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Old Aug 1 2006, 07:19 PM   #1
Shalyn
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Default Dragonsue

Posting this at NKT, PF and here. There's 44 chapters, so if anyone has anything to say - maybe it should go in a different thread?

Otherwise...enjoy.

And if you think this is the worst piece of drivel you've ever seen in your life, I'll cease and desist in the posting.

* * * * *
Prologue
* * * * *
It appeared as a small speck in the sky. An observer might have realised, from the relative speed of its descent that it couldn't have been falling for more than a few thousand feet. But late at night, in Toledo, Ohio, no one saw it arrive.

In unchecked freefall, it should have crashed into the trees of Swan Creek Park, part of the Toledo Metroparks off Airport Highway, with devastating force. It didn't. Just before impact, it stretched and grew, giving the impression of unfurling wings - lessening the damage when it hit the canopy of the forest below.

Surprisingly, the trees had cushioned the blow, breaking its fall even further. In an even more amazing coincidence, it found itself in a small grassy clearing, devoid of large rocks and stumps. Gasping for breath it lay on the cool damp grass in a state of stupor, amazed that it was still alive. Slowly the immediate silence caused by the crashing object began to fill with the sounds of the night: an owl hooted, crickets began chirping and movement commenced in the underbrush. Background noise which had been more prominent during the short silence of the forest faded to its original buzz.

A smaller figure raised itself up from on top of the original entity, tiredly looking around as if to ascertain its whereabouts, then collapsed as if too exhausted or traumatized to worry about what it thought. The two figures, one large and one small lay there breathing hard and marvelling at their continued existence.

Starting as a low whisper then gaining volume in a piercing wail sirens screamed in the night, causing the smaller figure to rise up again in alarm.

"****!" it said.

* * * * *

Special Agent Derek Zimmerman was in his shorts watching "The 4400" on the USA channel when an alarm sounded on the department-provided radio above his TV. The police scanner was going off as he flew out of his house, but he turned it on in his Mazda as he pulled the Blackberry out of his pocket. The radio, provided by his "government" job was actually a special type of scanner, which was also hooked into his Blackberry. He noted that the disturbance detected by his scanner was relatively close by - it would be about a twenty minute drive from his house on Michigan Avenue in Maumee. He hoped he would get there before the locals - it would be much easier if he did.

No longer needing the Blackberry for its GPS function, he used it to call his supervisor in Washington, DC. There were agents all over the country for such an occurrence, the last being about three years ago somewhere in Idaho. Thinking back on his training, he realized this was the first time in about three decades one of these disturbances happened in a fairly populated area. Was this phenomenon starting to happen more often? Before he could reflect more on the disturbances, the line at the other end was answered.

"Cooper." The voice was deep and clipped.

"Matt, it's Zimmerman. We've got another one."
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Old Aug 1 2006, 07:20 PM   #2
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Chapter 1
* * * * *

"Those bitches!" Kylie stomped her foot on the floor and stared at her computer screen. Her character had been rejected! Rejected!!! For no good reason, either, that she could see. She read the email one more time before deleting it.

Quote:
"Hi there,

We are afraid that we cannot approve your persona, Arinaylea, for play in New Heights Weyr, as the character does not seem to be based in the Pern Universe by Anne McCaffrey. If you would like to read the information on our website at www. newheightsweyr.com and resubmit a Pern-related persona, we will be happy to consider that for approval.

Many thanks,
New Heights BoD"
Angrily she hit the delete key, so her failure would stop staring her in the face. What was wrong with her submitted persona, anyway? She was different, therefore she'd stand out. After all, none of the books had a half-elf female Impressing a gold egg! Hers was original! With her silver hair and violet eyes, she'd stand out in a crowd! Well, if New Heights Weyr didn't want here, there were probably many more who'd be begging her to join. She opened her Bookmarks folder and scrolled to the next Weyr on the list and clicked.

Reading the rules page, she shoved a handful of potato chips in her mouth, washing them down with a few gulps of Coke. If this Weyr accepted her, that would be a nice round ten that she belonged to. At least one of them would give her a gold, she could feel it! She highlighted her persona sheet and pasted it in the form. Before pasting, she looked one more time. Oh – this Weyr was short on males. Well, she could change her half-elf female to a half-orc male. Switching windows to the sheet for Arinaylea, she changed the name to . . . what did she want the name to be? Something that when elided would be cool. Oh, if his name was something like Kelukas, when elided it could be K'kas. K'kas would kick ass. Smiling she changed the name, then sat back, reaching into the bag of chips. She was dismayed to find that nothing but crumbs was left.

Upending the bag, she shook the crumbs into her mouth, then wadded up the bag and tossed it into her overflowing garbage can. It landed on an empty bag of Oreo cookies and a 2-liter bottle of Coke. She pushed herself away from her desk and got down on her knees by her bed. There was another bag of chips under there - this one sour cream and onion flavoured. The bag got tossed to her desk, then Kylie heaved herself back up. A door slammed close by, then the heavy thump of classic rock began to leak through the walls. Great. Her brother, Justin, was home.

Kylie pounded on the wall. "Hey! Turn that **** down! I can't hear myself think in here!" In retaliation, the music was turned up louder and the strains of the Styx classic "Come Sail Away" filtered through. She sat back at her desk, smirking. If Justin ever found out that she liked his music, and she only did that to hear it better, she'd never hear another strain of classic rock again.

Back to the persona sheet. Silver hair and purple eyes didn't look good on a guy. Maybe black hair and, oh, blue eyes. But not just any blue. Midnight blu . . . .

CRACK!

What was that? It sounded like it came from outside. Laboriously she got back up and went to her window. At least she had a view of the Metroparks from her room, and whatever that noise was seemed to come from back there. She opened the window breathing in the late spring air. An object seemed to be falling - no, flying - no, hunh. If she didn't know better . . . .

Kylie Sue Martin didn't get to finish her thought as everything went dark.

Last edited by Shalyn; Aug 3 2006 at 08:19 AM.
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Old Aug 1 2006, 07:21 PM   #3
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Chapter 2
* * * * *
"Cree! Cree!"

Would that damn bird just shut up! Kylie rolled over to go back to sleep.

"Crrrreeeee! Ccruup!"

Reaching around, Kylie's hand closed around a rock which she blindly threw in the direction of the noise then tried to doze off again. Until she realized that she was lying on bare ground. With rocks. Which she'd thrown in the general direction of the strangest sounding bird she'd ever heard. Opening her eyes a crack, she tried to make sense of her immediate surroundings, which consisted of some strange looking rocks and dirt. Eyes flying open, she sat up quickly. Why was she outside? And where? This was not her backyard!

"Crrreeeoooowk!" The annoying noise began, then stopped immediately. She must have surprised whatever was making it when she'd moved. Well, good, because whatever it was, it was - well, annoying! Then Kylie forgot her annoyance as she took stock of her surroundings.

The only explanation she could have for the way things looked had to be her eyes. She must be going blind, or maybe just color-blind. Colors didn't look quite right any longer. Granted, the dirt was still brown, and the leaves were still green, but they weren't the right brown and green. Well, maybe she had something in her eyes. She closed them, then rubbed at her eyes with her fists until all she saw behind her eyelids were colors and dots. She kept on for a few more moments, just because it felt good, then drew her hands away and opened her eyes. The bright colors and dots melted away like a wet spot on a hot, sunny day, but her vision was still off. It was nothing she could put a finger on, yet it was there. It was as if she were seeing through a subtly colored filter. A subtly colored green filter. Kylie nodded. She could live with that - maybe there was something wrong with her eyes. Not that her eyes were off yesterday. She sighed. Fifteen years old, and she was probably getting cataracts. Not that she knew what it looked like if she had cataracts, but that had to be it. Mental note: have Mom make me an eye doctor appointment.

One anomaly explained to her satisfaction, she arose and began to work on the rest. This plant life. What, exactly, kind of plants were these? She felt like she'd been dumped into some exotic botanical gardens. Yet before she could even begin to make plausible explanations out of this, the annoyance came back.

"Cree! Cree!"

This time the sound had the nerve to sound proud of itself! She turned. May as well get a good look at this thing, she thought, before her mouth went dry and the breath was knocked out of her. Either this was the strangest looking bird she'd ever seen, or . . . or . . . . No, it had to be a parrot of some kind. Maybe a new type of budgie? Quaker parrots were green, too, weren't they? But where parrots had a beak, this had an actual mouth, and nose, and jaw, and headknob, and ridges, and a tail, and no feathers, and . . . . Kylie's mind started to shut down, and she shook her head to get it working again. It did no good to black out now. No, this had to be someone's idea of a joke. Justin. Justin had to have done something. He knocked her out, then dragged her to some botanical gardens, and left her there all night while he . . . no. She had to stop thinking about how he did it . . . his room! That's where she was, in his room!

"MOM!!!" she yelled, causing the parrot-thing to jump. "MOOOOOMMMMMM!" she tried again, yelling even louder, and the whatever disappeared. It didn't just fly away, it vanished into thin air. Kylie slowly sank to the ground again, whimpering as she wrapped her arms around herself. Pulling her knees up to her chest, she rocked as tears began coursing down her cheeks. This had to be a dream, didn't it? Laying her head on her knees, she sobbed. "Mommy," she keened, over and over again.

"Cree? Creeeee." The whatever had come back, this time landing right in front of her. Its head rubbed against her leg, possibly in an encouraging manner. Kylie jerked away as she sobbed, curling up into a foetal position. Instead of vanishing again, the whatever hopped around until its head was in front of her face.

"Cree?" This time, the whatever stuck its face right into hers and licked her cheek. She opened her eyes again, to see two many-faceted eyes staring at her. The eyes were a greenish-yellow and seemed to be in perpetual motion, yet it seemed natural for this whatever to do. Kylie and the whatever stared at each other for a long while - Kylie in an ever-relaxing foetal position, the creature with an almost palpable aura of concern seemingly radiating from it.

Finally, Kylie dried her eyes and snuffled one last time, sitting up. "Well, whatever-you-are, obviously you aren't going to leave me alone. So what are you doing here?" She reached out her hand and the whatever reached its head forward to be scratched. On the eyeridges. Kylie knew that, even though she still wouldn't admit to herself that this funny looking creature was a . . . no, she wasn't going to go there. No way, no how. Nope. She looked back down at the ___ - now its eyes were more of a greenish-blue instead of greenish-yellow. Well, that was normal for a ___. Slowly she closed her eyes and shook her head.

The colors were all wrong here. The smells were wrong too, though everything smelled a lot better than her room. An impossible animal was practically asking her if she were alright. And, she looked up at the sky that was just beginning to show the stars of twilight. Yep. There were two moons, and a large red dot pulsing in the twilit sky.

Kylie was either having the most realistic dream of her life, or she was on Pern.
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Old Aug 6 2006, 09:12 PM   #4
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Chapter Three
* * * * *

"I don't have anything. If you'd just help me, maybe we can find someone to take us in," Kylie said crossly, huffing as she walked over the unfamiliar terrain.

It was the next morning. After Kylie's earth-shattering (or was it Pern-shattering?) revelation the night before, another shock was soon to hit. Where was she to sleep? She didn't do outdoors well - Girl Scouts hadn't been good to her, and she'd never been camping in her life. Heck, she hardly ever spent a night away from home. The fact that she had so few friends was banished from her mind in lieu of the greater problem . . . was she expected to sleep outdoors? Considering there was no Holiday Inn Express, or even a No Tell Motel in sight, apparently she was. Even if there were a Motel 6 leaving the light on for her, it wouldn't do her any good since she had no money, no credit cards, nothing.

Kylie almost lost it once again, but pulled herself back together in the last minute. After all, Lessa hadn't cried, so she wouldn't. She was every bit as brave and deserving as Lessa, wasn't she? So, with the help of her little friend, she gathered up some grasses and leaves to use as a pillow, and slept.

The next blow came as the green annoyance woke Kylie up with creels of hunger and neglect. Reaching in her pocket for the Snickers bar she always carried, the mystery of Impression resolved itself. The little annoyance had apparently flown away from the rest of its siblings and found the Snickers bar in her pocket. Of course, now that meant there was nothing for breakfast. Wait . . . Kylie pulled out a wrapped cinnamon button. The annoyance immediately pounced on it, eating it wrapper and all.

"Hey! You could get sick from that . . . oh, never mind. But don't blame me if you get a tummy ache. Dratted annoyance." Now that meant she had nothing. She was thirsty, hungry, sore, still tired, and had a pet fire-lizard who wanted to be fed. This was just wonderful.

What ended up being even more wonderful was the trek through the wilderness. She had no idea where on Pern she was - whether it was the northern or southern continents. Or when. Considering that the stories happened in the far-distant future, were there even dragonriders here? Was she on Pern before it was even discovered by humans? If that were the case, she was dead. D-E-A-D dead. The stark reality of her situation hit Kylie like a ton of bricks, and she collapsed on a nearby rock, ready to cry once again.

She was alone on a planet that had once only existed as a figment of her imagination. There were plants here that she didn't know what they were, or even if they were edible or poisonous. This didn't even begin to cover animal life. Kylie had never killed an animal in her life, let alone skinned it or cooked it. Her full understanding of cooking was taking a Stouffer's French bread pizza out of the freezer and putting it in the microwave. There was no way she'd be able to sustain herself - or her little friend here! This was not how it happened in stories. In all the good stories on fan fiction dot net, the Earth girl gets transported to Middle Earth, or Hogwarts, or Pern and is immediately surrounded by adoring people. Where were her adoring people? She was hungry, dammit! She was hungry, and tired, and her feet hurt, and . . . she began to sink into despair once again.

The little green annoyance earned its Snickers bar at that moment, by flying up to Kylie's shoulder and rubbing its little green head on Kylie's cheek. "Cree?" it said softly, putting one forearm in Kylie's nose and looking at her with inquisitive faceted eyes. Kylie swore they were in some kind of perpetual motion, and once again they were yellowish-green.

"It's OK. We'll just move on. If I'm having some kind of dream, I doubt I'd dream that I'm alone on the planet. If I'm not dreaming . . . ." Kylie didn't even want to think about what that meant. Instead she skritched the little green annoyance's head, and arose. "May as well go on."
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Old Aug 6 2006, 09:14 PM   #5
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Chapter Four
* * * * *


"Breylith, tell Tazemith that I need to see T'gat."

You're finally sending him out?

"What do you mean, finally? You only just rose a sevenday ago." Weyrwoman Rhanda smiled fondly at her queen, the one person on Pern who could talk to her in that tone and get away with it. Not even Weyrleader J'ten dared be this sarcastic with the Weyrwoman.

Rhanda had become Weyrwoman seventeen Turns ago after the previous Weyrwoman, Norema, stepped down. Breylith allowed several different bronzes to win her flights, testing their riders' leadership abilities, until Gorth and J'ten won. J'ten was the best Weyrleader Telgar Weyr had seen in centuries, and the whole Weyr knew it. Not that Telgar was known for bad Weyrleaders, but if anyone were to carry the Weyr out of the Interval into the Fourth Pass, J'ten was the one to do it.

Another success for Gorth happened a mere sevenday ago, so during Drill-free days the Wings assembled to go on Search. Today it was T'gat's Wing's turn, and Rhanda was going to make sure that they went. Breylith was insisting on more Candidates for this Clutch. While they still had plenty of Weyrbred running around, plus the few that always trickled into the Weyr hoping they could be a Candidate in a Hatching, there still weren't enough to make either of the queens happy. There were only ten Turns left of the Interval, and Rhanda had the feeling that this was the first Clutch of the upcoming Pass. Other Weyrs had already had more than one queen rise - Telgar, as usual, being last.

"You called, Weyrwoman?" T'gat's voice broke into her musings, and Rhanda turned, putting on her public face.

"T'gat. I trust you will be taking your Wing on Search within the hour?"

The bronzerider's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. "There aren't enough Candidates in the Lower Caverns?" he asked.

