulled his phaser again but this time thumbed it to maximum power and raised his arm.
Methany saw what he was doing and yelled “NO! THAT’S RAMOTH!”
The air behind the approaching dragon was suddenly filled with another creature, this one even larger than the first and similar in color.
Riker saw that the first was actually a lighter golden color which meant that the darker second one was likely the one that had chased them into the cave the night before. Having two of these heading for them made him more than uncomfortable.
In seconds, even more dragons of different coloration’s winked into existence, filling the sky. Most were carrying individual riders saddled at the point just ahead of their wing joints. He started to raise his phaser to defend them against the possibility of attack.
“Will! NO!” Deanna screamed.
Riker’s head jerked around, looked at Deanna while reluctantly thumbing the phaser back on 'safe' and stuffing it back into back into its belt holster. Crossing his arms, he waited guardedly for what came next in this curiously weird world. “Okay, Deanna. Either we’re going to be very dead in a minute, or this is the strangest welcoming party that I’ve ever seen.”
Both Deanna and Will backed away as both leading dragons flared, their wings sweeping forward in a tremendous display of raw power, even as both landed with the delicate grace of dancers. While the wash off of their wings kicked up dry leaves and dust from the ground in front of the cave, there was otherwise no visible disturbance of any kind.
Except for a number of smaller green and blue dragons that stayed aloft, lazily sculling in great orbits over the craggy peaks of the tall mountains surrounding the deep valley, most of the remaining dragons settled into the meadow behind the first two.
Deanna watched as the second dragon knelt down allowing a tall, handsome, leather and fur clad rider of that dragon to unseat himself in much the same way as you would get down from a horse. The creature’s forelimb acted as a step as he slid gracefully to the ground.
She was fascinated by the apparent subliminal communication between the man and beast as he patted it on its leathery neck.
The dragon turned its great head to look at him and seem to nod slightly as he motioned toward the golden dragon which had landed ahead of him which was, at the moment, advancing toward her and Will in a stalking manner.
The rider of the second dragon had apparently communicated something because the stalking golden dragon suddenly stopped, turned to look at the great bronze and snort in disgust, turned its attention instead to Methany and the sleeping firelizard.
Edging forward, eyes whirling, the golden dragon lowered its scaly head with whirling eyes into Methany’s lap and tenderly nosed the stunned firelizard. Methany seemed completely unafraid of the huge beast as it occasionally touched an outstretched wing claw to the ground to shift its balance
* * *
F’lar--the rider of the big bronze— turned to his dragon. <Mnmenmeth, keep the rest of the dragons away until I find out what’s going on here>
<I’ve already done that> the big bronze replied, reproaching his rider with a mental harrumph.
<I want you to keep focus on the two strangers – just in case.>
<I understand.> the great beast replied. <I can feel something from the woman but the man is a blank to me.>
<Warn me if you sense anything.>
F’lar ducked under the outstretched wing of the gold dragon which crouched between himself and the girl.
<I was going to do that anyway. She is most interesting, you know> chuckled the bronze.
The golden dragon backed away a bit allowing him access to the girl.
The young girl looked up, her tear stained face shadowed with distress.
“He shot Menoth.”
“Mnmenmeth says she’s just sleeping.”
“Are these the ones that Mnmenmeth found yesterday?” the tall man gestured at Deanna and Will.
Methany nodded while continuing to stroke the stunned firelizard. The large golden dragon continued to nose and snuffle the tiny firelizards inert body.
“Do you know who they are yet?” asked F'lar.
“She say’s she’s Miss Deanna and he says he’s William the Short.”
The bronze rider looked up appraisingly. Both of the 'newcomers' were standing back uneasily, eyeing the golden dragon as though at any moment they might flee for their lives. F'lar observed their countenance and their strange attire, and then he laughed because the man towered over the beautiful dark haired woman on his arm. “Well one out of two isn’t bad," he smiled.
“Mnmenmeth said that he was nearly hit by their machine when it came down. Did you see it?”
“Come down? No. I heard it. I found it afterwards when trying to collect the herdbeasts this morning.”
“At the end of the meadow. It’s run itself up under the trees.”
“Who told you to find out what happened here?”
“Mnmenmeth told Ramoth and Ramoth told Menoth and Menoth told me because I was on herdbeast duty up here this seven days. I followed their trail to the cave that Mnmenmeth said they went into. When they came out this morning, everything was fine until Menoth came back from feeding and tried to land on Miss Deanna’s shoulder. That was when he shot Menoth.”
F’lar turned to the two strangers. “Well at least you showed some restraint and good sense by not killing the firelizard, otherwise there wouldn’t be much that I could do to save you from their wrath.” He said, motioning to the giant beasts behind him.
Deanna stepped forward from Will’s side. “He didn’t mean to harm the creature," she said, "He thought it was attacking me. Do you mean that ... dragon... that you were riding is the same one that chased us into the cave?”
F’lar laughed. “Chased? Hardly. You just surprised him while he was feeding and he wanted to see what kind of creatures would come from something that falls from the sky.”
“It certainly felt like chasing to us," Will exchanged a look with Deanna.
“Do you have a real name William the Short.” F'lar asked with a smile.
“William T. Riker.” He deliberately left off any reference to Star Fleet or his military rank.
“Well, William T. Riker, Would you mind explaining just how and why you’re here?”
“You want the long or the short version?”
“The truthful version would be good. Long or short does not matter.”
Riker looked at the man before him and knew that he was a leader – commanding those who would do battle. The soldier in him respected that.
“What do you know of what’s out there?” Will asked, pointing at the sky.
“We’re excavating 'Landing' on the southern continent where our ancestors setup and then abandoned our first settlements. We know that there are two great ships circling this world and that we came in them.”
Again, Will threw Deanna a glance. “Do you know how long ago that was?”
“By our records, over 2400 turns.”
Riker looked away thoughtfully. “That would place your ancestor's journey well before the great pre-warp Diaspora. Many of the records of the time were lost. No wonder this system wasn’t on the star charts.”
“Yes – the ability to travel the great distances between stars rapidly.”
“If we’re so out-of-the-way, just how did you arrive here?”
“Well that’s a bit complicated. When you’re in warp you pass by star systems very quickly on your way from one place to another. We were in that small craft, traveling at warp, returning to a meeting place with the larger ship on which we normally serve when we were knocked off course by a kind of storm.”
“So you are a sailor among the stars?”
“That’s a fair assessment of it.” Will nodded.
“And your craft?”
“I managed to guide it here where we landed. The storm and the hard landing damaged our ship.”
“Can it be repaired?” F'lar seemed boundlessly interested in their journey and their shuttle; a fact that Riker filed away for later reference. In response to the other man's query, he shrugged.
“I don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to examine it, yet.”
“And the woman? What is her relationship to you?”
Riker smiled for the first time. "I think that it would better to ask her that, yourself.”
* * *
Watching the territorial interplay between the two men, Deanna could only smile, at least until the bronze rider turned to her.
“And you?" he asked, "who are you?”
“Deanna Troi. You can call me Deanna.” Also mindful of first contact protocols, she remained mute on any further information.
“What is your craft guild?”
“I am trained in the medical profession.”
F'lar observed her silently before he nodded, “you seem to be much more than you let on.”
Deanna was startled at his perception. “Why do you say that?”
“Mnmenmeth told me that you feel different.”
Deanna looked at the bronze rider's dragon, which in turn was studying her with an intently curious stare. The revelation was almost disturbing.
“Would you like to add anything?”
“I deal with the healing of the spirit and of the mind.”
Again, F'lar nodded. “I’ll accept that... for now.”
If she hadn't been certain before, Deanna was surer than ever that somehow F'lar was able to sense more than he was letting on.
“You and William T. Riker have a relationship?”
“We are to be married.” She stated without emotion, but glanced sidelong at Will who was already grinning at her discomfort.
* * *
F’Lar noted the interchange between the two, including the little ‘I’ll get you later’ look that she gave him.
The man he understood. William T. Riker was cut from the same cloth as he was. She, however, was very different and seemed much more complex. He was sure that she was hiding many things.
<Mnmenmeth? What do you feel about these two. Are they a danger> Asked F’Lar.
The great bronze shifted his focus from the two strangers to his rider. <They do not appear to be. She is different. I cannot hear her clearly.>
<Continue to watch them closely. I am still cautious of him.>
F’lar turned to Will. “Welcome to Benden, then. We’ll help you move your craft down to the smith’s craft hall but we may not have the kind of tools you need to repair it.”
“I won’t know what is required until I examine what is damaged.”
“Fair enough. What would you have me call you William T Riker?”
“Riker will be fine – or Will if you want to be informal. What should we call you?”
“I am called F’Lar, Weyrleader of Benden Weyr, Mnmenmeth's Rider.”
“Are you all referred to by your association with your mount?” The lady Deanna asked.
This question surprised F’Lar.
<She knows nothing of being impressed> said Mnmenmeth.
“It is the custom of riders. You have much to learn.”
For some reason, F’Lar felt good when she smiled and answered. “Yes. I think we have very much to learn, indeed.”
"You will have to excuse me for the moment, but I must see to having your craft moved."
The dismounted riders had gathered a short distance away, the men and women riders talked amongst themselves while their dragons congregated in the meadow behind them.
<Mnmenmeth,> F'Lar turned to his mount, <make sure that Ramoth does nothing rash>
The bronze dragon snorted. <Ramoth is fine.>
<Good, just make sure that she stays that way or Lessa will have both of our hides.>
F’Lar felt his dragon chuckle with the thought.
* * *
Deanna was beginning to feel very uncomfortable with the non-verbal interplay going on between the riders and their dragons. She could sense something going on between them but much more muddled than she was used to. It as almost as though they were on a completely different mental wavelength.
As Deanna approached Methany, the giant golden dragon lifted its head and looked directly in her eyes; as if it could see right into her soul.
“Who are you?” Deanna asked softly, looking back at the dragon's mesmerizing stare.
<-+=++.*> Came the answer. The equivalent of 'mental static'.
Deanna shook her head in shock and the dragon tilted its head slightly, as if questioning her. <+++%--*> came another burst.
Methany looked up from her ministrations of the stunned little dragon.
“She says that she is Lessa’s Ramoth.”
“You understood her?”
“Only when she wants me to.”
Suddenly the little dragon began to twitch and move.
“Be careful, Methany, when your little fellow wakes up it will be very confused and could lash out with it’s claws.”
Methany tilted her head as if listening to something.
“It’s okay Miss Deanna. Ramoth said that she’ll keep her quiet while she wakes up.”
When Will came up behind Deanna, Ramoth glanced up and snorted a warning that he should keep his distance.
Deanna watched in fascination as the little dragon squirmed out of Methany’s lap and flopped onto the turf, its wings flapping in an uncoordinated motion. Ramoth nosed the little creature gently, helping to stabilize it while it got its bearings once again.
After some minutes, the miniature version of the great dragons stood its full half-meter height, and chirped angrily at Methany.
“They can’t really talk like the big dragons, but they can project images and feelings to make themselves understood.” Methany explained.
Smiling at the young girl's scholarly enthusiasm, Deanna filed the new tidbit of information away.
F’Lar returned to where he had left the sky strangers. Slowing his approach gave him the opportunity to study the dark haired woman as she gently played with Methany’s fire lizard. It was apparent, at least it was to him, that she was actually intently studying the animal causing it to spread it’s wings, twist and turn and snap playfully as she tickled and teased it.
Coming to a stop he waited until he was noticed and the games abated.
“Methany, I’ve called up the next on rotation list for herd beast duty. N’then is bringing him this midday. I want you to stay with these two and their craft while it’s being carted down to your craft hall.”
Methany looked up and smiled broadly as if she had just been given the most wonderful present.
Turning to Deanna and Will he said. “You two will have to camp here overnight after you prepare your craft for transport. I took some rough measurements and our largest heavy cart with a triple draft team should suffice – at least according to the hold transport handlers. It should be here tomorrow afternoon.”
“Does this mean that you’re going to help us?” asked Deanna.
“At least for now.” Replied F’Lar noncommittally. “We will see where it goes later.”
“How long do you think it will take to move our shuttle to your shops?”
“Shuttle – oh you mean your craft – strange name for it. We estimate it will take around two days once you begin moving it.”
“It should only take about a half day to prepare the ship and, judging from the competence I see around us, it seems as if will be good hands –how come we cannot go back with you by air.” Asked Will.
“You could but you are not use to that mode of transportation. It has some...” he paused and then continued. “um.. rather unusual effects on some people. I would rather not risk that until you have a better understanding of our world.”
Will was puzzled by this circumspect method of being gently rebuffed but decided not to push it.
* * *
By late that afternoon, Will and Deanna had safed the shuttle’s systems for transport and had shown the others who had come to help the various places where ropes and lifting devices could be attached without harm as well as what places to avoid. For Will this was almost like a standard maintenance technical briefing. It amazed him that for people who still used animal and wind power along with some very sophisticated bio sciences absorbed the information he was giving them easily and without significant comment. The questions they did ask were pertinent and well thought out.
It was sometime later when Will took a break by finding a soft patch of dry ground and a tree to lean against he slumped back and closed his eyes.
“Want some company, sailor?”
He recognized her voice and smiled without opening his eyes.
“Sure, pull up some turf and get comfortable. Did you pull the survival packs?”
“They’re over by the shuttle. I left all of the rations because they said that they’ll be sending up food for tonight and tomorrow. The wagon is bringing supplies with it for the trip back.”
Will voiced what was bothering him. “Deanna these people confuse me. In some respects they are technologically backwards but at the same time they accept the existence and possibilities defined by the shuttle.”
Deanna was exhausted after a full day and folded down onto the soft ground, tucking her legs under her and snuggling up to Will who wrapped her in his arms comfortably.
“I’ve been trying to find out about the dragons. They fascinate me.”
“What have you learned so far?”
“Well, first they can move from one place to another in a kind of self induced teleportation.”
“I thought that was determined to be impossible.”
“You saw it happen yourself this morning. From their point of view, I think that they would find our Transporters if not ‘impossible’ at least highly improbable.
“One man’s science is another’s magic, eh?”
“Will, another thing. The dragons and their riders seem to be ‘linked’ mentally.”
Will laughed. “Like the bond?”
“No, not like that at all – at least I don’t think so. I don’t really know but it seems more like they’re telepathic and the dragons are intelligent to the point that they can talk with their riders. I don’t know what else it means yet because they keep brushing me off.”
“I’ve noticed that. They’ve done it to me too. Very politely, of course but whenever I hit on something that they didn’t want to talk about they would either evade the subject or politely tell me that it wasn’t something that I was ready to understand yet.”
“I know.” She sighed.
“I should be angry about it but I’m not.”
“Me either. We have much to learn about this planet.”
* * *
They awoke simultaneously with sun long gone but they were not cold as they found themselves wrapped in several soft warm blankets.
Deanna yawned and stretched like a cat beneath the blankets and poked her nose from under out into the cold night air.
“Burrrrr. Is this anything like Alaska?”
“In late summer maybe - warm days and cool to cold nights.” He ran his hand over the cloth. “Feel this.”
She stroked her sensitive fingers over the blankets fine weave of spun animal hair. “High quality work – and warm too.”
“I wonder who’s looking out for us.”
“Don’t know. I’m hungry.”
“Me too. We haven’t had anything since they brought in the field lunch while we were working on the shuttle.”
Deanna slipped from under the coverings and stood up. “Did you sleep well this time?”
“Actually yes.” He grinned standing and handing her the other end of the blanket. As they folded them the smell of roasting meat wafted by.
“Ummm.” That smells good. I wonder if they have anything hot to drink.
“Deanna, I doubt that they have any hot chocolate.”
“Oh no!” she feigned shock. “Anything but that.”
“Come here woman.” He said pulling her close and kissed her thoroughly.
“Um. That was nice but I’m still hungry.”
“Lets go find who’s doing the cooking and see if they have any leftovers.”
Carrying the blankets, they followed their noses until they found the cook fire. The sturdy but handsome woman tending the spit and fire hooks looked as if she were cleaning up for the night. She and two others, who obviously were taking orders from her were busy clearing up the makeshift field mess hall.
“Ah I see you two finally woke up. It’s well past sundown and we were beginning to think that we’d probably see you at breakfast.”
“Hi. I’m Will and this is Deanna.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Fanora.”
“Any idea who we should thank for the blankets, Fanora?” said Will, stacking the refolded bundles on the end of the field trestle table.
“Could have been any of them but I would lean to suspecting Methany.”
Deanna edged closer to the fire and sniffed. “That smells wonderful.”
“If you’re hungry grab a bowl, utensils and such over there and I’ll serve you up some of what’s left before I pack it in – most of the others have already eaten and bedded down for the night. That covered basket should still have some fresh bread in it if they haven’t eaten it all. There’s jam in covered crock and juice in those jugs. I have some stew and soup left here if you want any.”
“Do you have anything hot to drink?” Deanna asked.
“I start with that, too if you have something.”
“I have freshly brewed hot klah.”
“Claw? What’s that?” asked Riker.
“Grab a mug.” She said nodding at the trestle table. Using her hot mitt she picked up the brew pot which was setting on the edge of the coals and first filled Deanna’s then Wills mug with the steaming dark liquid. Deanna wrapped both hands around the ceramic container absorbing the warmth being radiated.
Will raised his own mug and sipped carefully of the steaming liquid, not knowing what to expect. His eyebrows went up and he looked into the mug in amazement.
“Deanna you’ve got to try this! It’s not hot chocolate but it’s really good. Kind of like a good coffee combined with something else.”
“Deanna raised her mug to her lips with both hands and sipped carefully. “Ummm. You’re right. It is good.”
Warmed, they then occupied themselves with the enjoyable task of being served by an excellent cook.
“You’re not usually a field chef are you?”
“Another word for a Cook.”
“Oh... I see what you mean. No, only when called upon, like now. I am the kitchen master under Manora, Benden Weyr’s head woman.”
“Benden Weyr is home for the Benden riders and their dragons.”
“So that’s where the craft halls are?”
“Oh no. They’re at Benden Hold – well down in the valley”
“This is very confusing you know.”
She smiled a motherly smile. “Not if you grew up here. Don’t worry about it, you both will pick it up fast enough.”
Deanna looked over her second cup of klah, her dark eyes absorbing everything around her and mumbled. “Sometimes I wonder if it will be fast enough.”
Will was sitting on one of the field kitchen transport boxes watching the interplay between the two women but keeping his own council. Finally standing he caught Fanora’s eye.
“I suspect that you’ll both be off to finish sleeping now. You’re going to have a busy day and you’ll need it.”
“I think so. Thank you for the wonderful meal.”
“Nothing but leftovers but you are certainly welcome.”
Deanna stood, took Will’s mug and bowl and placed it and her own into the wash pot bubbling at on the dying coals and then subtly signaled Will that she wanted to talk.
“We’re off. I think we’ll borrow the blankets again for the night.”
“Feel free. See you two in the morning.” Deanna’s signal to Will was not missed by Fanora. She turned her back to the two, smiling to herself.
Will carried the blankets under one arm as Deanna slipped her arm into the other. Leaning close she whispered. “Will have you noticed the natives are friendly.”
“Somehow, though, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re surrounded.”
“Whew! And I thought it was only me.”
Deanna sat on a small knoll overlooking the crash site, watching the men swarmed around the shuttle like ants around a beetle’s carcass. The large heavy-carry transport cart had arrived just after the midday meal and they were winching the shuttle onto the heavy-transport cart using nothing more than ancient block and tackle and skid ramps. It reminded her of her readings of ancient earth history and the monument builders. Ever curious, she had earlier examined the heavy multi-wheeled hauling cart and couldn’t help but admire the ingenious finely joined natural hardwood construction with sparse but intelligent use of metal.
Her attention then turned to the teenaged boys and girls tending the dozen draft animals that would haul the now heavily laden vehicle back down the mountain. In talking with them she found that they seemed to be generally schooled in some manner as well as being competent in the rough skills necessary for daily living at an agrarian level. Deanna began to wonder if the skills of the local metal workers guild might prove to be less than necessary to help Will fix the shuttle.
She froze when she felt something picking gently at her back belt pack; then a tugging and finally a pulling frantically. Turning, she found one of the small fire lizards that swarmed around the site had it’s claw hooked in the tough fabric. By its color, Deanna thought that it could be the same one that Will had stunned the previous day.
“Hi little fellow. You seem to be caught” Deanna said, carefully unhooking the creatures left wing claw from where it had wedged in the fabric behind the belt.
“There, you’re free.”
The little dragon waddled authoritatively around her until it could see her face. It fascinated her how the creature carefully folded its wing membranes along its body so that it could move unimpeded. Stopping squarely in front of her, it looked up as if studying her features. Finally it cocked its head and appeared to be thinking very hard for such a small animal.
<phst*#-+*> The burst of mental static was more of a squeak than the heavy burst given out by the golden dragon.
“I wish that I could understand you, little one, but I can’t.”
The little dragon gave a snort in disgust, turned, spread its wings and rose into the air with several powerful flaps. Then – poof -- before her eyes, it disappeared. One second it was there and the next it wasn’t. She wondered if she would ever understand the ‘magic’ of this world. It was almost as if the laws of physics were, somehow, out of kilter.
“I guess that it could be a bit disconcerting if you hadn’t grown up with it,” came a woman’s voice from behind her.
Tilting her head, Deanna found herself looking at a slim, leather and fur clad woman. She recognized the attire as that of a rider. Returning her gaze to the men at work she replied. “That is probably the biggest understatement I have heard in some time – who might you be?”
The woman laughed. “You met my dragon yesterday – the large golden one.”
“Then you would be Lessa.”
“Ramoth said that you were different. After watching you with Methany’s Menoth just now I can believe it.”
“That was Menoth? Fire lizards still look much alike to me. I suppose that I’ll eventually be able to sort them out.”
“In time. Have some patience.” said Lessa, settling comfortably on the ground beside Deanna
The woman carried herself with a self assuredness that was palpable. “I’m still trying to figure out who’s who. For instance, what is your relationship to what’s going on around here?”
“Ramoth is a queen dragon, which means that she mates, bears eggs from which new dragons hatch. I am Ramoth’s rider.”
Deanna nodded. “Riders seem to have a mental link with their dragons. Is this correct?”
“Yes, each rider can talk with his or her dragon and the dragons can talk amongst themselves.”
“You make it seem as if the dragons are intelligent.”
Lessa laughed heartily. “Sometimes I think that they are a little too intelligent.”
Deanna looked about. “Where...”
“Feeding or sunning herself. Not here.” Lessa responded as though she had read her mind.
Deanna relaxed a bit then tried a new tact.
“Uh... F’Lar.” She knew she was treading on dangerous ground. “He’s very handsome ... commanding. Are you and...”
“Mnmenmeth is Ramoth’s preferred mate and F’Lar is mine. Riders have little say in the matters of mating between dragons.”
There was an implication in her explanation that Deanna immediately picked up on.
“What if... I mean if you and your dragon are linked mentally then when...” her voice trailed off.
Lessa laughed again. Deanna found the other woman’s warm contralto voice pleasing.
“You mean is there a transference? Yes and it can be an exquisite experience...” her eyes turned dark. “... or a terror beyond imagining.” Her mood brightened. “Most of the time the dragons ensure that they, like their riders, are compatible. But occasionally things do go wrong.”
Scruffy shadows flitted from tree to tree, rock to rock in near invisibility. The agile lead shadow; taller than the rest, carefully slipped between two boulders and up to the ridgeline overlooking the place of which he was told. The hand with which he carefully parted the brush was missing its little finger.
“He was right!” he whispered in amazement. “The abomination is there.”
“Let me see.” said one of the others pushing forward.
“Move more carefully, you clumsy oaf.” The tall one growled. “Make no sudden movements that would attract attention to us.”
They were all given their chance.
“Okay, that’s enough. Let’s get back to camp – we can take care of that thing later.”
“What about the sky people, Zaran?”
“Never mind them.”
* * **
Riker stepped back from the draft cart, bare to the waist as were most of the men, and sweating profusely. Walking down the length of the platform, he tested each tie down strap for the proper tension.
“Is everything to your liking?” came a voice behind him.
Turning, he smiled, “Hi F’Lar. Your people have heavy hauling down to a science. The shuttle isn’t going anywhere that the cart doesn’t.”
Acknowledging Riker’s comment with a moderate and slightly prideful smile, F’Lar agreed. “We’ve had centuries to perfect our technique, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.”
“Good work anyway. How long do you think it will take to get it down to the crafts guild’s shops?”
“I’d say day and a half, perhaps two. It’s too late to start down tonight, so we’ll begin in the morning.”
Nodding in satisfaction, Will palmed his damp hands along the outsides of his thighs. “Sounds good. Can you tell me where I can get cleaned up? I’ve been sweating like a pig.”
“‘Pig’? Is this another saying of your people?”
Riker nodded. “I’ll explain it later.”
“There’s a stream a short way down that direction.” F’Lar pointed. “Manora sent up spare clothing so you should be able to find something that fits.”
Looking up he saw Deanna and another slim, athletic looking woman dressed as a dragon rider. The woman slipped an arm around F’Lar’s waist.
“Looks like you’re about ready.”
“They are. I saw you up there with Lady Deanna. What goes?”
“F’Lar! It’s just Deanna. I told you that this morning.”
“Sorry, habit.” He grinned. “Deanna then.”
“We were just getting to know each other. Girl talk.”
“Oh?” F’Lar arched a brow doubtfully. “Anytime it’s ‘just girl talk’ I usually end up in trouble.”
“I know what you mean.” retorted Riker, grinning.
Deanna gave the both of them a mock look of disgust and then sniffed and twisted up her face. “You need a bath!”
Lessa sniffed gently. “You too, F’Lar. Come on, Let’s get back to the wyre. I’ll scrub your back.”
“Only if I get to scrub yours.” He grinned as two dragons, one gold and one bronze, winked into existence and glided down to a landing, kicking up dust and leaves with the backwash of their huge wings.
“We’ll see you both in a day or two. You’ll be in good hands until then.” With that the each stepped up to their own dragons, each giving their mount a friendly pat as they swung up into the saddle. With a bound of powerful rear legs, the dragons launched into the evening sky, rising quickly to altitude where they disappeared.
Deanna looked thoughtfully after them. “An interesting people, Will.”
