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The Chronicles of Pern:  First Fall

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The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall

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Author: Anne McCaffrey
Publisher: Bantam UK, 1993
Del Rey / Ballantine, 1993
Series: Pern: Book 6
Book Type: Collection
Genre: Fantasy
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(48 reads / 11 ratings)


Here are five gripping episodes of early Pern -- from the very first space survey recommending colonisation, to the last, where the early world, its young dragon culture undetected, is condemned to be isolated in space.

Here is the saga of the mass evacuation from the volcanic southern continent, an entire group of people moved across the dangerous seas, guarded and guided by a flotilla of dolphins. Here, too, is the story of the creation of Ruatha Hold -- a mammoth undertaking in the early days of Pern..

Table of Contents:


It's the third planet we want in this pernicious system," Castor said in a totally jaundiced tone, his eyes fixed on the viewscreen. "How's the hairpin calc going, Shavva?"

Looking up from her terminal, Shavva screwed up her face for a moment before she spoke. "I'm happy to report that that'll work out fine. Pity we can't have a look at the edge of the system," she added. "I'd love to have a look at those heavy-weight planets and the Oort cloud, but that can't be done when we've got to do an entry normal to the ecliptic. As it is, the slingshot will only give us ten days on the surface." She cast him an expectant, wry look.

He groaned. "We'll have to double up again." At her half-stern, half-sardonic glare, he added, "Fardles, Shavva, after so long together we all know enough of each other's specialties to do a fair report."

"Fair?" Ben Turnien repeated, his quirky eyebrows raised in amazement. "Fair to whom?"

"Damn it, Ben, fair enough to know when a planet's habitable by humanoids. None of us needs a zoologist anymore to tell us which beasties are apt to be predatory. And each of us has certainly seen enough strange life-forms and inimical atmospheres and surface conditions to know when to slap an interdict on a planet."

There was a taut silence as the four remaining team members each vividly recalled the all-too-recent deaths: Sevvie Asturias, the paleontologist-medic, and Flora Neveshan, the zoologist-botanist, both lost on the last planet the Exploration and Evaluation team had visited. Castor had inscribed, in bold letters on the top of that report, D.E. Dead end. Terbo, the zoologist-chemist, had been felled in a landslide on the first planet of their present survey tour, but as that world had clearly supported some intelligent life, the initials I.L.F. ended that report. They'd lost Beldona, the second pilot and archeologist, on the third world in the same accident that had injured Castor: a planet initialed G.O.L.D.I.--good only for large diversified interests. And they'd orbited one that probes had given them all the information they needed to label it L.A.--lethal, avoid!

To a team that had been together for five missions, the casualties were deeply felt. And this mission had yet to be completed. The system they had just reached, five planets orbiting the primary Rukbat, was the fifth of the seven to be investigated on their latest swing through this sector of space.

"We can handle the geology, the biology, and the chemistry," Castor went on, frowning at the gelicast on his leg. The compound fractures had not quite healed. "Well, I can do the analysis when you've brought appropriate samples back. We might not be able to do the usual in-depth analysis of all the biota, but we can find the requisite five possible landing sites, regular or serious meteoric impacts, any gross geological changes, and if there's a dominant major life-form."
"Hospitable planets are few enough, but Numero Tres does look very interesting," Mo Tan Liu remarked in his gentle voice. "I get good readings on atmosphere and gravity. I think probes are in order."

"Send 'em," Castor said. "Probes we got to spare."

"We're in a good trajectory to send off a homer, too," Liu added. "Federated Sentient Planets ought to know about the D.E. condition of Flora Asturias." Following the bizarre and perhaps macabre practice of the Exploration and Evaluation Corps, they had named the last planet after the team personnel lost during that surface survey. "We are obliged to report those and that L.A. immediately."

"All right, all right," Castor said irritably.

"Shall I do the report?" Shavva asked.

"I did it," Castor replied in a tone that ended discussion. He called up the program, and when the copy was ready, he rolled it up into a tube to be inserted in the homing capsule. It would reach their mother ship some weeks before their projected return. "They will want to know we've discovered another Oort cloud, too. Is it five or six?"