"Breylith doesn't think so. And since she's senior, what Breylith wants, Breylith gets," Rhanda's voice turned hard as she spoke to the man. Why not go out on Search? It would get him out of the Weyr for a while.

He thinks it demeans him, Breylith answered without being asked. Tazemith told me. They aren't Search riders themselves, so they don't like to rely on 'mere' blues and greens to tell them where to go. Breylith's mind-voice did not sound happy at this revelation, and Rhanda was right behind her. Since the blue and green dragons comprised almost 70% of the Weyr, color prejudice in the bronze and brown riders could be damaging, if not fatal. Unfortunately it seemed that color prejudice was heightened during an Interval. Well, wait until their first Fall. Then they'd see just how useful the blues and greens were! Rhanda was abruptly shaken out of her thoughts, however, as T'gat had begun speaking again.

"I don't have that many qualified Search riders in my Wing," he was saying, still trying to get out of his duty. "Why not send W'neck's wing, or K'jan's?"

"Because it's your turn," she said coldly. "And I don't want to see your Wing back here with any less than twelve Candidates." Rhanda held up a finger as T'gat took a breath and opened his mouth, ostensibly to argue. "And the quantity goes up by three for every time you try to dissuade me. Got it?"

T'gat exhaled, his face turning red with suppressed anger. "Yes, Weyrwoman. I've got it." He turned to stalk out.

"Good. And T'gat?"

Without turning around, the Wingleader stopped. "Yes?"

"The only reason I put so much confidence in you is because your Wing brings back the best Candidates."

"Yes, Weyrwoman. May I go now?" The stiffness in T'gat's demeanor had softened slightly, and Rhanda allowed herself a small smile. Flattery certainly did get you somewhere.

"Go on, T'gat. Bring us back some good ones."
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Old Aug 6 2006, 09:16 PM   #6
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Chapter Five
* * * * *


Five hours later, T'gat had finally stopped fuming at his Weyrwoman. Thinking back on previous Hatchings, the bronzerider had to admit that most of the best Candidates had come from his Wing - though he alone couldn't take credit for them. He'd been given this Wing seven Turns earlier after proving himself an effective leader. And while he knew that he couldn't afford to be prejudiced against the blue and green riders, it still rankled to him that there was one thing they could do better than he could. He always strived to be the best at everything, and here was one thing he could not be the best at.

They have their jobs, we have ours, Tazemeth said matter of factly. Be happy with who we are.

Great. Now he had two consciences instead of one, and he couldn't deny either of them. Taz was right. A good leader wasn't jealous of someone else's strengths, a good leader knew how to use them to his best advantage.

Today, he was very hard-pressed to find that advantage. It didn't seem as if there were any decent holder-children with an affinity to dragons to be found. The few that had shown a lot of promise were too young - T'gat did not like Searching Candidates under the age of 14. He did make notes on a fresh piece of hide brought along for just that reason. Today's promising 12-Turn-old could be Searched again in two Turns.

At least the Holders were welcoming. He'd heard stories of times past when Holders wouldn't allow their children to be Searched and dragonets died because there weren't enough likely Candidates to Impress to. He didn't know whether these stories were the pure truth, or fantasies created to make certain all Holders allowed Search to be held. It didn't matter - they allowed him Search privilege, and he intended to take full advantage of it.

The eleventh likely Candidate had just accepted Search, and was securely seated on green Lleveth behind Qavine. When Qavine had first graduated Weyrlinghood, she was thrilled to find her dragon had a Searching affinity. She'd been less thrilled to find she was in T'gat's Wing, since he'd been the man to take her virginity when she was merely a Candidate. However, once she realized that there was safety in her dragon, their relationship had moved on to become grudgingly friendly.

T'gat gave the signal to rise, wondering which holding to try next. They had eight males and three females, and needed to find another possible Candidate. He just wasn't sure which way he wanted to go. Not to too populous an area, otherwise they'd find more than one Candidate. And, though Weyrwoman Rhanda wouldn't mind more than twelve potentials brought in, T'gat was obstinate enough to hold himself to the bare minimum. Not one more, not one less. Twelve was what she said, twelve was what she'd get. He glanced down over the landscape to gauge where he was at. Looked like over the Lemos river, by the forests. That would be perfect! The holders that lived by and around the forests were usually reclusive.

T'gat.

He'd get his one Candidate and be back at the Weyr in time to . . .

T'gat.

To see how grateful some of these Candidate hopefuls were. Too bad there were only three fem . . .

T'GAT!

What?

Movement. Vereth and E'mat saw movement down at the river.

So, someone's down by the river. People live here, right?

Not in this area. Vereth says it's not normal. He also says that he can easily touch the mind of this one, and she's the right age. She's also lost.


Frowning slightly in at his dragon's tone, T'gat gave the signal to land. There was a spot up ahead by the river that was large enough for the Wing. Tell Vereth he lands with us, by the person, T'gat said as Tazemeth slowly spiralled down.

He didn't even look to see if E'mat was following. The bluerider would come along as soon as he was down. T'gat wanted to look at what Vereth thought of as an oddity on Pern. What he saw didn't give him much hope. For one thing, she was hopelessly overweight. The girl probably hadn't done a lick of work in her life, though he was only taking the dragon's word that it was a girl. Her long blonde hair was stringy and straw like, and her skin, where it was not horribly reddened by the sun was as white as a fish's belly. As he got closer he had to agree with Vereth. She was young, and diseased? No, those marks on her face were an overabundance of the youthful malady - acne. She had more than anyone he'd ever seen though. She was wearing clothing that was so tight-fitting he'd be ashamed to be in it, and it looked uncomfortable. But the fat. He couldn't get over the fat. He was hard-pressed not to show his disgust on his face.

"Greetings. I am T'gat of Telgar Weyr." He held out his hand, albeit hesitantly, to shake hers. Hot, sweaty, pudgy fingers closed over his, but she looked at him in puzzlement. She said something, but had no idea what she said. It sounded like gibberish.

She actually greeted you back, Tazemeth said, looking over his shoulder. Vereth says she speaks an odd dialect.

Tell Vereth he'll have to come here and translate then, because I'll be Threadscored if I can understand her.


As he studied her, he was becoming less revolted by her looks. There was a naiveté in her face that he hadn't even seen on the holder lasses they'd Searched. Her eyes were a dark shade of blue, and if her hair weren't so straw like, would complement her face. If the girl would lose some weight, her pert little nose and full lips would make her a knockout. Instead, she looked like a caricature of herself.

"Sir? You want Vereth to speak to her?" E'mat came up behind T'gat, studying the girl also.

"Please. I can't understand a word she says." T'gat looked at the girl again, and started walking towards her. "I don't know if you can understand me, girl, but I think you have been Searched. Vereth here says you are very easy to talk to." Before he could get closer, a small green streak came at him, chittering and creeing angrily.

"No! Noyance!" the girl called, along with a few other things that were unintelligible. Though she still looked afraid of T'gat, she shakily held out her arm for the green firelizard.

"Dratted beasts," T'gat grumbled as the green terror went back to her, but still looked balefully at him. "E'mat?"

"Vereth speaks now," E'mat said, and even as he spoke, the girl's eyes widened even more, and if possible, she turned even whiter. Then her eyes rolled up into her head and she fainted.

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Old Aug 12 2006, 10:03 AM   #7
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Chapter Six
* * * * *

Rhanda stood in the little room, staring at the creature before her. Maybe 'creature' was too harsh a word to use, but what else could she call this blemish-ridden, heavyset figure? What holder out there would allow their daughter to grow up looking like this? Her marriage-value was severely compromised by her looks - looks that were obviously the mark of overindulgence and not inbreeding.

Controlling her own revulsion, she moved forward and took a lock of the girl's hair into her own hand, feeling it. Dry, stringy, very unhealthy. Rhanda had gone through her share of Healer-training, and this girl was seriously suffering some type of malnutrition, though Rhanda couldn't figure out what yet. Once they learned who this girl's parents were, they would be severely dealt with. Vereth told Breylith that the girl was about fifteen, so the abuse had to have started when she was a child - no one got this fat overnight!

It was not the Weyrwoman's policy to greet and cater to every Candidate who came into the Weyr, but this one was different. Not only different, she was downright unusual and Rhanda did not trust the unusual to be left to its own devices. Of course, it was obvious she was not the only one sharing a lack of trust. She raised her eyes to lock gazes with the girl's miniature 'protector', then went back to her scrutiny.

The little green firelizard guarding her charge kept suspicious eyes on Rhanda as the Weyrwoman studied the girl. She'd already been fed from the scraps kept for the Weyr's many firelizards, so didn't seem quite as suspicious as she had when the Wing had first arrived with their twelve Candidates. Rhanda had to smile. Feed a firelizard and you had a friend for life. She wondered what the girl had found to feed this one with, since she was obviously just out of the shell, and T'gat had not found any food on or near them. Well, it didn't matter now. The girl was here, and she'd be fed in short order. By the sounds coming from her guest's belly, she'd be waking soon anyway, famished.

T'gat. It was obvious he hadn't wanted to bring the girl, but as a dragonrider he couldn't just leave an unconscious person by the Lemos River. Added to that the fact that two of the Weyr's best Searchriders had confirmed the girl as being a good Candidate had clinched the decision to bring her to the Weyr. Even better in Rhanda's opinion was T'gat's discomfort in carrying the girl to the room she had been assigned to. Not that the girl was too heavy for the bronzerider. No, it was just his demeanor - as if her obesity was contagious, and by keeping her at arm's length he could avoid the malady.

The other problem T'gat had been kind enough to tell her about was the girl's speech. Why could the dragons understand her, yet she was unintelligible to the humans? Well, that could be worked around. Rhanda sighed and was turning to leave when she heard a sound behind her. The girl's eyes were open and she was looking around, not quite scared but not calmly either. Rhanda walked over to the chair by the bed.

"Hello. I'm Weyrwoman Rhanda, and you're at Telgar Weyr. You're quite a mystery to us, you know." She kept her voice soft and soothing, and sent one of her own firelizards to fetch the Weyr Healer.

The girl just looked back at her and frowned. She said something, but Rhanda wasn't quite able to understand it. The girl tried again, a bit slower. It wasn't the language, Rhanda realized, it was the accent. Whatever the girl was trying to say, the accent was very different from her own. Enough different that it did sound like a different language.

"Hon, try again, even slower," Rhanda said, speaking very slowly and distinctly.

"'Lo. Whore you. Arm eye. Pern?"

Now they were getting somewhere. It was the accent, so they would have to work with slow speech and pantomimes. How on Pern did someone grow up with that heavy of an accent? And why would someone ask if they were on Pern, unless it was a regional expletive. Probably. Or she was just addled.

"I am Weyrwoman Rhanda," Rhanda said again, slowly, pointing to herself. "This is Telgar Weyr." This time she made a large gesture, encompassing all that could be seen and all that couldn't. "You are?" She pointed at the girl.

"Kailisu M'rten," she said, pointing to herself. "Mmmm, Tulidohyo." Her expression was odd, as if she didn't expect Rhanda to believe her. Which, truth be told, Rhanda didn't. She'd never heard of Tulidohyo Hold. Quite an odd name, but maybe it was newly formed. Maybe it was in another Weyr's jurisdiction - that could explain it also. It would also explain "M'rten", that Kailisu was the daughter of a dragonrider named M'rten. Though most people didn't specify themselves like that. Hmm. Maybe...could Tulidohyo actually be another Weyr? There had been talk of another Weyr being created south of Lemos because if the hardwood forest. But there hadn't been a Conclave to discuss that possibility in ages. Rhanda shook her head. Time enough to figure it out later. Matter of fact . . . Breylith, contact the Weyrleaders of the other Weyrs. See if anyone in their areas has a daughter that's gone missing.

I've already done so.

You're wonderful.

I know.


Rhanda laughed at her dragon's modesty, then turned to a wide-eyed Kailisu. Obviously the girl had never seen a human/dragon exchange before, if her look of bemusement said anything. "Well, Kailisu, welcome to Telgar. You've been Searched, so I'm sure you want to tell your family about it." While she remembered to talk somewhat slower, she still spoke a little faster and was reminded of the fact with Kailisu's frown. She repeated what she had said even slower.

The girl shook her head sadly. "My firmly snore rear." Tears filled her eyes, then her stomach growled. Her face turned bright red from embarrassment, unshed tears sparkling in her eyes.

"Rhanda! I'm surprised at you!" Rhanda turned at the familiar voice and smiled gratefully. Headwoman Joslin was standing there with a tray of steaming food. "Keeping the girl talking when she's so obviously hungry." Joslin studied the girl over her beaked nose and gave a slight sneer. "Though Faranth knows she could afford to miss a meal or ten." As if she knew Joslin was talking about her, Kailisu turned her head into the pillow. The tears escaped, crawling slowly down her cheek. A muffled hiccup came from the bed.

"Now, now, Joslin. She's obviously a product of her upbringing." Rhanda didn't want to defend the disgusting creature, yet she didn't want to hear Joslin insult her, either.

"Maybe so, but I'd have a few choice words to tell her parents about upbringing children." Joslin busied herself arranging the Kailisu's pillows and blankets so she could set the tray on the bed. Done, she stepped back and surveyed her work, nodding her birdlike head as if pleased.

Rhanda watched as Kailisu began to wolf down the food, noises coming from her as she barely took time to swallow before shoving another mouthful in. Her face must have shown her disgust, because Kailisu looked up and reddened again. She swallowed, then looked down abashedly. On the one hand Rhanda felt bad about judging her, on the other she felt that Kailisu needed to know what people thought of her. It might prompt her to change her ways. Of course, they'd be changed anyway - there was no way Joslin or Wyncia would allow Kailisu to over-eat ever again. But that was a problem for another day. Tonight, allow the girl to be herself.

"We need to go now, but I'll be back later to check on you, " the Weyrwoman said in farewell, then gesturing for Joslin to join her, left the girl to eat in peace.

Last edited by Shalyn; Aug 13 2006 at 06:02 PM.
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Old Aug 12 2006, 10:04 AM   #8
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Chapter Seven
* * * * *

Spoon raised to her lips, Kylie watched warily as the two women left. That one was the Weyrwoman, the other, by her demeanor, must be the Headwoman. Not that Kylie knew for certain, since she couldn't read the knots on their shoulders. But Rhanda had said something that sounded like 'Weyrwoman'. And 'Telgar'. Well, so far everything matched what she'd read. This was the most vivid dream she had ever had, though some aspects of it were truly the stuff of her nightmares.

The hunger, for one. She had never believed she could be that hungry. At one point she'd stooped to eating grass but her stomach rebelled and she'd promptly thrown it up. Luckily they were by a river and she was finally able to get some water. There was an odd taste to it. Not bad-odd, just different. That she hadn't thrown up.

Noyance had gone off somewhere and soon after her hunger-pangs had diminished. Then they left altogether when the little green firelizard had brought her back some kind of dead - thing. Well, she wasn't quite that hungry yet, so she magnanimously allowed Noyance to eat it - the sight of which further took away her hunger pangs. Maybe this little annoyance wasn't so bad after all.

The sun was getting hot and bright, so Kylie, in her one intelligent move, began to walk among the shade of the trees. She knew that she was prone to sunburn, and obviously there was no SPF-40 sun lotion anywhere nearby. No corner drugstores either, she thought wryly and began to laugh. Oh, lord, I'm getting punchy, she thought, stifling more laughter. I'm going to die on a planet that doesn't exist because I was never a Girl Scout. This thought had her rolling on the forest floor with laughter, and the green firelizard sat on a nearby branch, eyes beginning to turn orange with its distress. Gasping for air, she finally got up.

"Oh, come here Noyance," she said cheerfully, holding out her hand. "I'm just tired and hungry. Don't worry."

The look that Noyance gave her was almost too human in its 'yeah, sure,' posture, but the firelizard did finally come over to sit on her shoulder. Nuzzling her cheek, Noyance 'cree'd' once more, then settled herself comfortably. Taking another deep breath, Kylie began walking again.

