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Red Star Rising

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Red Star Rising

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Alternate Title: Dragonseye
Author: Anne McCaffrey
Publisher: Easton Press, 1997
Del Rey / Ballantine, 1997
Bantam UK, 1996
Series: Pern: Book 8
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

For two hundred years there had been peace on Pern - but now the signs were ominous. Violent weather storms and erupting volcanos heralded the coming of the second Pass of Thread, when the red planet would rain down its horrifying harvest which destroyed every living organism on the face of Pern. No human or dragon or animal or plant was safe from the hideous death inflicted by Thread.

Weyrs and Holds tried to prepare, but they had serious problems. Over the generations much of the old technology had been lost. AIVAS, the giant information bank, was buried under tons of volcanic ash, and valuable and skilled men and women had succumbed to disease and old age, taking with them the knowledge of a great civilization.

Also published as Dragonseye.


Excerpt

CHAPTER I

Early Autumn at Fort's Gather

Dragons in squadrons wove, and interwove, sky trails, diving and climbing in wings, each precisely separated by the minimum safety distance so that occasionally the watchers thought they saw an uninterrupted line of dragons as the close order drill continued.

The skies above Fort Hold, the oldest of the human settlements on the Northern Continent, were brilliantly clear on this early autumn day: that special sort of clarity and depth of color that their ancestors in the New England sector of the North American continent would have instantly identified. The sun gleamed on healthy dragon hides and intensified the golden queen dragons who flew at the lowest level, sometimes seeming to touch the tops of the nearby mountains as they circled Fort. It was a sight to behold, and always brought a thrill of pride to those who watched the display: with one or two exceptions.

"Well, that's done for now," said Chalkin, Lord Holder of Bitra, the first to lower his eyes, though the fly-past was not yet over.

He rotated his neck and smoothed the skin where the decorative embroidered border of his best tunic had scratched the skin. Actually, he had had a few heart-stopping moments during some of the maneuvers, but he would never mention that aloud. The dragonriders were far too full of themselves as it was without pandering to their egos and an inflated sense of importance: constantly appearing at his Hold and handing him lists of what hadn't been done and must be done before Threadfall. Chalkin snorted. Just how many people were taken in with all this twaddle? The storms last year had been unusually hard, but then that wasn't in itself unexpectable, so why were hard storms supposed to be a prelude to a Pass? Winter meant storms.

And this preoccupation with the volcanoes going off. They did periodically anyway, sort of a natural phenomenon, if he remembered his science orientation correctly. So what if three or four were active right now? That did not necessarily have to do with the proximity of a spatial neighbor! And he was not going to require guards to freeze themselves keeping an easterly watch for the damned planet. Especially as every other Hold was also on the alert. So what if it orbited near Pern? That didn't necessarily mean it was close enough to be dangerous, no matter how the ancients had gone on about cyclical incursions.

The dragons were just one more of the settlers' weird experiments, altering an avian species to take the place of the aircraft they had once had. He'd seen the airsled that the Telgar Foundry treasured as an exhibit: a vehicle much more convenient to fly in than aboard a dragon, where one had to endure the black-cold of teleportation. He shuddered. He had no liking for that sort of ultimate cold, even if it avoided the fatigue of overland travel. Surely in all those records the College was mustering folks to copy, there were other materials that could be substituted for whatever the ancients had used to power the vehicles. Why hadn't some bright lad found the answer before the last of the airsleds deteriorated completely? Why didn't the brainy ones develop a new type of airworthy vessel? A vessel that didn't expect to be thanked for doing its duty!

He glanced down at the wide roadway where the gather tables and stalls were set up. His were empty: even his gamesters were watching the sight. He'd have a word with them later. They should have been able to keep some customers at the various games of chance, even with the dragonrider display. Surely everyone had seen that by now. Still, the races had gone well and, with every one of the wager-takers his operators, he'd've made a tidy profit from his percentage of the bets.

As he made his way back to his seat, he saw that wine chillers had been placed at every table. He rubbed his beringed fingers together in anticipation, the black Istan diamonds flashing as they caught sunlight. The wine was the only reason he had been willing to come to this gathering: and he'd half suspected Hegmon of some prevarication in the matter. An effervescent wine, like the champagne one heard about from old Earth, was to have its debut. And, of course, the food would be marvelous, too, even if the wine should not live up to its advance notice. Paulin, Fort Hold's Lord, had lured one of the best chefs on the continent to his kitchens and the evening meal was sure to be good: if it didn't turn sour in his stomach while he sat through the obligatory meeting afterward. Chalkin had bid for the man's services, but Chrislee had spurned Bitra's offer, and that refusal had long rankled in Chalkin's mind.