“Walk with me,” said Riker as he headed towards the supplies table on which were neatly folded bundled stacks of clothing.
“You’ve found out something?”
She nodded. “What do you think of this one.” She held up a finely woven pull-over against his shoulders to check for fit.
“That will do. I think these pants will fit also. I’m going down to the river.”
“You’ll need these then.” Deanna handed him a small jar which he sniffed and densely woven towel of soft absorbent yarns.
He sniffed the contents of the jar and then poked a finger into it.
“Smells nice but it’s a bit gritty.”
“They call it sweet sand tell me it works like soap. You better rinse out your uniform too.”
He looked at her with a quizzical grin. “Why don’t you pick out some new clothes for yourself and join me – I’m told that there’s spots up there where we won’t be bothered. I’ll even scrub your back and you can tell me what you’ve learned today.”
“You rogue!” she said smiling. “You’ve been planning this all day.”
“Not ALL day.”
Deanna edged down to the other end of the table and picked through the pile of appropriate garments, selecting several items.
“What did you choose?”
She gave him a wicked sidelong glance “It wouldn’t be a surprise, if I told you, would it?”
“Okay then. Lets go.” With a broad smile, Will slipped an arm around Deanna’s waist, guiding her toward the river.
* * *
“Hey you got soap in my eyes.” He scooped up a handful of clean water and splashed tit onto his face.
“Poor baby,” Deanna teased, “I’m just washing your hair. It’s filthy. What did you do all day? From the looks of this it would seem you’ve been rolling around with Methany’s Firelizard...” she spoke from behind him.
“Very funny,” Will scowled half-heartedly. The truth was, he loved having her long legs wrapped securely around his waist as she continued scrubbing. They had taken over a shallow, sandy-bottomed pool that was cut back into the riverbank.
The water was relatively warm, but when a few quick handfuls of water were splashed onto his back to rinse away the soap, Riker shivered slightly.
“Watch it.” he groused.
“It’s good for you. Besides it’s not that cold.” Deanna said cuffing him gently. “I thought you were supposed to be a rugged survivalist of the frozen outdoors? Raise your arms, I need to scrub there too.” Rubbing soap into the scrubbing bath sponge that Fanora had handed her on the way out of camp, she finished his sides and arms. Riker could feel the wonderful heat of her breasts pressing into his back even through the loose wet shift she was wearing.
“When is it my turn to do you?”
Deanna hadn’t missed his double-entendre, shoving him gently forward, she continued her task undaunted. “When you’re clean enough. I would have expected the water to be much colder.”
“They said something about the river being fed over geothermal vents higher up. I guess by the time it gets here it hasn’t had enough time to cool off.”
“I’d hate to think if it was fed directly from the snow pack.”
“Burrrr. I’ve done that in Alaska. It’s cold enough to freeze your good parts off let me tell you.”
“Wasn’t that you just a moment ago who was whining about the cold water?”
Riker huffed unintelligibly, but he smiled when he felt her hands slip down his belly and into his wet briefs just below the water line, scrubbing gently with the sponge.
“Dee,” he growled, “don’t start anything you don’t intend to finish.”
She kissed him on his neck just above his shoulder blades but eventually removed her hand.
“Party pooper. Stand up so I can get your legs.”
Riker carefully unhooked her long legs from and stood dripping in front of her. He shivered as he felt her lathered up one leg then scrubbed it down, repeating the task with the other. The teasing as she reached the top was driving him mad with desire.
“Enough, wench. Your turn.” Reaching down, he gripped her arm at the forearm allowing her to do the same and brought her to her feet dripping. “Hands out.”
She smiled at him defiantly and raised her arms, hands extended.
Dipping the sponge in the stream, he lathered it up. “You want me to do this with or without the shift?”
Deanna looked about quickly then reached down grabbed the hem of the soaked shift, pulled it over her head, and tossed the wet mass into the shallows.
Riker’s intake of breath, gave her as much pleasure as did his comment as he gently began washing her.
“Deanna, you are the most beautiful creature in my universe.”
Turning, she backed into his arms and allowed him full access to her body.
“Hair?” he asked softly.
She shook her head no and luxuriated in his touch, feeling his desire pressing against her naked skin through his wet briefs.
* * *
Prying eyes retreated into the shadows, allowing the foliage to return to its resting state.
Deanna snuggled beneath her furs in her own bunk on one side of the travelwagon. The reality of being in a parody an ancient gypsy caravan was almost beyond her imagination but a ‘real’ experience non the less.
The shadowy quiet of the night were soothing and very unlike ship’s night; where the whispers of the air system coupled with the faint thumps, creaks and soft groans of a starship at warp formed the subliminal background of it handling huge stresses.
This planet was very different, unlike any she had ever been on before. Her empathic and telepathic abilities seemed muted, as if the universe here was out of kilter.
She ran her hands over the soft furs of the bed covering feeling the edges where the soft quilted backing was joined to the supple array of pelts The afternoon with Will had been breathtaking. She smiled in the dark thinking how her body now ached pleasantly from their ‘exercise’.
The fur felt wonderful on her skin but she still couldn’t shake the uneasy feelings that now and then crept into her being. Seeking solace, she reached out with her mind and touched Will’s consciousness as he slept in the other bunk just a hands stretch away. His sleeping mind accepted and automatically reacted to her feather-light caress, as though it were kitten raising its back at being petted. The corners of her lips turned into a smile. She could still feel him, despite everything, despite the off-kilter feeling of this planet, Will was still with her. But everything else ... was muted and dim. It bothered her.
The dragons tried to talk with her but it seemed as if they were on a completely different mental frequency. She pondered this and shivered wondering just where they really were. Where was this Pern planet. Her feelings of unease grew.
Quietly she slipped from under her covers, picked up the fur and her down pillow and crossed the space to the other bunk. Raising Will’s furs, she slipped naked beneath them and pulled her own cover over them both. The weight of the second fur, the touch of his body, the rhythm of his heartbeat, the even sounds of his breathing comforted her as she snuggled. He did not wake but she felt his mind become quiet just because they were touching.
Finally content, if only for the moment, Deanna was not aware when sleep finally overtook her.
* * *
Will was first to awaken and was immediately aware of Deanna’s sweet body snug up against his, her breathing even and regular. Tendrils of luxuriant hair flowed over her pillow he realized that its gentle tickling against his cheek had awakened him.
He was puzzled. Their ‘bathing’ yesterday had left them nearly drained of all energy. He distinctly remembered that he had simply tucked her into her furs with an embrace and a kiss of exquisite tenderness and then went to bed in the separate cot. Not that he minded this, of course, but it was unlike her to sneak into his bed – in fact it had never happened before. The thought brought a new smile to his lips.
He could tell it was almost morning by the blue gray pre-dawn light was filtering into the travelwagon through the small glass panes which ringed the raised a portion of the roof. As the sky brightened, he could hear the singing insects begin their morning songs. All things considered, he decided, it was a nearly perfect way to start the day.
Deanna shifted again. Rolling toward him, she slid her left arm and leg over his body as if he were a full body pillow. If anything, she seemed to snuggle even closer -- which didn’t seem possible. He could feel the gentle warmth of her breasts pressed into his rib cage. It was obvious that she was still sound asleep and he was loathe to disturb her.
His thoughts turned to the shuttle. He had had a chance to examine the crash damage caused during the landing, and while dinged and scraped, the structural integrity fields had resisted any very serious damage to the hull.
The problem was that, when he’d popped the covers on the warp nacelles, he didn’t like what he found. Both had containment conduit failures. Malfunctions which should have been impossible, but he now knew what kicked them out of warp. He also found that he was going to have to repair a number of blown relays and probably jury-rig around several other flight systems that failed diagnostics. The shuttle would be harder to fly but nothing out of the ordinary. With the exception of the conduits, all of the rest of the damage seemed to be repairable using the on-board repair kits – the conduits were another matter – they could be patched up if he could get to a place where some sort of precision metal-smithing was possible. Given what he’d seen so far, he was beginning to doubt that this planet had anything near what he would need. An unbidden sigh stirred his body.
He felt Deanna stir beside him and sensed her breathing change as she eased into wakefulness. He stroked her hair and smiled when she opened her eyes and stretched along side of him, running her slender fingers through the hair on his chest. “Good morning, Love.”
“Hi.” She said quietly.
“I didn’t expect this nice surprise. I thought you were going to sleep over there.” He nodded towards the other bunk.
“I couldn’t. Do you mind?”
He pulled her against him and kissed her forehead.
“Never. I love waking up with you here.”
“I like it too. You know, you nearly wore me out yesterday, Commander. I still ache in places I’d almost forgotten I had -- but it’s a good feeling.”
“And you think that you didn’t do the same to me.” Will chuckled. “I was walking bowlegged and could barely keep my eyes open to get something to eat afterwards.”
He could feel her mirth.
“I swear that it’s true!”
“Hardly.” she rose up, tenting the furs and thumped him on the chest. “Time to get up now? I’m starving.”
“What no morning ‘exercise’?”
“No! Not this morning. Get up, lazy bones.” She pulled her knees up, flipped the furs back and sat up. When her feet hit the floor of the wagon she nearly jumped right back under the covers.
“Yipes! That’s cold.”
“I could have told you that.” Will said, running a warm hand up her bare back as she started pulling her clothing together. “You’re really getting up?” he said almost playfully.
“Yes. And so are you.” She flipped all of the furs off of him and over onto the other bunk.
Ignoring his own nudity, Will rolled up onto an elbow, leaned over and kissed her on the back as she leaned forward and pulled on her socks. Annoyed, Deanna hopped away and then sat back down on the other bunk. “I said you were getting up too, Mister Riker. So I suggest you get going. We have a long day ahead.”
Sighing despondently, Will shifted his legs off the bunk. “Yes, ma’am.”
* * *
Riker had to duck his head to exit the travel wagon. Looking back at the three narrow steps, now folded down for access to the wagon, he felt as if he was in another time – a time long ago. The feeling of time out of joint was accentuated by a grassy, lightly rutted, track leading off into the forest, and the fact that they were all dressed in leather and fur with real cotton underclothes. It just felt ... strange.
Without warning, Deanna appeared from the other side of the wagon carrying two steaming mugs. She handed him one.
“Claw?” he asked.
“No. It’s klah with a more pronounced k.” she said.
“Oh.” Will took a sip of the steaming liquid. “It’s still good.”
“We’re not the last up but the camp is mostly awake.”
“Anything for breakfast.”
“Back that way.” she tossed her head back towards the direction she’d arrived.
Will studied her. She was dressed in a manner similar to what he was wearing but with a definitely feminine difference. A light leather jacket over a cotton blouse and a split leather skirt with buttons to allow it to opened or closed as necessary.
“You know something, Counselor?” he remarked with a grin, “the local fashion suits you.”
She offered him a gamine smile. “You’re not so bad yourself, Commander --in a rustic sort of way. Someone might even call you handsome.”
“But not you?”
Deanna side-stepped the arm he’d been about the wrap around her waist and she grinned. “No.”
“Come on, let’s get something to eat before it’s all gone.”
“I wouldn’t worry. Fanora seems to have feeding an army well in hand.”
“Here, these aren’t strictly in fashion but I’d prefer it if we wore our communicators.” He said pinning hers on her blouse just beneath the collar. She took his and did the same.
“They look like jewelry.” Deanna commented.
“Let’s let everyone think that that’s just what they are.”
Deanna said nothing for a long while. “You’re uneasy too, aren’t you?”
Deanna looked doubtfully at the large four footed animal with a saddle on its back. “You know I think I’d rather just walk.”
“Oh no you don’t. These are based on earth equine stock with modifications in their leg structures to make them stronger and more sure footed.”
“You say you know how to ride these... runner beasts.”
“Well, I did some horseback riding when I was a kid in Alaska. It was about the only other way to get around on the ground in the restricted out-back areas during the summer except for hiking.”
“They’re too big.” Deanna backed away when the animal shied slightly and sidestepped toward her.
“Deanna, this is the gentlest one they have up here and it’s a long way down to the hold. It’s either this or you ride in one of the travelwagons – no springs there. Come on give me a foot and I’ll hoist you up into the saddle.”
“Okay, Okay. I’ll try it but it’s on your head if I fall off and break my neck.”
“How do I do this?”
“Grab hold of that knobby thing on the saddle with your left hand. Good. Now put your right hand on the saddle and give me your left foot.”
“This is silly!”
“No it’s not. Raise your left foot.” She did and Will cupped beneath her left instep as she stood awkwardly supported by the beast and one foot. “Okay, up you go.” He said lifting her straight up. Deanna instinctively pushed up and swung her free leg over the beast’s back and came down astride the saddle with a thump. Riker slipped her left foot into the stirrup and adjusted it’s length then walked around to the other side of the animal and repeated the operation as Deanna looked down curiously.
“Okay now put your weight on the stirrups and stand up. I want to check the length.”
Deanna grabbed the saddle horn and stood up rising out of the saddle. “That seems okay. Tell me later if it’s too high or low and I’ll adjust them for you. They should allow you to sit comfortably.”
“Okay smarty, now how do you drive this thing?”
He handed up the reigns. “Okay take these one hand. That’s right, use a relaxed grip. Snapping the reigns slightly and pressing your heals into it’s flank slightly will tell her to go forward. Pulling back tells her to stop. Moving your hand in the direction you want her to turn tells her move away from the pressure on her neck. You can also use your knees. Pressing your left knee tells her to turn right. It’s easy once you two reach an understanding.”
Deanna looked alarmed. “An understanding?! This is the first time I’ve even been near one of these things and you want me to understand it?”
“Relax, Deanna, You’ll do fine. It really is better than walking.” Will said, hoisting himself up into the saddle of his own mount as if he had been born to it.
Deanna looked across at him, obviously doubtful when she turned and looked now empty track between the trees, distinctly rutted by the leading cart carrying the shuttle.
“Let’s go.” Deanna heard him make a funny clicking sound and his mount started in the direction same direction. She tried snapping he reins gently – the runner just stood there. Puzzled she repeated the motion and gently swung her booted heel to tap the animal’s flanks. The runner started moving and followed Will’s mount. Deanna was somewhat amazed that it really worked and relaxed into the unfamiliar motion.
* * *
The sun was beginning to head down well past mid day when the wagon train catapillered to a stop, wagon by wagon. Riding easily beside Deanna, Will wasn’t paying much attention until his mount suddenly passed the trailing wagon.
“Something’s gone wrong, I’m going to ride forward and find out what’s happened. Want to ride forward?”
“I think not. I want to stretch my legs a bit and take care of some... um... essentials.”
Will chuckled. “Rabeem.”
Deanna flashed him a look as he pulled his mount around and started down the line of support wagons. She watched his shoulders as he moved easily in the saddle as he kicked his mount into trot.
“I’ll never be able to do this that easily.” She said to her self as she grabbed the saddle horn and swung her right leg over and stepped down to the ground. After riding most of the day, even with a mid-day stop for food, the ground seemed none too steady.
She flipped the reins of her mount around a tie ring of the last wagon and let the animal contentedly graze on the lush grasses which covered the track.
“Now you don’t do anything funny.” She told her mount as she patted it on the neck before she opened one of the leather saddle satchels and took out her personal kit that she had gotten from the shuttle.
Now she had to find a private place and decided to head down the forested embankment from the road towards the river.
Riker squatted down beside the wagon master and examined the broken timber supports of the log bridge which spanned the shallow and now dry wash.
“See what I mean, Lord Riker?”
“Just Riker, Naron and I agree, they’ve definitely been cut through. Probably with an axe or equivalent.”
“But just enough to let the wagon roll onto it and then – bang-- it’s weight collapsed the cut timber. See here how this part is splintered but wasn’t cut through. Even A runner even with rider wouldn’t have had enough weight to do that. Cleverly done.”
Riker had seen enough but couldn’t admire the handiwork in the same way as the wagon master. He and Naron stood up and smacked their hands against their trousers sending up a dust clouds but only minimally affecting the days accumulation of road grime.
“I’ve got a crew cutting some new temporary spans.” Said Naron. “I think we can just put some extra supports after wedging it back to proper height. It should be able to hold the extra weight. We’ll send up wood craftsmen later to do it up proper.”
The wagon master shrugged. “Two... Maybe three hours would be my guess.”
“Any idea why the bridge was damaged?” Riker queried.
“Don’t know. I suppose it could be the abominators. They don’t take to new things very well... and that.” He motioned to the shuttle on the cart that was being block and tackled back off of the broken span using the draft animals. “is definitely new and different.”
“Are these abominator groups, dangerous? I mean beyond things like this?”
“Not usually but they can get riled up a bit if provoked.”
Riker stood quietly, arms folded examining the scene, as the wagon master moved off to ram-rod the repair.
Sighing to himself he moved back along the edge of the track toward where he’d tied off his runner. The animal shied away from him nervously as he interrupted from it’s cropping the sweet grasses beside the wagon track.
Riker patted the runner’s neck gently. “Hey boy... Don’t worry, I’ll get you something special later.”
The beast quieted allowing enough to allow him to swing up into the saddle. “Come on boy, take me back to Deanna.” He called, lightly booting the runner in the flanks signaling a trot.
* * *
Approaching the their travelwagon Riker saw that Deanna’s mount was tied to the hitching ring and the rear stairs were unfolded. He noted with satisfaction that she had given the animal sufficient tether slack to allow it to move about a bit and forage in the green grass shoots which bordered the wagon wheel ruts.
Dismounting, he tied his own mount to the hitching ring on the other side and tapped lightly on the door of their travelwagon.
‘She must be asleep.’ He thought and quietly eased open the narrow door on the back of the wagon to check but found both bunks empty with their bedding still neatly folded.
‘Can’t have gone far.’ He thought as he called out “Deannnaaaa..... I’m baaack”
At that moment, Methany rounded the uphill side of the wagon.
“Something wrong?” she asked.
“Probably not. Just wondering where Deanna’s gone off to?”
“Likely went down to the river to wash up after riding all day. I know I would.”
“She said she was going to do something like that when I rode forward. But that was nearly an hour ago.” He looked up at the mountain peaks that surrounded them. “The sun’s are going down and it’s going to get dark quick.”
Methany’s gaze followed his. “You’ve spent some time afield, I see.”
“A bit. You seem to know your way around this area. How about helping me find her.”
“Okay.” Methany squatted down and scanned the area, obviously examining the ground for sign. Finally she stopped and pointed somewhat back along the track and towards the river.
“Lady Deanna went that way.”
“How do you know that?”
“Simple. Trampled down grass and disturbed ground cover but not where the passing wagons or riders would have caused it.”
Riker looked where she was pointing and damn if he could see it. “I’ll have to take your word for it. Well, Miss Blood Hound, let’s go find her before we run out of daylight.”
* * *
Will followed the nearly invisible trail pointed out by Methany, as they pushed though the thinning undergrowth between the wagon track and the river. As they moved onto more rocky ground Methany stopped, appearing to look hard at everything around her.
“I’ve lost Lady Deanna’s trail.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. The ground is too rocky to hold a trace and the brush and ground cover has thinned out too much.”
Will suddenly remembered their communicators knowing full well that they had limited range without the a shuttle, satellite or starship to boost and relay the signals.
“Methany, I have an idea.”
She turned and looked at him curiously as he touched the piece of jewelry on his collar.
“Riker to Troi.”
A faint echo came from a point down river where trees thickened..
“There!” he called out and pointed to Methany who was already scrambling ahead of him. They raced along the river bank and up the slope from towards where the echo sound had come from.
Will touched his badge again.
“Riker to Troi.” The echo came back louder.
Methany leaned over to pick up something from behind a tree. Will finally caught up with her as she turned and held out her hand holding the duplicate of the badge he wore.
“That’s her comm badge.” The expression on his face was clearly dissappointed that they had found it without finding Deanna.
“We use them to talk when we are far apart. Look around to see if there’s anything else.”
It was a few minutes later when they found her riding jacket, a damp towel along with her personal kit. Picking them up, Will was now becoming highly anxious as the daylight began to fade rapidly in the deep river valley.
“Look around for signs of a struggle and other people signs.”
Methany quickly searched the area and found fresh runner droppings from where they had been tethered.
“They had mounts tied up here. Lady Deanna must have come upon them unexpectedly but I didn’t see any signs of struggle. I think that there were three maybe four mounts judging from the way the grass is been trampled. Also they left in a hurry—“
“How do you know that?” Will asked breaking in.
“Look at the stride marks. See how they bunch up at first then space out as they headed that way.” Methany pointed back up river – back in the direction from where they had come.
“Can you tell how long ago?”
“Not enough clues. Sorry.”
“Come on then, lets get back to the wagons and round up a posse.”
“What’s a posse?”
“I’ll explain later.”
“You are a very strange man William Short”
“Perhaps. And Methany, I prefer Will.” He said, his long legs rapidly eating up the distance back up the slope to the wagon track even as the young girl scrambled to keep up. Methany caught up as he was untieing his mount.
“I do hope that Lady Deanna’s all right.”
“So do I, Methany. So do I.”
As consciousness returned, Deanna’s senses slowly began to work again. One of the first was her sense of smell and she instantly wished otherwise.
“Ugh!” she grunted, keeping her eyes shut. She didn’t believe anything could be worse than a dragons breath but whatever this was it must have died about a week ago.
She was no longer moving, bouncing or being manhandled for which she was grateful. She was also thankful that she had been out cold for much of the time since she had been abducted. Abducted by these... her thoughts jarred to a stop when she realized that didn’t know who they were or where she was or why she had been taken.
Deanna carefully cracked an eye, hoping that any one watching would be unaware that she was awake. She needn’t have worried as she was alone in the rickety shed. The morning sun, streaming through vertical openings between the boards of the shoddily constructed wall, formed visible rays as they intersected with the copious airborne dust motes.
She she was covered by a crude blanket it but was her back that itched where it rested on the coarse sacking upon which she had been dumped. She realized that she couldn’t scratch because her wrists were bound as were her feet.
‘At least they didn’t gag me,’ she thought as she wiggled trying to scratch the itch. ‘Damn! It still itches!.’
She tried inching into a more comfortable position away from the foul stench of whatever was rotting in the darker corners of the shed, but found it nearly impossible. The combined feeling of disorientation from being unconscious along with the nauseating fumes of decay made her want to throw up.
Suddenly the door to the shed slammed open and the morning sun nearly blinded her as it silhouetted and outlined a tall man shape.
“You awake, star woman?” came a deep voice. The malice in the voice was palpable.
She decided to play dumb until his boot slammed into her thigh sending lancing pain up her body.
“Owww!” she cried out.
“Don’t play stupid with me, Lady.”
“I’m awake! I’m awake! Stop it!”
“Good. I see we understand each other.”
“What’s that smell?” she asked.
He looked towards the corner from which the stench emanated and then roared in a incredibly cold laughter. “I guess that you could say that it was my last house guest.”
It was too much. Deanna turned and wretched what little she had in her stomach onto the dusty dirt floor of the shed.
* * *
Trailing the other riders, Riker tried desperately to work out the kinks from riding through the night by standing in the stirrups. He found their pace agonizingly slowed in order that they not lose the faint trail or hurt their mounts through accident.
They were only four. Himself, Methany and two other riders that had volunteered to go after Deanna. The sky was brightening and he knew that the sun would come up shortly. His bones and his butt ached from the cold damp of the high mountain night air. He hoped that Deanna’s abductors had been compassionate enough to protect her from this damning chill.
Easing back into the saddle, he was envious of Methany and the others who seemingly had the ability to ride forever without apparent pain. Her silhouette in the morning light seemed odd until he realized that her... what were they called.. oh yes... her fire lizard was nestled on her padded shoulder, its tail wrapped around her neck, it’s head tucked beneath one tightly folded wing.
He moved his mount up beside her’s and waited until she noticed he was there.
“Oh! Good morning?” she said brightly.
“You are unreasonably chipper this morning.” Said Riker.
“Chipper?” she querried.
“Why not. I slept in the saddle when I wasn’t on trailing duty.”
“Slept... Didn’t you?”
“No! I’m dead tired.”
“Morax told me that we’ll be taking a break for morning meal shortly.” She nodded towards the lead rider. “You can sleep while we rest and water the mounts.”
“I’ll never be able to. I’m worried about Deanna.”
“I am too but she is as she will be and there isn’t much we can do more than what we are doing right now.”
“I see that your friend returned.” Said Riker moving his mount a bit farther away.
Methany laughed and gently nuzzled the fire lizard sleeping on her shoulder. “Fire lizards are just the opposite of the big dragons, they have a good long term collective memory but they tend to forget things that happened a day or so ago.”
“You mean that it --“
“She’s not an it!”
“Okay then, SHE wouldn’t remember being stunned.”
“Oh she remembers that all right but only in a general sense because she wouldn’t want it to happen again.”
”When did she come back?”
“Oh... mmm... I’d guess around the fifth hour after sun down. She gets cold up here.”
“So do I. I just wish Deanna hadn’t lost her comm badge.”
“Well, If she hadn’t I could have used this gadget to for tracking her.” Riker pulled a tricorder from his belt holster and flipped it open showing Methany the unit.
“Can you use it alone to do that?” she asked curiously figuring that the star peoples things had far ranging powers.
“Normally yes but on this planet it seems to have a very limited range.” He sighed. “Too bad we don’t have some other kind of trail to follow.”
Methany suddenly looked thoughtful. “Maybe we do.” She reached up with her opposite hand and nudged her fire lizard to awaken it. Riker nearly choked in laughter as it untucked it’s head stretched first it’s body, then it’s wings and finally hopping down to land gently on the saddle horn. It shuddered as if shaking off the cold and stretched once again even while it was yawing like a kitten. Finally it settled down to chirp noisily at Methany, its multi-faceted eyes glowing and whirling in a kaleidoscope of color.
“I know you’re hungry – soon.” She said stroking it’s eye ridges.
The little dragon preened and nudged back against her stroking fingers. It seemed very odd as Methany and the little creature stared at each other obviously in some sort of communication. After some moments she sat back in the saddle and turned to him.
“She remembers Lady Deanna.”
“Uh... Okay. What good does that do?”
“It means that means that she can go to Lady Deanna.”
Riker was stunned into silence by the comment.
