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The Dolphins of Pern

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The Dolphins of Pern

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Author: Anne McCaffrey
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 1994
Series: Pern: Book 7
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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When the first humans came to settle the planet Pern, they did not come alone: intelligence-enhanced dolphins also crossed the stars to colonize Pern's oceans while their human partners settled the vast continents. But then disaster struck. The deadly silver spores called Thread fell like rain from the sky, and as the human colonists' dreams of a new, idyllic life shattered into a desperate struggle for survival, the dolphins were forgotten.

Now, centuries later, as the dragonriders of Pern prepare to complete the momentous task of ridding their world of Thread forever, T'lion, a young bronze rider, and his friend Readis, son of the Lord Holder of Paradise River Hold, make contact with the legendary "shipfish." And as the dragonriders grapple with the end of an era, T'lion, Readis, and the dolphins face the start of a new one: reviving the bond between land- and ocean-dwellers--and resurrecting the dreams of the first colonists of Pern.



When Masterfisher Alemi came by Readis's hold that morning, he found his fishing crony ready and waiting.

"I thought you'd never come, Uncle Alemi," Readis said in a tone that was a thin line away from accusatory.

"He's been on the porch," Aramina told Alemi with a solemn, hiding-a-smile face, "for the last hour. He was up in dawn's dark!" And she rolled her eyes at such eager anticipation.

"Uncle Alemi says the fish bite best at dawn," Readis informed his mother condescendingly as he jumped down the three steps to take a firm hold of the callused hand of his courtesy uncle.

"I don't know which excited him more: fishing with you, or being allowed to attend Swacky's Gather this evening." Then she waggled a finger at her small son. "Remember, you have to take a nap this afternoon."

"I'm all ready to go fishing now," Readis said, ignoring the threat. "I got my snack"--he brandished the net sack laden with his water bottle and wrapped sandwich--"and my vest." The last was added somewhat contemptuously.

"You will note that I'm wearing mine, too," Alemi said, giving the trusting little paw a shake.

Aramina chuckled. "That's the only reason he's wearing his."

"I swim good!" Readis announced in a strong, loud voice. "I swim as good as any shipfish!"

"That you do," his mother agreed equably.

"Don't I know that as taught you?" Alemi replied cheerfully. "And I can swim that much better and still use a vest in a small boat."

"An' in stormy weather," Readis added to prove that he knew the whole lesson on safety vests. "My mother made mine," he said proudly, puffing out his vested chest and grinning up at her. "With love in every stitch!"

"C'mon, lad, time's a-wasting," Alemi said.

With a farewell wave of his free hand to Aramina, he led his small charge down to the beach and the slab-sided dinghy that would convey them out to where Alemi felt they would likely find the big redfins that were promised for grilling at Swacky's evening's festivities.
Swacky had been part of Readis's life since he could remember. The stocky ex-soldier had joined Jayge and Aramina when Aunt Temma and Uncle Nazer had come from the north. He lived in one of the smaller holds and turned his hand to any one of a number of chores necessary in Paradise River Hold. Swacky had guard stories of all the Holds he'd served in to tell a small and fascinated boy. Readis's father, Jayge, never talked of the renegade problem, which had drawn him and Swacky together. And Swacky, though he was fierce and unforgiving of the renegades for "slaughtering innocent folk and animals just to see their blood run," never mentioned exactly what Jayge had done in those days, except to let on that it had to do with the particular renegades who had attacked the Lilcamp wagon train, which was Jayge's family business.

If Readis had been asked which man he loved best--apart from his father, of course--Swacky or Alemi, he would have been hard-pressed to make a choice.

Both men figured largely in his young life, but for different reasons. Today Readis was going to have the best of both: fishing in the morning with Alemi, and feasting in the evening to honor Swacky's seventy-five Turns of living!

Pushing together, they eased the skiff down the sandy shore and into the gently lapping water. When they had waded out until the water was mid-thigh on Readis, Alemi gestured for him to jump in and take up the paddle. That was the main difference between Readis's two idols: Swacky talked a lot; Alemi used gestures where the other man would have used sentences.

With one mighty last push, Alemi sent the skiff forward over the first of the little combers and jumped in. At another familiar gesture, Readis moved to the stern and sculled his paddle to keep the forward movement while Alemi unfurled the sail and let the boom run out. The inland dawn breeze filled the canvas, and Readis stowed the paddle and reached for the keel board, sending it home into the stern slot and shoving the cotter pin through to lock it firmly in place.