The Bitran Holder mentally ran through possible excuses for leaving right after dinner: one plausible enough to be accepted by the others. This close to putative Thread-fall, he had to be careful of alienating the wrong people. If he left before the dinner ... but then he wouldn't have a chance to sample this champagne-style wine, and he was determined to. He'd taken the trouble to go to Hegmon's Benden vineyard, with the clear intention of buying cases of the vintage. But Hegmon had refused to see him. Oh, his eldest son had been apologetic--something about a critical time in the process requiring Hegmon's presence in the caverns--but the upshot was that Chalkin couldn't even get his name put down on the purchase list for the sparkling wine. Since Benden Weyr was likely to get the lion's share of it, Chalkin had to keep in good with the Benden Weyrleaders so that, at the Hatching which was due to occur in another few weeks, he'd be invited and could drink as much of their allotment of wines as he could. More than one way to skin a wherry!

He paused to twirl one of the bottles in its ice nest. Almost perfectly chilled. Riders must have brought the ice in from the High Reaches for Paulin. Whenever he needed some, he couldn't find a rider willing to do him, Bitra's Lord Holder, such a simple service. Humph. But of course, certain Bloodlines always got preferential treatment. Rank didn't mean as much as it should, that was certain!

He was surreptitiously inspecting the label of a bottle when there was a sudden, startled intake of fearful breaths from the watchers, instantly followed by a wild cheer. Looking up, he saw he just missed some sort of dangerous maneuver ... Ah, yes, they'd done another midair rescue. He saw a bronze dragon veering from under a blue who was miming a wounded wing: both riders now safely aboard the bronze's neck. Quite likely that Telgar Weyrleader who was such a daredevil.

Cheers were now punctuated with applause and some banging of drums from the bandsmen on their podium down on the wide courtyard that spread out from the steps to the Hold down to the two right-angled annexes. Once again both the infirmary and the Teachers' College were being enlarged, if the scaffolding was a reliable indication. Chalkin snorted, for the buildings were being extended outward, wide open to any Thread that was purportedly supposed to start falling again. They really ought to be consistent! Of course, tunneling into the cliff would take more time than building outside. But too many folks preached one thing and practiced another.

Chalkin grunted to himself, wondering acidly if the architects had got Weyrleader approval for the design. Thread! He snorted again and wished that Paulin, chatting so cozily with the two Benden Holders as he and his wife escorted them back to the head table, would hurry up. He was dying to sample the bubbly white.

Rattling his fingers on the table, he awaited the return of his host and the opening of the tempting bottles in the cooler.

K'vin, bronze Charanth's rider, put his lips close to the ear of the young blue rider sitting in front of him.

"Next time wait for my signal!" he said.

P'tero only grinned, giving him a backward glance, his bright blue eyes merry.

"Knew you'd catch me," he bellowed back. "Too many people watching to let me swing and give Weyr secrets away!" Then P'tero waved encouragingly at Ormonth, who was now flying anxiously at Charanth's wing tip. Though unseen from the ground, the safety-tethers still linked the blue rider to his dragon. P'tero unbuckled his end of the straps and they dangled free.

"Lucky you that I was looking up just then!" K'vin said so harshly that the brash lad flushed to his ear tips. "Look at the fright you've given Ormonth!" And he gestured toward the blue, his hide flushing in mottled spots from his recent scare.

P'tero yelled something else, which K'vin didn't catch, so he leaned forward, putting his right ear nearer the blue rider's mouth.

"I was in no danger," P'tero repeated. "I used brand-new straps and he watched me braid 'em."

"Hah!" As every rider knew, dragons had gaps in their ability to correlate cause and effect. So Ormonth would scarcely have connected the new straps with his rider's perfect safety.

"Oh, thanks," the rider added as K'vin snapped one of his own straps to P'tero's belt. Not that they would be doing more than landing, but K'vin wished to make a point of safety to P'tero.

While K'vin approved of courage, he did not appreciate recklessness, especially if it endangered a. dragon this close to the beginning of Threadfall. Careful supervision had kept his Weyr from losing any dragon partners, and he intended to maintain that record.

Copyright © 1996 by Anne McCaffrey


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