She was alone in again -- ‘thank god’ she thought. They’d brought her a crock of water, a chunk of bread -- obviously torn roughly from a larger loaf -- an almost stale one at that -- and a somewhat greasy chunk of over cooked meat.
With her hands bound together in almost prayer like, Deanna could only pick up one item at a time. She hated it because it was so damned awkward. She had tried to pick apart the bindings with her teeth but these rough men were, unfortunately, quite adept in their ability to truss up a prisoner properly. Sighing, she focused on attempting to chew and choke down the less greasy portions of the roast. She put the shank of roast down on a fairly clean spot in order to pick up the bread chunk, nibble some, and finally put it down to capture the water jar. She did this carefully because she couldn’t stand the thought of trying to eat any of this filth without the ability to wash it from her mouth.
The smell from the corner no longer affected her in the way it had earlier. For some reason she had become inured to the ghastly fumes – somehow shutting down and attenuating her physical sense of smell and taste. She didn’t think have about it -- it was an automatic and unconscious reaction.
She was on her fourth round of trying to eat when something flickered into existence at the corner of her vision chattering madly. Deanna turned her head carefully to find her little lizard friend.
In spite of her predicament she was relieved to see something familiar. Moving slowly, she carefully set the water crock down safely where it couldn’t be knocked over turned her attention to her visitor whom she could now recognized by it’s size, blue/green color and markings.
“Hello, Menoth.” She said in a quiet voice, fearful of frightening it away. The little creature strutted across the sacking, stopped and looked at the corner from where the stench emanated and squawked softly, the morning light reflected from it’s faceted eyes whirling with predominant reds.
“It’s all right. It’s been dead for awhile.”
The little dragon flopped and struggled clumsily as it tried to climb into her lap. Deanna carefully pulled her skirt taut and moved her left leg closer to the sacking which allowed the little dragon to settle then sit up, balancing easily by spreading it’s wing tips like hands.
“Now my fine little blue-green friend, just how did you find me?”
The little dragon, feeling comfortable and secure in her lap, looked up at her. It was obvious to Deanna that it was thinking hard when it gave out a little mental burst.
Deanna was shocked. She thought that she could actually partially understand what the firelizard was trying to convey to her.
She decided to reply. “Okay little one, here goes.” She built a mental image of Methany pointing in a direction and focused on the small creature’s upturned face, staring straight into it’s facted eyes saying “You say Methany sent you -- is that right?”
The fire lizard chittered rapidly, it’s eyes now illuminated from behind in a warm rose color. It again stared back intently and for only a brief moment the image of Methany and Will riding on the horse things flitted through her mind along with another <Men%th-phst*#-+*M*thny>
Deanna’s sucked in her breath, a little in awe at what had just happened when the door to the shack slammed open again. As she looked up, she sensed exactly when her little friend dissappeared from her lap, as if by magic.
She felt alone again -- but encouraged by the fact that at least the little fire lizard knew where she was.
“Okay, Star lady. You’re coming with us.”
She looked up defiantly. “Why? Where are we going now?”
“That’s none of your business.” He growled, hauling her to feet. When he realized that she couldn’t walk with her feet bound as they were, he simply picked her up and flipped her unceremouniously, face down, like a sack of feed, over his left shoulder, then walked out into the late morning sunlight
Will sat silently beside the small trail fire, waiting for the klah to brew. After the long cold night he needed something hot. He watched Methany and Morax tending to the horses – he thought of them that way even though they were distinctly different genetically than the earth breed.
He tapped his communicator. “Delta Time”
“Twelve Minutes – Twenty Eight Seconds”
It seemed an eternity since Methany had sent her fire dragon off to find Deanna with a burst of flapping wings and a silent poof when it vanished before his eyes. While he was use to transporter effects it still amazed him that anything could do what these dragons did as naturally as breathing.
He was startled by a voice beside him.
“You really do go somewhere else when you’re thinking hard. I could have banged on a pot and I believe you wouldn’t have heard a thing.”
He looked up at Methany, chagrined. “I suppose I do. Sorry.”
Methany looked worried.
“She’ll be back.”
“I know but I’m worried whether Lady Deanna is okay.”
“She’s all right. I’d know instantly if she wasn’t.”
Methany looked down at Will with a puzzled expression. “I don’t understand.”
“Uh... It’s something like what you and your little dragon have... but different.”
“Then why can’t you just reach out and find her?”
“Methany, it’s not quite like that. I’m not genetically the same as Deanna but something’s very different in me than it was before.”
“Before you and Lady Deanna met?”
“Yes. Something like that. It’s more compli—“
The air between him and Methany was suddenly exploded into a raucously squawking blue/green blur. Methany spun about trying to track her fire lizard as it whirled about them, agitated beyond belief.
“What’s wrong?” Will asked.
“I don’t know. All I get is a picture of Lady Deanna’s face and then a bright light.”
“Can you get her calmed down?”
“I’m trying. Believe me, I’m trying.” She yelled over the noise.
* * *
The four of them edged up to the top of the hill on hands and knees to avoid being silhouetted against the sky. This was the place where Methany indicated that Menoth had visualized to her.
As they lay in the tall grasses of the hill top, Will pulled out his field tricorder, flipped it open and switched it to telescopic repeater mode. As he aimed it down-slope towards the stone and slate roofed farm buildings the image field suddenly went blurry blue green.
“Menoth! You’re in the way.” Will complained, looking up from the viewer into to the face of the little dragon who was staring back at him with an intently curious look, it’s faceted eyes glowing with odd colors.
“Methany.” He pleaded.
“Menoth. Come here.” She coaxed.
The little dragon looked at Methany, then waddled with great dignity through the high grasses until she was close enough to plop down beside her partner.
“That’s better.” She said scratching it’s eye ridges.
Will refocused the tricorder, then adjusted the unit to zoom in on the target area. The tell-tales in the display indicated that the farm had only one humanoid occupant -- inside the out building to the left of the stock pen and central house. The reading was indistinct which he attributed to the planetary interference they had observed.
“There’s only one indication and it’s very odd.”
“Where?” asked Morax from his left.
“Inside the out-building. The one just to the left of the stock pen.”
“No other signs?”
“None that I can detect from this distance. It should be safe to go in.”
The four, still cautious, edged back from the ridge top to recover their mounts tethered just out of sight. After remounting, Morax edged up beside Will.
“Lord Riker, If it were me, I would get down there fast.”
Riker sighed. “It’s just Riker, Morax, not Lord Riker but I concur with your action plan.”
“Decision about a way to act.”
“Action plan, you say.” He replied. “Interesting words you have Lor... er Riker.”
“Well then, Lets go.”
* * *
As they carefully approached the stone pillared hut they noted it had a slate roof even though the shielded walls were sheathed with crudely fashioned vertical boards.
Suddenly the wind shifted bringing with it the stench of death from the building. Their runners nearly bolted from the smell causing all four of them to wrestle with them, desperately trying to keep from being thrown.
“Deanna!” Will cried out in panic.
In their keep high up in the weyr, the incoming water in the bathing pool was steaming, keeping it at a comfortable temperature. F’lar ducked his head under to rinse the soap out of his eyes as Lessa gently scrubbed his back with sweet sand.
“The thread scars on your back from three seven days ago are healing well though I think it would have been better to have avoided getting hit.”
“Mnmenmeth took a wing scoring too before we were able to go between. I suspect that drilling the wing on how to zig when they zagged would be in order.”
“I think they already know that, love.” Lessa slid up against her Weyrleader pressing herself into his back and slipping her hands around his torso.
“Mmmm. That feels good.”
“About the star people.”
“What about them?”
“Do you find them... strange?”
“No more than anyone else from a far place.”
“It’s not that. It’s—“
<they think funny> Ramoth interjected.
<Go to sleep and quit eves dropping>
<I never eves drop>
She heard F’Lar sigh.
“It’s hard to get away from them sometimes, Mnmenmeth was butting in too.”
“I know. But Ramoth’s right. The star people do think funny especially that Lady Deanna.” Said Lessa.
“Oh, that reminds me, Naron sent word last night that the portage bridge over the Night Mountain wash has been repaired sufficiently to continue bringing down their flying machine down the mountain. He estimates that they should arrive at Benden hold late on the morrow.”
Lessa slid around her mate until she could sit beside him in order to give him a gentle kiss as he lay back against the worn smooth ancient stone of the well used tub.
“We really should do something about those abominators. They’re going to disrupt everything we are trying to do to improve our state.” She said.
“I know, love, but they’re nearly invisible. Hit then run and hide. You never know where they’ll do mischief next. So far it’s been relatively minor.”
“I know but they’re getting bolder.”
“Enough Woman! This is supposed to be a friendly bath, not a discussion of the state of the Weyr.”
Lessa grinned and stretched out on top of him her legs astride his hips. “Well kiss me then and have your way with me, Bronze Rider.”
* * *
In their Weyr, Lessa’s Gold and F’Lar’s bronze dozed lightly, necks intertwined, atuned to the amorous afternoon engagement of their partners.
* * *
Riker staggered back into the sunlight, fell to his knees and wretched violently. After purging himself he looked up at the others who were holding the reigns of their nervous and skittish mounts.
“It’s not her.”
Methany visibly relaxed then frowned. “But you said you’d know if any harm came to her.”
“I know. I know” he choked, trying to clear the foulness which stung his eyes. Methany handed him a water skin from which he poured a quantity over his face, the excess washing down and soaking his tunic. He finally took a healthy swig from the skin to wash his mouth out, spitting it into the dust.
“I don’t know what’s wrong. I can normally sense her but here – on this planet – that’s all out of whack and it scares me.”
“It must be like when Menoth goes between – I can’t sense her until she comes out and if she’s too far away I can’t sense her at all.”
“I guess so. This is different than that. It’s normally sort of a feeling that she’s here and not here at the same time – as if I could turn around and she would be there but she’s not.”
“And you cannot feel her now.”
“That’s right. I know she’s okay but when I went through that door I was afraid – afraid of what I might find – that my senses were wrong.
The intensity of Riker’s anxiety was something that Methany found disconcerting.
The heavy haul wagon with the shuttle strapped to its bed, was maneuvered through the sometimes narrow, sometimes wide streets of Benden Hold with great care. At times they had to back up and then go forward again to turn some corners.
Finally they arrived at the local smiths hall. The smiths hall of Benden wasn’t overly large but was reasonably well equipped. Naron stood to one side as the handlers backed the cart through the doors of the adjacent storage warehouse which was sometimes given over to the smith hall as a workshop extension.
The wagon’s rear wheel hub nudged the open door.
“Careful there,” he called out, “there isn’t enough clearance.”
The wagon handlers pulled gently on the bits of the draft animals, realigning the wagon slightly.
It was clear on this side.
“Jimpen.” He called out.
“Yo!” came an answer from the other side of the cart.
“How’s the clearance on that side.”
“About a hand span -- enough.”
The top of the shuttle barely cleared under the door’s lintel beam as they eased it back into its temporary workshop. After a number of back and forth maneuvers, he finally had it where he wanted it positioned beneath the traveling crane’s heavy cross beam.
“Okay. That’s enough. You can unhitch the draft and return them to the carter’s hall. Oh yes, replace the wagon’s heavy hauling tongue with a shop pull ”
His teamsters efficiently carried out the wagon master’s orders, the other wagons already having been returned to the wagon sheds. Their work finally done, he sank down upon one of the short stone pedestals edging the hold’s street and stared at the contraption peering back at him from the smith’s shop. The windows were much like eyes, he thought.
He harrumphed to himself at the childish thought, rose and closed one, then the other of the shop doors, hiding the star people’s machine. ‘Better that they and the smiths take care of it on the morrow.’
The watchweyr shambled out of its lair to see who was passing at this time of day. The ugly dwarf cousin to the larger dragons snuffled at the wagon master, recognizing him.
Naron paused to rub the creature between its eyes. “I’ve nothing for you tonight, Sorry Grindel.”
Not understanding, the watchwyre waddled after him until it reached the end of its tether chain. It watched until Naron turned the corner heading back to carter’s hall, then returned to its stone den to curl up, its nose out -- again on watch.
* * *
Riker was sitting on the ground, his back against a post of the stock pen. The other three hunkered down around him.
“Okay, folks, now what?” he said. “She was apparently here but now she’s not. Any clues?”
Larion, the third rider, picked up a stick and began to draw in the dust. “We’re here.” He poked the point into the dirt. “We came up the river here trailing those who took your lady.” he marked a wavy trail from. “I’ve scouted the area and it appears that they split up. Three went this way.” He made another trace in the dirt then pointed towards where the narrow valley continued to widen. “The other two went this direction” he made another trace in the dust and then pointed towards the mountains which surrounded them. “I think the first three are going to ground and have holds in the valley. If so, we’ll never smoke them out.”
“So it’s the other two then.” Commented Riker.
“I would hazard that. Yes.”
“Methany, would you be willing to send Menoth out again?”
Methany was pleased that William now called her fire lizard by name. “Why don’t you ask her yourself.” She said as the little blue-green hopped down from her shoulder and strutted over to him, eyes whirling with color.
Will gave Methany an odd look and then stared at the little dragon. The other two men watched, somewhat amused. “I’m supposed to commune with your fire lizard?”
“Just form an image of Lady Deanna and project it to Menoth along with your desire that she go find her again.”
“You’re not kidding are you.”
Methany shook her head. “No really.”
Riker chuckled. “Okay then.” He turned his attention to the fire lizard. “Well then, little one, here goes.” He brought a picture of Deanna into his mind – one of his favorite images, her dark eyes framed by her lustrous black mane – he could actually smell her freshly washed hair – next to the one of their first meeting oh so many years ago. His mind drifted back to that night – the soft fragrance of her natural scent mixed that of the tropical flowers of the garden at night. He wanted her back so much that it actually hurt.
When he opened his eyes he found the other three watching the little fire lizard. It had crept closer until it was a scant half meter from him it’s head cocked quizzically as if it was intently focused on the man before her.
Riker looked at the little creature who was looking back at him intently. The spell was broken. He rumbled in quiet laughter. “Well, that’s all I have. Can you find her again?”
The firelizard stood up, haughtily stretched to full height it’s eyes whirling in colors of red and purple.
“Well you don’t have to get huffy about it.” He commented.
Methany laughed. “Oh, She’ll try to find Lady Deanna again, for you, all right. She indicated that your vision of Lady Deanna was better much better than mine.”
“Do tell. When should we send her off again.”
“Now, while there’s still daylight to break trail.”
It was apparent to Riker when Methany focused her thoughts on her fire lizard because the animal, as it turned and moved quickly to her side allowing the girl to pick it up smoothly and heave it into the air.
A blue-green blur formed in the air and then winked out.
“Now we wait...”
The Enterprise had its sensors spread wide as it followed the faint signature trail of its lost shuttle like a blood hound.
“Are you sure that we haven’t lost it?”
“No, Captain. It’s faint, several days old from its dispersal pattern, but we are still traveling along the center line of the—“
“Yes, yes, I know that Data. Can you tell if the dispersal pattern is converging?”
“Yes, but only slightly. I estimate that at this point they were traveling at approximately Warp 6.5 from the residual energy density.”
Suddenly the Enterprise jolted as if it had hit a cosmic pot-hole and dropped out of warp.
“What was that? What did we hit?”
Data’s hands flew over the keys of his console. He paused – an unusual reaction for the android – and then began again even more rapidly.
“What is it, Mr. Data?”
“The shuttles energy trail.”
“Return to the point where the sensors lost the signature.
* * *
It was twenty standard minutes later when the Enterprise came to a full stop in what appeared to be completely empty space.
“Put the information up on the main screen.”
The exterior view of the emptiness of open space disappeared to be replaced by a multi-spectral view of the same region in front of them. The residual warp signature from the shuttle was clearly visible tracking right up to the a point several hundred kilometers from their present position and then – nothing. It was as if the trail ended at a virtual wall -- On the far side was the slowly dissipating energy signature and on the near side, nothing.
“I’ll be damn’d. Have you ever—“
“No sir. Not like this. I am, however, detecting a subspace distortion. It is my belief that what we ran into was residual distortion from a temporal fracture but the Enterprise was far too large penetrate the barrier opening.”
“You mean the shuttle was swallowed up by some sort of time distortion?”
“I believe so, sir.”
“Is it still open?”
“No sir. It is not.”
Jon Luc’s eyes rose to the ceiling of the bridge as he rubbed a hand over his bald head. “Data, have I ever told you how much I hate time warps?”
“Many times sir.”
The captain sighed. “Report what we know to Starfleet and set a beacon at this point to warn off other ships. Also collect as much information as you can about the current condition of the rift and interrogate all available local sensor platforms in this region to see if there’s any historical data.”
“I am all ready doing that, sir.” Data’s hands were flying over his console in an amazing blur.
“I’ll be in my quarters, Mr. Data.” He said as he left the bridge. Stepping into the turbo lift, he tapped his comm badge. “Picard to Crusher.”
“Beverly, would you join me in my cabin. It seems we’ve run into a bit of a problem which involves Will and Deanna.”
* * *
Deanna was becoming highly annoyed at being continuously manhandled – or in her case womanhandled. ‘Enough is enough!’ she thought.
She had been dumped unceremoniously in the back of the cave in which her abductors had holed up. From the rough fixtures and piles of boxes, barrels and coarse woven sacks, it was obvious that this was their regular lair.
Where she lay, was mostly in the dark, the forward part of the cave illuminated by torches and sunlight filtering in from outside. This allowed her to struggle into a more comfortable sitting position, resting her back against the cave wall.
Suddenly a blue blur popped into existence, chittering at her.
“Shush!” she commanded.
The noise stopped and the little fire lizard landed on the hard packed floor of the cave, kicking up a minor dust cloud as it grounded itself. The little creature strutted boldly up to Deanna and stopped, facing her.
Deanna distinctly received a fuzzy mental image along with another mental <phst*#-+Methan*y>. In her imagination she believed that the little dragon wanted her to return to where Methany was.
Deanna held up her cord tied hands showing the fire lizard her predicament. “I can’t, you see.”
Menoth edged closer and pushed his soft scaly nose against the intricately knotted cords around her wrists as if testing them. The multiple bands of the soft half centimeter diameter cords were interlaced to form an unpickable set of hand cuffs and leg shackles.
It cocked its head slightly and then reached out with one of its foreshortened front legs and pushed her bound hands down.
“What is it that you want me to do, little one?”
She looked up and an image of the knots against the floor popped into her mind and then was gone.
“Okay,” she said doubtfully and shifted so that she could put her bound hands on the floor. “That’s as good as I can do.”
The little fire lizard spread its wings for balance, raised one of its powerful hind legs and carefully drew one of its sharp claws across her bindings. The cords parted as if cut by a surgeon’s scalpel. Several more passes and her hands were free. Deanna rubbed her wrists briskly to massage away the binding marks and restore better circulation.
Menoth had moved a short distance away and reiterated her desire for Deanna to leave.
“In a moment, little one” Deanna pulled her feet up and tried to pick at the bindings of her feet but had no better luck with her hands free than she had had earlier.
“I guess you had better do my feet too.” She sent an image of her foot bindings falling away, then shifted into what she thought was a most unladylike position but one which allowed the little fire lizard to repeat the cord severing operation. The leg bonds rapidly fell to the slashing attack of its sharp claws.
Once free, Deanna reviewed her tactical options and decided that a bit of reconnaissance was in order. She carefully peeked around the cave wall which formed her recessed alcove area. ‘Only one between me and the cave mouth. Where’s the other one?’ She felt something brush her leg and jumpped. Looking down, Deanna nearly strained a leg muscle stopping her instinctive reaction to lash out. Menoth was peering around the same corner mimicking her actions.
Retreating to the darkness of her alcove, she cast about for something to use as a weapon and found an axe handle. Hefting it, she found it a bit unwieldy but there wasn’t much else at hand.
Easing from her hiding place she crept up behind her unaware abductor who was tending to the small stone stove built into the side of the cave near the entrance. Swinging from the hip and closing her eyes she heard and felt the ax handle strike the head of the abductor. She opened her eyes in time to see the man drop lifelessly to the cave floor.
Kneeling beside her abductor, she pressed two fingers against his carotid artery. ‘A pulse. Good! I didn’t kill him.’ She was relieved until a booming voice brought her back to reality.
“Shards! How did you get loose.”
Deanna stood and spun to face the second abductor who was easily half again larger than the one she had just clubbed. She was just about to run when a blue-green blur launched itself at the man silhouetted by the sun blocking the mouth of the cave.
The man raised his hands to protect his face and eyes, the obvious target of the enraged fire lizard. Deanna immediately and instinctively took advantage of the hand to hand combat training that Worf had driven into her day after day. She didn’t even remember thinking ‘When the fight starts, there are no rules’ as she swung the axe handle again, this time in an almost golf like swing up between the man’s legs. The swing stopped so abruptly that it stung her hands causing her to drop the wooden weapon even as her second abductor joined the first – but folded into a fetal position moaning in pain, his hands covering the sensitive area she had accurately aimed for.
The little fire lizard had relented its attack immediately upon the man folding up on the floor but stood guard near the man’s head, ready in an instant to resume its attack.
“Enough Menoth. They can’t hurt us now.” She reached down and carefully collected the little dragon which accepted being picked up without a single complaint. At the cave mouth, she looked down from their airy perch. “Well then, I’m going that direction,” she thought and then stared into the little fire lizards faceted eyes which were still whirling in excited colors. She projected where she would be later but had no idea whether or not the fire lizard would understand.
Holding the creature at arms length, she gently tossed it into the updraft of cliff edge. Squeaking in delight the little fire lizard at first dropped like a stone, snapped its wings open and quickly rose back to face her, floating in the upwelling of air. With a final squawk, which Deanna swore contained another unfathomable message, the creature simply vanished.
Will followed the other three up from the farm and into the foothills of the mountains which rose up from the valley floor. The little fire lizard had returned to them and was balanced on Methane’s saddle horn as they rode. After some time, the Firelizard looked at Methany as if asking a question which Methany answered with a shrug.
With a little squawk and a single stroke of wing Menoth rose into the air only to land on Will’s saddle horn. Chittering softly it lowered its head and butted his right hand which held the reigns to his runner and then looked up at him.
“So you’ve forgiven me for stunning you?”
Menoth butted his hand again.
“She want’s to be scratched around her eye ridges.”
Will used his left hand which had been resting on his thigh to massage the little fire lizard’s head, hopefully in the same way that he had seen Methany do it.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” he asked.
“I’m certain that Menoth wanted us to get to a place just above the tree line...” she paused. “it’s that way.” She pointed.
“I hope you’re right.” He said doubtfully.
“After all that’s happened, you still have doubt?”
“I learned to retain a healthy bit of skepticism long ago.”
Methany watched the two of them interacting and smiled at the lie of his words.
* * *
Deanna was sitting atop a large bolder playing idly with a bunch of wild flowers that she had picked while coming down the mountain. From her perch she had full view of all of the upslope approaches which also meant that she would be easy to see. She had examined several boulders but had picked this one because she liked the shade that gnarled, but fully branching tree gave, a tree which had grown from the frost crack which had split the bolder in two. The other significant advantage was no one could sneak up behind her.
A flicker of movement from the tree line caught her eye as four of the horse like creatures emerged from the denser lower forest into this sparser area.
One of the riders pointed in her direction and kicked his mount into a faster gate up the mountain slope towards her. The others quickly did the same. She recognized the blue-green of Methany’s fire lizard on one the leading mount but the rider was obviously not Methany.
As they got closer she was shocked to see that it was riding easily on the front of Will’s saddle. The joy in Will’s face was palpable. As the distance closed she was finally able to sense him again.
He reigned in his mount beneath the rock on which she sat and looked up at her. “Hello, stranger...”
“Hi.” She replied.
“I understand that you’ve had a bit of an adventure.”
“One that I wouldn’t want to repeat anytime soon.”
“Nor would I.”
“Ummm.... You could say that. I thought I’d lost you.”
Deanna said nothing but looked down at him with her deep black eyes, searching within his core, finding him again. He could feel her within him.
She finally spoke. “I see you found a friend.” Nodding at the fire lizard.
“There’s no accounting for taste I guess. Methany said that she helped you out.”
“More than you know.”
“Where are they?”
She motioned with her head and then pointed up the mountain with the bunch of flowers.
“Are they still alive?”
“They were when I left, but they were in not the best of condition. I guess that Worf’s training finally paid a dividend.”
“How about you?”
“Grubby, Grumpy and in serious need of a long soak.”
The other riders finally pulled up beside him. Larion was the first to speak.
“You’re free!” he said in surprise. “Where are they?”
“In a cave up there.” She pointed again. “I’d say about two, maybe three kilometers more or less. I think you’ll still find them up there if you hurry.”
Larion, grinned. “Morax! We’ve a chance to catch a few of these meddlesome scoundrels.”
“We’ll leave you with Methany.” Replied the older rider turned to Riker. “We didn’t bring another runner so the Lady will have to double up with you.”
“I could request Dragon transport.” Said Methany.
“This close to a thread fall they could refuse.” He replied. “But go ahead. I think it likely that F’lar and Lessa would rather have them down there than up here. Let it be their decision.” He turned to the other rider. “Ready to collect those ruffians?”
Larion grinned and kicked his mount into an easy up hill gate. Morax followed leaving the three of them behind again.
“We should head back to make time in case they choose not to send a dragon to transport you Benden.”
Will looked up a Deanna who sat peacefully looking out over the valley. “It’s beautiful here, Will.”
“A lot like Alaska but a bit warmer.”
Deanna rose and dusted herself off.
“Warmer is good. Okay who do I ride with first.”
Will shooed the fire dragon from his saddle.
“You’re with me.” He said.
“Always.” Deanna replied with a wink.
Deanna rode easily in the saddle with Will’s arms around her, his right hand holding the runners reigns his other resting on her thigh but the heat from his body was making her uncomfortable. Grabbing the pommel she tried to shift her position but found it awkward as her feet were hanging free.
“Problem?” he whispered in her ear.
His hot breath made her even more uncomfortable.
“Sort of. I am hot and you’re not helping any.”
“You’re also a bit wiffy.” He said with a chuckle.
“You don’t have to remind me. You’re not exactly Jarlara Flower fresh, yourself. I’m dying for a good bath to wash the stink of them off of me.
“Was it that bad?”