Time and the landscape became a blur as Kylie continued walking. Her head was beginning to feel funny, but it wasn't until Noyance abruptly left her shoulder in a blast of cold that the girl realized something was out of the ordinary, and she stopped, blinking, wondering what was going on. Noyance came back, chittering madly away in excitement. The emotions she was projecting didn't seem to be of danger, so Kylie looked up . . . and gasped.

A dragon. A real, live, Pernese dragon. Wait - two of them. The one was obviously blue, and this one . . . he was huge. This must be what they meant by 'bronze', because it didn't look brown or gold, and was definitely larger than the blue. She stared as the dragon's rider just vaulted off, and began coming towards her. He had to be the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen. Her mouth moved as she wanted to say something, but she stood frozen. Then her face turned bright red and tears filled her eyes as she saw the unmistakeable look of revulsion on his face.

He thought she was revolting. Kylie felt as if she'd been slapped, and looked down. Well, she was slightly overweight. But . . . she blinked a few times and looked up as a shadow fell across her. The rider now only looked interested, and spoke. What? She had no clue what the man was saying, but she did see the hand he held out, so she grasped it in hers. It felt firm, and strong, and so - well – manly. Obviously he'd greeted her, though she had no idea what he'd said. Well, she could greet him back.

"Hi, I'm Kylie Sue Martin from Toledo, Ohio. I have no idea how I got here or anything, but if you could take me somewhere . . . ?" she drifted off, not sure what to say. What was proper protocol in this type of situation? She glanced at him, and he was talking to the almost equally handsome man behind him. Hunh. She didn't remember a look of revulsion on that one's face . . . but if he were a bluerider, he was probably gay. The two were talking together, then her head started feeling funny again. The bronzerider moved forward and put his hand on her shoulder as he spoke to her, and she tried to get away. He was trying to poison her! He'd let go some kind of gas, and . . . .

Even as she realized how stupid that sounded, Noyance latched on to her alarm and attacked the man. "No! Noyance! Stop that! He's not trying to hurt me!"

Noyance stopped her attack and landed back on Kylie's shoulder, rubbing her cheek with her head. "Cree?"

Kylie was ignoring the men as they spoke, instead calming down her pet. "It's OK hun, I don't think he was trying to hurt you."

No, T'gat was not trying to hurt you. You've been Searched, and he was trying to tell you that. The voice reverberated in her head, and Kylie froze. Search? A dragon just talked to her? Suddenly it all came crashing down on her, and everything went dark.

* * *

So now here she was, in what obviously passed for a bed here, with a tray of food. This stew was filling, but it tasted odd. Well, if she were truly on Pern it wasn't going to taste like the stew her mother made. Everything in the room was different, too. All handmade obviously. Like, this mattress she was lying on - lumpy, and thin. Well, it didn't look as if she'd be getting a Sealey or a Serta anytime soon. The spoon was pottery, as was the bowl. There was a mug of something on the tray, so she tried it. If this was klah, well, it was definitely not what she'd expected. Of course, considering she was relying on the kindness of those who lived here, she couldn't complain.

Noyance was giving her stew bowl some hungry looks, so Kylie fed her a few bits of the meat. Funny - she was so hungry she wasn't hungry. Besides, she'd seen the look that beak-nosed woman had given her. So she was fat. So sue her. The woman just annoyed her. It was the man who had hurt her feelings. The look he had given her - that look would stay with her for the rest of her life. Yawning, she put the tray on the ground and snuggled back into bed. He would see. She'd lose her weight, and be the most beautiful woman in the Weyr. And would reject him. As she fell asleep, she smiled.
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Old Aug 12 2006, 10:05 AM   #9
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Chapter Eight
* * * * *

The next morning as soon as Kylie awoke a brown firelizard "cree'd" at her and winked between. Well, it didn't surprise her that she was under surveillance. After all, they knew as much about her as she did about them. Kylie was beginning to realize that 'living on Pern' was not the fun and games that the people on the bulletin boards always thought. For one thing, she looked around her surroundings, where was the bathroom? She needed to pee, and shower, and just generally clean up.

Deciding that a toilet and bathtub weren't going to magically arrive in her room anytime soon, Kylie got out of bed and realized another problem. Where were her clothes and what was she supposed to wear? Her jeans ant T-shirt were gone, but neatly folded on a table was...what? She picked it up and it unfolded to reveal . . . a dress? She was expected to wear a dress? Well, it actually looked like a tent, but that was why she never wore dresses. Kylie did not like to be reminded of how big she was, and jeans and T-shirt just didn't look so . . . voluminous. She sneered as she held up the large expanse of material. This was going to have to stop. They had no right to make her wear something so . . . slowly, she lowered her arms. What was she going to do about it? Call the Fashion Police?

Still, a dress. She preferred any type of pants instead - only because they normally acted in a girdle-like fashion, and kept her fat from jiggling too much. She tossed the dress on the bed, looked at the rest of the clothing on the table and grimaced. She couldn't dress without underthings, but what was here seemed to be more like drawstring pantaloons - or at least what she thought pantaloons looked like. Of course, what did she expect? Elastic waistband panties? Well, that would have been nice, she thought as she tied the drawstring, then went back to rummaging on the table. She really needed a bra, but had received something similar to a corset instead. Hopefully this would fit her . . . .

Kylie would have never been able to get this thing on if it had fastened up the back, but it tied in the front. And though she wasn't able to draw it as tight as it was meant to be, it definitely did a better job of holding things in place than the bra she had arrived in. Now all she needed to do was put on that dress and she was set.

The already-hated dress was more like a sack than anything else. At least the material was soft, and a pretty dark maroon. It didn't itch, so she didn't think it was wool, but did Pern have cotton? Cotton would be the most logical material if they did have it. There were pretty yellow flowers embroidered around the edges, but even that little flourish didn't help make her happy. She still felt uncomfortable with all that material flowing around her, but there was another piece of yellow material still left on the table which looked as if it was supposed to go across her shoulders. Well, instead of doing that, she used it as a belt, drawing the tentlike contraption to her waist. Maybe she didn't look all that great, but it was more comfortable like this than like the muumuu it resembled.

"Well," she said, hands on hips and looking at Noyance, "now what? Am I supposed to stay here? Find my way out? And where the hell is the bathroom?"

"Baf-eroom?" Kylie was startled into whirling around while Noyance cree'd and flapped her wings. A young girl was standing at the doorway, puzzled expression on her heart-shaped face. She was holding a tray of something that smelled wonderful, but looked like she was going to run away instead of come in. Great, Kylie thought sarcastically. Now I'm scaring the natives. It didn't help that the girl was about her age, and much better looking. Coupled with the fact that she lived here and knew the ropes, Kylie felt totally inadequate.

"Come in," Scowling, Kylie gestured towards the now-clean table and the girl hesitantly came in and set the tray down. She stood back, hands folded demurely in front of her, the look of apprehension on her face the only thing belying an otherwise calm facade. Kylie was lost. Was this little chit afraid of her? What did she want? This was ridiculous - what on Earth was she supposed to do? Well, may as well try to make friends - or something. She needed someone to show her the ropes. Then she could insinuate herself into the "in" crowd. Holding out her hand to shake the other girl's, she became all sweetness and light. "My name's Kylie Sue Martin. What's yours?"

At first the girl frowned, then it seemed that she realized what Kylie was saying and responded with a wide smile. "Kailisu, Haneset," she said and pointed to herself. Then she cocked her head and spoke something rapidly. It sounded like a question, but Kylie just shook her head and made exaggerated hand gestures that were supposed to give the impression she didn't understand. Of course, the chit didn't understand sign language, so Kylie had to try again. Sheesh! Didn't the Weyrwoman, or that skinny creature Joslin tell her that Kylie needed special care? How was she supposed to go out and Impress a dragon and save Pern if these idiots didn't try to take the time to understand her? She gave an aggravated sigh, and Haneset stepped back, narrowing her eyes. Spouting off an angry stream of undecipherable words, she turned to go and Kylie panicked.

"No! Please, don't go! I'm sorry!" Unbidden, tears came to her eyes. She sniffled, feeling sorry for herself. Why couldn't this girl understand that she was a stranger in a strange land, yet destined for greatness. The tears began to course down her cheeks as she internally railed at the bum rap she'd gotten. Noyance broke away from eating the food the girl had brought to rub her soft head against Kylie's cheek. Kylie continued to sob, thinking Why me?

"Kailisu?" Haneset had come back in the room, her former apprehension, then anger now turned to concern. "Saul write. Retake yearbook hum ditty." Her small hand gently touched Kylie's shoulder in compassion, which made Kylie sob harder in shame. This girl was being so nice, and Kylie had been so . . . not.

Her mind went over Haneset's last statement. "Retake yearbook hum ditty?" What the fu . . . heck was that supposed to mean. She allowed the statement to just float in her brain, then sat up in alarm. "We'll take you back home today." ****. How? She needed some kind of story, and to tell a story, she needed to speak Pernese. Turning back to Haneset, she tried speaking slower.

"I can't go home." At that statement, Haneset's eyes flew open wide, and she chattered something else. Kylie shook her head, speaking slowly again. Comprehension dawned - Kylie thought it was amusing that she could see the exact moment Haneset understood what she wanted. Well, she had to give her that. The girl wasn't as dense as she originally thought.

Half an hour later, the two girls had finally resolved a half-spoken, half-gesturing language. Kylie found out that the 'bathroom' was a small closet-like space that held what she assumed was a chamber pot, but they did have a regular plumbing system farther in the Weyr. There was no shower, but the bathing pools were likewise further into the mountain. Haneset found out that Kylie couldn't go home, but she'd have to wait to find out why. She also made friends with Noyance, and Noyance had eaten half of Kylie's breakfast.

By the time Weyrwoman Rhanda and Headwoman Joslin came to decide what to do with their newest Weyr denizen, Kylie and Haneset were laughing, giggling, and generally enjoying their morning.
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Old Aug 18 2006, 06:38 PM   #10
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Chapter Nine

* * * * *

"Well, I see that you're making yourself at home here," Rhanda stated smiling as she and Joslin came into the room. At her entrance, Kailisu and Haneset froze and stood up, guilty expressions on their faces.

Now why did that always have to happen?

Because you run the place, Breylith answered helpfully.

Oh, shush. Rhanda knew that was why, and though she had her own friends to rely on sometimes it bothered her that people thought they had to stop having a good time just because she was there. Well, she'd worry on it later. For now, she had an odd person to deal with. At least Haneset was getting along with Kailisu. That went along with her plans for the girl anyway. Turning her attention back to the new girl, she was just in time to hear Joslin reaming out the kitchen worker.

". . . and why you would think that you were exempt from working, just because I had you bring the new girl her breakfast is beyond me. Now, get back to . . . ."

"No." Rhanda stopped the tirade with one soft word. The Headwoman whirled on the Weyrwoman and without losing a beat continued on as if she were the transgressor.

"If I allowed every worker to slack off like this one . . .," she began, but again was stopped, this time by Rhanda holding up her hand.

"Joslin," she said softly, "this is an unusual circumstance. If you allow Haneset to befriend Kailisu, there is that much less work you will need to take on, and more for her." Her back to the girls, Rhanda held Joslin's eyes, willing her to acquiesce. Shards and shells, did the woman want to undermine her authority publicly? Joslin finally nodded, face impassive, but Rhanda knew she was seething inside. Well, a little chat about who reported to who might be in order, but not until after they discussed Kailisu's position. After all, Qavine's Lleveth Searched the girl, and there was a Clutch due on the Sands in several sevendays time.

"Now, everyone sit," she ordered, and Kailisu and Haneset immediately took the seats they had been using while chatting. Rhanda and Joslin took the two empty seats around the table, and the breakfast dishes were moved to the sideboard. Rhanda focused her attention on Kailisu.

"Headwoman Joslin and I spoke at length this morning, to decide what to do with you, Kailisu," Rhanda said, speaking slowly and distinctly, then stopped to see if the girl had understood what she said. Kailisu nodded, so Rhanda went on. "You have been officially Searched, so we would like to send a message to your family." Rhanda stopped again, waiting for an answer. With none forthcoming, she looked at Kailisu questioningly.

"Oh." The blonde girl's face turned an unbecoming shade of red. "Uh, well, right now my family's unreachable." Tears filled the girl's eyes as the impact of what she said finally hit her, but she blinked them back.

Breylith?

She speaks the truth as she knows it. I get a sense that her parents are . . . I think they are elsewhere like how we go between. She has no family here.

Rhanda chewed her bottom lip as the impact of what Breylith told her set in. Obviously, Kailisu's parents were dead, but she didn't wish to think of them as such. It did make an odd sort of sense, though she wondered if it spoke of the girl's not being able to face reality. The Healer who had seen Kailisu last evening, albeit briefly, had expressed shock and disgust at the physical condition the girl was in, but had not been able to assess her mental capacity.

She's sane. Lleveth would not Search an insane person. By the time the eggs Hatch, she'll be fine. Well, Rhanda thought, if she couldn't believe in her dragon, who could she believe in?

"Well, what about other relatives, or the Hold you looked to," Joslin was saying kindly. Rhanda hid a smile. The Headwoman had such a crusty exterior, but put her in certain situations and she was kindness personified.

Kylie was shaking her head. "No one. There's no one that you need to contact." Again the tears threatened, and again they were thrust back. Rhanda changed her opinion of the girl slightly. If something had happened to cause her whole hold to die, or at least all her relatives, then she was being very brave indeed.

Yet Rhanda had not heard of any plague or disaster that had affected a whole Hold. Maybe she was a part of an offshoot - they were trying to start their own hold before the Pass got underway. With the Weyrs drilling night and day, and while not drilling Searching because the queens were on the verge of producing eggs as quickly as they could, it was possible that a starter-hold could disappear. Plus, if those starting the hold were in disfavor from their Lord Holder, or even subsidiary holder, their disappearance could cause no talk. Breylith didn't think this was the case, but it was obvious this girl was very young, so she probably didn't know what was going on either. Rhanda chose to accept that T'gat had saved the one living person from a dying holding.

"Since you have lost your family, Telgar Weyr has become your new home," Rhanda began, but before she could go any farther Kailisu burst into tears.

For the next few minutes, Rhanda, Joslin and Haneset were busy trying to calm Kailisu down. Noyance was squawking and diving at the three women as if they were causing Kailisu's distress, plus she seemed to have found quite a few of the Weyr's firelizards to help her. Rhanda finally had to ask Breylith to tell these little nuisances to STOP! Instantly the room was silent, broken once by a 'cree?' from Noyance, and some sniffling from Kailisu.

"I'm fine, really, I am," Kailisu finally said, blowing her nose into a handkerchief proffered by Haneset. "It finally hit me is all." Rhanda nodded, it was understandable.

"As I was saying," Rhanda continued, taking a deep breath, "you now belong to Telgar Weyr. Joslin and I have decided that you will begin work in the Kitchens. You will also attend the Harper classes we have here since I don't know the extent of your reading and writing knowledge.

"After Breylith has Clutched, you will spend a few hours of each afternoon with the rest of the Candidates. This is to get you all working together as a team, even though you will be working with some in the kitchens. You will also be quartered with the rest of the Candidates, so by the time of Hatching you all should know each other very well."

Haneset was nodding to everything Rhanda was saying. Rhanda turned her attention to the other girl. "Since Haneset here brought you your breakfast, and since you two seem to get along so well, you and she will be paired off until you know your way around here."

"I assume that I report directly to Joslin?" Kailisu asked.

"Oh, no," Haneset answered before Rhanda or Joslin could, giggling. "The Headwoman has overseers in all the areas who report to her. We report to Wyncia."

"Ah. I see," Kailisu said, though Rhanda held back judgement on that. She cleared her throat, and all eyes were upon her once more.