"Hard a-port," Alemi sang out, accompanying his command with appropriate gestures. As the boom swung over he ducked agilely, playing out the lines until he had moved into the seat beside his shipmate. He shortened sail and then put his free arm behind Readis, noting the lad's instinctive handling of the rudder.

Alemi's good wife had given him three fine girl children and was carrying a fourth child, which both devoutly hoped would be a son. But until that time, Alemi "practiced" with Readis. Jayge approved, since it would stand a shoreside holder in good stead to appreciate the moods and bounty of the sea, and Readis would profit by knowing more than one skill.

Alemi sniffed at the offshore breeze, redolent of vegetation and exotic blossoms. He judged that the wind would turn once they got out beyond the Paradise River channel. He didn't intend to sail far from land but, on the landside of the Great Southern Current, they were sure to find the redfins that frequented this part of the sea in great schools.

Yesterday, Alemi had sent out the two smaller ships of his little fleet to meet those schools. As soon as the repairs to his bigger yawl had been completed, he and his crew would join them. Alemi was just as pleased to be on shore for Swacky's Gather. He might miss a day's fishing, but until the mains'l had been mended, he was shorebound.

As they hit the rip at the channel mouth, the little skiff bucked and bounced. Readis's merry laugh burbled out of him, as he delighted in the dipping and dumping. Not much fazed the lad, and he'd never fed the fishes once. Which was more than could be said for some grown men.

Then Alemi caught the sparkle and shine on the surface and, touching Readis's shoulder, pointed. The boy leaned against him and cast his eye along the extended arm, nodding excitedly as he, too, saw the school: so many fish trying to occupy the same space that they seemed to be flippering on each others' backs.

In a single-minded action, both reached for the rods that had been stowed under the gunnels. These were sturdy rods of the finest bambu, with reels of the stoutest tight-stranded line, and hooks hand-fashioned by the Hold's Smithjourneyman, barbed to hold once sunk in the jaw of the wiliest redfin.

Twelve redfins the length of a grown man's arm were required for the evening's feasting. There would be roast wherry and succulent herdbeast, but redfin was Swacky's favorite. He'd wanted to come along, Swacky had told Readis the night before, but he had to stay about and organize his Gather, or no one would do it the way he wanted.

Alemi let Readis bait his own hook with the innards of the shellfish redfins loved best. The boy's tongue stuck out the side of his mouth as he manipulated the slimy mess securely onto the hook. He looked up at Alemi and saw the nod of approval. Then, with a deft cast for a boy his age, he sent the weighted hook, bait still attached, out across the starboard wake of the skiff. To give the boy a chance to make the first catch of the day, Alemi busied himself furling the sail and performing other chores. Then he, too, hunkered down in the cockpit, bracing his rod on the port side.

They didn't have long to wait for a bite. Readis was first. The rod bent, its tip almost touching the choppy waves as the redfin fought its ensnarement Readis, biting his lip, his eyes bugged out with determination, set both feet on the seat and hung on to his rod. Grunts came out of him as he struggled to reel in this monster. Alemi had one hand, out of the boy's line of sight, ready to grab the rod should the fish prove too strong.

Readis was panting with effort by the time the equally exhausted redfin was flapping feebly at the starboard side. With one deft swoop, Alemi netted it and hauled it aboard; Readis whooped with glee as he saw the size of it.

"That's the biggest one yet, isn't it, Uncle Alemi? That's the biggest one I've caught. Isn't it? A real good big 'un!"

"Indeed it is," Alemi replied stoutly. The fish was not as long as his forearm, but it was a good prize for the boy.

Just then his line tugged.

"You gotta bite, too. You gotta bite!"

"That I do. So you'll have to attend to this one yourself."

Alemi was amazed at the pull of his hooked fish. He had to exert considerable force to keep the rod from being pulled out of his hand. For a startled moment, he wondered if he had inadvertently hooked a shipfish, something no fishman in his right mind ever did. He was immensely relieved as he saw the red fins of his captive as the fish writhed above the surface in an attempt to loosen the barb in its mouth.

Copyright © 1994 by Anne McCaffrey


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