“Worse. Between being trussed up like a feast day fowl and thrown around like a sack of grain and then being cooped up with something that was very very dead for nearly a half day would put anyone in a foul mood.”
“You got away.”
“...Sorry that you couldn’t rescue me?” she said smiling but he couldn’t see that.
Taking the comment seriously mumbled. “Uh... Deanna it’s not--“
“I was teasing, Will.”
Will pinched her gently on the inner thigh in retribution.
“Ouch” she said, slapping his hand away.
“So what happened up there?”
“Menoth, the little smartie, freed me by cutting my bindings with his raptor claw. I found an axe handle and knocked the smaller one senseless.”
“And the other.”
“He surprised me when I was checking to see if I had killed first one.”
“He was the bigger of the two?”
“Yes, roughly the size of a comfortable house.”
“Doesn’t sound like someone I would want to tackle on my best day without a stunner.”
“Well, I wasn’t too thrilled about it either but Menoth distracted him when he attacked. I simply took advantage of it by hitting him between the legs as hard as I could with the axe handle.”
“Ouch! Makes my eyes water just thinking about it.”
“He wasn’t too happy about it either but wasn’t in any position to retaliate.”
“I’ll bet he wasn’t”
“Think that they’ll capture either one?”
“I’m willing to bet that that they’ll at least get the one I clubbed over the head. The other – it depends on how fast he can recover.”
As they neared the river again in late afternoon, Methany slowed, allowing Will’s mount to come even with hers again.
“I think that we’re going to have to camp here tonight – at least if they don’t send a dragon for you. I sent Menoth off with the request but she hasn’t returned yet.
“Oh good. Water!” exclaimed Deanna.
“It’s cold up her, Lady Deanna. The thermal vents which warm it up are farther down.”
“Doesn’t matter. At least it’s wet and clean. Do you have any hygiene supplies in your saddle bag?”
“You know things to clean yourself after... um... well you know... girl stuff.”
Methany made an understanding face. “Oh... that kind of stuff.”
“Yes. That kind of stuff.”
Will was bemused by the interplay between the two knowing full well what Deanna wanted but deliberately seemed to be innocent of the entire conversation.
Will’s dismounting allowed Deanna allowed to slide back into the saddle and follow suit. Will caught her by the waist as she put her left foot into the recently vacated stirrup, swung over and nearly lost her balance as she tried to step down.
“Careful, can’t have you breaking something now.”
When she turned in his arms, Will tried to kiss her but she resisted, placing her hands on his chest and pushing gently. “No Will. Not now.”
Will released her and stepped back. Confused.
As Deanna turned and began to walk toward Methany who was rummaging through her saddle bag, Will reached out and touched her shoulder.
Deanna did not turn but shrugged of his touch. “Not now will.”
She turned and looked at him, her dark eyes unfathomable.
“Talk to me.”
“Not now. Maybe later.” She said with a voice that was final as he turned and continued walking towards the native girl, leaving Will even more confused than he thought he was before.
‘What has got into her?” he thought, feeling a bit rejected.
* * *
It was roughly an hour later, but the sun had not set, as they sat around the small trail fire. Methany was tending the bubbling stew pot when Deanna returned from the river, somewhat cleaner but she sat down across the fire from Lord Riker – she simply couldn’t escape giving them the honorific. She covertly peeked at Lady Deanna. Something was seriously amiss and though she couldn’t fathom what, it was obvious that she was holding herself apart from him.
Methany spooned heaping quantities of the soupy stew into a nestable ceramic mess kit bowl, put a spoon in it and handed it to Lady Deanna. “There’s three day old bread to go with it in that sack but it still should be good,” she said repeating the operation and handing the next bowl to Riker.
“Mmmm. This is good.” Complemented Deanna. “You’re a good cook. What’s in it”
“Oh just some previously roasted wherry which was dried for trail along with some root and edible plants that I collected locally. Helping in the kitchen is of the apprentice duties so I learned to cook figuring that they’d run me out of the guild hall if I didn’t.” She looked at Will who sat there somewhat glumly shoveling down his portion. “You haven’t said two words about it.”
Will looked up from his bowl and said curtly. “Its good.”
Methany was sure something was wrong, now and was about to speak when the sound of the dragon wings came to them. The looked up to see a green and larger brown dragon gliding down aiming at an open spot about fifty meters from the camp fire.
Methany never ceased to be amazed at the gracefulness of such large creatures in flight – or their clumsiness on the ground. Their impressed riders seemed so small by comparison. She had her own hopes and dreams of becoming a rider and had even been searched but had not yet been called to a hatching.
The two riders each swung their right legs over the necks of their beasts and slid easily down the muscular flank to the ground just ahead of their dragon’s wing roots. Each turned to the netting which had been slung beneath the dragons chest and pulled out a bundle. The brown’s rider additionally collected a pair of saddle bags before heading their way.
* * *
Deanna watched as the two dragon riders approached their campfire. She had no idea just why she felt uncomfortable when she was near Will – she only knew that it began on the ride down the mountain. She didn’t know whether it was what had happened to her over the last day and a half or the fact that she almost killed two people or if it was the planet or a combination of the any of these. All she knew was, at least for now, she felt that she had to keep some distance from Will until she figured it out. She knew she should tell Will but didn’t know how just yet.
When the two riders got close enough she saw that the rider of the green dragon was a woman – one even smaller than she but strikingly beautiful and athletic.
“Hello,” she said, “You must be Lady Deanna.”
Deanna nodded as she turned to Will.
“And you are Lord Riker.”
“Just Riker, miss. William Riker. Why does everyone call me Lord Riker, anyway?”
The green rider just shrugged and held out her bundle to Deanna even as the brown rider gave his to Will.
“What are these for?”
“F’lar and Lessa sent us to collect both of you by dragon back. I’m not privy to why but rumor has it that the smiths are dying to find out more about your craft.”
“No, that’s evident by your arrival. I meant the clothes. These are fur lined and much too warm for this climate.”
The pretty green rider smiled. “Trust us, you’ll be glad to have been wearing them when we go between.”
“You mean when you disappear?”
“That’s right. It’s cold when you go between.”
Methany piped up. “I’m sorry for the manners of these two. Deanna, the brown’s rider is T’lon and the Green’s is Mierny.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you both. What are your dragon’s names?”
<I am Nemorith> said the brown.
<I am Lillith> said the green.
Deanna’s eyes widened in shock.
“You heard them?” said both riders in unison.
“I... I... I suppose that I did.” She said in astonishment turning her head to the brown rider. “Yours said it’s name was Nemorith and Mierny’s told me it’s name was Lillith.”
“That’s right!” exclaimed Mierny, excited. “It’s rare for someone other than the dragon’s impressed rider to be able to hear dragons. Lessa can and so can Master Robinton.”
“I see...” Deanna was some what uncomfortable as both of the riders looked at her in something akin to awe.
When she turned to look at Will, she detected only glumness. She reached out with her mind to touch his and... nothing... She was now alarmed.
“What?” he replied flatly.
Before she could continue, the brown rider T’lon interjected. “Lady Deanna, Lord Riker. We must go now... you are expected. Please put on the flying clothes we brought and come with us?”
Deanna wanted to get Will away to ask him if he felt the loss too but that was not to be as T’lon handed Methany the saddle bags.
“Trail supplies for you and the others. I was instructed to tell you to come in as soon as you can.”
“Thank you, T’Lon. I’ll help Lady Deanna get ready while you put Lord Riker right.”
Bare chested, Riker had already exchanged the insulated flying breeches for his well worn pants. “What’s this?” he said holding up what looked like an ancient leather helmet.
“A flying helmet to keep from loosing too much heat between as well as to protect at other times. We won’t be between for too long so your regular boots should be okay.”
* * *
Some distance away, Deanna had already peeled of her skirt and was already dressed in the form fitting leathers. “These fit like they were made for me.” She grinned, happily, the issue with Will temporarily put aside.
“Lessa chose them. She’s pretty good at estimating such things.” Said Mierny.
“Better than good, I’d say.”
Methany held up the flying helmet and looked first at Mierny’s close cropped page boy and then at Deanna’s lustrous dark mane. “Mierny, I don’t think that she’ll be able to wear the flying helmet.”
“Sure it will, Methany. Watch.” Said Mierny “Lady Deanna could you please turn your back to me. Deanna complied allowing the green rider to smooth her hair down so that it flowed back from her head and down her back. “All you have to do is loosen this strap in the back and allow the excess to hang free. We do it all the time when carrying Hold women to and fro.”
Methany watched with interest, knowing that if she ever impressed she too would need to know the tricks of the trade.
Once the helmet was in place Deanna felt as if she were one of those ancient earth aviators she had seen in her studies of Earth’s history.
“It looks as if Lord Riker is ready too.” Noted Lillith’s pretty rider.
Deanna looked up from where she was putting on a pair of supple leather gloves she had found in the pocket of the flying jacket and found a dashing William Riker, attired as she.
“Lady Deanna, except for your hair you could be a dragon rider.” Said Methany.
Deanna gave her a small smile. ‘So could William.’ She thought.
<We think so, too.> commented Nemorith. <Lillith’s rider thinks the man is quite handsome.>
Deanna wondered if dragons were all so bluntly honest . Things were moving so quickly that she felt that she was loosing control.
“You two go on, now. I’ve got to rejoin Morax and Larion... We should get back to Benden Hold in two or three days.” Commented Methany.
“Lady Deanna, you will be riding with me and Lord Riker with T’Lon.” Mierny said as they began walking toward her green dragon.
* * *
As they approached the dragon, Deanna found the animal quite large and even more intimidating than her encounter with the equine runners.
“She’s so big.”
“Not really. Blue’s are the smallest, then green’s and browns. Bronzes are the largest males and the golden queens are the largest of all. Lillith is large for a green.” She patted the animal on its long neck. “Aren’t you dear.”
<Yes. And you keep me well oiled.> commented Lillith.
Deanna laughed. “Okay, where do I sit?”
“Astride the second ridge in front of her wing roots. I’ll be just behind you.” <Lillith, if you would be so kind> thought Mierny though Deanna could not hear this exchange, the dragon lowered itself to the ground making it easier to give Deanna a leg up and over the dragon’s neck.
“Okay, you’re up. One moment while I affix the riding straps.” Mierny stepped up on the left forelimb of her dragon and quickly attached the riders restraints to the hook points of Deanna’s flying clothes then repeated the procedure on the other side. “Can’t have you falling off, now. Lessa would have my hide.”
Tugging one last time on the harness, she shimmied up and into position behind Deanna, quickly fastening her own flying straps and pulling them tight. Deanna could feel the Lillith’s powerful muscles between her legs as the dragon rose to it’s normal ground position.
She had just enough time to look over at Methany and acknowledge her waving good-bye when Lillith flexed her wings upward and on the downsweep launched herself into the air with her powerful back legs.
The launch snapped her back against Mierny who spoke loudly over the rush of air. “You get use to it but it’s still a thrill.”
“I should say so.” Yelled Deanna, enthralled by the flexing power of the beast upon which she was flying. She looked down as the ground and their camp site fell away.
“We just need to gain a little more height before going between.”
“This between place. What’s it like---“
The world went away – replaced by the relentless and bone chilling icy cold of nothingness – a terrifying, empty, remorseless nothingness – there was no thought – no feeling. She couldn’t even feel herself or sense the dragon which carried them both. Deanna opened her mouth trying to scream but nothing came out---
Will couldn’t breathe. It felt as if the life was being sucked out of him. The darkness, the sensory deprivation, the inability to feel anything even himself, the empty nothingness of where they were – wherever that was – was terrifying in it’s absoluteness. And--.
One second he wasn’t and then he was again. The world he had left snapped back into existance and he found that he was screaming.
A deep voice came from behind him. “Easy, man. It affects everyone like that the first time.”
The scream shut off, replaced by the desperate sucking of air into his lungs – his heart was beating at a fierce rate and he thought he would never be rid of the icy cold that penetrated to his very core.
He could feel the dragon again, the muscles of its body working as his wings flexed, guiding them as they glided down to the extinct volcanic bowl nestled in the foot hills of the jagged mountain range which butted up against the wide flood plain stretching out to his left.
“Where are we?” he managed to get out.
“Over Benden Weyr.”
“Behind and above us, to your right.”
As Riker twisted and looked back to his right, he found the green dragon with two riders gliding similarly down into the bowl. His dragon banked to the right and he lost sight of them when they slipped into a trailing position as they circled down to the sandy floor of the bowl.
“Are you a right, Lord Riker”
Riker gave up correcting these people.
“I’m fine. It just surprised me. It’s so cold and empty that it’s scary.”
“You did fine. Some cannot take it but once in their life and then swear off saying they would rather walk, ride or sail than to go on dragon back.”
“I can understand that. Still dragons seem to be a very efficient transport for some things.”
“That they are. It is one of our principal duties between thread falls during a pass and during the Intervals when thread does not threaten.”
“It is a voracious unintelligent life form which falls from the red planet during a pass. We fight it by buring it to ash with dragon flame and by flame thrower if it grounds. If it gets away it will mindlessly devour any thing it can get to.”
As the ground approached, their brown dragon started to curl its wing shape into a high lift low speed configuration finally flaring with a mighty forward sweep acting as an air cushioning air brake. As it landed its bulk on its rear legs they flexed, easily absorbing the impact of the landing.
* * *
The shock the knifingly cold of the nothingness of between was wearing off as Deanna and Mierny landed her green on the floor of the inactive volcanic bowl which housed Benden Weyr. The terraced walls of the ancient weyr were peppered with openings, some with dragons and others not. Some dragons perched on the heights above the weyr sunning themselves in the late afternoon sun.
Mierny unhooked her flying straps and slid easily down the flank of her dragon as she had done hundreds of times, her athletic legs easily absorbing the landing on the sandy soil of the bowl.
“Mierny? Do you really get accustom to going between?”
The young rider busied herself unhooking Deanna from the dragon.
“Oh yes. Though it is disorienting at first. We have little tricks to get us through longer jumps.”
“Short jumps happen almost instantaneously. The farther you want to go the longer you are between.”
“How far have you gone?”
“As far as Southern. You have to have a clear picture in you mind to tell your dragon where you want to go. Okay, you’re free. Swing a leg over and slide down.”
<Would you like me to get lower> Lillith asked Deanna.
<That would be very nice. I feel rather far up>
Lillith lowered herself until she was but a half mans height from the ground, allowing her to drop easily and land on her feet. The dragon turned her head to look at Deanna.
<Thank you, Lillith.> she said, stroking the dragons nose gently.
<You are welcome>
“Lillith likes you.” The green rider said grinning.
“She’s a fine dragon.”
<Yes, I am.> commented Lillith.
Both women laughed as they turned and made their way forward to where T’lon and Will had similarly dismounted. Before they could get there, Nemorith sprang into the air kicking up sand both from wing and claw. Behind them they heard Lillith do the same.
“Where are they going?”
“Nemorith usually goes up to the high reaches and has a bath about this time. Lillith’s hungry and has gone to catch her dinner.”
“The wyer maintains herds of meat beasts and flocks of wherry just for the dragons.”
“How often do they eat?”
“When they’re first hatched it seems continuously. As adults it depends on size. Lillith likes to feed every five to six days – she prefers wherry.”
* * *
T’Lon and Will were waiting for them at the foot of a set of stairs cut into the edge of the bowl. As they came abreast of them, Mierny and T’lon led the way up the steps, Deanna and Will fell into step behind them.
“What?” he said rather flatly.
“Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not.” He grumbled. “At least with transporters you’re totally unaware of it happening.”
“Going between frightened me too, Will. But you’re not just talking about that are you?” She didn’t need to sense him to tell he was hurting. She reached out to touch his hand as they walked but he edged away from contact with her.
“I don’t want to talk about it now?”
“I don’t know. Later.”
Lessa and F’lar were waiting at the top of the stairs and motioned them into the cavern.
Deanna knew that this wasn’t right with them but didn’t know how to fix it. She too felt estranged from Will as he did with her.
Deanna slept fitfully, waking often to wrestle with her bed coverings over unresolved issues and then falling asleep again. Finally she shoved aside the demons which haunted her into her subconscious and decided to try walking it out.
Sweeping the furs aside, she rolled up into a sitting position and dropped her feet to the floor.
She retracted her feet from the cold stone and tucked them into a cross-legged position as she sat up on the well padded sleeping surface. Leaning towards the head of the bed platform, she flipped open the cover on a aging glow basket which bathed the room with a moon-lit effect. She bent from the waist to paw around on the floor until she captured her wayward woolen boot socks.
Slipping them on, Deanna found her feet were once again protected from the cold stone. Rising, she sorted through a basket of clean clothes, selecting a comfortable belted dress, loose house over coat. Forsaking the outdoor boots she had been breaking in over the last few days, she pulled on the soft soled high boots which she had selected from pairs brought to her after bathing and before the evening meal.
Finally dressed, she stepped into the rough hewn stone hallway and found it illuminated by glows set on sconces at regular intervals. The weyr was asleep which made her padded steps and thudding heart seem louder than they actually were.
Deanna backtracked along the upper hall from memory and found the interior stairway which lead back down to the main hall where she and Will had been the guests of honor. After clearing away dinner, the weyr’s journeyman harper entertained the assembled with popular ballads and introduced a wry and witty self written song poking fun at the weyr’s dragon riders to the happy cheers and jeers of the offended. The memory of this drew her toward the main hall.
Exiting the stair passage to the upper weyr, she found herself in a wide and high main tunnel. She ran her hand along the wall noting that it was as smooth as if it had been laser cut. The contrast surprised her as it was quite different from the rough hewn tunnel halls of the upper weyr.
* * *
As she entered the main hall with its hanging tapestries and colorful flags, she found that most of the illuminators of the hall had been covered or removed leaving spotty pools of light and inky darkness. The blaze of the previous evening’s log fire had burned itself down to a large pile of glowing coals and embers in the hearths. Oddly the room felt comfortably safe.
At the end of one of the long trestle tables sat a male figure with his back to her. Whoever it was had stacked glows giving much more light than normal, allowing him to more easily read from the stack of parchments piled around him.
She tried not to disturb the man, keeping to the shadows, as she edged around the hall to the door way which led down to the lower caverns.
It was to no avail as he looked up just as she stepped into a lit area.
“Oh! Hello there. I thought I would be alone.” His voice had a deep resonance which caused her to shiver as she turned to face him. It was one of those who had caught her eye at the evening meal – sitting at the head of one of the side tables
“Couldn’t sleep” she stammered, answering the unasked question.
“Ahhh... I see.”
“Is there anything to nibble at this time of night?”
“There’s always something put aside for those of us who haunt the night.” His grin was infectious causing Deanna a cat like smile.
“That’s better,” he commented, “I like it better when you smile. Being solemn is not good for you.”
“How would you know about being solemn?”
His countenance darkened. Deanna knew she had hit a nerve and was immediately sorry for her comment. “Oh my! I’ve put my foot in it again,” covering her mouth in a feigned shock.
He sat back in his chair and roared. “By the Egg! You have me!” He stacked the thin skins and parchments and pushed his chair back with a scraping sound from the stone floor. “Come, let us see what Manora and her drudges have left for the likes of us poor night creatures.”
“Which way?” she asked.
“Through there, down and then we bear right to the cooking hearths. Shall we M’lady?” he said, holding out his arm for her to take.
Deanna interlocked her left arm with his, allowing her hand to fold over onto his wrist. She felt tiny compared to his mass as he guided her down into the bowels of the weyr.
* * *
As they entered the lower hall, Deanna found that they were now in what was obviously part of the weyrs kitchen. Here the walls were also smooth and the room was graced with an arched ceiling. Along the far wall, a number of hearths were cut into the stone walls and glowed with banked embers. The occasional puff of smoke was quickly sucked up by the draft of the efficient chimneys.
The kitchens only occupants were the two bakery cooks – K’Val called them drudges – who dressed in muslin dresses and full aprons. One was busy kneading dough while the other tended several side ovens watching over the baking. The smell of the fresh breads made Deanna’s mouth water.
“Nanya,” K’Val called out, “What have you for a pair of famished souls?”
The bakery cook took one last peek into the oven, then satisfied, slid her bakery paddle onto the work table, dusting her hands on her apron.
“For the ordinary, nothing until morning.” She looked at Deanna and then at K'Val and winked “but for you I think that I can come up with something.”
* * *
It was a short time later that Deanna was finishing the construction of a roast herd beast sandwich on one of Nanya’s fragrant fresh rolls. Nanya had shown her the cold room where she added a slice of cheese cut from a large block and pickled condiments spooned from several jars.
“That’s not much like we do it. What do you call that form?” K’Val queried, his deep voice questioning.
“Hummm. Odd name but very convenient and well made,” he said, assembling one adjusted to his own liking.
Adding some local fruit to her plate, Deanna carried that and a large tumbler of juice to one of the well worn trestle tables which flanked the entrance. Each was bordered by long simple wooden benches. K’Val set his down along with a bowl of steaming soup.
“I’ve got to get a mug of klaw. Want anything else?”
She looked longingly at the bowl of soup. “Perhaps a small mug or bowl of that soup.”
“Done,” he grinned.
A short time later he swung a leg over the bench, setting her mug and his on the table then settled on the bench opposite her.
Deanna suddenly coughed and grabbed the juice glass, taking a swig.
“Something went down the wrong way?”
She nodded with teary eyes. Once she could speak again she replied. “I guess I was trying to eat too quickly.”
“We’ve got the rest of the night. Take your time.”
They ate in companionable silence for some time until Deanna’s curiosity finally came home to roost.
“You are a dragon rider.” It was more a statement than a question.
“I am rider to the bronze Gorth and a wing leader.”
“When I disturbed you, you were studying what seemed to be old records. Find anything?”
“Not really. Thread fall timing is usually quite predictable but from time to time it comes early or late or not quite where we were expecting. I am trying to determine if there is any discernable pattern to the deviations.”
He sighed. “Unfortunately not.”
“Perhaps you don’t have enough information.”
“My thought exactly... Some say that it is because of unknown influences on the path of the red planet from which the thread spawns.”
“Sounds like an orbital mechanics problem to me,” said Deanna.
“You know of such things?”
“Not as much as I probably should but yes.”
“Wansor has recently discovered one of the ancient far seeing devices. He called it a—“
“a Telescope.” Deanna completed his sentence.
K’Val laughed heartily and in a way that pleased Deanna.
“Enough of this tonight. You’ve said nothing of yourself.”
“There’s not much to tell, really.”
He looked at her with an openly skeptical expression. “Of that I doubt.”
Deanna tried to change the subject, mostly to deflect attention from herself. “Perhaps you could introduce me to Gorth.”
The man studied her even more carefully.
“There is much to you that does not show.”
This gentle and handsome man’s perceptions were making her uncomfortable even as she was finding herself attracted to him.
She pushed her empty plate back a bit. “Uh... I think I had better go back up and try to get some sleep. I thank you for your company.”
“Where have they put you?”
“High up. Three down from Lessa’s quarters.”
His face fell, clouding over into a pain which he had successfully hidden from her up to that point.
“What is it?” she asked, concerned.
“Nothing... She’s long gone, now... Its just...”
Deanna’s hand flew to her moth. “Oh god. It was your weyrmates. You were joined with a queen’s rider.”
He was near to tears. His great size seemed to shrink to that of a child. The pain was palpable. Deanna instinctively slipped around the table and took him in her arms as he wept uncontrollably. She wept with him.
Riker sat, leaning against the dark stone back wall of the well grooved dragons landing ledge of the high weyr he had been assigned. When he had arrived the previous evening, he had found it swept clean with rolled bedding. It was obvious that it had been unoccupied for a time.
Exhausted by his sleepless pursuit of Deanna and her abductors he found himself bone tired and should have been able to sleep soundly. He would have had he not been troubled. He had tried, but could only sleep in cat naps, waking far to often to be rested.
It didn’t make it any easier that this dragon riders suite felt far too empty without Deanna. He missed her, and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong between them so quickly. He missed her physical warmth, her mental touch, her company, her love. He hated the way he felt – he was not one to mope.
Now he was sitting alone, at night on a dragons ledge. From this high perch, he could see the eastern sky beginning to lighten. Day would come soon. As the sky brightened, it lit the morning fog which filled the weyrs extinct volcanic caldera. Winds infiltrated through various passages into the bowl and caused distinct roilings which made the surface of the fog look like a bubbling soup.
A small chittering caught his attention. Turning his head he found Menoth – Methany’s fire lizard strutting along the dragons ledge. The little dragonette seemed to be as surprise to find him on the ledge as he was to see her there. Unafraid, the blue-green creature waddled up to him in her curiously funny gate, dropped on its belly, and leaned against Riker’s outstretched legs as if to absorb warmth.
“You’re up early.” Will commented, idly scratching the fire lizard along it’s flank. “Did I mess up your morning constitutional?”
Menoth yawned, cheeped in assent, then draped her head over his thigh. Will rubbed her angular skull gently, tracing his finger tips along the groove between her eye ridges. It was obvious that Menoth liked this as she pushed back against his fingers. Closing her nictitating eye lids, Menoth seemed to drift off to sleep.
The unbidden friendship and comfort freely offered by the little dragon finally allowed Riker to release the pent up emotions he had held in check for so long. He leaned his head back against the rock wall as quiet tears of frustration and cathartic exhaustion streamed down his cheeks, his mind raging at the night.
He was unaware of when he finally fell into a deep sleep.
* * *
The morning sun, now well up over the eastern crags of the caldera, woke him. He found himself in much the same position as when he had fallen asleep even to having Menoth sleeping deeply and still laying against his leg He was reluctant to roust his little blue green friend but he was beginning to feel cramped and uncomfortable from sitting on stone.
“Hellooooo… Is anyone home?” came a voice from within his weyr.
“Out here.” He replied.
A familiar face framed in an attractive red brown page boy peeked around the edge of the weyrs dragon entrance. Seeing Riker with Menoth brought an even broader smile to her face.
“Now that’s a rare sight.” She commented.
Riker looked down at the fire lizard. “She seems to like me for some odd reason. I can’t fathom why because on our first encounter I stunned her senseless. She was out for nearly an hour and mad as a hornet when she came to.”
“There’s no predicting how a fire lizard will behave. Mine is beyond control at times.”
“But you’re a dragon rider – the nice green one, as I remember.”