"Well then. It seems we have a plan now. Haneset, I expect that you'll see to helping Kailisu get a few more sets of clothing. The two of you can take the rest of the day to getting Kailisu acquainted with the Weyr, but tomorrow you both go to work." Her face had turned stern as she looked at Haneset, and the girl blushed, then giggled again.

"We will, Weyrwoman, we will. I'll take good care of Kailisu," she assured both the Weyrwoman and the Headwoman, then grabbed Kailisu's hand. "Come on, I've got so much to show you!" The two girls fled out of the room.

"I hope I'm not making a mistake, Joslin," Rhanda said as she looked at the empty space where the two were sitting just a moment ago.

"With the new girl, I can't tell you," Joslin said, "but with Haneset, I hope not. That girl's flightier than the greenest firelizard. Maybe having this responsibility will be good for her." Otherwise, the Weyrwoman's daughter would never impress.
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Old Aug 18 2006, 06:38 PM   #11
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Chapter Ten

* * * * *

"So, was what the Weyrwoman said right?" Haneset asked Kylie as they ran out of the guest weyr into the corridors at Telgar. The natural caves and tunnels had been smoothed down by Turns of use, and Kylie marvelled at the actual brightness of the glows lining the corridor walls. While the books said the glows were bright, she found it amazing that they shed almost as much light as a fluorescent. "Your family is just . . . gone?"

"Yes, pretty much," Kylie answered slightly evasively. "My home, my family, all are unreachable to me. I need to make the best of this situation, and not think about my past." That was an ambiguous enough answer that Haneset shouldn't ask too many questions. At least, she thought it was, but Haneset was starved for new news. A candidate had been put in her charge, so now it was up to her to learn everything about the newcomer.

"What was it like? Your home life, I mean," Haneset relentlessly pursued. "Were your parents kind? Mean? Did you know them well? What did you do? What did they do?" They had arrived in a big, open cavern with many wooden tables and benches. Haneset immediately went to the sideboard and poured two mugs of something hot and steaming. Gesturing to Kylie, she walked over to one of the tables, put the two mugs down then sat. Once Kylie followed suit, she shoved one of the mugs into her space.

"Here, some klah and you can answer my questions." She looked around slightly guiltily then giggled. "I feel like I'm breaking the rules here."

The tables in the room reminded Kylie of large picnic tables. Sitting across from Haneset, she took the mug and thought of how to best answer her questions. In the past when people had asked her, Kylie had told them . . . lies. Yes, definitely lies. She'd told stories of how her father had sexually abused her, and how her mother hated her. Of course, these stories included her being a perfect "10" in looks and not the 180 lb. monstrosity she actually was. When all your so-called 'friends' were on the internet, it was easy to be someone you weren't.

Here, she was faced with someone who was a perfect "10". Slim, a figure that was more of a shape than a blob, dark chocolate eyes, lashes long enough to braid and thick, wavy chestnut hair. Haneset would be surrounded by all the 9th grade boys, and probably most of the sophomores, juniors and seniors too! Next to her, Kylie looked like a giant marshmallow, and couldn't help but think of the movie "Ghostbusters", where the Stay-Puff Marshmallow man was brought to life. The feeling of inadequacy returned.

The funny thing was, Haneset didn't seem repulsed by her. Maybe kids weren't as cruel here as they were back home. If that were the case, she shouldn't have a problem making friends here at all. That would be good - make friends with some other people. Haneset's insipid giggling was starting to grate on her nerves. She wanted to tell her to stop, but she was smart enough not to alienate the first friend she found on Pern. Meanwhile, may as well relate her life as it would be on Pern.

"My parents were very good to me," Kylie began, wondering what to 'Pernize' and what not to. "My father was an . . . " accountant, " . . . a Harper and my mother . . . uh, kind of a Harper's . . . apprentice," a secretary. "They met at . . . when my father was posted at . . . at the Hold. Mom stayed home for a while after my brother and I were born but went back to work . . . erm, went to continue her Apprenticeship." When in doubt, they were Harpers. The Harpers seemed to do everything here, didn't they? Her words were choppy and clipped, conveying more grief than she expected to feel. After all, her parents and brother were alive - they were just out of reach. When she looked up with somewhat blurry vision, she was surprised to see her companion's empathic reaction.

Haneset's eyes were glistening with unshed tears. "Oh, Kailisu, I'm so sorry to be making you talk about such painful things! Let's get you acquainted with the Weyr, then you can tell me when it's not so new and raw! I can be such an oaf sometimes!"

"Only sometimes?" The mocking voice came from behind Kylie, and she turned to see four girls about the same age as herself and Haneset. One girl stood slightly forward of the rest, and Kylie assumed that she was the leader of this little clique. Months of experiencing people like this at her high school warned Kylie that this was not going to be just a friendly chat.

"So Haneset, how did you wiggle your way out of kitchen work today? Mommy pull more strings for you?" The lead girl was unfortunately, Kylie thought, absolutely beautiful. She had straight dark hair that was almost black, dark brown eyes, and light olive skin. Her face was long and narrow, almost angular. She was tall, at least six inches taller than Kylie or Haneset but it worked on her. Thinking back to her MTV and VH1 days, Kylie thought she looked like a younger, softer version of Cher. But there was nothing soft in her eyes, which were looking at Haneset stonily.

"Go away, Mareena," Haneset said crossly as she sat back and crossed her arms across her chest. "If we wanted you here, we would have sent one of our firelizards to invite you." As if she'd called them, Noyance arrived and perched on Kylie's shoulder, while a blue and another green settled themselves by Haneset. The blue hissed at the newcomer - Mareena, Kylie guessed.

The new girl's eyes narrowed slightly while her nostrils flared at this brush off, then she gave Haneset a malicious smile. "Well now, since we were invited so charmingly, I think we should join these girls in their mid-morning 'break'," Mareena drawled to her three friends, and sat next to Kylie. One of the other girls, a slightly heavyset brown-haired girl seated herself on Kylie's other side, and the other two made their way to the opposite side of the table and seated themselves flanking Haneset. Mareena placed her forearms on the table and turned slightly so she was looking at Kylie. "Now isn't this more cozy, everyone? We can all get to know the new girl better."

Kylie knew a bully when she saw one, and this Mareena was definitely a bully. Haneset sat across from her, a resigned look on her face but didn't make a move to urge Mareena or her cohorts to leave. Kylie doubted that she would be able to enforce anything like that anyway. The exotic-looking candidate was most likely a pro at getting other people in trouble while she came out smelling like a rose . . . or whatever passed for a rose here on Pern. Now the smelly rose had her attention focused on Kylie.

"So you're our newest Candidate, I hear. What Hold are you from, anyway?"

"Kailisu's from Tolidohyo Hold," Haneset answered shortly. "She was walking along the Lemos River, and T'gat's Tazemeth Searched her. Happy? Now leave. T'gat brought in eleven other candidates for you to bo . . . meet."

"Now, Haneset, dear, I'll get to the other candidates in good time," Mareena said in a silky voice. "This one just seems the most interesting." She turned back to Kylie, and the look she had on her face told Kylie she'd better answer. "I've never heard of Tolidohyo Hold. Where is it? What have you told your family? Are they going to come for the Hatching?" As she spoke, it seemed that she and the heavyset girl had moved closer to her. Kylie was beginning to feel closed in by the two girls, especially since she knew that Mareena wasn't truly interested - she was just starting her own pissing contest. Obviously, Kylie had best not have any alpha female ambitions, because Mareena was the alpha bitch. Yet, because she couldn't believe that this was not a dream, Kylie just had to tempt Fate. Instead of answering Mareena, she turned to the person hemming her in on the other side.

"So, what's your name?" she asked, physically turning her back on the self-imposed leader-of-the-pack.

The girl on her right was the most heavyset of the bunch, with short brown hair, wide face and large nose. Kylie's first thought was 'butch', but since lesbians didn't exist on Pern, she couldn't be. The girl gave her an amused look before stating her name. "Shawla," she said, glancing beyond Kylie's shoulder. Kylie thought she could feel Mareena's eyes boring into her back. A prickly feeling went up and down her spine. Unconsciously she stiffened, knowing that something bad was going to happen to her. Yet she couldn't help herself - she had to rebel. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a resigned look on Haneset's face. Well, wasn't this something that all the heroines did in fan fiction? Stand up to the bullies and win?

"Nice to meet you, Shawla," she said, but before she could say much else her shoulder was grabbed and she was forcibly turned to face Mareena once again. Sweat broke out on her forehead, but she tried to look at the bully impassively. The effect was ruined by the redness she could feel flushing her cheeks. Damn her genes! She could never keep her feelings to herself - her face always gave it away. Well, she could at least try. She looked at Mareena with what she thought was an innocent look.

"Answer me when I talk to you," Mareena hissed, tightening her fingers on Kylie's upper arm. The girl was definitely strong - Kylie was going to have some nice bruising when she was finished. "The sooner you realize who is in charge here, the better you will fit in."

Trying to keep her voice from trembling, Kylie sniffed. Hopefully the 'sniff' would sound derisive, and not like the snivelling she really wanted to do. "I thought the Weyrwoman was in charge," she said, but the crack in her voice belied the bravado she was trying to get across. The slap across her face finished the job, causing tears to spring to her eyes. Why, oh why did she have to be so overly emotional?

"Listen, fat girl," Mareena said coldly. "The Weyrwoman may be in charge of the Weyr, but no matter whose mother she is, she can't protect you all the time. I'm in charge of the Candidates, and you'd best realize that now." She got up from the table and nodded to her willing followers. As if they would have sat there until they were given permission, the three other girls also rose and waited for Mareena's instruction. The bully looked coldly at Kylie Sue and Haneset. "We're not finished here. See you in the Barracks." Turning on her heel, she left, the other three following her. One of the girls, a petite blonde, looked back at Kylie almost regretfully, as if pitying her. Then they were gone.

"Well." Haneset sighed. "I'm glad that's over." She looked at Kylie, who was trying to wipe away tears that wouldn't stop. Rising, she came over to Kylie's side of the table. "Oh, hun, don't let her bother you. She's just a bully. Soon the Weyrleaders will realize that, and she'll be out of the Weyr." The words sounded good, but Haneset didn't sound all that convincing.

"I'll be OK," Kylie sniffled. "I just...I need to be able to keep control of my emotions, but I have such a hard time of it." Taking a deep shuddering breath, Kylie let it out again, and didn't feel so bad. There went her chance to be with the 'in' crowd, walking out the door. "She really is a bitch, isn't she?"

Haneset giggled. "Yeah, she is. Maybe we'll be lucky and Impress while she's left behind. Then she won't be able to do anything to us."

"One can only hope," Kylie smiled tentatively. Giving one last wipe to her face, she rose. "I'd like to clean up a bit. And I think you still owe me a tour?"
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Old Aug 18 2006, 06:39 PM   #12
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Chapter Eleven

* * * * *

The day after her introduction to the Weyr began the hardest work of Kylie's life. In the Pern clubs she'd belonged to, it was played in-context that everyone at the Weyr had a job, and had to do it. Yet when played, it seemed that all anyone did was bathe their dragons by the lake, or sit in the Dining Hall eating meatrolls and drinking klah, or generally just talking. The reality was an eye-opener.

Headwoman Joslin had started her off in the kitchens, doing the dishes. This did not mean dishes for a family of four plus the pet dog. No, these were dishes for over a thousand Weyr denizens. The washing never ended! Luckily she didn't have to go fetch the water - the Kitchens Overseer, Wyncia, had the male candidates doing the heavy work - hauling water, heating it, then pouring it into the basins which she was using to wash. Telgar Weyr did have a primitive but sweet plumbing system. There were pipes which ran from the kitchens out to the herb and vegetable gardens - though these gardens were more like small farms. When she drained the water, it passed through several levels of dirt and rock, irrigating the plants. At first she was alarmed about polluting the food they were eating with the soap which was used, but Haneset explained to her that the levels the water passed through filtered it. On another more intellectual level, Kylie realized that these soaps weren't made out of the potentially dangerous chemicals which were found on Earth.

By the end of her first day, Kylie was exhausted. Her hands were red, raw and shrivelled from being in the hot soapy water all day. The eight-hour workday of Earth was naught but a distant dream - they worked from sunup to sundown, with time for candidate classes worked in. Though there was also a night shift, the day shift did the bulk of the work. Yet they weren't worked mercilessly, either. Wyncia gave them several breaks during the day, plus an hour each for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everyone - both the candidates and the permanent Weyr workers - took their breaks and meals in shifts so the kitchen was always bustling.

One of the perks of working the kitchen was being fed before the rest of the Weyr. Kylie still ate heartily but she felt she was working off every calorie ingested, and then some. A week. . . no, a sevenday later, this suspicion proved true. Kylie knew she'd lost several pounds by the looseness of the clothing she was wearing. Not much yet, but if this kept up she would be a normal size within the yea . . . erm, Turn. Her acne was clearing up also - possibly due to working over the water, but more likely eating nutritious meals without a lot of fat or additives. Snacking was difficult due to the workload, candy was reserved for special occasions and chocolate was only to be had if one was fabulously wealthy. Even the Weyrleaders found chocolate difficult to get, at least that's what Kylie gathered from the gossip in the kitchens. She, of course, had not been able to partake since there was no way she could afford it, but she did wonder about the origin of the cocoa bean on Pern. From what she remembered of the Dragon Lover's Guide to Pern, the cocoa bean never made it. Yet klah had a chocolatey-cinnamony taste, so maybe chocolate was somehow distilled from the klah tree or plant. Someday she'd find out.

The humans at the Weyr were not the only ones to be worked. Another fandom thing that proved to be true - no pets in the Weyr. If they didn't do any work, then they didn't belong. Outdoors firelizards and cats . . . rather, felines . . . kept the gardens and beast pens free of pests. Canines helped with the herding and keeping the larger pests at bay. Indoors it was the firelizards and felines again which handled pests. Kylie thought they were better than any exterminating company she'd ever heard of. Orkin be damned - since she'd gotten here she had yet to see anything resembling a cockroach or a spider. She still had no idea what a crawler looked like! Small canines and any felines or firelizards were encouraged to haunt the lesser-used tunnels to keep the tunnelsnake population at bay. There were even a few ferret-like creatures which were used to clear out the much smaller nests, but these creatures were few and far between.

Along with her candidate classes, Kylie had a class on training her firelizard for these various duties. The training also included delivering messages - not only to people known to the firelizards' owners, but also to people and places the winged animals had never been to before. There were a few dragons who liked to communicate with the firelizards, so were used as the destination providers. Kylie was the only one in the kitchens who needed to be in this class, since the rest of the candidates had older firelizards which had already been trained.

Kylie had more classes than many of the other candidates. Haneset, Mareena and her clique, and several of the others had either grown up in the Weyr or had been here for several months. Therefore, they didn't need to take these classes over again. Kylie and the other candidates Searched at the same time needed to start from the beginning. No matter how common dragons were on Pern, being a candidate involved many things non-Weyrfolk had no idea about. Yet the difference between reality and fandom was made once again - candidate classes did not last all day long every day. They were twice a sevenday for about two hours. No, candidates were encouraged to find their niche in the Weyr - just in case Impression took a long time to come, or just didn't.

Another thing discovered almost by accident was Kylie's illiteracy. She could not read nor write Pernese. There were letters and numbers which almost looked familiar to her, but not to the point which would allow her to send or receive her own messages. The Harper teaching her was perplexed - she knew the theory, but not her letters. Math was much the same - once Kylie got the hang of what the numbers looked like and could reproduce them, she was able to fly through those classes. One plus about being considered a nerd at her former school - Kylie was extremely good at math.

Between her candidate classes, Harper-taught classes, firelizard training and kitchen duty, Kylie had no time to miss her former life. She did worry about Mareena - other than a few pointed barbs at her, she hadn't done anything terrible. Kylie just knew she was biding her time before the hammer fell. Yet what could she do?
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Old Aug 26 2006, 09:37 AM   #13
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Chapter Twelve
* * * * *

"Get out of my way, porky! Your ass is taking up the whole kitchen."