"Six, with this one. I still don't buy that space-virus theory," Ben remarked, relieved to switch to a less depressing topic.

"Number Four System was dead," Shavva said unequivocally.

"Can't prove the Oort cloud affected it in any way. Besides," Ben went on, "the planet was bombarded by meteors and meteorites, to judge by the craters and the craterites. Shattered the surface and boiled off a good deal of the major oceans. Just like Shaula Three. That system had an Oort cloud, too."

"But it had once supported life. We all saw the fossil remains in the cliff faces," Castor said.

"Like a road sign: Life was here, it has gone hence." Shavva had been depressed by the landing. Ten days on a dead world had been nine and a half too many. The atmosphere was barely adequate; to be on the safe side, they'd used support systems. A rough estimate suggested that the damage had been done close to a millennium earlier. "At the beginning of Earth's Dark Age, this planet had found the final one."

"Pity, too. It must have once been a nice world. Great balance of land and water masses," Castor said.

"I don't know what could have stripped it so completely," Ben said.

"You never did like the Hoyle Wickramansingh theory, did you?"

"Has anyone ever found those space-formed viruses? Even a trace in any Oort cloud?" Ben stuck his chin out with a touch of belligerence. "I won't buy that space-virus theory, not when a planet is covered with city-sized craters. To have both would be overkill, and the universe is conservative. One gets you just as dead as the other."

"I searched the library for data on other stripped planets. Asturias matches up on every particular," Liu said, his eyes on the screen. "What particulars there can be, that is!" He rose, stretched, and yawned broadly. "What we really need is one in the process of being stripped."

Shavva gave a bark of laughter. "Fat chance of that."

Liu shrugged. "Something does it. Anyway, I feel that the virus theory would be the rarest probability, while meteors are common, common, common. Look at what happened in our Earth's Cretaceous and Tertiary periods. We were just lucky! Probes away, Captain," he said formally to Castor. "Now, I'm for something to eat, then I'll pack the shuttle for the shot."

"I'll give you a hand," Shavva said. "I want to be sure we got what we need this time," she added in a low, angry voice, bitterly aware that it had been Flora's own negligence that had cost those two lives. Shavva was now the default leader of this understaffed team, and she was determined not to repeat previous mistakes.

As a young biologist with latent qualities as a nexialist, she had joined the Exploration and Evaluation Corps for the diversity of duty and the thrill of being the first human to walk on unexplored planets and catalog new life-forms, but she hadn't counted on losing friends in the process. EEC teams developed very close bonds, having to rely on each other's strengths and weaknesses in dangerous, stimulating, and testing circumstances no textbook, indeed often no other team reports, could imagine. This was her fourth tour of duty but the first one punctuated by disasters. Now all the fieldwork would have to be accomplished by three people--herself, Liu, and Ben--while Castor, still handicapped by his leg injuries, remained on board as the exploratory vessel did its hairpin turn about the third planet.

Shavva would have to double as botanist on this trip. Fortunately she had learned enough from Flora to be able to determine a fair amount about the ecology of the plant life--if there were sufficient pollinators, what sort of competition there was for the food crops, as well as the nutritional possibilities of the native forms, and quite likely what disease agents and possible vectors existed within the ecology.

Ben, as a geologist with some secondary background in chemistry, could cope with the planet's basic pulse--its air and landmasses, magnetic fields, mass-cons, continental plate structure, tidal patterns, temperatures, the general topography, and, especially, any seismic activity--and evaluate the history of the planetary surface for at least the past million years. If the survey proceeded without glitches, he'd have a go at the longer-term history, attempting to detect signs of magnetic reversals and to determine if--and when--there had been any large extinctions.

Liu, as nexialist, would investigate whatever remaining aspects of this planet they had time to consider. That is, if the probes brought back reports that would make a visit worthwhile. Numero Tres did look promising, but Shavva had discovered that looks could be very deceiving in this business.

The probe sent back reports that were skeptically regarded as being too good to be true.

Copyright © 1993 by Anne McCaffrey


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