“Lillith. Good of you to remember. I’ve also impressed a bronze fire lizard who runs messages for me…” she paused and smiled, “ at least most of the time.”
“You’re called Mierny?”
Her smile, which he found attractive, broadened even more.
“That’s more points for you.” She said coquetishly. “Hungry?”
Will prodded Menoth gently causing the fire lizard to awaken, rise, stretch and yaw mightily.
“Menoth, I’m off to breakfast – if I can stay awake long enough to eat it.”
Menoth looked at Riker, cocked her head and chirped something unintelligible, which, for all he knew could have been ‘see you later’, then continued on her way along the dragons ledge without looking back as if nothing had transpired.
Riker rose and dusted his trousers.
“Come on Mr. Starman. I’m ravenous.” She said suggestively.
“What! No Lord Riker?”
“No. I’ve been set straight in that regard.,” she replied as she hooked one of his arms with his. “And besides, I’ve seen how dragons react to you – most curious you know and that intrigues me.”
Deanna had walked arm in arm with K’Val until the sun came up. When his anguish subsided, she had pulled him up from the bench and out of the kitchen cavern to escape the prying eyes of the two bakery cooks.
She had no idea of where they walked because she had been focused entirely on him. At first they walked in near silence – speaking only as a nudge to turn this direction or that. After some time, she sensed that he’d begun to recover.
“Lady Deanna… I’m sorry about… “ K’Val, embarrassed, tried to apologize his behavior.
Despite their difference in their size, Deanna pushed the large dragon rider up against the stone wall of the corridor and pinned him there with her hands on his chest. Slumping against the wall, he turned his head to avoid her gaze.
“I’ll have none of that K’Val!” she said cupping his cheek to turn his face back to her. He tried to avoid her touch by turning his face the other way but Deanna trapped his face between her strong slender hands.
“Lady Deanna… I…”
“Shut up, K’Val.” Deanna did the only thing she could think of – she kissed him. The kiss had started as her attempt to divert his attention from his pain – a kiss which melted into something else as K’Val’s strong arms swallowed up her smaller body in a desperate attempt to recapture what he had lost.
He buried his face in her dark hair. She heard him whisper a name – not hers – the name of his lost weyrmate.
Deanna did not resist his embrace, allowing him the catharsis of her nearness until he finally pulled back to face her. She could feel the air move as he breathed – their lips nearly touching as he looked into her eyes.
“You are bewitching, you know.” His breath caressed her lips.
It was not the statement that she had expected. She couldn’t back away because his strong arms still enfolded her and she found that she didn’t really want to.
“I… I don’t…”
“Shhhhh….” His lips moved the tiny distance between them to lightly caress hers. He broke off the light touch of his lips and pulled her gently to him again – differently this time – without the anguish.
He whispered in her ear. “You are more than you seem.”
She pushed him back gently until she could see his now gentle and attractive countenance. “And so, it seems, are you.”
* * *
The ice, now thoroughly broken between them, allowed K’Val to speak freely of his lost love. He told Deanna the story as they walked, her arm interlinked with his. The story was of Karynith, who had been queens rider to the golden Nalyith and his weyrmate.
They had known each other from childhood and then as weyrlings. When he had but nineteen summers, he had the fortune of being searched and had impressed Gorth, his great bronze dragon. Karynith was searched two turns later when the weyr’s senior queen laid a full clutch of eggs. K’Val remembered how nervous Karynith had been when she edged out onto the hatching ground to wait for the newly hatched dragons to choose their life mates. There were other girls on the hot sands when the queen’s egg finally rocked and split. Using its egg tooth, the little golden queen dragonette forced its way out of its egg case. As it flopped onto the hot sand it swung its little head back forth, searching. Its faceted eyes whirled in the reds and purples of anguish as it sought the person for whom she was destined. The girls in front edged forward, hoping, but the little golden dragon ignored their presence, She pushed between them and flopped across the hot sand until she butted into Karynith, who looked into those flashing eyes and was captured forever.
He had watched as Karynith knelt on the sand, hugging the small creature then looked up in surprise, her eyes full of the love. “Her name is Nalyith” she beamed. In that instant, she had become a weyrling and would be a queen’s dragon rider as he had become a bronze rider two turns before. As weyrlings they had become inseparable, bonded to their dragons.
It was a celebrated event when Nalyith rose for her first mating flight and was flown by Gorth, for no other bronze except for Gorth could get anywhere near the agile young queen. The passion of the mating of their dragons brought his and Karynith to the same fever pitch. As had their dragons, they gave themselves over to the passion that they had held in check for so long.
After that wonderous mating flight, they were as inseparable as their two dragons.
Their love story enthralled Deanna. “How long were you together?”
“We had six turns before I lost her. We were fortunate. Nalyith clutched a second time two turns later, producing another queen. We too were smiled upon by the great egg and had a girl child.”
His voice quivered as he came to the crux of the story. Deanna’s open look invited him to continue.
“It was during a night thread fall, the most dangerous of all to fight. We had gathered over Igen at the prearranged flight levels, the queen’s flights at the lowest levels. Queen dragons cannot chew fire stone. If they do they would become as sterile as greens. In any case, a queens rider uses a hand held flame thrower to char thread.”
He paused. The pain of remembering that night was upon him. He took a deep breath as if steeling himself for what was to come – a thing of pain that Deanna knew he lived through again and again in his memory.
“Thread was heavy that night. We had to depend upon our dragons’ instincts to char thread without injury. We were mostly lucky that night with only light scoring in the high wings. It was the thread mass that we didn’t see that caught Nalyith and heavily damaged her right wing, sending her into an uncontrollable spin.”
The pain of the memory was nearly overwhelming. K’Val was radiating pain but continued. “Gorth screamed, twisted and dived to help his mate. We nearly made it.” He choked. “Gorth, Hanith and Ameith tried to get beneath her to do a dragon’s save. We managed it but Nalyith was too badly hurt. I knew what might happen and tried to get to Karynith to save her as she too was badly thread scored. We were too late. Nalyith went between, taking them both into the nothingness.”
Deanna was incapable of responding and simply pulled herself closer to this bear of a man. K’Val embraced Deanna, surrounding her with his arms and, without permission, kissed her passionately.
He broke the kiss, leaving Deanna breathless.
“You’re the first that I’ve been able to tell this to…”
Will, with Mierny on his arm, turned the corner from the staircase passage into the main tunnel and… stopped dead in his tracks then recoiled pulling Miernyl back into the passage they had just exited.
“Nothing... is there another way to the mess hall?”
“I don’t know… kitchen?”
“Who’s out there.” Mierny tried to pulled away from him to look down the passage way.
“What did you see?” she asked again.
She finally was able to twist away from his grip and step into the next passage way. She turned back to Will with a puzzled look. “What were you talking about? There’s no one out here.”
Will was shaken -- was his imagination playing tricks on him. He followed Mierny and -- there was no one there. Had he really seen Deanna in the arms of another man?
“I’m sorry, Mierny. I must be more tired than I thought. I’ve been up for over two days without more than a couple of cat-naps.”
Mierny leaned close, rose on her tip-toes and gave Will a peck on the cheek. “You’re forgiven. Now lets get some food into you.”
* * *
Deanna gently extricated herself from K’Val’s arms, looked around and then pulled him into an arched alcove across the passage way. He tried to recollect her into his arms but Deanna put a gentle hand on his chest. He relented instantly.
“You know that we have to have a serious talk about this...”
“I know.” His voice hinted at his reluctance to discuss the now obvious issue. “But…” he paused. “Deanna, does it matter?”
This and his dropping the honorific gave Deanna pause. He had, once again, gone to the heart of it, almost as if his mind was interlocked with hers… but that was impossible.
“I need some time alone to sort this out, K’Val. And, in your heart, you know that you must do the same.”
“You would leave now?” he replied, almost pleading.
She reached up touched his lips gently.
“Shush now. The answer to that is yes. I really must get some sleep.”
He grinned rather wolfishly raising an eyebrow.
“Alone!” she smiled.
Deanna then peeked back into the passage way, looking both ways and found it still empty. “Now off you go... you have your own duties.”
“May I see you again?”
“We’ll see. Shoo!” which was an odd thing to tell a man who massed over twice what she did.
* * *
Deanna rentered her weyr quarters and leaned back against the door feeling the latch snap into place. ‘Why does it always seem to be me?’ she thought.
Sighing, she shed her clothes, wanting more than anything to get some sleep. She hoped the warmth of a bath would relieve some of the tension and stress of this… this totally unexpected encounter. She knew she was attracted to K’Val but didn’t know why. She also knew that her behavior towards Will was both uncalled for and unwarnted. The problem was that she had no idea why she felt she had to keep some distance from the man who was first Imzadi and her intended.
Deanna sat on the worn smooth stone edge of the ancient bathing pool. Swinging her long legs over into the warm water, she slid down into the the warmth of the soothing pool.. She decided that a good soak was the next best thing to her dearly missed chocolate.
In her mind she puzzled over the problem of her relationship with Will and potential relationship with K’Val.
<He is not a problem> came an unbidden thought.
Deana pushed against the bottom of the pool, sitting upright in surprise, her eyes wide with shock.
<Which are you?> she thought back.
<I am Gorth>
“Where is K’Val!?” questioned Deanna, annoyed.
“Then why do you talk to me?”
<He has been lonely.>
“That is not an answer.”
<He is not now.>
Deanna slipped back down into the tub and sighed as the warm waters flooded up over her shoulders and around her slender neck. Deanna didn’t mind talking to thin air as the dragon’s presence was palpable.
“How did you know that you could communicate with me?”
<Lillith told me.>
‘Are there no secrets among dragons?’ she thought to herself.
<No. Why should there be?>
<No reason> she thought back. This was a somewhat odd situation as a thought came to her. <Do you miss Nalyith?>
<She is gone as is her rider>
Deanna felt that his response was oddly flat – not emotionless, quite the opposite – she decided to pry a bit. “Do you miss anything?”
<I do not like him being alone>
Ah ha! She thought. Dragons can be evasive.
<We are not evasive>
“Then tell me if you have attempted to mate since Nalyith went.”
The response was not immediate.
<No.> Thought Goth finally.
<We have not found one with whom would we wish to.>
<You make him happy.>
“Oh gods….” She moaned to herself. “I’ve just been propositioned by a match making dragon.”
An answering feeling came back from K’Val’s dragon as if waiting for her to continue.
“Go away. You are not helping matters.”
The feeling of the dragon’s presence left her. Deanna deciding that her bath had been terminally interrupted, rose dripping from the pool and used the steps at the far end. After drying using a towel taken from the stone shelf, she wrapped a second, larger one, around her torso in a body wrap. Reentering the sleeping chamber, she sought the bed, the covering furs still flipped back where she had left them. Dropping the towel, she slipped naked between the furs and pulled them over herself snuggling into the comfort and warmth they offered.
As fatigue over took her and consciousness faded, the unbidden curiosity of many dragons gently passed by, some touching her mind as subtly as a baby’s lullaby. Deanna slept soundly.
Will, exhausted from being without sleep for so long, had finally run out of steam and collapsed onto the bed. Consciousness vanished, and sleep came… eventually he dreamed odd dreams where butterflies large and small gamboled on fields of blue and green attended by maidens clad in diaphanous white – maidens who vanished as smoke on the wind as the blue sky grayed, shifted and shimmered in pain, blackening into grays of ravenous hunger – butterflies morphed into a rainbow kaleidoscope of dragons who flung themselves on wing up -- up to fight, up to protect and up and up… endlessly up into a now ever darkening and sightless cold emptiness – the darkness felt lost and empty – a void trying to swallow him, to consume him… then a mind touched his, offering safety. He reached out to take hold but like an oiled rope it slipped through his fingers. He felt himself falling into the darkness, silently screaming…
* * *
Will snapped awake in an instant, his heart racing, his breathing coming in rasping breaths. The furs that had covered him had been flung back. Willing himself to regain control, he felt his heart rate recover as he quieted his breathing.
His wits returning, he noted that a late afternoon light filtered into the weyr – he had slept most of the day but still felt exhausted. The blood pounding in his ears finally subsided, allowing him to hear again. Now that his senses were returning, he began to take stock of his surrounding and found quickly that he wasn’t alone in the bed.
The red brown of Mierny’s hair was peeking out from under the furs, her head buried in the pillow on her side.
Will eased from under the sleeping furs and turned them down over Mierny’s bare leg which he had uncovered. He quickly pulled on his underclothes and trousers, buckling the belt, leaving his chest bare. In the bath, he doused his face with fresh cold water.
He had to get some fresh air, he decided and headed for the dragons weyr and ledge but, no sooner had he stepped into what he had assumed would be the empty dragons cave of his own weyr but found himself nose to nose with a very large green dragon with its head resting on its forelimbs. The dragon opened one eyelid which showed slowly swirling yellows and greens behind the faceted surface.
“I seem to be in the wrong room… again.” Riker told Mierny’s dragon. “Do you happen to know if anything… ah… untoward happened?”
Lillith opened the other eye and looked at him curiously, both eyes now tinged with yellows and rose reds.
Riker took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You and Mierny are fortunate you know – at least you have each other.”
Lillith cocked her head slightly – then snorted softly.
“If I didn’t know better, I would think that you actually can understand what I’m saying. ”
“She apparently can… after a fashion,” came a very feminine voice from behind him.
Will turned to find Mierny, mostly undressed in a revealingly thin, shimmeringly opaque and appropriately green shift. The shift left her arms and legs suggestively bare even though her feet were stuffed into inelegant but effective fur lined slippers.
“You should put something on. You’ll get cold.”
Mierny came closer in order to slip her hands around his neck and, standing on tip-toe, kissed him thoroughly. The kiss pressed her thinly covered breasts against his bare chest which had the effect that Mierny had hoped for. When she finally broke off the kiss, she noted that he was now flushed. “I wouldn’t worry about it, William. If anything, you were a perfect gentleman.”
“But… but I was…”
“Undressed? Yes, and let me say here and now that I had one devil of time getting you out of your clothes and under the furs. By the egg of Ramoth,” she smiled, “I wasn’t going to let you mess up my bed with dirty clothes.”
“Why didn’t you just send me back up to my quarters?”
“You would have never made it. As it was, you were asleep on your feet and nearly incoherent by the time we finished the morning meal. I barely got you here – going up another two flights of stairs was simply out of the question.”
Mierny had moved over next to her dragon to stroke Lillith’s long neck. “What do you think of our starman, Lillith?” she asked aloud.
Lillith raised her delicately wedged head from where she had had it resting on her forelimbs and crooned softly at Mierny.
“I agree with you, Lillith. A most acceptable one at that.”
Will was beginning to feel a bit like a third wheel when Mierny turned and began tugging her shift up over her head showing off her lithe and naked body. “I’m going to have a bath – care to join me?” she said looking impishly over her shoulder.
“I… ah… I mean.. Mierny?” he pleaded, now very confused about his emotions. The certainty of his world… of his life… of just a few days ago was rapidly being torn to shreds.
Unexpectedly Will found himself being nudged from behind, back towards Mierny’s quarters.
Mierny poked her head back out into the weyr, a now bare breast showing. “Lillith! Stop that!” she said admonishing her other half. “I’m certain that William can find his own way.”
Lillith crooned in reply.
“I’m sure you do.” She looked meaningfully at Will. “Lillith says you could use a bath too and I promise that I’ll be a good girl.”
Will turned to Lillith. “Well, Lillith. Are you certain about this?”
Lillith stretched out her neck and pushed firmly against Will’s bare chest with her soft nose forcing him to step back in the direction that Mierny had gone.
“I see. So it’s going to be that way?” he questioned.
Lillith snorted softly but firmly – will could feel the dragons breath press against his bare skin and shivered.
“Okay, okay… I’m going.”
* * *
Will reluctantly reentered the sleeping chamber just in time to see Mierny’s attractively slender form, dressed only in skin and furry slippers, a towel over one shoulder, disappear into the bathing room.
He hesitated, torn between the need to be close to someone and the image that haunted him – that of Deanna in another mans arms. But he didn’t know if he had imagined it or not.
By the time he got to the doorway, he found Mierny sitting on the edge of the pool, her feet in the water. She leaned over and opened the ancient valve allowing steaming water to flow into the pool. The sight of her raised a need in him but he shoved it aside – he had had many women and some had had him.
“Uhhummm.” Will cleared his throat.
Mierny leaned back placing her hands behind her back stretching out seal sleek on the smooth stone. “Yesss?” Her seductive voice fought with his subconscious desire not to do what he was being drawn into.
Will gulped. His physical reaction to her was difficult to conceal.
Otter-like she slipped off the edge into the water coming up with her close cut red-brown hair forming an elegant wet helmet to her heart shaped face. “William, you are severely over dressed. Come in. I promise I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.” Mierny ran her fingers back and forth along the surface of the water tracing liquid trails.
Riker was torn between desire and despair. He turned to leave.
“Please don’t go.” Mierny’s voice pleaded, hooking his heart.
“William, please.” It tugged reeling him in.
He tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid looking at her desirable form as he returned to the side of the tub and sat down. Mierny reached up and unbuckled his belt. Will did not resist but did not help as Mierny stood up in the pool, naked and wet, snaking off his pants and underclothes until he was equal to her. Taking his hands in hers she gently pulled him into the pool.
Will did not resist as Mierny guided him onto the submerged stone seat at the end of the pool and then climbed onto his lap. With a choked sob, Will suddenly came alive pulling Mierny forcefully to him, burying his face in her neck as tears welled up seeking release.
In a passion of need, a passion of forgetfulness, Mierny and Will were bound as one. Lillith’s croon penetrated them both, driving their needs, their passions and blanking the reasons why, finally raising her own voice to their passion’s release.
They could not hear.
It was sunup, her second in Benden Weyr. Deanna stood on the wind swept stone balcony of the queens weyr, her skirt flapping gently in the morning breeze as she watched the dragons come and go into the bowl of the extinct volcano that formed their home. She couldn't help thinking that it would become very drafty up here when the wind picked up later in the day. A movement drew her attention the cave entrance two lairs over as Ramoth came out stretching her enormous golden wings, then her body in a yawn more like a cat than a lizard.
Ramoth turned her wedge shaped head and faceted eyes to focus on Deanna. <What is a cat?>
<A small but supple furred animal which catches and eats rodents but makes humans feel good by being near.> Deanna replied.
<Like a dragon but dragons are better.> Ramoth replied smugly. <I prefer wherries.>
<You are hungry now?> Deanna thought back.
<Yes. My stomach rumbles. I’ve not eaten in seven days.> Ramoth turned, spread her great wings only slightly launched herself off the cliff edge, dropping two levels until her speed grew. She then snapped her wings out to their full width and glided toward the feeding pens at the opposite end of the bowl. The birds could not avoid her mark as she adroitly snagged a large buck and used her remaining momentum to swoop up to the feeding ledge. The birds appeared to be either fat ostriches or huge turkeys – Deanna didn’t know which.
<They are tender, though, and Ramoth is always hungry.> said another dragon with amusement.
Deanna thought she recognized the dragons ‘voice’ but she thought to make sure. <Which are you. Mnmenmeth?>
<I am Mnmenmeth>
<Where are you?>
<On the heights. It is sunny up here.>
<Where are F’Lar and Lessa?>
<Bathing> Deanna blushed.
<Could you please ask F’Lar to ask Lessa to find me after morning meal?>
<Why should I do that?>
<I don’t understand>
<I can ask Lessa directly. She is like you. She can speak with all dragons. I have told her what you asked.>
Deanna had come awake with the odd feeling that something in her life had changed. She had had a disturbing dream that she couldn’t quite remember but she felt that it was associated with Will. She reached out with her reawakened senses to try to touch his mind – it wasn’t there – which caused her to wrap her arms around herself and shiver.
* * *
Will had, himself, reawakened and found himself snuggled up spoon-like with Mierny’s sleek form, one arm around her body, his face buried in her freshly washed hair. He didn’t know why but he loved the smell of a woman’s freshly washed hair.
Mierny came awake in his arms, then almost in alarm, pushed his arm away and sat up.
“Come back to bed,” he cajoled.
“Can’t. We fly thread this morning,” Mierny commented as she slid her feet into her boot stockings and then pulled on her soft calf length flying boots. It was incongruous when she stood up, her naked body contrasted by the fact that the only thing she wore were those boots. Will propped himself up on one arm and watched her admiringly as she finished dressing, first in under clothes then in fur lined leather outerwear. By the time she had gathered up her flying gloves, leather helmet and such, she appeared to be nothing less than one of the ancient pilots of the earliest of human air ships.
Fully dressed, she impishly knelt with one knee on the bed, leaned down and kissed Will thoroughly. “See you later, William love. Have thread to scorch.”
And then she was gone, out the door to her sleeping quarters. It was a few minutes later when Will heard Lillith’s claws clatter on the weyr floor, then a snapping sound as if someone had shaken the dust out of a great rug.
Will groaned and flopped onto his back, wondering just what in the hell he had done, not knowing whether to be pleased or ashamed. He was, in fact, both.
* * *
Riker wandered into the lower cavern kitchen and snagged a freshly baked roll, a couple of slices of a roasted pork like meat, some boiled eggs, fresh fruit and the biggest mug of klaw he could find.
He had finished eating and was idly staring into his mug wondering if he should get a refill when Deanna entered the cavern. She hadn’t noticed him as he was sitting at the farthest mess table, next to the wall. Seeing her, however, also reminded him of what had happened between Mierny and himself which brought a flush of embarrassment to his face.
He didn’t really want to face her just now. Deanna had her back to him which gave him the opportunity to slip out of the mess hall without her knowing he was there, which, he realized later was a very odd thing.
* * *
The wyer’s mess hall was a bustle movement and noise of morning activity as dragon riders in fur lined leather flying gear preparing for a long day. The noisy greetings and jeers formed a happy backdrop as Deanna gathered her own breakfast. Suddenly the hairs on the back of her neck rose. but when she turned, there was no one there. ‘I’m losing my mind on this planet’ she grumbled to herself and turned back to the bounty laid out for all comers.
“You seem to have your hands full,” came a feminine voice from behind.
She turned slightly and found Lessa staring at the mug of juice, two bowls of fruit and the fresh roll she had carefully balanced on top. “I guess I do,” she replied, chagrined.
“Grab a seat, I’ll be along shortly.”
Deanna found an empty spot at a recently vacated end of one of the long trestle tables. At the other end of her table a knot of dragonriders of both sexes joked as they ate their own morning meals. From time to time, a youngster came in carrying either a leather harnesses or a series of long leather straps which were handed over one or another of riders. The rider would make a little ceremony out of inspecting the leather goods and either accept or reject what was brought. Those who had theirs accepted left with pride in their steps while those who had their work rejected seemed to slink out with shoulders drooping in misery.
The clunk of two mugs on the table brought her out of her reverie as Lessa sat side saddle on the long bench seat, then swung her legs over to face Deanna.
Munching on a piece of fruit, Deanna nodded at one of the youngsters just leaving. “What are the young ones doing?”
“They’re weyrlings. Recently impressed riders presenting flying straps for approval. Their main work is caring for their own forever hungry dragonettes, but they also have to learn the skills they’ll need as mature riders.”
“What’s so special about leather.”
Lessa took a deep draft from her mug. “Mmmm. That tastes good. Part of their training is to oil them to keep them supple and also check for cracking and deterioration or thread score. The stress of flying thread combined with the cold of between will wears them out and weakens them well before their time otherwise.” She smiled. “Even so, every riders will recheck them before flying this morning.”
Deanna remembered the straps that Mierny had used to secure her to Lillith before their one flight. “That I can understand. I sure wouldn’t want to fall off a dragon in flight.”
“Most wouldn’t – tends to ruin your whole day,” said Lessa with a twinkle in her eye.
They ate in silence for some minutes until Lessa finished the roll with jam she had brought along with the mugs of klaw. “I’m getting a refill, want one?”
Deanna shook her head no and watched as the slight form of the weyrs weyrwoman. ‘Ramoth is so big. How can she control such a large beast?’
<Lessa does not control me>
<Ramoth! Go away!> she replied automatically, annoyed.
Lessa looked at her curiously as she sat back down, the steam curling from the refilled mug. “What’s wrong?”
“Ramoth was being a pest.”
“Ramoth spoke to you?” her eyes wide.
“Yes and it’s getting to be quite annoying having all the dragons popping into my head whenever they damn well want.”
Lessa’s brows furrowed as she seemed to become distant for a moment and then broke up laughing.
“Ramoth’s miffed because you sent her away. I told her that being spoken to, unbidden was not polite.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said she would think about it.”
Deanna sighed. “This is turning into one very complicated society for me to comprehend.”
Lessa looked at Deanna in a new light. She was a rare one, this starwoman. A starwoman that could talk, unbidden, with any dragon, a trait that was extremely rare even among her own people. She could. Legend had it that Moreta could, and Masterhaper Robinton could but only if the dragon wished it so.
“But that wasn’t the reason you asked me to meet you this morning was it?”
Deanna became pensive. “No…. What do you know of K’Val?”
Lessa cocked her head with even more curiosity. “One of the wyer’s wing leaders, rider of the Bronze Gorth. Why?”
“I was propositioned by his dragon last night.”
“You were what!?”
“It’s a very long short story.” Deanna said, staring into her half full mug.
Riker found F’lar in the main hall surrounded by four other riders pouring over a map drawn on thin hide and held down at the corners by empty klah mugs. He delayed approaching the group observing, with interest, the weyrleader's subtle methods of establishing command authority. ‘F’lar would be a starship captain in another time and place.’ He thought to himself.
Finally each of the four other riders picked up a small skin with writings from a stack beside the map and left with purpose strides towards the dragon riders tack rooms which opened onto the lower weyr ledges where their mounts would be waiting.
F’lar, folding the ancient map carefully, looked up as he heard Will’s footsteps.
“Hi. I was wondering if I could get a lift down to Benden Hold. I need to get to work trying to repair our shuttle craft.”
“I don’t see why not. I thought that Mierny was—“
“She’s already gone and I forgot to ask her.” But what Will was really thinking was that it was nigh on impossible to keep a secret amongst the dragon kind. “Uh… How did you—“
“Mnmenmeth. Dragons are terrible gossips among themselves.” F’lar paused and shrugged with a grin. “I thought that you and the dark haired one, Deanna was it, were--”
“Uh… we’ve been having some problems.” Will said cutting F’lar off but wondering ‘How long until Deanna would know too? Something’s changed in her – and me -- maybe she doesn’t care any more.’