"Walk around it, you lazy slut. You can use the exercise!"

"Not as much as you do. I'm surprised they let you work in here. I'm shocked you don't eat everything before it gets out to the Hall." Shawla sniffed as she made her way around Kylie, purposely bumping up hard against her butt. Kylie stumbled and almost dropped the plate she was washing onto the already-wet floor. Instead, she dropped her plate back into the soapy water and whirled on her tormenter.

"You take that back, you wherry-faced bitch!" she said, wet hands going around the other girl's throat.

Surprised by this action, Shawla dropped the clay pot she was carrying. It shattered on the stone floor scattering the beans and water which had been soaking all day in it. Not only did this add to the mess, it meant that there was that much less for dinner tomorrow. She clawed at Kylie's arms, unable to get much of a purchase on them, but Kylie wasn't able to do much to Shawla either. Her hands, wet and soapy, kept sliding around the other girl's neck. Giving up, she gave Shawla a good push, and the brown haired girl landed with a 'thud' amongst the rest of the mess.

"I think you cut my hand, you ignorant tunnelsnake!" Shawla cried out, raising her bleeding hand up to take stock. She'd cut it on a piece of the broken crockery which was littering the floor.

Kylie sniffed. "Surprise. You bleed the same color as the rest of us. You're so cold, I thought you'd bleed a nice dark blue." She turned back to continue washing the dishes, but Shawla grabbed a fistful of skirt and brought Kylie to the floor with her. Soon the two were rolling around in the mess they had created pulling hair, scratching, biting and slapping each other. Haneset and Soneja tried to break it up but were unable to get a handle on the two girls. The firelizards didn't help either - Kylie's green Noyance looking to her, while Shawla had a green, a blue and a brown. They fluttered and dived, trying to protect their humans from each other and those who would help them. Several of the other Kitchen workers watched, and one of the Candidate boys started taking bets.

"What is going on here?" The voice was dangerously angry. Wyncia had come back from her weekly meeting with Joslin to pure chaos. While this was not the first time Kylie and Shawla had butted heads, it was the first time they had come to physical blows.

Kylie immediately stopped, which gave Shawla the opportunity to throw the last punch. This one hit Kylie square in the eye - she would be sporting a beauty of a shiner for a sevenday or so. Sitting back with a thump and an "oof" Kylie looked up at Wyncia and blanched in embarrassment. She was breathing heavily from the exertion and had several scratches on her face, neck and arms, some of which were bleeding freely. Noticing Noyance flittering and squawking around the kitchen, she winced again. "Noyance!" she whispered hoarsely, and the green firelizard gave a short "sqawk" and landed on her shoulder. "Creeeee." Noyance rubbed her head against Kylie's cheek, which made her feel a little better. Shawla's fire lizards were still flying around in agitation, so Kylie took a grim pleasure in knowing that her 'lizard was better trained than Shawla's. Never mind that it would be that much harder to control three of the things.

The formidable figure of the Kitchens overseer was enough to make the staunchest heart quail in fear. She was short - a few inches over five feet, and stout with dark skin and black hair. Yet it wasn't her build that was imposing, it was her demeanor. Wyncia had a no-nonsense air about her that made you want to do everything right. No one knew what Wyncia would be like if she were very angry, and no one wanted to find out. This part of the Weyr was her domain, and Wyncia ruled it with an iron hand. Not that she wasn't fair-minded or handed, but she tolerated no insubordination. Usually, Wyncia's kitchen was usually run like a well-oiled machine.

Kylie held her breath and stayed still, as if she could erase the past few moments by showing extreme good behavior. Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she saw that everyone was doing the same thing. The kitchen had fallen silent except for a few chirps and squawks from various 'lizards. Even they fell silent as Wyncia's steely gaze raked over the room. The silence stretched on, not even broken by a sneeze or cough. Soon a sound became evident and Kylie concluded it was dripping water, most likely coming from her and Shawla. Rolling around in bean-water had left them soaked and covered in beans and broken pottery. Now that her senses were heightened, Kylie slowly began to realize how uncomfortable sitting on still-hard beans could be. Or how disgusting wet clothing felt on her body.

The stillness in the kitchen dragged on interminably. Kylie's skin began to itch from the wet and cold, and she could almost feel it twitching. The scratches on her arms, face and neck were beginning to clot, but blood had been trickling down her face and arms. Now that it was drying, her skin began to pull, adding to her discomfort. The beans and pottery shards she was sitting on were digging into her flesh. She wondered if any of that pottery had actually cut her. Her eye throbbed, adding to her agitation, and over it all was a fear of being kicked out of Candidacy.

"Would someone like to explain to me what happened here?" Wyncia broke the silence without warning, and Kylie jumped. From some of the sounds she heard, others had been startled also. Well, she wasn't going to rat out a fellow candidate. Neither were the others, if their muteness was any indication. Finally the person who spoke was one of the regular Weyr-workers.

"'Twas those two," the older woman said pointing in Kylie's and Shawla's direction.

Wyncia slowly turned and looked at the speaker. The woman recoiled at the Kitchen Overseer's look. "Believe it or not, Hilma, I can see that for myself." She took a moment to look around at the rest of the group.

None of the candidates were talking. Kylie so wanted to speak up and point the finger at Shawla, but she knew that was tantamount to ostracization from the people she would be spending the majority of her time with. If they all Impressed, they would be expected to work together. Granted, that was what they were doing - or maybe not doing - now, but this was different. They needed to work out their differences now, before they were thrown into the cruel, cruel world. As she thought this, Kylie almost smiled. She ducked her head as her lips twitched, and hoped Wyncia did not notice her, but her hope was in vain. The woman has eyes in the back of her head, Kylie thought as the aforementioned woman seemed to pounce on her.

"And what are you laughing at? Is this funny to you? You have destroyed my kitchen, ruined tomorrow night's dinner, and broken a valuable piece of crockery. Yet you sit here and laugh?" As Wyncia's voice grew louder and more threatening, Kylie shrunk into herself. Her lips had definitely stopped twitching, but they were trembling. She hated being yelled at, or singled out, and tears were threatening the back of her eyelids. As she felt her face burning, the tears finally spilled over and began to drip down her pudgy cheeks, washing away the dried blood and stinging a couple of her cuts. Damn her overly-emotional psyche. Why couldn't she be more like these other girls, who could handle being berated without batting an eye?

"'Twasn't just her," Hilma said bravely, coming to Kylie's defense. "T'other gel, she said some mighty nasty things to this one. 'Twas only proper that she retaliate."

"Is this true?" Wyncia looked around but none of the candidates looked back. She gazed at them and nodded as if they had confirmed her suspicions. "Your loyalty is truly amazing. I'm placing you all on probation for two sevendays." At the shocked looks from the candidates who weren't involved in the fray, she nodded once again. "That's right. The punishment for one person's transgression is born by all. Remember that the next time you plan on watching a fight. Or, taking bets." She gave a knowing look to Andijer, the candidate who was guilty of that activity. He blushed and looked down, but there was a telltale grin on his face.

"Now. There is one thing which will be making this easier on you. We have come to the end of our two-sevenday rotation, and a new schedule has been posted. Not all of you will be working together for the next two sevendays, which may or may not be a good thing. You may go look at the schedule - after you have cleaned up this mess!" She glowered at Shawla and Kylie, both of whom had stood up when Wyncia wasn't looking.

"You two go see the Healer. AFTER you've cleaned up this mess. Hilma, put on another crock of beans to soak - it's not too late for tomorrow's dinner, we'll just start cooking them early. As for the rest of you, don't think you won't need to worry about probation after today. If you are posted elsewhere, I will make sure to tell your overseer." She stopped to glare at everyone once more. "Come on everyone, this is not a Gather day. Back to work! And you," Wyncia singled out Kylie. "Quit that snivelling. This isn't just about you, you know." That said, the Kitchen overseer left, trusting the kitchen to be cleaned up. Haneset, Soneja, Kylie and Shawla quietly started cleaning up. This was the first time since Kylie began working in the kitchens that the four of them worked so well together.

She wanted to say something - to apologize or something, but didn't know what to say. She looked over at Haneset, who just gave a wry grin and shook her head. Shawla was stone-faced and Soneja just looked resigned. A couple of the other girls - Fabergh and Delrode - had gone to get mops to clean up the water, but all in all it was a silent group cleaning the kitchen. Instead of apologizing, Kylie just sighed which only earned her a glare from Shawla. Turning back to picking up shards of broken pottery, she sniffled, trying to blink back unshed tears.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Everyone was supposed to like her. But here - she wasn't universally liked. People thought she was disgusting, and stupid, and . . . and . . . the reality of Kylie's situation, which had been held at bay for two weeks finally came slamming home to her. She was on Pern, she was a candidate yet little more than a drudge, and she couldn't go home. This was her life. Gulping and blinking back the tears that threatened once again, she took a deep breath. Like it or no, she was a candidate at Telgar Weyr.
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Old Aug 26 2006, 10:18 AM   #14
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Chapter Thirteen
* * * * *

It was another two sevendays before Joslin changed the schedule. The Headwoman had decided that she wasn't going to change the groupings until Kylie and Shawla proved they could work together. Secretly Kylie felt that it was all Shawla's fault, but in order to stay at the Weyr she had to get along with the girl. By the end of the sevendays, while they were not fast friends, they learned to tolerate each other without snapping. Yet it was with a sigh of relief that the two opposing sides greeted the final day of their term together. Kylie and Shawla were practically singing arm in arm when they left the Kitchen area, knowing that they wouldn't be working side-by-side the next day. But Kylie wasn't fated to get out of any adverse situations in the near future.

The next morning when she and Haneset stumbled their sleepy way into the kitchen, Kylie found the klah pot blocked by no other than the queen bitch - Mareena. The tall exotic beauty hadn't bothered her in four wee...erm, sevendays. Now though it seemed as if she were going to make up for lost time. Especially when everything the Pernese native said was a veiled insult.

"Sugar and cream for your klah? I think we have enough to spare."

"Why don't you have another sweetroll? After all, if you don't eat it, it'll only go to some starving orphan." (Not that there were any starving anyones around, Kylie knew. The Weyr took care of its own.)

"You sure you want that extra meatroll? Oh, it's for your firelizard?" This said in a tone of pure bewilderment.

Kylie took the veiled insults and let them roll off of her, though it was hard. Just because her body was thick didn't mean her skin was. Besides, even if it wasn't obvious to this little clique, it was obvious to her that she was steadily losing weight. The pants that the Weyr seamstress had made for her were very loose now, and her tunics were hanging off of her. Adding to that, her face was almost fully clear and her hair didn't seem so lacklustre and brittle - at least, what was growing in didn't seem so. She was debating on finding someone to cut the unhealthy drab parts of her hair but still didn't know enough about the place to ask. Well, maybe Haneset could do it. At the moment, she needed to work in the kitchen, cutting up meat and vegetables for the stew.

One of the boys - Irillan if she remembered correctly - dropped a full side of beef on the huge butcher block in front of her. She was armed with several sharp knives but stared at the naked cow. She'd seen these on TV, hanging in meat lockers but had never been this close to one before. "Damn," she whispered. She could still tell what it was! It looked like a cow that had been cut in half and skinned. How . . . ? What . . . ?

"What's wrong? Never seen half a herdbeast before?" Mareena sneered as she began to expertly separate the rear leg from the body.

"Uh . . . actually, no," Kylie admitted. "What am I supposed to . . . is all of this going to be stew, or will she want the flank for a roast?"

Haneset looked up from where she and Clemoly were beginning to work on the other half. "Carve it into the four quarters first, then go from there." She looked up and saw Kylie's blank look. "Shoulder, ribs, loin, round," she added quickly, punctuating each word by placing her knife where she would be cutting. "If the bone is too tough to cut, one of the boys will do it for us. Won't you Irillan?" Haneset raised her voice slightly as she looked towards the 16-turn old candidate.

"Huh? What?" Irillan moved closer, a quizzical expression on his face.

"I said you'd do the quartering for us if we couldn't cut the bone, won't you?" Haneset said coquettishly, batting her eyes at him, then looking over at Kylie and winking. "You know that us poor, weak females can't keep up with you big, strong men."

Irillan's chest puffed out as he swaggered over to the half-cow in front of Haneset and Clemoly. He seemed to be putting on as much of a show as Haneset was, and it soon became apparent that the two had done this often. "Well, it does take a strong man to cut a large beast," he said, lowering his voice half an octave. "You ladies step back and let a real man do the cutting." Theatrically swaggering some more, he took the girls' place in front of the cow, as Haneset and Clemoly stepped back. The two had grins on their faces, and Kylie found herself smiling along with them.

In record time, Irillan had the herdbeast quartered, and had even separated the legs. He turned around, and Haneset was standing there, hands clasped and held by her shoulder, her head resting on them, a look of total adoration upon her face. Irillan gave Haneset a sweeping bow, gesturing with one hand towards the table. "Your herdbeast, my lady," he said gallantly, then twirled the knives and held them, handle out, to Haneset. Clemoly stood there, her lips twitching.

"Oh please," Mareena muttered, a look of disgust upon her face. She acted as if she hadn't enjoyed the show enacted just moments before, but Kylie raised a brow. If she hadn't been entertained also, then she wouldn't have been so quiet. Now she was busying herself with working on their half of the herdbeast, but not in as clean a manner as Irillan had proven he could do. Kylie shrugged and went back to trying to work on her part.

After only a couple of minutes, Kylie realized why Haneset had enlisted Irillan's help. The bone was hard. No, that wasn't entirely true, she amended. It wasn't hard, which was the problem. Since the animal using these bones had been living only a few weeks previously, the bones were somewhat pliant and hard to cut. Mareena was doing a much better job than Kylie, who finally looked over at Haneset, raising her eyes beseechingly. Her friend nodded, then touched Irillan on the arm and whispered something. He nodded, and she hugged him enthusiastically.

The older boy came swaggering over as if he hadn't previously been in deep conversation with Haneset and Clemoly. His green eyes twinkling, he gently took the knives from Kylie's part of the table and flourished them. "Would you ladies like some help?"

"Ye . . . ," Kylie began when Mareena butted in.

"I don't need your help, boy. Not all women in the Weyr are as weak as these three!" She gave Clemoly a glare, as if the girl had betrayed her and went back to work. Kylie grabbed her shoulder and whirled her around, narrowly missing being nicked, albeit accidentally, by one of Mareena's knives.

"Now wait a minute," she snapped. "You may be stronger than any ten women in the Weyr, but I'm not and I'm not afraid to admit it. So. Put the silverware down and allow this kind gentleman to quarter our cow for us."

Mareena gave Kylie a blank look. "Cow? What is a cow?"

"That is a cow." Kylie pointed to the object in question. "You can call it bovine, or herdbeast if you must, but I prefer 'cow'."

"'I prefer cow,'" Mareena mimicked. "Well, I don't. That's a ridiculous name to call a herdbeast."

"I didn't ask you to call it a cow. And . . . ," Kylie took a deep breath. She was about to tell Mareena off but caught a look from Haneset. Her friend looked . . . concerned, and Kylie realized why. She was still the new kid, even though others hadn't been there that much longer. Yet, Mareena felt it was her duty to pick on her, so Kylie needed to submit, no matter how much it rankled. Especially since by nature Kylie had always been a follower, not a leader.

"And," she continued as Mareena gazed levelly at her, "I will do my best not to use that word again. I'm not at home in, uh, Tulidohyo any more, so I should stop using our local slang." She unclenched fists which she hadn't even realized were clenched in the first place, and lowered her eyes from Mareena's gaze. The taller girl continued looking at her, until Kylie realized what she wanted.