“I suppose that’s something best left between you and them,” said F’lar, cutting off his idle thoughts. “Meet me on the lower dragons ledge in twenty minutes or so. You should be able to find some flying clothes that fit in the transients outfitting cavern. I’ll fly you down myself. We don’t fly thread until just before midday over Nerat.”
“Thanks. What about coming back this evening?”
“I’ll send Mierny down for you.” He said with a knowing smile. “I mean if that’s acceptable.”
“Sure… Thanks again… I think.” Will replied with a lopsided grin.
* * *
Riker unbuckled the flying straps which secured him to the bronze dragon, kicked a leg over the animals neck and slid down it’s side landing lightly on the flat stone which covered the Holds courtyard. The great beast lowered it wedge shaped head and looked directly at Will as if sizing him up.
Will reached up and rubbed his hand on the ridge that ran from its snout up between the bronzes eyes. “I’m not your lunch, Mnmenmeth and thank you for bringing me down,” he said with courtesy.
“Mnmenmeth says you’re welcome.” F’lar leaned forward from his seat just forward of his dragons wing joints. “You do that like you’ve been riding dragonback all your life.”
Will looked back up at the bronze rider and shrugged. “I suppose. It just seems like the right thing to do.”
“It was. Stand away as we have to leave now.”
Riker backed away giving the bronze dragon plenty of room as it raised its wings wide, sprang with it’s powerful hind legs and brought his wings back down in a powerful stroke, launching himself and his rider into the late morning sky and kicking up what dust could be found in the courtyard.
He waited until the bronze winked out and shuddered, wondering if he would ever get use to the freeze-your-soul cold and the absolute emptiness of between. At least this time he didn’t scream but it didn’t make it any better.
From behind him a great booming voice bellowed. “You must be the starman.”
Riker turned and looked at one of the largest individuals he had ever seen. The bearded giant was dressed in well worn but clean work clothing overcovered with a huge, full front, leather apron which bore the tell-tales of heavy use in its scorch marks and smudging.
“Who are you?”
“Mastersmith, Fanderal of Telgar” He stuck a huge paw out which Will shook gingerly.
“My name’s William Riker, but you can call me Will.”
“William, Will, Willy.” He said as if tasting the words. “Mmmm… yes, I think Will will do fine. I’ve been dying to get a look at that craft of yours.”
“Where’d they store it, anyway?” Will said looking about.
“In the smithhall warehouse, away from prying eyes. This way.”
Will felt like small child trying to keep up beside the huge man’s long and purposeful strides. Down one paved way and then another between stone walled, slate roofed out buildings to stop before what seemed to be a half building protruded from holds vertical cliff wall. Fanderal stopped before the barn like doors, found the right key from a ring of pulled from a pocket inside his leather apron, opened the hasp and hung it back in its loop.
“You get that door, I’ll do open this one.” He told Will grabbing the wooden pull of the right hand door and swung it wide then pushed it back against the right hand wall. Will grabbed he handle of the other door, pulled and nearly yanked his arm out of its sockets – it was heavy on it’s hinges and seem to be jammed.
“Ahhh, yes. Forgot, that one sticks a bit,” said Fanderal reaching up and yanked its frame forward easily with one huge paw. Once loosened, Will was able to swing the door back against the other wall exposing the white nose of the shuttle. With it’s split forward windows, it looked as if it was peering back at them from the darkness within.
Riker was amazed that they got it inside the building. Walking into the temporary workshop he noted that it had been lifted it from the cart and set on a set of heavy anchored crossties to allow for getting underneath if required. A set of newly fashioned simple wooden steps was in-place beside the closed hatch and a trestle work bench had been set up along one wall adjacent to the doorway connecting the warehouse to the smithhall proper.
“Well your people seem to have everything well in hand.” Will said, somewhat in amazement. “Been inside yet?”
The big man frowned as if embarrassed. “No. Tried to but couldn’t figure out how to get the blamed door opened. They don’t seem to work the same way as the flying craft we found at Landing.”
“You have your own shuttles?”
“Well yes and no. These are ancient ones we unearthed that brought the first landers down from up there.” He pointed at the roof. “We’re not sure that we can repair them and make them work again even with Avias’ help.”
“Avias? What’s that.”
“A talking wall which gives answers when questioned? A most amazing thing if I say so myself.”
Will looked at this bear of a man with new light. “So new things don’t bother you?”
“Shard’s no! I live to learn new things. We’ve lost so much and have regained so little as yet. Now tell me about your flying machine.”
* * *
It was mid afternoon when Will handed Master Fanderal an odd shaped plate of metal with a ragged fist sized hole in it. Around them was the disassembled forward port warp nacelle.
“So this is the broken part?” commented the huge smith. He took his knuckles and rapped the part, listening to it’s ring, knowingly. “It’s not of a metal that I know of.”
Will sighed. “It’s called duranium. It’s function is to form a wave guide base for the anti-matter plasma stream into the warp drive.”
Fanderal ran his fingers over the inner surface noting it’s shape. “The shape has to be precise, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, otherwise the containment fields surface wave couldn’t provide the waveguide to twist the anti-matter stream into the directions it must go without touching real matter.”
“Does the back side need to be as precisely shaped?”
Will looked at the smith curiously. “What do you have in mind?”
“We have some meteor ore which, when we combine it with iron and some other trace metals forms an incredibly hard and durable alloy. The only problem is that it’s almost impossible to work so we only get one chance to get the shape right when we cast it.”
“As you can see the interior surface has to have a very fine finish.”
“What I have in mind is to make a mold using this part as a master and use some die makers modeling clay to sculpt a plug which tightly fits from the back of the blown out part here.”
“How about the finish?”
“Diamond dust grinding. About the only thing that’s hard enough to smooth the alloy down to the same finish as this part.”
“We have some devices which can make precise cuts in the duranium but it’ll take most of their energy packs to do it.”
“Good, that will allow us to cut away the torn edges. Is it sufficient to extrapolate the surface curve from the parts of this one that are undamaged?”
“I don’t see where we have much choice. Well it only has to last until we can get it to a repair facility and have the part replaced with an undamaged one. Uh… About this meteor ore?”
“What about it?”
“Is there enough for two of these plugs. The otherside is blown out too.”
“There should be but if we don’t get it right the first time, there’s not enough for a second try.”
“Wonderful.” Will commented with a tired sigh.
“Buck up. My craftsmen will do the job right. Can I take this one with me so I can have them begin designing the repair for this side.”
“I don’t see why not. I’ll get the other one out and see how bad it’s damaged.”
“Good idea. Sound division of labor.”
* * *
The sun was nearly down with Riker on his back underneath the starboard warp nacelle of the shuttle. He had just lowered the secondary shield when he realized that he needed one of the specialized wrenches he had left on the work bench.
He was just about to scoot out from under the nacelle when he heard someone moving on the other side of the shuttle. Thinking it was Fanderal returning he called out. “Fanderal, could you bring me that wrench I showed you earlier?”
He heard a scuffling then a clanking and waited with one hand raised to take the tool when delivered but no one did. Instead there was a loud clank on the stone floor beside him and, when he looked down, he found illuminated by the many glow balls, a ghostly blue-green fire dragon, looking back at him curiously. On the floor by his hip was the wrench that he had requested.
“How did you do that?” Will asked the little dragon without thinking.
“Chripitlesbleet” was the unfathomable explanation which came back as an image of the tool formed in his head.
When Fanderal came back into the makeshift workshop followed by Mierny he stopped at the door, turned to Mierny with his forefinger to his lips signaling silence. Mierny, curious as ever, eased around the big man to see what was going on.
On the floor of the shop, Riker was on his hands and knees play wrestling with a fire lizard. The little dragonette, a rag in its mouth danced close to him its wings partially extended. Riker would grab at the cloth causing the blue green fire lizard to evade. This repeated several times until Riker caught the rag and tugged pulling the little creature off balance and causing it to release its end. As he taunted it with the rag it danced around happily squeaking, it’s faceted eyes glowed in greens and yellows.
Mierny whispered in Fanderal’s ear. “That’s Methany’s Menoth. I recognize the neck bands.”
Will was startled when Fanderal’s booming voice roared in laughter. “You play with the fire lizard like a child.”
Will looked up and flushed red. “I…”
“Well I think it’s endearing,” said Mierny.
“Hey! Come on now. I was working on the other nacelle and needed a tool from the work bench and she brought the right one to me. This..” he held up the rag. Menoth promptly latched onto and began tugging again. “just happened.”
Mierny cocked her head. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know… I just needed the tool and she brought it to me. One odd thing though… When she brought it I got an image of the tool in my head.”
“Mmmm… are you sure you’re not a rider?”
“Never before a couple of days ago,” said Will tugging on the rag. He turned to the little dragon. “Enough, Menoth. Time for you to go to Methany – I’ve got to go now.”
The blue green released the rag, waddled up to Will and cheeped and butted his hand. Will scratched the ridge between her eyes. “Really I do. Scoot!”
The fire dragon chirped happily as it leaped from the floor and, with a dragons downwinging, went between. The air rushed back into the missing space with a soft pop.
“Seems you made a friend there,” said Fanderal.
“The weird thing is that, the first time we met, I stunned her senseless.”
“Well, William,” chuckled Mierny with a cute smile. “I think that it can be safely said that she’s forgiven you.”
Will said nothing but rose, dusted his pants from the accumulations of the warehouse floor and went to the workbench where the other conduit lay. Picking it up he peered though the blow-out hole at the mastersmith.
“This one’s in about the same condition as the other.”
“So I see,” commented Fanderal taking the piece. “Mmmm. But not quite as bad and the hole is in a different location which is going to make it easier to make the interior curves correct.”
“I guess the next order of business,” said Riker, “is to set up cutting fixtures for a narrow beam phaser to cut away the ragged edges and make a opening for the plugs you say you can cast.”
“When can we get one of your cutting devices to fit it to a jig for precision cutting.”
“How about now. Every shuttle has a minimum of four phasers as standard equipment.” Will explained as placed his hand on the hatch’s access plate to the right of the currently sealed opening which immediately unsealed and swung up and out of the way. “Also the reason you couldn’t open it is that it’s biometrically keyed to Deanna and me.”
“It knows you?” said Mierny in amazement.
“In a sense. Fanderal, you said that this Alvis thing knows who comes and goes.”
“Yes but it has things that it can see and hear with. Even though we know it’s a machine it still seems to be alive.”
“Well inside our ship is a smaller version of such a machine. The door plate is one of it’s touch sensors.”
The huge mastersmith chuckled. “Oh my but we have so much to relearn. May I enter?”
“Come on. You too, Mierny, there’s plenty of room inside,” he said quickly going up the wooden steps and disappearing inside.
* * *
Deanna had spent most of the afternoon happily poking though the archives of the Weyr under the guidance of the blue tunic clad Harper, the Journeywoman Niestra. Three things fascinated her, first were the maps, carefully drawn and recopied over and over through the century’s. The second was the near legendary history of the dragonkind and their riders which were told in saga and song. The third was the nearly incredible natural pharmacology that they had developed to replace the loss of the ability to make the synthetic equivalents gone so long ago.
Niestra returned and began returning the volumes no longer needed to their respective shelves. Each shelf was just high enough to contain the bound volumes. A small brass holder beneath each was coded for the volumes type and date range.
“You done with these yet?” she asked.
“Yes,” commented Deanna. “but not with this one yet. Could I hold this one and the atlas out.”
“I don’t see why not. Also we have also have two new volumes of maps from Landing.”
“Yes but reprinted by ??? with his new printing machines.”
“So you are reestablishing your technology base from the records held by this Avias?”
“It’s more than that. Avais used it’s knowledge of what was to establish how we should relearn that which will make us self sufficient. He – we think of it that way -- doesn’t seem to want to let us skip any lessons. In that respect Avis is much like Master Robinton.”
“The master of all Harpers?”
She nodded. “Robinton, D’Ram and Lytol administer Landing and Avias for all of Pern.”
“I thought Harpers were musicians and singers.”
“They are but they are also responsible for recording and preserving the events of weyr, hold and hall. They insure that teachings are transmitted though saga and teaching ballads.”
“Do harpers have specialties?”
“Of course. Some make instruments, some are singers, others compose, some are artists while others specialize in managing the archives. A master must be competent in every field plus have the diplomatic skills to lead a hall or all of Pern. You seem to have many hidden skills. Do you have any specialties?”
“My mother is a diplomat of sorts. I learned much from her in that regard. I have also studied many other things but finally settled on a medical profession – healing the mind.”
Nestea looked at the starwoman. “I hear by the harper grapevine that you also talk to dragons.”
Deanna laughed. “It’s more like they talk to me. Really that’s more of a nuisance than any thing else.”
“You know that’s a very rare ability for one who has not impressed a dragon. I’m curious. Does the ability to use your mind thus run in your family as it does in some bloodlines of Pern.”
Deanna was becoming a bit uncomfortable with the direction that this conversation was taking but decided that the harper deserved an honest answer.
“Yes, Mother was a full blood Betazed. My father was not of Betazed so that makes—“
“you a halfling.” Niestra completed the thought.
“Yes,” said Deanna flushing with embarrassment from the insight. “She’s much more powerful mentally than I am though it seems that being here with the dragons has changed mine.”
Niestra chuckled. “You should see how it changes a rider when they impress a dragon at hatching.”
* * *
Mierny was fascinated by the inside of the shuttle, running her finger tips over the smooth, dark and featureless panels of the control console. Will had taken the pilots chair and was running his hands over the controls. As he did so, lights came up and the panels became illuminated. Surprised, Minery yanked her hands back from the surface now illuminated with strange symbols and pretty patterns.
“What did you just do?” Fanderals voice boomed in confines of the cabin.
Will sat back. “I’ve just powered up enough of the ship to let me to run a diagnostic check. Computer?”
A soft bell sound acknowledged his request.
“Condition of both antimatter and impulse power.”
(Antimatter containment is stable. Estimate twelve point three days supply at Warp Four. Dilithium crystals nominal. Both warp nacelle’s damaged. Impulse drive sixty-five percent of full charge. A leak has been detected which depletes this supply at one point five percent per day.)
“It’s talks like Avias!” exclaimed Mierny.
“Sort of. But compared to what you say Avias knows it’s knowledge is much more limited.”
“It seems quite knowledgable to me?” commented Fanderal.
“Faneral, we’re going to have to find that leak, too. I have fly the shuttle on impulse to clear the atmosphere and the nacelles need to be repaired for us go to warp and, hopefully, get home.”
“I’ve got my people working on it. They should have their plans well advanced by afternoon, tomorrow.”
Will waved a hand over the panel and it went dark again. “We’re done here for the day.”
“I’m hungry and stink from flying thread,” complained Mierny.
“Lets go, then. After the other two exited Will closed the hatch again.
“You talked of anti-matter,” stated Fanderal.
“Yes, it’s what gives us enough power to travel at warp speeds.”
“Humm. The Yokohama, Bahrain, and Buenos Ires were powered by antimatter engines.”
“That may be – as I remember my history of technology the early Diaspora ships could traveled at a substantial fraction of the speed of light using primitive anti-matter engines.”
“Enough of this technical mumbo jumbo!” complaigned Mierny.
On his way out, Riker had retrieved a hand phaser, popped out the power cartridge and handed the deactivated to the master smith and slipped it into a pocket. “I removed the power pack. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt through misactivation.”
“Good thinking. I’ll have my best machine designer work with it.”
“Good enough. Come on, Mierny, lets get out of here, I’m starving.”
They left Fanderal curiously examining the cutting device as Mienrny slipped an arm under Will’s and guided him out of the shop before he could change his mind.
As they walked, arm in arm toward the square where Lillith waited, Mierny posed a question which was now much on her mind. “Is it repairable?” hoping somewhat that it was not.
“Maybe – Maybe not. Depends on how good Fanderal’s people really are.”
Encouraged, Mierny stopped, stood on tiptoe and kissed Will who pulled her to him. “I like you, William Riker.”
“You’re not so bad yourself,” he grinned back at the sweet looking green rider.
<You are good for her> commented Lillith.
Riker’s eyes widened when he realized that her dragon had spoken directly to him, that he had understood it, and that Mierny had not heard it.
Riker lay awake with Mierny snuggled comfortably up against him. He idly ran his hand up and down the skin of her back and slender waist. She was wonderfully smooth except for a rough patch low on her back where she said that she had caught a minor thread score two turns back.
Mierny purred comfortably in deep sleep, her head pillowed on his chest, one arm across his body and a leg resting over his thigh. Even though they had scrubbed the days grime from their bodies after a quick evening meal in the kitchen cavern, they now reeked of the pleasant aftermath of fully shared sex.
He was completely relaxed but concerned – many new things had happened this day. He decided to try something.
A muzzy feeling came back to his mind. <It is late and I am sleepy. It was a long day>
<I apologize if I awakened you unnecessarily. We can do this tomorrow. Please say nothing of this to Mierny>
<As you wish.> Lillith said grumpily. <I am going back to sleep> she replied with finality.
Riker was amazed at what had just occurred. He had spoken to a dragon and it had replied and, most amazing to him, was the clarity of thought. He hoped that he could keep this new ability to himself – at least for a while.
* * *
Deanna returned late to the main hall where the second wave of the evening meal was being served to riders still in their flying gear. Leather gloves and helmets littered the tables. A faint odor of firestone permeated the air. As she entered she was recognized by both Lessa and F’Lar.
She looked to K’Val’s table just as he noticed her and smiled at her with his infectious handsome grin. He must have said something to the other riders of his wing as they instantly cleared a seat beside him as he waved her over.
Deanna acknowledged Lessa and F’Lar but pointed at K’Val’s table. Lessa smiled and winked at her as she nodded her head that it was okay.
“Lady Deanna. We of the Dragons Breath Wing welcome you into our company to share this evening meal,” he said most formally.
“I would be honored, good sir.” She replied in what she hoped was kind.
She felt dwarfed as she was seated next to the large and very fit wing leader. Lessa was even more dimuative that she was and wondered how one with such a small stature could seem so commanding in personality.
K’Val introduced her around the table. Even though she had been well trained by her mother, keeping all of the faces associated with their abbreviated names along with those of their dragons was mind boggling.
“I shall never remember all of your names,” she said with some embarrassment.
K’Val settled this. “Okay, wing riders. When you speak give your name and dragon to remind.” The riders banged their mugs on the table in assent.
Deanna leaned forward at the table so that she could all as she held up a hand. The table quickly fell quiet. “I thank you all for that rousing welcome. Though I am not a dragons rider--”
“But they speak highly of you.” Called out the brown rider R’nan followed by a quick round of mug banging.
Deanna blushed and held up a hand again. “That may be. I seem to have been adopted by Benden Weyr.”
K’Val laughed. “Fostering out is a long honored tradition of the weyrs and holds. Since you are currently holdless, Lady Deanna, we see no reason why that should go unattended to.”
Deanna put a hand on K’Val’s arm, stood and gave him a peck on the cheek and then took her seat again which brought a blush to the Wing Leader’s face and another round of mug banging plus the jeers and cheers of his wing riders.
The raucous laughter died away to clanking of silverware as kitchen drudges brought in platters of roast herdbeast and avians, garnished with roasted tubers and fresh vegetables. A weryling came by with two wine skins, serving a white or red wine according to the desire of the rider. Her choice was sealed when the weyrling commented that the white was Benden.
The riders ate ravenously men and women alike.
“They do pack it away, don’t they.” Commented Deanna to K’Val.
“Fighting a heavy thread fall uses a lot of energy of both dragon and rider. Most prefer to restore themselves even before scrubbing the stink of firestone and sweat from their bodies.”
Deanna leaned closer to K’Val and sniffed delicately. “You don’t seem to be tooooo bad.” Her nose wrinkled slightly.
K’Val laughed merrily. “Your gentle misstatement sidesteps the fact that I must smell like a smoked goat.”
She forked a piece of roastbeast into her mouth and chewed. “The food’s good but doesn’t taste much like smoked goat though.” She replied with a bit of a giggle. It felt good to feel good again.
Suddenly K’Val became hesitant, a mood immediately sensed by Deanna.
“Uh.. Lady Deanna. We don’t fly thread for another three days. Gorth and I were going to go to Cove Hold on the southern continent tomorrow to swim and have a good scrub in the sun. I was wondering if you would like to go, too?”
She thought for only a moment and then decided firmly her own course and tucked an arm in his. “K’Val I would love for you to escort me to Cove Hold. Perhaps afterwards you can introduce me to this Master Robinton of yours.”
“He has a harpers hold there but may be at Landing – I’m sure that he would be delighted to meet you too.”
“K’Val, I’ve been in the weyr’s archives… I saw that the young are often apprenticed to crafthalls and was wondering about it and becoming a dragon rider.”
“You are quite right, dear lady. I was had just walked the tables as a journeyman harper when I was searched and impressed my Gorth. M’arn there was in the beastmasters hall, Genine, she was an apprentice in weavers hall. Mila, was daughter to a lord holder. G’lar the son of a fisherman.”
“You a harper?” She looked incredulously at the wing leader. She would have guessed smith hall by his size and strength.
“Sing for us, K’Val.”
The call raced around the table.
“Yes, K’Val. Moreta’s Ride.” Said the rider to his right.
One of the riders down the table leaped from his place and ran across the weyr hall to collect a stringed instrument from a peg on the wall. Returning he carefully handed it to his wing leader.
“Lady Deanna, if you will excuse me for a moment. Duty calls.”
K’Val stood, pushing his chair back from the table. He pointed to his wine glass signaling that he needed a refill. The weyrling in charge of the wineskins quickly came, refilled the glass and followed K’Val to the clear area in the middle of the tables, dragging a stool behind him.
K’Val put a foot up on a rung of the stool and began tuning the mandolin like instrument as the weryling put the full wine glass on the seat. Taking a sip from of wine, he began by dexterously established a haunting melodic line.
Deanna was fascinated by the emotional content of the music and then astounded when K’Val began the telling in song of Moreta’s feats. His Tenor’s voice easily ranged over three full octaves expressing the urgency and demands of the saga. When, after nearly three quarters of an hour, he came to her tragic loss between the music and voice combined brought tears to the eyes of all. The soaring conclusion left only pride and hope.
As the sounds died away, K’Val handed the instrument to another weyrling picked up the wine glass, drained it and then returned to his position at the head of his wing’s table to a hearty applause accompanied by mug banging.
As K’Val sat, he and pulled his chair forward he commented “That is thirsty work, Lady Deanna.” He signaled for more wine, a request which was promptly filled.
Deanna stared at the empty wine glass sitting on the stool, not quite believing what she had just heard. “That was wonderful, K’Val” said Deanna sincerely. “Dragonkind, are a most complicated people.”
He grinned. “Sometimes, Yes. Sometimes, No.”
“I meant it. You are an amazing man.”
In the fading light of the hall she could sense that he was blushing again.
“Uh… Lady Deanna. May I walk you to your quarters?”
“No K’Val. I’ll walk you to your quarters. After all who will scrub the smoked goat from your hide?”
Deanna smiled at his reaction. “An open mouth is unbecoming, K’Val.” She chided gently, carressing his cheek.
The following morning Mierny landed Lillith in the courtyard of Benden Hold. Will drew his right leg over the dragons neck ridge and paused side saddle to give Mierny a kiss before sliding to the ground. Lillith twisted her head around with her eyes swirling in questioning colors. Will stroked the eye ridge which ran down to her nostrils and said aloud.
“Thank you, Lillith.” And mentally added <shhh> before continuing. “What are you two going to do today while I’m tied up with repairs to our ship?”
“Lillith wants to hunt and then we’re going down to Cove Hold to scrub down and have a swim. We’ll be back for you at dusk.”
Lillith snorted softly and pushed her nose against his chest.
“Lillith, I wish that I could go with you too but…” he shrugged.
“I know… duty calls. See you later dear William,” said Mierny from her high perch.
Will backed off as Lillith took three quick steps with wings extended, leaped into the air and went between just two man heights above the ground. When he turned he found Fanderal leaning against a shed wall adjacent to the courtyard. As Riker approached, he raised an eyebrow which spoke volumes.
Riker grinned. “Don’t even ask.”
“So be it, me boy,” responded Fanderal with a gentle laugh. “My best designers and tool makers have been up all night with that little gadget you handed me yesterday. They’ve built a prototype fixture to cut away the damaged part of the conduits as well as design sketches for the repair plugs. It needs your critique now. They want do a live test run to determine the devices cutting properties.”
“Well lets have a look at it. Do you have any hot klah?” he said as he followed the smith back to the workshop.
“We always have a fresh pot on – it rather goes with the trade.”
* * *
Mierny sat on a high ledge overlooking the weyr’s upper herdbeast pasture watching Lillith circling high over the beasts as if she were choosing the best fruit from a vendors stand. Her altitude insured that she would not spook the beasts prematurely. Suddenly, decision made, the green dragon swept her wings back to minimum extension and dropped like a stone. She arrowed towards her target using just her wing tips for control. She opened her wings as she neared the ground, curving to horizontal flight, moving at tremendous speed. Flashing over the herd, the green snatched her lunch from its center with a single quick grab of her powerful rear claws. In a show of power, the dragon swooped up and away from the herd, neatly breaking the neck of her catch with merciful swiftness. Lunch in hand, she glided toward the ridge where dragons customarily fed.
‘Compared to other dragons, Lillith is extremely efficient and neat,’ she thought, noting that the herd was minimally disturbed by the loss of one of its members. Mierny was quite proud to be paired with Lillith – she couldn’t even conceive of being anything other than her greens rider.
She could sense her dragons satisfaction as she ripped flesh from the carcass and gulped it down in huge chunks.
<Take your time, love… You know it gives you gas if you eat too quickly.>
<But they taste good today.> Lillith explained.
<That may be. We have plenty of time.>
<It is already sunrise at Cove hold. The shipfish will be there soon.>
<You like shipfish don’t you.>
<Yes, they are much fun to swim with and they can scrub me too but not as good as you or the fire lizards.>
<Lillith dear, Will you want another?>
<Yes… But a smaller one or I will not want to swim today.>
Mierny’s thoughts turned to the man who fulfilled her needs currently. He was so sweet – not a dragon rider but intriguing and physically satisfying to her none the less. She found that she was comfortable in his presence whether in skin or not. She liked him. She had not had such an attachment for some time. It felt very very good.
<He is good for you.>
<I know, love. But he is not of our kind>
<Does that matter?>
<I don’t know. I just don’t know.>
* * *
Deanna and K’Val on the bronze Gorth came out of the cold of between into the soft warm sky over Cove Hold bay. The morning breeze formed ripples across its clear blue waters, reflecting the low morning sun in arrays of flashing diamonds. A dense background of lush green framed the broad white sand beaches. A stone pier jutted out into the bay, marking the holds sea landing. Near the buildings at the head of the pier, a thin line of smoke rose lazily until it was torn apart by the breeze above the sheltering trees.
Deanna sucked in her breath as they glided towards the shoreline. “K’Val, It’s beautiful!”
“It is, isn’t it?” giving her a hug.
The dragon rider had his arms around her to work the riding straps. He could feel her shape, his face was being assaulted in a friendly manner by the dark hair which escaped from her lady holders helmet.
Gorth glided lower and lower until, with outstretched wing, he sailed over the rippling bay on ground effect, occasionally hitting the water with the tip of his trailing tail. As he came closer to the gently breaking waves which edged the beach he flared, slowing rapidly and settling into the water in a long slide sinking to the bottom precisely the point at which breaking waves washed over his tail.
<Show-off!> Thought Deanna as her booted legs were swamped by the backwash from his landing.
The dragon equivalent of a mental chuckle.
<Gorth, you did that deliberately to get us wet, didn’t you?>
<But you said we were going to swim.> Came a puzzled response.
<I did but I meant AFTER we got out of our clothes!>
Deanna, privy to the mental conversation leaned forward along Gorth’s neck and mentally whispered. <It’s okay, our clothes will dry quickly. That was a beautiful landing.>
<It is all right?>
She felt his hands on her waist as he too leaned forward. “He wants to go swim with the ship fish>
<AFTER I get scrubbed!> Gorth insisted.
He leaned back swung over and dropped into the shallow water. Deanna sat back, put both legs on one side and pushed off. K’Val caught her easily, preventing getting her skirt any wetter than it already was, then carried her to the hard packed wet sand.
“Thank you.” She said.
“I’ll get what we brought along.” He said turned and waded back to the bronze who was wallowing in water. <Hey, don’t get our stuff wet!>
The bronze rose up and then lowered his neck so that he could untie the watertight bag from the flying straps. When he turned, he found Deanna wading back into the water, her clothes and boots sitting above the water line.
Among dragon riders, going about clothed only in skin was not uncommon, particularly as their mounts required a fair amount of cleaning and skin care. It was not, however, common among non riders so Deanna had pleasantly surprised him. Even after last night, seeing her in full sun was breathtaking. She was gorgeous.
“You better get out of those,” she said instinctively taking the scrub brushes and bag of soapy sweet sand from him. “Where do I start?”
“Ask Gorth,” he said as he sloshed up to the beach stripping off his helmet, flying jacket and tunic.
<My neck itches>
Deanna rubbed a handful of soapy sweet sand into the bristle brush and began scrubbing at the spot he wanted.
<Feels Very good>
<So does the water on my skin>
She felt a tug at the bag and let it go so that K’Val, as bare as she, could start on his shoulders and under-wing.
“How long does it take to scrub him down?” she asked, watching how he dipped the brush into the sea, then into the sand before attacking another broad patch of dragon skin.
“He and I have it down to a little over an hour when I have to do it by myself.” He grinned at her and gave her a bit of a splash.
They rapidly finished his flanks and wing leading edges and back from neck to tail, which was an adventure for Deanna because she kept slipping off of his bumpy back and falling into the sea.
The forth time this happened, she came up sputtering, her dark hair matted to her skull and back. “I think that he did it deliberately this time!” she griped.
“Most likely. Does it to me all of the time.” <Over!> he commanded.
Gorth rolled over in the shallows until he floated just below the surface, his snout above the waves. They quickly finished scrubbing his undersides and legs, paying attention to his back and fore claws, which were retractable like a cats.
Finally, K’Val slapped Gorth on his belly. <Okay go swim!>
Both Danna and K’Val were drenched as the wave from the dragon’s rotation knocked them off of their feet and washed them to shore. Laughing, they relaxed by laying in the shallows with the gentle waves breaking over them. Gorth cavort with the shipfish, disappearing then surfacing in a fountain of water propelled by wing and hind feet only to fall back into the bay with a huge splash. The shipfish, delighted, would coordinate their leaps to come out of the water simultaneously with him.
Laying in K’Val's arms, she commented. “It looks almost choreographed.”
“It is. You know that they can talk to each other, too. The shipfish are genetically enhanced and likely even smarter than humans.”
“You’re kidding! Are there any animals on this planet which are NOT sentient.”
He laughed. “No, just humans, dragons, firelizards and shipfish… At least I think that’s it.”
<Shipfish are smart and fun!> commented Gorth.
A pair of fins cut through the water towards them then popped out of the water side by side, corkscrewed and whipped away simultaneously to the left and right drenching them both with heavy wash from their landing.
As they sat back up, sputtering, Deanna asked. “Do they do that all of the time?”
“I swear, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen them do that.” Said K’Val, pushing his water drenched hair from his eyes.
Without notice, a dark shadow passed over them then passed out across the water. Looking up, Deanna saw it was a green dragon, the naked rider let loose of watertight bag which fell lazily to the water as she passed out over the bay. As the green swooped up in a great arc and headed back to the shoreline, the green’s rider launched from dragons back in a graceful dive, . She entered the water with barely a splash and quickly surfaced, surrounded by shipfish. The green dragon folded her wings and similarly arrowed into the bay with barely a splash only to pop up and sail over Gorth’s floating body, landing in a huge splash thoroughly surprising the bronze. And then the two dragons were both off, racing around the bay, bugaling happily while being chased by shipfish.
“That’s Mierny’s Lillith. They’re in M’rand’s flight and a top notch pair.” Commented K’Val without thinking.
The pair of dolphins which had come to the green’s rider assistance towed her and her floating bag to shore near K’Val and Deanna. Mierny rubbed the dorsal fins of her friends and then gave each a little slap. Each rose up and ‘talked’ to her with a high pitched chitter then arched away with a brisk flip of their tails.
The green rider rose naked from the waters like a red headed sea-nymph, Deanna realized that Mierny was as truly every bit as trim and fit as she had seemed to be at Benden Weyr.
“Lady Deanna, K’Val. I see you’ve come down for some sun and sand, too.”
“Gorth needed a good scrub.” He replied, obviously stroking Deanna’s bare stomach posessively.
* * *
Mierny appraised the nude starwoman and wondered what in the name of the first egg had come between her and William. She was certainly beautiful and, for K’Val to take an interest, most certainly smart too. Her closeness to K’Val brought on a twinge of jealously.
<None of our business.> commented Lillith.
<You’re quite right, love, now come in to get a scrub.>
<I want to play with the shipfish and Gorth>
<Then you’ll just have to find someone else to scrub your back.>
<You’re no fun!> complained Lillith.
<Come in then>
A dense wall of greenery bordered the broad crescent of Cove Hold's sugar sand beach. The overlapping fronds of its canopy provided welcome shade from the midday sun as Deanna and K'Val toweled themselves dry and set about redressing in order to go up to the Harper's house.
Once dressed, K'Val sat on a fallen trunk to pull on his boots when Deanna's graceful movement caught his attention. She had retrieved a hair brush from the kit bag and had begun to try to pull it though her, now thoroughly matted hair.
"Want me to do that for you?" he asked. "I use to do it for my sisters."
"Would you? With the sun, sand and salt it's decided to take its revenge on me." Deanna replied, handing him the brush. She turned and sat on the log, facing away from him. As she was watched Gorth and Lillith cavorting in the water, she felt the bronze's rider begin drawing the brush through her luxuriant hair gently working out the tangles.
K'Val lifted her thick hair from beneath in his palm as he drew the brush through the tangles, teasing them straight again. He loved the its feel, its density, its smell when he buried his face in it.
"Deanna? Manora gave me some nicely scented balm which works well to smooth out hair tangles, want me to use some?"
"It couldn't hurt. I'm going to have to wash it when we get back to the Weyr in any case."
She sighed as she felt his scented cream covered fingers pull through her tangles in a broad comb, causing the hair to separate.
"Ummm... That's nice."
"Regret coming?" he queried.
"Oh my, no!" she said, leaning back into him which allowed him to nuzzle her neck. "I needed this... Needed to get out of there for a while."
"We try to get away whenever we can," he said, picking up the brush again and drawing more easily through the untangling dark hair, smoothing it and causing it to shine more with each stroke.
"About riders... I watched you and Mierny with your dragons. The weyr seems to have an unusual social structure. I was wondering about relationships and..."
"...and how being bound to a dragon affects it. How it could affect us?"
She was again amazed at his perceptiveness.
"A rider bonds for life with a dragon at an age between thirteen and twenty five turns." Deanna heard him chuckle. "At times we get jibed by hold and hall that we are espoused to our dragons first and to our mates afterward which is not far from the truth."
"I've heard stories about what happens when dragons mate."
"Likely true if recounted by riders. When dragons fly to mate, their riders linked intimately with their dragons blood lust passion, riders have no say in the matter even if they were espoused to another. One can only hope that they desire the outcome as much as their dragons. This is one of the reasons that riders rarely espouse outside of the weyr."
"But Lessa and F'Lar....?"
"Ah yes. A bit of an escape clause there. You see, long term relationships like Lessa's and F'lar's are determined by their dragons and..." K'Val smiled. "Ramoth will not mate with other than Mnmenmeth. This is not uncommon among senior queens and their mates. Where mating competition is open, or when lesser dragons like blues and greens become proddy with heat, relationships can and are more fluid and fleeting. It is because of this and the intensity of duty that riders have, that we have had to evolve more of a communal structure where all children of riders are children of the weyr and often fostered out so that they have more that one person to look to for support."
"Did you have any others besides the one with Karynith?"
He did not answer immediately.
"Have I intruded on somethin--"
"Sorry, just thinking... No, Reynith was our -- my -- only offspring. She is fostered out to Ruatha Hold. Seems that she took to the lady Sharra and that was that."
"Oh... Do you visit her?"
"Of course I do. Often. She's my blood kin. I think she would like you, you know."
They sat in silence for a long while the conversation seeming to have run its course as K'Val continued to covert her tangled mass into smooth, lustrous waves of ebony. Deanna finally broke the silence.
"Before me you had not taken another mate." It was a statement not a question which caused K'Val to tense. He paused before answering. "How did you know that?"
"I tricked Gorth into admitting it though he was evasive."
K'Val relaxed and chuckled. "Gorth wears his heart on his wing."
"I could say the same of his rider." Deanna teased.
"Ouch!" He replied in mock hurt.
"I can talk to dragons but I'm not bound to a dragon. Where does that leave us."
"Well..." he paused suggestively. "It is not unheard of for a male rider to espouse outside of the weyr." He felt her breathe in surprise.
"Isn't that a little... um..."
"I think the word is presumptuous," he said, leaning forward and nuzzling her long, slender neck.
"Ahhh... stop!" Deanna cried out, lurching forward and then rising to her feet, trembling.
K'Val smiled as he let her go, a bronze rider on the hunt again, but he absolutely meant what he had suggested. He busied himself by repacking what they had taken out as if nothing unusual had occurred.
Deanna walked a short distance up the beach attempting to quiet her inadvertent reaction K'Val's not too subtle proposal. She leaned against the thick trunk of one of the trees which bordered the beach and again watched the green and bronze cavort in the waves. Up the beach she saw that Mierny had slung a portable hammock between two trees and was fast asleep in the shade.
Her thoughts turned back to K'Val. He was wonderfully attractive as well as a considerate and passionate lover but... and that was the issue, the buts. She sighed thinking that at least she could enjoy it while she could - perhaps it would lead to something good. She knew in her heart that her estrangement from Will was wrong but she could not have stopped it from happening any more than she could stop the sun from rising.
* * *
Inside the Benden smithhall the bustle of activity was encouraging to Riker, who largely stood aside until needed to answer a question or confirm an approach to a problem. Fanderal's team had tested and discarded a number of approaches before settling on the one which worked so the work shop was littered with the debris of the failures.
A final test run using the narrow beam phaser simulated cutting away the damaged area out of a thick-walled sacrificial metal bowl. The craftsmen then fabricated a series of plaster, clay and wax molds from which they were able to cast a perfect plug which fit into the opening. The interior curve matched the original curve of the bowl as determined by templates that they had previously made.
"Do you think that this is will work?" asked Fanderal turning the repaired piece over and running his fingers down the inner curve of the bowl. He clearly could see the plug's outline because of the dissimilar colors of the metals but when he could not feel any discontinuity in the surface.
Riker accepted the piece turned it over. "Will you find me a very fine point tool. I'm going to test the joint"
Fanderal waved to one of his Journeymen, actually a journywoman tool and die specialist, who returned with a very fine tipped, ultra sharp tool.
"Careful with that, the tip's hardened but fragile."
"Not a problem." Taking the tool and lightly drawing it across the joint. He was surprised not to feel any boundary between the two metals.
"Is it okay?" asked the toolmaker, nervously.
"It's perfect!" Will exclaimed, carefully handing the probe back to her.
"So our technique will work?" commented Fanderal.
"As long as the surface wave remains laminar, I think it very well should."
Will could sense the smiths heaving a sigh of relief as Fanderal clapped hard on Will's back, robbing him of air.
"Ooof! Easy there big guy. I have to be alive to fly the shuttle after we get it repaired."
"Ooops! Sometimes forget that others are a bit more fragile," said Fanderal looking chagrinned. "I've got the two parts jigged for cutting. Do you have the extra power packs?"
Will handed the smith the hinged metal container he was carrying. "There are eight fully charged packs in there. You have one in each the phaser you are currently using and I have two more in the other phasers in the shuttles weapons locker."
"It should be enough. The one we were using cut through the test piece like it was butter."
"Duranium is tough stuff so you're going to have slow going."
* * *
"Are you sure that it's okay for us to just drop in on the Master Harper?" queried Deanna as they walked up from the beach over the neatly bordered crushed shell path to the wide veranda house. It was so much more open than a northern hold but she did note that it had double shelled metal roof which overhung widely to ward off thread from above. The stone foundation pilings which lifted the house above ground protected from attacks from below. The door like shutters were thrown back allowing the sea-breezes to flow through the house giving a natural convection cooling.
"Deanna, he's expecting us. I sent a message by firelizard last night and got an answer this morning."
A voice, deep and melodic but equally strong boomed from the interior of the Cove Hold Harper's house. "K'Val, if that's you, you'd better not have forgotten my Benden White."
K'Val roared in laughter. "And what if I did, Robinton, you old sot!" he yelled back.
Deanna looked at the dragon rider curiously but he only winked at her as they heard the footfalls coming from inside.
"I'll have your hide for drumheads..." the voice cut off as a tall bearded man, slender and strong but his age showing by the gray that shot though his hair. "Oh! You've brought me a far better gift in this beautiful woman."
"Hands off Robinton." K'Val was still grinning as he pulled the quartet of wine skins from his shoulder and offered them over to the Master Harper.
The old man made a moue and feigned injury. "I'm wounded to the core but..." he checked the vintner marks on the sealing tags of the wineskins. "but considering the vintages that you've brought me I'm willing to forgive your considerable slighting of my venerable personage by not sharing this lovely creature with me."
"You rogue! We know very well that your love of the finer things puts good wine above good women." K'Val winked again at Deanna who was shocked at the treatment the bronze rider was apparently handing the Harper.
The wizened harper smiled at Deanna. "Dear Lady, I must apologize for the behavior of this unfortunate excuse for a bronze rider but..." he hung his head in mock shame, "all that he has said is true."
The harper peeked to see if Deanna was being taken in and, when he saw that her eyes were merrily sparkling as she looked askance at both him and K'Val, straightened and chuckled. "Well, K'Val, it seems that the good lady..."
"Deanna Troi, Master Harper."
"...has seen right though us. Come, come." The bearded elder began shooing them both into the house. "They have laid on a nice midday meal including some of the roast swinebeast that I like so much; even though they won't let me have as much as I want."
"Brekke and Sharra both agree that too much fat is not good for your heart. Remember we almost lost you a turn and a half ago."
"Yes, yes. All well and good but a man must have his small pleasures or life is not worth living."
Deanna was becoming enchanted by the master harper who, when he turned to her seemed to exclude all others from the conversation. "Now then, Lady Deanna, you must tell me everything."
"Everything?" she replied taking a seat at the table.
"Oh yes. Everything, no matter how insignificant for it is the Harper's duty to know all." He winked at the bronze rider which did not go unnoticed by Deanna.
"Where do I start?"
"Telling tales is thirsty work." The master Harper smiled set a wine glass down in front of her, then filling it from a wine skin. "Simply start at the beginning and go to the end."
Deanna lifted the wine glass in acknowledgement, then took a sip. "Will and I were returning from vacation leave on Risa I had a conference that I was to attend the following week. In any case..." she continued her tale to her totally absorbed listeners, interrupted by the occasional question, until the sky filled with painted swaths of pink, red and grays with onset of evening.
"Enough, Enough, good lady. Time to set the tale aside for our evening repast."
It was at this point that Mierny, barefoot, in shorts and halter top came up from the beach. "I hear something about it being time for food?" she said grinning. "Have room for one more?"
"For a dragon rider, always." Said the Harper.
"Where's Lillith?" asked K'Val.
"Snoozing with Gorth down at the end of the beach where the sand is still hot. They wore themselves out playing with the shipfish."
"Join us then." He said, waving to a seat next to the Harper.
"By the way, if you two would like to stay over" he nodded to K'Val and Deanna, "I can take you up to landing to introduce you to Avias."
"I would like that." Said Deanna.
Mierny looked at the way that K'Val regarded Lady Deanna and her feeling of jealousy returned for an instant until she submerged it with annoyance.
Will had been sitting on a stone bench outside the smith hall for some time. It had been a good day. All of the cuts to remove the damaged areas and prepare the plasma conduits for their plugs had gone well even if it had used up all but one of the power packs. Fanderal was so pleased with the preciseness of the cuts that, once the day was done, ordered the best wine up from the cellar for everyone. He felt a little light headed after having a third cup. He would just rest his eyes for a moment.
Will awoke from being jostled.
"Lord Riker." Came the voice.
There it was again... that silly title thing again. "Mmph!"
"It's time to go back to the weyr."
Will opened his eyes and found himself looking, not at Mierny but at an unknown and very young male rider. "Who in the hell are you."
"She was delayed at Cove Hold. I was sent to fetch you back to the weyr."
Will shook the sleep out of his being. His neck felt stiff as he rubbed his sleep tightened muscles. "Okay, lets go. Is there still time for dinner?" he queried looking up at the star filled night sky.
"Okay C'lan. Where's your dragon?"
"Riononth is waiting in the square for us, sir."
"Lead on, then, I'm bushed."
Mierny lay in her hammock, looking up at the diamond bright swath of stars filling the clear night sky. The soft night air contrasted the cold of this season in Benden Weyr. She reached out mentally to touch Lillith's somnolent mind and smiled to herself. The poor dear was worn out from her exertions through the day. She could sense her comfort leaning up against Gorth, her head resting on his neck. She too ached for the comfort of someone near as her longing turned to thoughts Will. Was she in love with him. Sometimes, like this, she was sure of it but other times... she didn't know. A unbidden tear annoyed her as it rolled slowly down her cheek.
Mierny's weyr felt so empty without Mierny. Will had managed to grab some dinner, bathe and now stood looking at the sleeping platform. Turning, he made his way out through Lillith's empty cave and out on to her landing ledge. The cool night wind chilled him as he looked up at the bands of stars which filled the clear night sky. He rarely got a chance to see the stars from a planet bound perspective and it roused a longing in him and the question of whether he would ever travel among them again.
Sighing, he returned to their sleeping quarters and slipped under the furs. He tried to stay awake, hoping that Mierny would return but the wine and the days activity worked against him as he fell into the deep sleep of exhaustion.
The cool night air flowed through the floor to ceiling louvered doors of their back bedroom of the Harper's Cove Hold house. The slight rhythmic creak of the pulleys lulled as the wind driven mechanism on the roof pushed and released the ingenious counterbalanced swing fan which stirred the air. Unable to sleep, Deanna stared up at the shadows of beam an planked ceiling, feeling the pleasant heat of their previous activity suffuse her body.
She couldn't help thinking that this felt right and wrong at the same time. She listened quietly to K'Val's soft snoring and smiled, recalling his back handed proposal of that afternoon. Though she knew that she was not of this world and he was not of hers, she could not suppress her longing for the freedom of her previous life. The thought of being bound to this world for the rest of her life made her shiver.
Mierny was awakened by something that she couldn't identify. She lay quietly in the beach hammock and extended her senses first identifying an large furred animal smell and then hearing a heavy crack as something stepped on a dry branch. She let her arm fall to the flying boots, felt and found her backup boot knife, her regular belt knife still sheathed in her pack.
She could sense the creatures heavy presence and she knew that she was being stalked. She was fully awake - her senses heightened to the greatest degree. Suddenly she sensed and heard the beast's movement as it lunged for it's target which wasn't there as Mierny rolled out of the hammock onto the sand.
The angry roar of prey denied pierced the night and filled her with fear as she scrambled awkwardly to her feet in the soft sand and backed away seeing the huge, dark, angry shadow tangled in the remains of the hammock.
"Lillith!" she screamed.
Lillith, then Gorth were instantly awake. Lillith raised her voice in scream of anger and fright as she struggled to get to her own feet from her sleeping position, her wings actually getting in the way causing her to trip driving her snout into the sand. Finally righting herself she launched into the night sky and blinked out of existence followed in seconds by Gorth.
Deanna, who had just managed to fall asleep, was shocked awake by Gorth's scream of rage in her mind. Her heart was racing as she tried to figure out what was going on, when K'Val roused from a deep sleep to full wakefulness and literally leaped over her landing cat like on the floor rummaging for his belt knife.
"Stay here!" he barked as he pulled on his shorts, yanked the veranda door open and disappeared into the night.
Deanna stared at the door as it banged against the wall and then, rebounded, swung slowly closed. She couldn't let it go as she too quickly dressed to follow.
Mierny turned and ran for the safety of the sea. She could sense that the beast had untangled itself from the hammock and was after her. That she wouldn't make it brushed across her awareness. She decided that, if it did catch her, she would insure that she would hurt it as well as she could before it killed her.
<No!> Screamed Lillith in defiance as she spreading her wings wide, landing between Mierny and the charging beast, her eyes whirling in blood reds of implacable anger. The beast, unable to shift it's rushing mass, plowed into the green bowling both of them over in the sand. Mierny dove into the surf and swam to deeper water for protection even as Gorth joined the battle. The huge bronze's powerful jaws snapped down on the creatures the tail then yanked violently, flinging it howling in pain higher up on the beach's sand. Lillith screamed as the departing beast's claws raked down her exposed flank.
Gorth whirled, causing a sand storm, as he used the downsweep of his huge bronze wings to put himself squarely between it and the wounded green. The raging beast whirled and fearlessly launched itself back at the larger dragon, it's claws raking Gorth's exposed chest. The impact of its weight rolled both dragon and beast over in the beach sand. The bronze, reacting instinctively, seized the beast with his fore claws then gutted it from sternum to pelvis with one powerful stroke of his rear talons while ripping into the exposed throat in a fierce rage. Gorth drove the still alive and howling carcass onto the sand and pinned it there, refusing to release it until it finally stopped moving.
A stunned silence fell upon the scene of carnage, punctuated only by Gorth's snorting as he insured that the creature was indeed dead. Mierny, waded out of the surf and staggered to her wounded dragon.
<Lillith?> she pleaded.
<And Gorth saved me.> was her dragons rather amazed response.
<So he did, dear> she said looking up to find the bronze's rider, breathing hard, knife in hand, standing over her protectively.
<Enough, Gorth!> Commanded K'Val.
The bronze dragon raised his head from the sand holding the limp beast dangling loosely from his powerful jaws and looked at his rider, his eyes still whirling reds and oranges of anger.
<The furry thing hurt, Lillith!>
Gorth whipped his head violently, throwing the carcass higher up on the beach. <Lillith and I will have it later> he thought flatly.
<Mierny can have the skin for her sleeping furs. Now let me get some numbweed on those slashes>
The bronze arched his head and examined the green dragon ichor oozing from deep claw marks which marred his once smooth dragon skin. He examined his wounds, picking gingerly at them with the forelimb claws. If a dragon could wince, Gorth would have.
<Told you. Scars of honor. Now are you ready for the numbweed?>
<Lillith needs it too>
<Mierny will take care of Lillith. Quit being so obstinate>
<If you say so>
Will had been awakened from a deep sleep by Lillith's scream of anger in his mind. He hadn't recognized it as Lillith's because it was there for only an instant and then it was gone. As he sat bolt upright his heart was pounding as he fought down the residual feeling of anxiety and wondering just what in the hell was going on. He knew instinctively that Deanna was safe but now sensed that Lillith was in pain. His anxious thoughts turned to Mierny as he tried, unsuccessfully, to speak to Lillith.
"Damn!" he mumbled to himself. "I hate being out of the loop like this." As he turned over and punched down the pillow he was using and then pulled the other which held Mierny's scent to where he could hug it.
Deanna was stood on the veranda staring out into the dark. She had heard the sounds of a brief but violent fight between dragons and something else - an animal she guessed.
"What happened?" asked Robinton.
"I think something tried to attack Mierny. The dragons fought it."
"Is everyone all right?"
"I think so."
"Let's go down and look."
"K'Val said wait up here."
"Nonsense." The old harper touched her arm. "Wait her for a minute."
He disappeared back into the house then quickly returned carrying a number of glow baskets. "Here." He said handing Deanna two baskets. They'll need light down there." With that, he was quickly off, with Deanna tagging along behind.
As Deanna and Robinton came upon the scene of battle, they nearly tripped over the carcass of the dead beast.