"And I'm sorry that I asked Irillan to quarter our c. . . uhm, herdbeast for us, but Mareena, I couldn't cut through the bone and needed the help!" She didn't exactly whine, yet felt that she was begging. Mareena nodded, and even smiled at Kylie.

"All you had to do was say so. Next time, ask me and we'll see what we can do," Mareena said magnanimously before going back to their table.

By now, Irillan was finished cutting their beast into manageable pieces and had gone back to talking with Haneset and Clemoly. The three acted as if they hadn't just witnessed a minor power struggle. Kylie wondered if this type of thing happened often and glanced surreptitiously at Mareena. Of course it did. Mareena needed validation that she was the Lead Candidate, the Head Girl. At this thought Kylie almost laughed. Sure, bring another universe into this one. No thank you, one group of unknowns was enough.

The rest of the morning passed by quickly enough - Irillan, Andijer and Noftzan, another male candidate, bringing them several more herdbeasts to carve. Irillan must have spoken to the other two boys, because they now came to the girls already quartered. Kylie was very happy with that turn of events. Her arms were beginning to ache with the repetitious movement of clearing much of the fat from the cow . . . erm, herdbeast. Earlier in the morning Mareena had been covertly observing Kylie's skill - or lack thereof - in carving up the meat and had shown her an easier way. She had also been told that she was carving too much fat off of the meat - that the stews, soups and roasts wouldn't be any good without the proper amount of fat. Funny, Kylie thought. She had gone from being an outcast to becoming Mareena's special project, all in the matter of hours.

* * * * *

Considering the lack of electricity and (to her) proper refrigeration, Kylie was amazed at how the Pernese got along without it. Carving up herdbeast meat was the morning work - and several of the cuts ended up wrapped in oiled paper in the "ice-cave" - a handy cave located further in the volcanic interior. Dragonriders regularly brought large blocks of ice to line the cave, and all perishables were kept inside. Depending on the item to be saved, it either went further back or closer to the front of the ice cave.

One thing that was used right away and never made it into the ice cave was the offal. Kylie had never seen offal before. Sure – she’d eaten liver and hated it. Sure, she’d seen turkey and chicken giblets. But those had been nicely cleaned and sitting in a Styrofoam container in the meat section of the grocery store.

Today, Wyncia was having Kylie and Mareena handle the cleaning and portioning of the offal. How bad can it be? Kylie thought. Then the smell from the tub hit her and she doubled over.

Mareena looked at her and smirked. “What’s the matter – haven’t you ever cleaned a stomach or intestines before?” Kylie retched but was able to keep her breakfast from coming back up. Finally she stood up, glared at Mareena, then looked at the tub of . . . guts . . . with trepidation. It was her job. She had to do this.

Between the two of them, Mareena and Kylie hoisted the tub of offal onto the table, dumping it out. Gingerly Kylie picked out something – what was this, a lung? And threw it back into the tub. No one in their right mind would eat a lung. And what was this long white thing? Kylie began to toss anything she didn’t recognize back into the tub.

"What are you doing!" Mareena cried. "Most of what you're throwing out is perfectly good!"

"Look at it! It's . . . bleh, no self respecting animal would eat this," Kylie answered, breathing shallowly as she continued to cull the better part of the offal. In fact, about the only things she kept were the livers and the hearts, then when she thought about it, kept the tongue. She remembered reading about people eating cow tongue. Noyance flew down from the perch she was sharing with Haneset's three firelizards and cree'd, letting everyone in the room know that she did not agree with Kylie's assessment.

Mareena gave Kylie an unbelieving look. "I had no idea your family was so wealthy," she scoffed. "If you can afford to throw out perfectly good food . . . ." Her tone implied that not only was Kylie’s family wealthy, they were also stupid.

Kylie shook her head. "My family wasn't wealthy. But we don't eat intestines, either." She shuddered, to emphasize her point.

"Kailisu, I don't know about this Hold you came from, but these, this is perfectly fine," Haneset came over and began to pick up the pieces Kylie had thrown out. "Intestines are cleaned well and used as sausage casings. Didn’t you have sausages? The larger ones are used for some of the larger style sausages.” Kylie realized that Haneset meant the salami’s and bologna’s of Pern.

“These are the sweetbreads, they are delicious. The stomach contains the tripe which will be cooked up tonight. The lungs will be ground into a spread after we cook them. Brains fried with garlic are absolutely yummy, but we’ll probably make a spread from them also.

“We don’t waste anything here, Kailisu. Get used to that.” Haneset went back to her own table, leaving Kylie embarrassed and upset. Blinking back tears, she nodded. Besides, had she already eaten some of this stuff and not known it?

"I'm sorry, I didn't help much in the kitchens back home."

"Obviously," Mareena muttered.

Haneset ignored Mareena's remark and patted Kylie on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it, I'm sure you have skills that we don't know about yet."

Sure I do, Kylie thought in embarrassment. And you have some swampland in . . . in . . . in Ista to sell me too.
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Old Aug 26 2006, 10:20 AM   #15
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Chapter Fourteen
* * * * *

"Man! All I want tonight is a good soak and sleep," Kylie sighed. Today had been especially backbreaking labor - once a month Wyncia had all the cupboards, shelves, nooks and crannies in her kitchen emptied and scrubbed down especially well. All available candidates had been recruited for this thrice-yearly activity. Even though she was exhausted from the day's activity, she wasn't as tired as she would have been when she first arrived.

"Me too," Haneset agreed tiredly. "These cleaning sessions of Wyncia's come around too often. We just had one not too long before you arrived." She tilted her head and thought. "At least, I think so. Let's just go get a change of clothing and soak for an hour or ten!"

Kylie nodded as they entered the candidates' quarters. She had been lucky enough to get a cot next to Haneset when she arrived. The room had not yet been filled to its full capacity with hopeful dragonrider wannabe's but since it was still several Turns before the Pass began, that was to be expected. Breylith's Clutch was expected to produce the first gold egg since Loth had Hatched five Turns ago. Fort Weyr's queens had already produced ten new bronzes and one more queen. The rest of the Weyrs on Pern were expected to follow suit.

The trunk at the end of her cot held Kylie's clothing - most of it slacks and short-sleeved tunics. Kylie missed her jeans, but the ones she had been wearing when she 'landed' on Pern had been sent to the Harper Hall for study. She'd learned that they were going to be passed around to all major Halls involved - most likely Tailorcraft, Weavercraft and Smithcraft. Not only was the material going to be studied, but she bet that no one on Pern had ever seen a zipper. Why, she had no idea. Maybe the colonists didn't bring any. With zippers being the mysterious things they were to her, she wasn't even certain that one could be recreated. If they could, she wondered if she'd receive any royalties from the design.

Kneeling in front of her trunk and rummaging around to choose her clothing, she noticed Mareena, Clemoly, Soneja and Shawla sitting on their cots chatting away. Every so often one of them would glance her way, then quickly change their attention back to the group. Kylie wondered why they were sitting in here when they could go to the room that adjoined the candidate quarters and had been made into what several of the candidates called "The Candidate Hall". There were several comfortable couches, chairs, tables, and even a small ice-cave for food. The candidates rotated the job of keeping the ice-cave stocked with food, drink and ice. They also rotated the task of cleaning it. The Candidate Hall was a much nicer and more comfortable place to sit and chat than the sleeping quarters. Kylie looked over at the four, and Mareena quickly looked away. Closing the top of her trunk, she picked up her clothing and stood up. "Ready?" she asked Haneset, her clothing and bathing items rolled into a dry towel and tucked under her arm.

"Ready." Haneset led the way to the public bathing pools.

* * * * *

The four girls were still in deep conversation when Haneset and Kylie came back from the bathing pools an hour later. The two friends felt rejuvenated and revived after their long soak. Kylie was even thinking of going to the Candidate Hall for some light conversation and winding down before going to bed, but first she needed to put her bathing things away. At first the unusual sight that greeted her didn't click - then she realized that there was a fair of firelizards on her cot. "What the hell is going on here?" she asked, earning her a curious look from everyone in the room. Crap! she thought. I have got to watch what I say here.

No one answered her question, though Mareena and her cronies seemed to have a knowing look about them. Her cot looked somewhat lumpy, but she wasn't the world's best bedmaker on her good days. Besides, Noyance, Arti, Rico and Dodger - Haneset's firelizards - liked to play hide-and-seek in the bedding. Whether it was Kylie's or Haneset's didn't seem to make any difference. But she had never seen so many firelizards around her cot at once and wasn't sure what was happening. "Have you ever seen anything like this?" she asked Haneset quietly.

The dark-haired girl shook her head. "Uh, no. But I have a feeling that whatever it is, you're not going to like it, and that they are behind it." She inclined her head towards the other girls and Kylie nodded.

"Well, here goes," she said, bracing herself. She pulled her covers back and stifled a scream. The four girls down the row were stifling giggles at this point.

In Kylie's bed was a whole skinned and gutted calf. Her bedclothing was a mess, and the fair of 'lizards hanging around the quarters fell upon the beast and started tearing at the exposed muscle. The only part that had not been gutted or skinned was the head, which looked at Kylie through dead eyes. She felt sick - it was one thing to carve up meat for dinner, it was another to have the previous owner of said meat looking at you. Her stomach roiled and salty saliva began to pour into her mouth. She closed her eyes started swallowing, hoping to swallow down the feeling of nausea.

Haneset wasn't so sickened, or quiet. She marched over to Mareena and her friends who were now rolling on their cots in gales of laughter. "Why? Why did you do this? This is cruel, even by your standards Mareena," she cried. Her arms moved as if she wanted to hit something.

Shawla was laughing the hardest. "She prefers fresh meat so we gave it to her," the heavyset brown-haired girl gasped in between bouts of laughter.

"And you think this type of joke is funny."

"Well, yes I do." Shawla looked at Haneset as if she didn't have any sense of humour.

"Figures. What about the rest of you? Mareena? Clemoly? Soneja?"

Clemoly had the decency to look slightly abashed, though her lips were still twitching. Soneja just turned her head away, but Mareena just looked Haneset full in the eye. "Life is cruel, especially in a Weyr. Kailisu was obviously spoiled and sheltered while growing up, so we're gently hardening her to Weyr life."

Haneset stared at Mareena. "Gently? I cannot believe you said that with a straight face, you cruel, heartless bi . . . ."

"It's OK . . . I mean, it's fine, Haneset," Kylie said as she came over to the group. "She's right, I did live a sheltered life. And my parents did spoil me." Her eyes misted at the thought of her parents for a moment, but she shook it off. If she didn't think about never seeing them again, it wouldn't hurt. She also didn't believe for a moment Mareena's smooth explanation. This was just a cruel prank, and only proved that she couldn't trust these girls - the Foul Four - for a moment. The thought of the nickname made her smile.

"See, Haneset, Kailisu thinks it's funny. You should too." Mareena seemed to be gloating, so Kylie put a hand on Haneset's arm.

"Right. Well, ha ha ha you got us. Now we need to dispose of that carcass," she gestured, but more 'lizards had come and dined on the abundance that was on Kylie's cot, "and get clean bedclothes. Anyone want to help clean up after this joke?"

Clemoly glanced at Mareena, then got to her feet and joined Kylie and Haneset. Together they shooed the 'lizards off the carcass, then each took a corner of the sheet and lifted. It was a struggle, but they were able to move the body off of the cot without too much trouble. Just then Andijer and Irillan came in, noticed that the three girls were struggling, and moved to help them.

"Thought you might need help taking this out," Andijer said, grinning.

"You knew about this?" Kylie suspected as much. No matter how buff Shawla was, nor how strong the other three were they still needed help getting the carcass into the barracks.

"Yeah. Not to keen on the idea, but hey, a joke's a joke. Sorry we missed it."

"Oh really?" Haneset glared at Irillan, who blushed and looked down. Kylie just stared at both of them, wondering who's 'side' they were on. Irillan and Andijer had always acted like they *liked* her, so this double betrayal came as a blow. Unless they hadn't meant this to be so debilitating.

"Sorry," Irillan muttered.

"Oh, lighten up," Andijer said, blue eyes sparkling. "It's not like we scared anyone to death. With all the 'lizards around here, it's amazing that it wasn't gone before you found it!" He shooed an exceptionally brave 'lizard away when it tried to re-land on the carcass. "Besides, I've had Healer training. I could've helped if you were too terrified. But you weren't." His tone said he respected that Kylie hadn't fallen into hysterics over a dead cow . . . herdbeast in her bed. "Plus, we'll help you clean up."

"So what do we do with a co . . . herdbeast carcass?"

"We give it to a blue dragon, of course!" As they headed out of the sleeping quarters into the Weyr bowl, a blue dragon was waiting outside. At least, it looked blueish in the darkness. This was the closest Kylie had been to a dragon since she had been discovered and Searched. The rider had just dismounted and was walking towards them.

"Andijer! What kind of trouble are you causing tonight?" The bluerider came closer and embraced the roguish candidate. Even in the dim light of Pern's two moons Kylie noticed the familial resemblance.

"Nothing much. Just need to rid ourselves of this herdbeast," Andijer said, then turned to the rest of the group. "This is my brother J'ret and his dragon Solith," he said, gesturing to the rider. "These are Haneset, Clemoly, Kailisu, and you know Irillan."

"Pleased to meet you," J'ret said to the group. "I'd ask why you had a half-eaten herdbeast carcass to get rid of, but I don't think I want to know." He gave a mock sigh and regarded the girls. "I hope you know what you're getting into, keeping company with this scamp." He reached out and ruffled Andijer's hair, no mean feat since Andijer was the same height as he was. Kylie watched them, puzzled. Andijer didn't strike her as being as young as J'ret seemed to treat him. The candidate noticed her look, smiled tolerantly towards his brother, and shrugged.

Well, if he's alright with that treatment, who am I to say anything? Kylie thought, and inclined her head in understanding. Suddenly she was reminded of her brother Justin, and how he always acted like he tolerated her. Maybe . . . maybe the reason he did what he did was as a type of affection also. She swallowed, a lump rising in her throat. Would she ever see Justin again? Before she could dwell on the subject any further, her arm was tugged at by Haneset. Time to finish the job.

The group of candidates took the herdbeast over to Solith, still in its makeshift sling. The blue dragon inclined his head towards them and ate it in two bites. Thank you, he said speaking to all of the candidates.

"You're welcome," Clemoly said, recovering from surprise first. The rest of the candidates quickly followed suit, and Kylie was reassured of another fact.

She wasn't the only one who hadn't seen many dragons.

The last time she had been close to a dragon was when she was found by the Lemos River. Since then, she'd spent so much time indoors working that she felt lucky to see the sun, let alone any of Pern's Renewable Air force. Even on their days off, it didn't seem that any of the kitchen workers got to mingle with dragonriders. Kylie had even been contemplating asking for a transfer to weyr cleaning, knowing that she'd at least be able to ride the dragons on 'elevator duty', but she'd been enjoying her time in the kitchens. Wyncia had even commented that Kylie was a good worker and if she never Impressed, would be welcome to become a part of Wyncia's staff. This gave Kylie a good feeling, especially since it was the first honest compliment she had received since arriving at the Weyr.

"Kailisu!" Clemoly spoke sharply, poking Kylie in the arm, interrupting her thoughts.

"What? Oh, sorry, my mind was wandering."

"J'ret's leaving, he and Solith wanted to say goodbye." The small pixie like blonde frowned at Kylie's rudeness, and Kylie blushed.

"I'm sorry J'ret, Solith. It was nice meeting you. I hope to see you again soon," Kylie said.

"It was nice meeting you too, Kailisu," J'ret answered. He looked from her to his brother, then mounted Solith. The blue took off from where he was standing, causing the five candidates to be caught in a swirl of dust. They all gazed after the blue dragon, thinking their private thoughts about their hopes and dreams for the upcoming clutch.

Irillan was the first to break the silence. "So. What do we do about Kailisu's bedding?"
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Old Sep 1 2006, 08:35 PM   #16
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Chapter Fifteen
* * * * *

It was odd, Kylie reflected. Ever since the herdbeast incident she was treated with more respect. Well, maybe 'respect' was the wrong word, but more of the candidates were being friendly with her, talking to her, even eating with her now. Maybe it was because she didn't make a big deal of the incident. Possibly because she didn't go running to nark on Mareena and her gang. Most likely, though, was that she had quietly gotten rid of the evidence, up to and including her bedclothes without any of the management becoming the wiser.

That evening she, Haneset, Clemoly, Irillan and Andijer had taken the bedclothes to Laundry, and Kylie made up a story about starting her monthly flow and being very heavy this month. Andijer and Irillan had the decency to blush at the revelation, and earned the worker's respect for helping out a female during her time of 'indisposition'. Since the group dumped the bedclothing into the large, heated copper tubs as soon as they entered the room, the amount of bloody damage to the textiles wasn't immediately noted. At the end of the night, Kylie was amazed that this whole prank had been pulled off without a hitch. She still didn't know how the Foul Four had been able to get a dead herdbeast into her bed, and she didn't want to know. The less she knew, the less she could accidentally let slip. It was obvious from then on that what happened in the candidate barracks stayed in the candidate barracks.

The days stretched on, becoming weeks and months. Every two weeks the candidates' rotations shifted so they could learn all aspects of Weyr life. This would help them in the long run, either by giving any who were left standing a choice of what they could do, and by giving future riders a glimpse of what made the Weyr run. For any future Weyrleaders or Weyrwomen, this knowledge was invaluable. One could not run a Weyr if they did not know what made it tick.

Kylie rotated through the different Kitchen jobs, various Healer's assistant duties - both human and non-human - the Weyr Tailor, Laundry, Beastcraft, and the various aspects of keeping the Weyr clean as a whole. Even recordkeeping, though her own handwriting was so atrocious that Loryan, the junior weyrwoman wouldn't allow her to copy hides onto the sheets of paper the Weyr had a large supply of. Yet another thing that Fandom used to fight over - whether Pern had paper or not. But why not? The ancient Egyptians had papyrus - a type of paper made from certain plants and rushes. Even if the Pernese couldn't use wood pulp, they could still use some other type of plant. Bamboo, or even rice. They'd been eating rice at least twice a sevenday, so if rice could be eaten, it could be made into paper.

Apparently it was. As for wood pulp - there were so many pine trees around the Telgar region that Kylie could supply the Christmas trees to the whole Eastern United States. No trees her lily-white . . . fine, there were trees. Which could be made for paper, which would be good for the Archives and Records. Which Kylie did not like much. Well, actually, she did like almost every job she did at the Weyr.

But the thing she enjoyed the most was cooking. Actually, anything in the kitchen area was desirable as far as she was concerned. Washing dishes? A great time for reflection. Food preparation? A good time to challenge herself in speed, uniformity, and quality of preparing various items. Cooking? This was the best part. To be able to experiment with different herbs and spices and their effect on meats, vegetables and fruits. It made her feel powerful, the ability to create a dish that people would be eating. And like Wyncia told her, no food would be wasted. Therefore, if whatever she created tasted horrid, as long as it wasn't poisonous people would have to eat it.

When she bragged about this propensity of hers for cooking to the rest of her group - this week it was Haneset, Soneja and Mareena - Mareena sniffed. "Of course you'd be good at cooking. Look at how much you like to eat!"

Considering that by now she had lost almost forty pounds and looked as good as any of the other female candidates, Kylie didn't feel this remark was fair. "At least I'm not a bulimic twit!" she retorted, readying herself for another round of words with Mareena. The upcoming fight was abruptly stalled before it began when the Weyr seemed to erupt in a frenzy.

"What's going on?" she asked Haneset, who was the only candidate not looking around the kitchen in perplexity.

"Breylith Clutches!" Hilma exclaimed as she hurriedly dried her hands on a towel and rushed out of the kitchen.

The four girls looked at each other, then looked at the other candidates who had stopped what they were doing also. Everyone was frozen in place at the news, then Mareena broke the silence. "These are our eggs!" she cried, and ran out of the kitchen. Her outburst animated the rest of the group, causing a mass exodus of the kitchen area outside to the Hatching Grounds.

It seemed as if the whole Weyr were there. This was the first Clutch in five Turns, the first Clutch to hail the upcoming Pass. Starting with this Clutch, the queens would be rising twice a Turn and laying more eggs each time. This was what the dragons were born for, this was what the dragonriders lived for. This was why Kylie was here.

The group of candidates got bigger as they moved forward, trying to push and shove their way to a prime viewing spot. When Kylie made it to the front of the crowd she gasped in wonderment.

Those eggs were so large! How was Breylith able to carry them, then lay them? Wasn't it uncomfortable? Then she saw how it was done as the crowd cheered when the next egg was produced. The shells were soft and flexible - almost elastic. When the egg came out it was elongated, stretched, almost cylindrical. Once on the Sands though, it slowly reverted to a more definitive egg-shaped form. Kylie was so fascinated watching the metamorphosis of the cylinder to the egg that she missed the next one being laid. Breylith had now produced three eggs and shown no signs of stopping. Yet it was taking the poor dragon so long. Kylie felt sorry for her.

Thank you, but there's no need. I may be uncomfortable but I'm not in pain.

What? What was that? Who was talking to her? Kylie looked around, thinking that one of the Foul Four were making fun of her, but Mareena and her gang were several yards away from her. Haneset, maybe? But looking at Haneset's face, Kylie didn't think she'd said anything either. The chestnut-haired girl's attention was fully focused on Breylith and the three eggs she'd produced already.

Soft laughter echoed in Kylie's head, but it was an amused laughter, not mocking. Kylie shook her head and decided her imagination was running away from her. Instead, she concentrated on the eggs. They were - different. Mottled, yes. Colorful, yes. They reminded her of jawbreakers. Basic white, with a mottling of different colors yet no indication of the flavor locked inside. Her mouth watered at the thought of those long-lost delicacies. She'd loved her jawbreakers, the ones with a sour center. Each one had been a different color inside, and the jawbreakers themselves were comprised of different layers of flavor. She'd never have the chance to taste one again. Tears filled her eyes.

"Kailisu! Kailisu, what's wrong with you!" Haneset asked in concern.

Scooby-doo, where are you? went through Kylie's mind at first and she smiled. Giving Haneset a teary look, she shook her head. "The eggs - they reminded me of something from home. Now I'm craving something sweet."

"Oh. The strangest things remind you of your former home," Haneset said, smiling tentatively.

Kylie just shook her head. "You don't know the half of it," she said. "My home was a bit out of the ordinary."

"Well, from what I've heard, it had to have been. Oh, Kailisu, look!!!!" Haneset's line of questioning was forgotten as the crowd cheered. Breylith had just produced a gold egg! "This is the first time in several tens of Turns that Telgar Weyr has had more than two queens at a time! Oh, Kailisu, one of us might end up with the dragon in that egg!" Haneset's brown eyes were sparkling, her cheeks flushed as the whole Weyr erupted in chatter.

"Not if I get it first," Mareena said from behind Haneset. She turned to look at the egg again, her own dark eyes gleaming with avarice.

Kylie didn't say anything because she noticed that not only was Mareena looking possessively at the gold egg, Shawla had the same look upon her face. Yet Clemoly and Soneja were just excited over all the eggs. Interesting, Kylie thought. Very interesting.

* * * * *

Beginning the next day, all of the candidates roles changed. They still had basic chores to do, but the equivalent of one day every week was spent in candidacy classes, and with real dragonriders and dragons. There was so much to learn now, since the Hatching was imminent. Dragonhealing, the care and feeding of a newly hatched dragonet, working together with people in your wing. Even firestone breaking. There was even one thing which, while Kylie remembered playing it in her RPG games, she never realized just how true it was. All candidates, especially the females, were encouraged to experience sex at least once before the hatching. Another thing that surprised Kylie was that if a candidate got pregnant between now and the hatching, they were still allowed to Stand. This was because the weyrling dragon should understand by the time the baby was born what was happening. Besides, the queens would help out calming the young dragon.

One thing was expressly drilled into their heads after the sex talks. No rider would be raising a baby. No exceptions. The dragon became the full focus of a rider's life, and a baby would not receive the attention they deserved and demanded if a rider were raising it. Throughout this lecture, Kylie had the suspicion that once Impression took place, this would make more sense. It was the difference between the rider mentality and the non-rider mentality, and any Weyr denizen would tell you that the two did not meet. Come to think of it, Kylie didn't remember seeing many Weyrmated pairs. She wanted to ask Haneset, but was afraid of the odd looks she'd get. So instead, she paid attention to the lessons.

Then, they started the candidate ride-alongs.

Kylie was excited about the ride-along. Once a wee - erm, sevenday, each candidate rode along with a rider for five hours, to get used to being on a dragon, going between, and flying. This would weed out those candidates who couldn't handle the un-earthly cold of between or who discovered they were afraid of heights. This exercise relied upon the dragon also - they needed to be as aware of their passenger as they were of their rider, and the effect the different environmental factors had on them. It was expected that the first ride-along for all candidates would be the worst, which was why they had more than one. If a candidate was experiencing the same stress during the fourth or fifth ride-along as the first one, they were not going to the Hatching Grounds. This, Kylie thought, would have to be the worst feeling. To not be allowed to try to Impress one of these magnificent creatures.

Matching candidates with riders surprised Kylie with the fairness in which it was done. One thing she was certain existed on Pern was color prejudice. Whenever she worked with the rest of the candidates, people were always talking about 'this person would be lucky to Impress blue,' and 'that person should Impress bronze'. Even with the girls, those who felt they deserved the gold egg held themselves apart from those who hoped to Impress. Kylie had wondered how color prejudice would pan out, and the first day of candidate ride-alongs told her everything she needed to know.

All girls would be riding with female greenriders the whole five weeks. Even though some girls had been known to Impress blue, the occasions were few and far between, and no one was encouraged to think about it. So, for the first week all candidates - male and female - would ride green. The next four weeks all males would ride blue, then brown, then bronze. The final week was a lottery: there were sixty-odd candidates. Twenty or so were female, the rest male. So, the sixty-some dragons would be dispersed as if they were an actual Clutch of sixty eggs, and the color percentages would reflect that. Depending on which dice the Weyrlingmaster rolled the Junior Weyrwoman could also be a ride-along rider. Names would be drawn out of a bowl by each rider, determining who would ride with him or her. It would be done almost like a real Hatching, hopefully showing the candidates that they were chosen not by brains, intellect, or deep emotional searching but by the luck of the draw.

Kylie had a feeling that those who were 'chosen' to ride bronze, brown and gold would read more into the selection than what was intended. It didn't matter though - she'd finally get to ride a dragon. As the group headed out from the dining hall to the Bowl, she picked at Haneset's arm. "I'm so excited," she said in a half-whisper, half squeal.

"So am I. We hardly ever get to see the dragons," Haneset whisper-squealed back.

"Let alone ride them!" Clemoly inserted her point of view into the conversation. "I hope my rider's nice!"

Quiet Soneja nodded, her cheeks red in excitement, blue eyes sparkling. She looked like she'd say something but was interrupted by Mareena, who looked at the rest of them contemptuously. "You girls are pathetic," she said. "These are dragons, they're nothing special."

"Well, I prefer to be a pathetic, excited person than a liar," Kylie answered huffily. She was slightly taken aback - Mareena usually didn't talk to her clique that way. Well, maybe now that her true colors were showing the girls wouldn't be so prone to follow her.

Shawla belied that thought. She was as dismissive of the dragons as Mareena, which made her look even more pathetic in Kylie's eyes. But all that was forgotten as sixty-plus green dragons began to land in the Weyr bowl.
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Old Sep 1 2006, 08:38 PM   #17
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Chapter Sixteen
* * * * *

Candidate Master R'mez was suddenly there, in front of all the green dragons. Something about the acoustics in the Weyrbowl caused every weyrling and greenrider to be able to hear him when he began to speak. It wasn't until many months later that Kylie realized Adexith had been mentally broadcasting R'mez' speech to everyone, but for now it seemed like a miracle he could make himself be heard.

"You will form a single-file line, and I will direct you to your rider. Females will stay with the rider they are assigned to for the next five sevendays. Remember this, because I won't re-assign you to a rider. Do you understand?" R'mez stopped speaking and Kylie wondered if he were awaiting a reply. She couldn't help herself.

"Sir, yes Sir," she hollered.

All extrinsic noise ceased. Kylie hadn't realized just how much shuffling, coughing, whispering, and dragon-noise had been discernible until it was gone. R'mez looked straight at her. He had to know it was her - she was standing out like a sore thumb. Her face was red - she could feel it. Everyone was looking at her. Sweat started building up under her arms and trickling down her back in the heat of her embarrassment. Her cheeks were hot, her ears were hot, even her nose was hot. She stood, frozen in fear of what R'mez would do to her.

"You girl, what's your name?" Someone snickered from Mareena and Shawla's direction. Kylie looked at R'mez in dismay. He had singled her out to make an example of her. What could she do but answer him in the same vein? If she didn't, he would think - no, he would know she was mocking him!

"Sir, Kylie Sue, Sir!" she squeaked, closing her eyes tightly. This time there was more than one snicker in the group.

"At least someone has manners here," he stated in satisfaction. Kylie cracked open one eye to see he was no longer focused on her. Instead, he had turned his attention to the rest of the group. "In the future, I expect everyone to follow Kailisu's example. When I ask a question, you answer it. Do you understand?"

At first no one said anything, then suddenly the Bowl erupted with a resounding, "Sir, yes Sir!" from all the candidates. Kylie just buried her face in her hands. Could this day get any worse? She quickly quashed that thought. Whenever you thought a day couldn't get any worse, it would. Therefore, she had to remember it could get worse but she had to keep it from getting worse.

Haneset silently patted her on the back. There wasn't anything she could say, so Kylie just nodded. She was at the point of either laughing or crying, neither of which she wanted to do. She had just succeeded in drawing the attention of the Weyrlingmaster upon her alone, shown up every other candidate in the Weyr, and quite possibly changed the color of her skin tone forever. She certainly hoped that this day would be worth it!

" . . . and females will continue riding with the same rider they are assigned today. I will not tell you again. Now, get in line." The candidates began shuffling into the semblance of a queue. As Kylie and Haneset took their places, Kylie reflected that R'mez had already given the same instructions twice. Not that she'd say anything about it - to him. She leaned over to Haneset.

"He doesn't have a high opinion of womankind, does he?" she asked sotto-voice. Soneja, standing right behind them, overheard.

"I've heard that if it were up to him, no females would ride a fighting dragon. But he can't stop us from trying. It's been proven that green dragons will choose a female candidate over a male candidate," she whispered, edging closer to the other two. There was an uncertainty in her eyes, as if her opinion wouldn't be welcome. Haneset smiled warmly, shifting her body to include the tall, shy candidate into the conversation.

"I've heard that about him too, but I've never seen him turn a female candidate away," she answered. "And I've heard he's fair."

Now that she was being included, Soneja seemed to perk up a little, gaining a bit of confidence. "Oh, he's definitely fair. But he'd rather have all males on the Sands than females." Her expression said that she knew this firsthand. Kylie wondered about this and was about to ask when Mareena butted in.

"C'mon, Soneja," she said, giving Kylie a disdainful look while taking the larger girl's arm. "We're ahead of them in line. That means we'll get a better dragon than they do." She hurried them away, Soneja looking back at Kylie and Haneset as if she wanted to continue the conversation.

"That was rude," Haneset said as the two girls watched Mareena dragging Soneja away. "She probably doesn't want her girls associating with someone who makes a public spectacle of herself."

Kylie groaned. "You had to remind me, didn't you?"

Haneset just laughed. They stood companionably for a bit and were shortly joined by Andijer and Irillan, who congratulated Kylie on prevailing in her altercation with Weyrlingmaster R'mez. Kylie wasn't so sure that she had prevailed, but Andijer enthusiastically disagreed.