"Lady Deanna, bring your glows," The harper called out leaning over the dead animal. Deanna held hers up to illuminate the grizzly scene as the Harper walked slowly around the dead animal stopping from time to time to examine it's fur. "One of the felinoids. A big one too." Arriving at the head, he squatted down and pried the mouth open and examined the teeth. "Mmmm." He then picked up one of the limp paws and felt between the retracted claws.
K'Val entered the circle of light carrying a jar of numweed. "I thought that they stayed in the deep interior and ran in packs."
"For its size its underweight. Look at the scars on the flanks and note how the webbing between the paws has deteriorated. This is an old male and hungry. I suspect that it was an alpha male who finally lost to a stronger, younger animal."
"An outcast?" queried Deanna. "So it's unlikely that there are more of them about."
"That's my reading of it." Said the harper.
"Just the same, I'm going to have a dragon flight run a sweep at first light," said K'Val. "In the mean time if you'll pardon me, I have a rather clawed up dragon to attend to." He turned and disappeared into the dark outlined in shadow only by the reflection of the iridescence of the surf.
K'Val handed Mierny one of the jars of numweed he had retrieve from their packs.
"Thank's" she said almost shyly.
"Lillith going to be okay?"
"I think so. Won't be going between for a few days until the wounds scab over and seal but she'll be fine."
"Gorth got clawed too and is in the same state. I guess we'll be stuck down here for the next couple of days at least," said K'Val as he returned to his own dragon.
"Who'll take over the wing?"
"R'nan, my wing second. A good man. I'll notify Benden in the morning."
Turning to Lillith, Mierny dug out a palm full of numweed and moved to apply it. Lillith whimpered and squirmed as she touched her dragons wounds for the first time. Lillith shrank away from her touch.
<Hold still! You're acting like a silly dragonette!>
<Am not! It hurts different than thread score!>
<You know that the numweed will fix that.> Admonished the green dragons rider. <You don't hear Gorth complaining and he was clawed too.>
Lillith ceased her complaining and allowed her rider to slather the long wounds with several layers of salve. Finishing up she drove her hands into the sand to capture and scrub the remaining numweed from her tingling hands. She hated having to do this without gloves.
<You're done. I'm going to check on Gorth.>
<I'll just stay here> said Lillith moving gingerly.
Leaving the dead felinoid with the intrigued harper, Deanna approached the dark hulking bulk of Gorth. She could barely make out K'Val's shadow as she neared. She gasped as the glow baskets illuminated the deep scores in Gorths hide, the fluids leaking out nearly black in the bioluminescence.
<Gorth! Are you all right?> she queried.
<You don't look fine.>
he said proudly lowering his head to her level, his eyes whiling in the yellows of discomfort.
<You certainly did> stroking his nose.
"You're going to spoil him, you know."
"He deserves a little spoiling tonight, don't you Gorthy" taking his nose in both hands and rubbing his center ridge.
<Hold still> Deanna heard K'Val tell the bronze as he slathered numbweed on the leaking cuts. Deanna could feel the dragons muscles tense up as he bore the pain stoically.
"How is Lillith?" she asked K'Val.
"Clawed heavily on her flank. I don't think as deep as these but serious none the less. I'd say that they both got it about the same."
"Can he fly?"
"Yes but neither he nor Lillith can go between with open wounds."
"How long until he can... I was thinking about us getting back to Benden."
"A couple of days. If you need to Benden can send one of the other riders down for you."
Deanna was aware that K'Val was intent on his dragon and had fully reverted to being a dragons rider and partner - something she could never be in the same way. She carefully set the glow baskets down beside K'Val, turned and walked silently back up the beach toward the harpers house. As she passed, Robinton looked up and read her countenance but kept his own council.
Having slept fitfully, Riker awoke with a nagging feeling of unease. He finally decided that
further attempts to sleep were futile, rose and dressed. As he walked out onto Lillith's dragon
ledge and found the eastern horizon turning from the nights indigo to the red/blues of morning.
Framed by the dark rocky teeth of the eastern edge of the bowl the weyr's watch dragon rose with
wings spread to greet the morning sun. The image burned its indelible silhouette into his
memories of other mornings in other places, some recent and some long past.
Seeking solace, he closed his eyes. Instead of one, the image two women came to him. Oddly
they looked not back at him but at each other. In profile. Mierny with her elegantly short dark
red hair, a pert nose contrasted with Deanna's raven black mane and elegant aquiline features.
When the two visions did turn to examine him he felt their attention burn into his being. Again
there was contrast with Mierny's green playful eyes examining him with curiosity while Deanna's
dark ones seemed to look into his soul as if demanding that he choose. Even with what he had
shared with the both of them, he felt that he could not. This bothered him more than he imagined
causing him to shiver in the morning air.
When he opened his eyes, the morning light banished the visions but not the nagging feeling of
introspection. His stomach, however, was not impressed by either memories or soul searching and
grumbled to be attended to. Sighing, he shrugged away from the stone face of the weyr ledge
against which he had been leaning - he had to prepare the shuttle for today's first test.
Deanna had managed to get back to sleep after the nights excitement, but was awakened far too
soon by the morning sun streaming through the slats of the bedroom window. When she reached out,
she found that she was alone.
Flipping the sheets back, Deanna rose, grabbed a towel and headed for the shower to wash the
night's grime and sweat away. She hooked the towel on the peg, stepped onto the wooden drain
floor and pulled the chain to start the water flowing. The water was pleasantly warm which
surprised her as she scooped up some of the sweet sand cleanser and set to scrubbing her lean
By the time she finished and reentered the bedroom, toweling her body dry, she felt like a new
Dressed in a simple belted pullover, Deanna entered the previous nights dining area and found
K'Val's slumped down in one of the padded woven reed chairs, his back to her, with one foot
propped up on one of many floor to ceiling door frames which opened onto the wrap around porch. A
cup of steaming klaw sat on a small side table, as he seemed intent on something outside of the
wide open doors.
Barefoot, Deanna padded up behind him. "You didn't come back to bed."
"I got back just before sun up. You were sleeping so soundly that it seemed a shame to wake
you." He said without turning.
Kneeling, Deanna slipped her hands down his chest from the back and asked, "How's Gorth."
"He'll live. Complained continuously about my attending to his wounds though."
"Where are they now?"
"Sleeping out on the beach." He nodded toward the open doors.
Deanna looked up through the open doors and found that the two dragons had resettled on the
beach much nearer the house. Lillith was curled up with her clawed flank up so as not to get sand
in it. Gorth had curled up behind Lillith with his neck over hers, so that his clawed chest was
similarly protected. Mierny, sheltered from the rays of the morning sun, was asleep in the cradle
of Lillith's forelimbs.
"Now that's a peaceful picture compared to the events of last night"
"Umph." Commented the dragon rider.
"Yes, but I'm not certain what."
From what happened last night, Deanna expected rejection but was surprised when K'Val tipped
his head back, pulled her face to his with his left hand and gave her a thoroughly pleasant good
Nearly breathless and somewhat confused, Deanna reacted.
"That was unexpected. Nice, but unexpected."
"Why?" he said dropping his foot and pulling her around into his lap.
Their lips were just inches apart.
"That's not an answer."
He brushed her lips, her nose and then eyelids with his lips. Deanna found it erotically gentle
for such a powerful man.
"I just showered... and you need one." She said gently wrinkling her nose.
"Oh but you are a harsh task master." He said smiling.
"Brutal." She replied grinning back then kissing him briefly before wiggling out of his grasp
and getting to her feet.
He heaved himself out of the chair.
"Sure you won't join me."
"Not this time. Go!"
"Okay, okay." He said playfully raising his hands.
The Masterharper Robinton, came out onto the porch with a meat roll on top of a mug of klaw in
one hand and a large slice of red-fruit in the other and sat down on the steps beside Deanna.
"Here. Thought you might be hungry."
Deanna accepted the offering.
"Thanks. Where's yours?"
"I ate a bit earlier. Still up for a visit to Avias?"
"How are we going to get there? Both of our available dragons were a bit clawed up by thing
over there." She pointed at the carcass of the felinoid, which had been dragged up the beach and
tied up on a frame for skinning.
"Gorth's chest wounds will take a couple of days before he can fly but Mierny said Lillith was
fully capable of flying us over as long as we didn't go between."
"Are you sure that's wise?"
"If they say they can then they can. It seems to be an axiom of dragons and dragon riders."
"When then?" Deanna asked.
"I think after lunch when the two of them wake up. If you wouldn't mind, I think that I would
like to find out more about things out there" The masterharper pointed at the sky.
"And I want to know more about what's down here." Deanna pointed at the earth beneath them.
"Fair exchange. You start."
"Tell me more about the history of the Weyrs."
Above the hold, hidden eyes peered from their hiding place.
"Where did they hide it?" the squat pug like man asked.
"There." A hand with a missing finger pointed to a location at the base of the cliff that
formed the front wall of the hold. "In the building with the barn doors. Cliffside, four to the
right of the main courtyard."
"I see it. Are you sure?"
"I sent Dolnap in yesterday. He said that they had the main doors open and he actually saw the
Deanna followed the master harper down into the excavation towards a doorway
inset into the plastisteel walled building. Layers of hardened ash banked up
around the building testified to the successive eruptions of the volcanoes
that edged the plane. A quick scan showed that the landscape was dotted
with excavation digs with dragons actively involved with soil removal.
Turning her attention back to the this building she noted that it seemed to
have been hurriedly clad with some sort of ceramic tile. She touched
Robinton on the shoulder causing him to pause and turn, a raised eyebrow
signaling a question.
"Those tiles don't seem to be part of the building's normal structure." She
pointed to where an interlocked layer poking out of the ash.
"Oh those. Seems that our ancestors recognized Avias' value and tried to
protect him against the volcano's heat and lava with insulation blocks from
unusable flying machines. This is according to Avias. I can't say as I
quite understand how they work because the material weighs almost nothing."
"So Avias is here. Inside?"
"Actually some think Avias is building but he says that he's actually housed
in a vault below the building. When learned of him we cleaned off the solar
panels it reactivated itself. That's how we found out that the three sisters
were actually the ships which brought us here."
"You say him. It has a personality?"
"You'll see." The master harper said with a grin.
One of the armed guards at the entrance made a subtle motion for Robinton to
pause. The second stood back watching intently.
"This is Lady Deanna Troi, the star woman and she is under my protection. We
are here to see Avias."
The guard nodded and stepped back, signaling the to open the door for them.
Deanna nodded to them recognizing them as dragon riders by their intense
demeanor as much as by their dress.
Once they were inside she asked. "Dragon riders for guards?"
"Not without cause. We had a serious attack on Avias by a band of
rejectionist who sought to destroy this link to our past history and any boon
we could gain by restoring knowledge long lost. They are ones who seem to be
locked into an unquestioning and orthodoxy of traditions and customs - many
of which we now find are misinterpretations of many times copied and faded
scolls and oral histories."
"It's not an uncommon reaction to sudden change because it disrupts both the
order of things as well as traditional roles. People will cling tenaciously
to things they know resisting the inevitable changes." Deanna commented.
Robinton sighed. "It's something I've been fighting for many turns - from
long before this pass started and thread began to fall. There's nothing
wrong with traditional ways except when holding to them will kill you. Some
of the changes come at fundamental holding levels."
The master harper guided Deanna into a moderate sized room which held a
number of ancient design access terminals. On the far end the wall had been
roughly removed to join this with the next which had been set up with long
tables around which people of all ages worked.
She looked dubiously at the terminals. "Uh... how do you?"
"Just speak. It answers to Avias as its name... Avias?"
"Good afternoon, master Harper." Said a voice which seemed to come from the
general direction of the far wall.
'It's able to perceive and recognize those in the room, good.' Deanna
thought. Deanna smiled, now on familiar ground. "Avias?"
"You are new, here. Please introduce yourself."
"I am Deanna Troi."
"You are not of Pern."
"How did you know?" Deanna asked.
"Your speech patterns are nearer those of the original settlers rather than
of the current population."
"You knew this simply by my speaking my name?"
"Yes." There was no smugness - to Avias it was simply a fact.
"How long have you been here?" she asked.
"2435 earth years according to my interpretation of observations I've made
through the Buenos Aries."
"You have communication with your ships."
"Yes. They are in a geo stationary orbit. There is a line of sight
communication unit on the roof of this building. You seem to have knowledge
of space travel."
"She is the star woman, Lady Deanna Troi, Avias. Their craft crashed in the
high meadows above Benden Hold some four seven days ago."
"You must sit and tell me all that you know." Avias exhibited the nearest
thing to excitement that a machine could.
"This could take a while." Deanna said. "But you will have to answer my
questions as well."
There was a pause. "Master Harper?" queried Avias
"Are there any restrictions?"
"I think not."
The voice seemed to move from point to point, actually becoming focused on
the person to whom Avias was speaking at the moment. Deanna's subconscious
suddenly seized on a fact that shocked her.
"2400 years!... uh Avias?"
"Yes, Lady Deanna Troi."
"Avias, What do you know of time travel and temporal mechanics?"
There was an unnaturally long pause.
"I think that you have a serious problem."
It was late morning as Riker had a number of journeyman smiths clamoring over
the shuttle replacing baffles, internal supports, and cover plates after he
had replaced and tested the repaired plasma conduits.
The Mastersmith, Fanderal poked his head through the doorway between Benden
Hold's smith hall and the adjacent temporary shop.
"How did the..." he fumbled for the word.
"Surface wave test." Riker looked up from where he was handing a nacelle
cover to a journeyman and smiled.
"Yes, that. The surface wave test. How did it go."
"According to the test your repairs and along estimation of wave guide curves
was as near to Starfleet specifications as you can get without shipyard
equipment. I expected to get some reflection or anomalous behavior at the
joints but the surfaces seem to be as smooth as a baby's skin."
"That good, eh?" he grinned.
"We roll her out and run a power up test then see if we can achieve a stable
"When?" asked Fanderal.
"Late today earliest but more likely tomorrow morning. I have some more
internal diagnostics to run to make sure that all of the control circuits and
backups are functioning correctly. I used up all but one of the spares
repairing things that blew up when we dropped out of warp or were damaged
when we crashed."
"So you think the blamed thing will actually fly again?"
"I certainly hope so. I think that I'd rather knock off early and treat all
of your journeymen and apprentices to a early day and a toast at dinner."
"I'll ask Namia, my head woman, to have a keg of our best ale brought up from
"Sounds good to me. We should be finished here in a couple of hours."
They flitted from shadow to shadow, pausing at each to listen for any alarm -
there was none. As they approached the smith hall, the sounds of raucous
singing filtered through the shuttered partially windows.
The lead shadow motioned another forward and signed silently to go forward
and investigate. The smaller shadow was back in moments, sidling up to the
taller cloaked one.
"They're all eating and drinking as if celebrating something," the smaller
"No matter, it will simply make our task easier this night," he said
quietly. "Milaxeu, Slandon forward and to your task. You" a hand with a
missing finger stabbed out at the one who had scouted forward. "To your post.
Your signals?" he queried.
"A night birds call remain silent and a watch weyr's cry to get away now
otherwise remain silent."
The tall man tousled the smaller one's hair. "Very good. Now go to your watch
The first two had unwrapped long pry bars and carefully forced them under the
hasps that secured the broad warehouse doors then positioned a rock to act as
a fulcrum point. Each looked at the other then listened carefully. When the
raucous noise from smith hall rose, they nodded to each other and then each
pressed hard on the ends of the prybars slowly ripping the hasps with their
locks from the doors. Suddenly the hasps gave and fell away from the doors
clattering onto the stone followed by the stones and one of the pry bars, the
other caught before it could get away from its owner.
Everyone froze. Listening for any reaction to the noise of their breaking in.
After some minutes they relaxed and carefully pulled the great doors open
exposing the shuttle.
"The abomination!" one of the band gasped.
"Quiet!" growled their leader quietly. "Tend to your assignment."
"Sorry" he whispered.
"Quickly now. You know what to do."
The men slipped in through the open doors, each carrying a hooded glow basket
carrying clay jars. In minutes they slipped out minus the jars. Within
minutes the flickering light of the set fires inside illuminated the
partially open warehouse doors.
As one of the men made to push the doors close, the leader growled "Leave it,
our work is done here. The Abomination will be destroyed in the fire."
The leader made a night bird call followed by a short chirp to call in the
one he had set on watch.
As quietly as they had come, they were gone.
Riker and Fanderal were, happily matching each other mug for mug and both
were feeling no pain, nor were most of the journeymen and senior apprentices
when one of the junior apprentices ran into the hall shouting.
"Fire! In the wearhouse!"
Exhausted, Riker sat on one of the stone posts that lined the street outside
of the warehouse with a canvas water bucket on the ground between his legs.
The doors lay on the ground where they had fallen when the hinges gave way.
Smoldering timbers that had once supported the slate roof that projected from
the hold's cliff face now rested on top of the forward part of the shuttle
along with most of the slate.
"What a mess." Commented Fanderal, who was just as tired, soot covered and as
wet as Riker.
"Was it an accident?" Riker queried.
"Not a chance. A hold is mostly fire proof, being constructed by tunneling
into the cliffside and with stone and slate for to ward off thread. There
were far too many places on fire at once. Besides look at the shed doors."
He pointed where the locking hasps had been torn away.
"You mean we didn't do that to open it up when we began fighting the fire?"
"No, the doors were already open with the locks broken off. Damn'd
abominators!" he spat the word as an epithet.
Riker looked up at the coming and goings of the members of the smith hall as
well as every one else who had turned out to fight the fire and sighed. "This
will set us back a day or so."
Fanderal looked at Riker in amazement.
"You mean it wasn't damaged?"
"Just sooted up. Takes a lot more than a little fire to hurt one of the
Enterprise's shuttles. Buttoned up like it was, you could have brought the
entire cliff down on it and all you'd have to do is dig it out."
"Now that's one unusual machine you have there. I certainly hope we fixed it
good enough to fly."
"So do I, Fanderal. So do I. You think there's any ale left for the fire
"If not we'll bring up another keg." He stood and roared out. "When you're
finished, there'll be ale and food for all inside the smith hall!" which
brought a roar of approval from the tired fire fighters.
Deanna sat on the veranda of the Harper's Cove Hold home, her feet on the top
step, her arms around her legs with her chin resting on her knees, staring
out at the blue water of the cove.
She was thinking that she had to talk to Will soon for she had just realized
that not only were they likely in an alternate timeline but also far over
2000 years into the future beyond their own time-line. She sighed to herself
- she disliked having time-out-of-joint almost as much as Jon Luc did.
She spied Mierny rising nude from the cove waters sea nymph her short wet
hair plastered to her head like a helmet. Deanna had been watching her rub
Lillith down with sand and brush while the green dragon wallowed in the
shallows, generally being difficult. Gorth, on the other hand, had simply
immersed his huge bronze body in the salt water until only his eyes and
nostrils poked above the gentle waves.
K'Val, dressed only in shorts and sandals, came around the side of the
house. Deanna looked at him dubiously, seeing that he was covered in blood
and gore. "Turned that thing into a rug yet?"
"I think so. Got it skinned, salted and stretched on the tanning frame. I set
the meat aside the dragons later today so I'm done. Mierny said she'd take
it back to the weyr to have the Benden tanners finish it as a bed fur."
"Seems a fitting use, all things considered."
"Do I detect a bit of blood thirstiness?" he jibed.
She looked up shocked, thought about it, then smiled. "Well... maybe just a
"I'm going to shower, want to come with me?"
"Why not." She replied then stretched out and climbed to her feet, using one
of the veranda's supports to steady herself then continued. "K'Val, I need
to get back to Benden. There's something that I found out when I was with
Avias that I need to discuss with Will."
"You're not enjoying your... um... vacation?"
She laughed. "If you can call it that, but yes I have enjoyed being down here
with you but I do have to see Will. It's critically important."
The bronze dragon rider thought for a moment. "I think Gorth will be healed
up enough to go between tomorrow. If he's not, I'll have Robinton send a
message to the weyr by fire lizard to have someone come down for you. Will
that be soon enough?"
"Oh yes." She leaned forward and kissed him briefly on about the only part of
his face not covered by the felinoids coagulating blood. "Now let's get you
into the shower."
It was mid morning after the fire when they had finally removed sufficient
rubble that the shuttle was free to be moved. The only problem was that the
beam to which the block and tackle had been attached was gone. There was no
way to raise the craft from the cradle on which it still sat and put it on
the waiting heavy transport wagon.
The wagon master turned to the Master Smith. "Fanderal, I don't know how
we're going to get it onto the wagon. There's not enough room to skid it on
as we did in the mountains and, with the main beam gone, there's no way to
A clear baritone voice from within the open door of the shuttle. "Fear not
for I have a surprise for you all."
There was a quiet hum as the craft came to life. Hearing it, everyone backed
well away, clearing an area until only the shuttle and wagon remained. Ever
so slowly the machine rose straight up to a distance equal to a man's height
and then moved forward magically until it hovered above the transport wagon
where it set down gently. The noises faded away as the machine went back to
Everyone applauded noisily as Riker appeared in the hatchway and waved.
"If you could put it on the wagon, then why not just fly it to where you
wanted." Commented Fanderal.
"Because that would put excessive stress on things before I could finish a
full check out. Remember, I have only a few more replacement parts if
something else breaks and I would like to keep those in reserve."
"Point taken," boomed the master smith, chuckling.
As the shuttles sat on the transport wagon, it's anti-grav engines cooled
and, had the shuttle not crash-landed, Riker's earlier observations of the
crafts strength would have been correct. Deep within the shuttles
reassembled right nacelle, the heat being dissipated from of the cooling
engines was not evenly distrubuted due both to the repairs and to the fire.
This induced a microscopic stress fracture in a warp guide support.
Deanna unstrapped herself from the flying harness, leaned back to swing
offside leg over the blue dragons’ neck and then slid down onto the proffered
forelimb. Releasing the flying strap she was holding for balance, she lightly
jumped the remaining short distance to the stone paved outer courtyard of the
Turning she looked up at the young rider as she stroked the blue’s offered
nose. “Thank you for the lift, L’ham.”
“Our pleasure, M’Lady. He likes you.”
“Seems to be a thing with me and dragons,” She smiled.
“Better back away. Wouldn’t want you to get blown over.”
Deanna quickly moved away as the blue launched into the sky then glided
down into the volcanic bowl of Benden Weyr. She waved back as L’ham raised an arm
then glided out of site over the bowl’s craggy ridge then turned and headed into
weyr through the main tunnel. She was intent on first finding Lessa and then Will.
Deanna rapped gently on the wooden frame of the doorway to the chambers
the WeyrWoman of Benden Weyr had, by tradition, used to conduct her weyr’s
business. F’Lar’s WeyrLeader chambers were a short distance down the stone
“Come in.” came Lessa’s voice.
Lessa looked up as Deanna entered.
“Oh. I didn’t expect you back for another few days. How are Gorth and
“They’re on the mend. Lillith’s flying but complains about being a bit stiff.
Gorth should be flying in a day or so. According to K’Val both should be healed
up enough to go between in a day or so.”
“That’s good news. What about the beast?”
“Robinton thinks it was just an old rogue. The pelt will make a nice sleeping
fur according to Mierny.”
Lessa sighed, blotted the page she had been writing on and closed the leather
bound book she had open.
“Have a seat.” She poured a steaming mug of klah from a pitcher, came around
the table she used as a desk and handed it to Deanna then leaned back against the
“Thanks. I still haven’t gotten used to going between. It’s so cold.”
“You never really get use to it. You just learn to ignore it but it even
to me occasionally.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I found out something when
Robinton and I visited Avias that could be a problem.”
“What’s that?” Lessa asked curiously.
“Tell me about the dragons ability to move through time.”
Lessa looked at Deanna with an almost unfathomly cold expression.
“How did you find out about that?”
“Moreta’s Ride.” She said simply. “K’Val sang the saga one night. I was
if you remember.”
“And you figured it out yourself. No rider told you?”
“No one told me anything.”
Lessa raised an eyebrow.
“Not even a dragon.”
Lessa relaxed a bit. “Okay then what do you want to know?”
“I think that Will and I have a bit of a when problem?”
Riker stood back as the last of the canvas covers were pulled off of the
shuttle, folded and stowed in boxes beneath the bed of the heavy haul wagon. He
was thinking of the note that had been handed to him the previous night.
I’ll be returning to the weyr tomorrow. We have to talk soonest. I talked
to Avias and we may have a problem.
The slightly impersonal tone of the note bothered him – He still wondered
what in the hell had happened between them. Requesting a sheet of the newly made
paper he wrote her a note to come down to Benden Hold as he was getting ready to
flight test the shuttle.
The sudden sound of dragon wings behind him was followed by dust and leaves
swirling by. Raising a hand to shield his eyes he turned to find a large brown
wings spread in a landing backwing as it powerful haunches absorbed the weight
As the dust settled, he shaded his eyes against the suns glare, trying to
the riders. A subtle tickle made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
“Deanna?” he called out walking towards the dragon as it lowered it’s bulk
that the riders could dismount. Deanna swung a leg over the dragons neck and slid
down to the raised foreleg, lost her balance and fell directly into Riker's arms
knocking him backward.
“Oof!” he exclaimed cushioning Deanna’s fall with his own body. On top,
Deanna stared into his blue eyes with curiosity. Will responded by giving her a
quick kiss on the nose.
“We have to quit meeting like this,” he noted roguishly.
“And I caught you.”
“Seems to be a habit doesn’t it?” Deanna replied, smiling. She then pushed
and struggled to get to her feet. She held out a hand to Will to pull him to his
While dusting himself off he looked up at her. “So what have you and Avias
“You know that most parallel universes seem to be time locked – that when
move from one to another it’s the same time but a different timeline.”
“Sure. So what?”
“It didn’t happen that way this time?”
“How bad?” Will asked
“About two thousand years?”
Some distance down the beach from the Harper’s home at Cove Hold, Lillith
gamboled in the shallows splashing and teasing Gorth as he lay comfortably in the
sun with wings spread wide. The bronze seemed to be asleep but followed the green
with interest though barley open eye lids.
Mierny, who was dosing lightly after an energetic morning swim did not seem
notice that :Lillith’s color seemed to be a richer and more vibrant. Gorth,
however, did notice.