"Of course you did. He didn't call you out, did he? Didn't totally embarrass you in front of the whole group? Trust me, Kailisu, you are well on your way to winning his respect." As Andijer finished, several other candidates in line who had been listening in also agreed. Soon a wildly animated discussion ensued, ended only by the interruption of the original discussee. The group of around 15 candidates were so engrossed in their discourse that they never heard R'mez coming up to them.

"Would anyone here like to join the rest of us in our candidate training, or is this little conclave of yours more interesting than, say, riding a dragon?" R'mez asked softly. The whole group jumped, a couple of the girls gave out some yelping noises and Kylie suspected a few of the boys almost wet their pants. Shards, she almost wet her own! A sound made her turn to see the few people still ahead of them, Mareena amongst them. The girl had a smug look upon her face, and Kylie realized the sound she had heard was the hateful bitch once again snickering at them. Kylie glared back, just waiting until she could get her hands on that inconsiderate . . . .

"Yes sir, uh, no sir, uhm we're all sorry sir," Andijer was saying, drawing Kylie's attention back to the business at hand. He was positioned in such a way that she was out of Weyrlingmaster R'mez' line-of-sight. Was he protecting her? At that moment, Kylie felt herself falling in love with the older candidate.

R'mez didn't deign to answer the boy. Instead, he just looked at the guilty candidates and they all quickly fell into line. The green dragons were lined up in rows of ten. As each candidate was directed to a dragon, the rider assisted them in boarding and then launched into the air, hovering in some type of formation as they awaited the rest of the class. The line had moved quickly, which was why Kylie's discussion group had been caught by surprise. Soneja and Shawla were already assigned to their riders, Kylie noticed. There was no sign of Clemoly or Mareena, so maybe they were already airborne. Several other candidates were directed to their rides, then it was Haneset's turn. She grinned at Kylie, then hurried over to her assigned dragon.

Kylie was suddenly nervous. They were big. They were huge! What was she doing here? Did she even have what it takes to mount a dragon, let alone Impress one? Compared to Noyance, these green beasts standing out there were behemoths. Her stomach suddenly felt watery, as did her legs and she was afraid she was going to be sick in front of all these people.

"Your name?" R'mez asked, looking at the clip-board? R'mez was holding a clip board, and making marks on the paper, Kylie noticed, probably keeping track of candidates and assigned riders.

"Kylie Sue, sir," she whispered.

Looking up from his hide, R'mez gave Kylie a stern look. "I am not a dragon. I can not read your mind. Now, state your name so I can hear it."

Kylie cleared her throat. "Kylie Sue, sir," she practically shouted, then covered her mouth as her face reddened.

"Kailisu. Right. Your pair is Winvath and Jandana," R'mez said as if Kylie hadn't just tried to split his eardrums. His hand was on her shoulder and he gave her a light push toward the dragon/rider pair. Kylie stumbled on over. Her legs still weren't working quite right and her stomach was still feeling weird.

"First time on a dragon?" Kylie looked up to see a friendly pair of green eyes, slightly largish nose, and smiling mouth on a wind and sun scoured face framed by chin-length red hair. The skin around the woman's eyes and mouth had what her mother dubbed 'laugh lines', and what slightly cattier women called 'crow's feet'. Though this woman was at least twice Kylie's age, she had a feeling that she was older than she looked.

Nodding in answer to the question, Kylie put out a shaky hand. "I'm Kylie Sue. The only other time I was on a dragon, I uh, don't remember it."

"Oh, you're the one that T'gat brought in. Found you by the Lemos River. I remember Quavine and E'mat talking about you. I'm Jandana, and this is Winvath." She grasped Kylie's hand in a strong grip, then let go and handed Kylie a set of straps. "Put these on, so we can hook them to Winvath. No sense in taking you for a ride if you're going to immediately fall off."

Kylie took the straps and almost immediately dropped them. They were so long, and so thick, and so heavy! She wasn't sure what, exactly she had been expecting, but this set of straps alone seemed to be comprised of the skin of a whole pig. And what was she supposed to do with them? Had she missed that class?

She found what she thought was the top of the contraption, holding it out in front of her. Something didn't look quite right, so she laboriously twisted the heavy mass around and realized that it was exactly what it should be - a harness. It reminded her of the gear paratroopers wore in the movies, or what rock-climbers used. Well, it was for safety. And actually, it wasn't as big and bulky as she first thought. So, this strap went here, while this one went around here . . . . Kylie was soon strapped up, and began to work the buckles. Once the initial methodology had been divined, Kylie was amazed at the simplicity of donning the apparatus. "Here, let me help you," Jandana said, coming over and helping Kylie buckle her straps. Of course, getting the straps on and fastened was the simple part. Next came boarding and riding a creature that could gulp her down in one bite.

Maybe two. Or three, but not one.

"What did you say?" Kylie asked Jandana. Was the greenrider making fun of her?

Jandana gave Kylie a puzzled look. "I didn't say anything," she said, turning back to Winvath. Kylie swore she heard chuckling, but the only ones nearby were Jandana and Winvath.

"Oh, R'mez didn't teach anyone how to put on straps. For those Weyrborn, they'd already know how. For the group of you that aren't, it gives us a sense of how analytical you are, if you can figure out how to put the straps on. You passed." Jandana grinned, then gestured with her head for Kylie to mount Winvath. Kylie hesitated, then moved towards the proffered front leg. Winvath was looking at her, the multi-faceted eyes whirling a calming blue.

It was as if the blue did calm her, or maybe Winvath hypnotized her. She was no longer afraid to mount the large dragon, so she confidently stepped her left foot upon Winvath's leg, reached for the stationary straps that Jandana pointed out to her that non-riders used, and hoisted herself up to throw her right leg across Winvath's neck. . .

. . . and promptly slid back down her side. "Oof!" She involuntarily gasped as she fell on her rump. Jandana soberly held out her hand to help Kylie back up, but she was breathing funny. Kylie glared half-heartedly at her. "Go ahead and laugh. You know you want to," she said bitterly.

Jandana coughed. "It's not that I want to laugh," she said, letting a chuckle escape, "but you first-time candidates always make the same mistake. This is how you mount a dragon." She gestured Kylie aside, planted her left foot firmly on Winvath's leg, grasped the sissy-straps, straightened her left leg fully, locking her knee and swing her right leg up. Now precariously positioned half-on, half-off her dragon, she grasped a neck ridge with her right hand and used the right side of her body to slide herself up on the back of Winvath. "It's something like mounting a runnerbeast," she said from atop Winvath. "Unless you know exactly what you are doing, you need to have your mounting leg locked in place. Otherwise you lose your balance."

From below, Kylie nodded. Jandana gestured and this time Kylie was able to make it atop Winvath, albeit very ungracefully and with some additional help from the greenrider. But she was on a dragon now, and locking her straps in place. Once Jandana deemed the whole riding apparatus secure Kylie felt the muscles in Winvath's neck bunch up. Her wings spread outward, she leaned back on her hind legs and with a powerful thrust they were in the air! Kylie fell back into Jandana, causing an "oof!" from the seasoned rider, but tried to squirm back forwards. As they angled to fly out of the Weyr bowl, Kylie was reminded of a ride at her hometown amusement park, Cedar Point. There was one ride she had gone on with a distant cousin that spun very quickly. The force of the spin had her pinned up against him during most of the time the ride had run, no matter how she tried to move away from him. This was similar in that no matter how much she tried, she couldn't keep from crushing the person behind her.

Finally Winvath straightened out and took her position amongst the rest of the green dragons waiting for the last few candidates. Kylie couldn't believe it. She was flying!
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Old Sep 1 2006, 08:40 PM   #18
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Chapter Seventeen
* * * * *
The air up where she hovered upon Winvath was a lot colder and windier than it had been upon the ground. For the past three months Kylie had never been out of the Weyr, and she hadn't realized how much the volcanic bowl had sheltered them from the weather. Looking out over the snow-covered landscape, she realized just how lucky she had been in landing on Pern when she did. It must have been during the final hot days of the season, because she knew she'd spent at least one unsheltered night out in the wild. If she'd arrived now, she would never survive the night.

A small breeze of even colder air hit Kylie, and Noyance was there in front of her, chittering and squawking excitedly. Images of Kylie newly arrived came to her, and the girl smiled. That's right sweetie, she thought to her little green friend, I also would never have met you.

Noyance landed on one of the neck ridges in front of Kylie, her wings flattened against her back, forearms gently gripping the ridge in front of her. Jandana giggled. "She can stay there for now, but when we land she'll need to leave. R'mez doesn't like 'lizards. He'd never allow one on a ride-along."

Kylie nodded and skritched Noyance's headknob. "I think I could handle him yelling at me again, after this. You hear that, Noyance?"

"Skrawwkkk," answered the 'lizard, looking backwards at Kylie, then focusing all her attention on the ride.

"Very personable, that little pet of yours," Jandana commented, giggling again. "Oh, time to go! R'mez has instructed that we are just going to fly some of the beginning maneuvers today. We'll be breaking up into two different Wings. R'mez will lead one, and Wingleader T'gat will lead the other." Once this information was relayed to Kylie, Winvath abruptly turned, dove and flew to join the wing she had been assigned to. Kylie gave a yelp and grabbed at Winvath's neck, leaning forward and hugging as far around as her arms would hold.

You're not going to fall. Now let go. The exasperation was apparent in the tone, and Kylie hung her head.

"I'm sorry, Jandana," she said, relaxing her hold on the dragon's neck. No answer came from behind her, so she huddled in upon herself even more. The first dragonrider she'd had prolonged contact with, and she'd already alienated her. She had four more weeks of this. Hopefully Jandana would forgive her before too long. As the thought crossed her mind, she could have sworn she heard a snort. Shaking her head, Kylie wondered if her mind was being affected by the altitude. Maybe there wasn't enough oxygen up where she was at. She looked down and gasped.

Kylie had been on an airplane once. She'd been glued to the window for the entire three hours it took to fly from Detroit to Los Angeles, imagining she was on the back of a dragon. The reality was far different. On the plane, they had flown so high that all that was visible was the color of the ground - unless there were clouds. Now they were much lower. She could make out the dead volcano which housed Telgar Weyr, and even see where Telgar hold was. Leaning over a bit further, she saw a forest with a sizeable river running through it. That must be where she had "arrived". Somewhere down there. Gauging the distance from the forest to the Weyr, Kylie was very grateful to that bronzerider whatsizname that found her.

T'gat.

Yeah, that was it. T'gat. Wait - that was the same rider who was helping Weyrlingmaster R'mez. Kylie was proud of herself for remembering someone she hadn't even thought of for three months. Though now that she thought of him . . . . Winvath banked, Kylie blinked and started paying attention to the ride. The two wings of greens were hovering opposite each other, and upon an unspoken command they began an aerial dance Kylie wasn't soon to forget.

Winvath moved flawlessly and effortlessly with her wing, keeping the same distance from front, back and sides of the dragons around her. First they climbed up and over the other wing, then dove down the other side. Kylie looked to both sides of her, seeing Andijer on one side riding with a male greenrider, and one of the candidates who she had just made acquaintance with on the other side. She couldn't see who was leading them, but noticed R'mez at the head of the other wing. So, she must have ended up in T'gat's wing. Well, this was nice, as the two wings rose and fell in unison with each other.

Then came the trickier exercise. The wings began to fly towards each other, looking to collide. But through some sense of space and timing, they wove through each other perfectly. Kylie was once again holding Winvath tightly, but once she realized this she let go. There were over sixty dragons and sixty candidates here - there would be no exercise shown to the hopeful future dragonriders that would harm them. And as the maneuvers became trickier and trickier, seeming like some ornate Greek or Italian wedding dance, Kylie began to appreciate the simplicity with which they were constructed. The moves were simple, but one false step - erm, stroke - and the whole operation would fall apart.

All too soon the exercise came to an end. The dragons stayed in their wings, but flew back to the Weyr, then integrated themselves back into one large wing and landed as one. Kylie looked around and realized they had landed in the same formation as they had left. Then she realized there were a few empty spots.

"Some of the candidates got motion sickness," Jandana said as she effortlessly dismounted Winvath. Kylie was still struggling with her straps, but finally prevailed. Pulling her right leg back over Winvath's neck, she slid down the green dragon's side, briefly landing on solid ground until her shaky legs gave out on her. Then she fell into Jandana who immediately caught her, supporting her until her legs stopped feeling like so much cooked spaghetti. Once the spaghetti in her legs returned to its uncooked state, she stepped back.

"You seemed to be expecting me to fall," she commented.

Chuckling, Jandana just shrugged. "The first flight is like that. I take it you've never ridden a runnerbeast, either."

Kylie shook her head with a wry look. "No, my parents never wanted to pay for the less . . . ," her voice trailed off as she noticed Jandana staring at her. Oh god, she thought, what Pernese never rode a runnerbeast? There's probably one in every cothold. "Uh, they were very overprotective and didn't want me to get hurt," she explained lamely.

"Unh hunh. Remind me to introduce you to . . . ," Jandana started saying skeptically when they were interrupted.

"Enjoy your ride Kailisu? You certainly seem to enjoy your rider," came Mareena's nauseatingly sweet voice.

Shawla's mocking laugh followed Mareena's comment. "Maybe you'll impress blue," she taunted. "Then you could really have fun during your flights!"

This statement should have made Kylie angry but the sheer absurdity of the statement started her laughing. "You'd Impress a blue dragon long before one even sniffed at me," she answered automatically. "I mean, really . . . ."

Kylie never saw the punch coming. She lay on the ground, looking up at Shawla's angry red face. Her fellow candidate was downright terrifying when she was mad, especially when she had the upper hand. For the first time since she'd arrived on Pern, Kylie was well and truly frightened. Shawla looked as if she were going to kill her - and Kylie believed she could.

"Don't ever accuse me of being a woman-lover again," the redhead hissed.

Shaking, Kylie nodded. "I'm sorry," she squeaked.

"Hey! What in Faranth's name is going on here?" Jandana exclaimed at the same time, frowning at Shawla while helping Kylie off the ground. "Am I going to have to report you?"

Kylie wanted her to - boy oh boy did Kylie want her to, but one glance at Mareena had her saying, "No, Jandana, it was just a misunderstanding. We're all friends, really." If she thought she was frightened before, seeing the distressed look on Mareena's face unnerved her even more. She wondered why Mareena even cared about Shawla - from everything she'd seen from that candidate before, Mareena only cared about Mareena. Glancing back over at the exotic beauty, Mareena mouthed, I'll explain later. Kylie nodded. This she had to hear.

We can still report this, even if you say not to.

Kylie sighed. "Jandana, it's OK. It's fine. Shawla is just having a bad day. She's one of my closest friends, so no, don't report her."

I know you're lying, but we'll keep quiet for now.

Mareena and Shawla were staring at Kylie as if she were crazy. Jandana just had a neutral expression on her face, and Kylie began to suspect something. She turned to look at Winvath, but the green dragon was busy nipping at an itch on her side. Shrugging, she turned back around. "Jandana, thank you for a wonderful ride. I'll see you next wee-sevenday. Mareena, Shawla, shall we go put our flying gear up?" She couldn't help but look suspiciously at Mareena again. After all, the girl had been nothing but a horror to her since day one. Well, that wasn't exactly true - Mareena was nice to someone if it benefited Mareena.

"That is such a good idea, Kailisu," Mareena said almost too loudly. She linked one arm with Kylie, and her other with Shawla, and they began heading back to their barracks. R'mez had said that after the fly-along, there would be an hour for the mid-day meal, then lessons would commence once again. Once again Kylie turned to look at Winvath, but she was standing innocently quiet while Jandana detached the riding harness, laughing and joking with a few of her neighbors. Well, she must have been wrong - Jandana had obviously been the one speaking. There was no way Winvath had spoken to her!

The three girls, hooked elbow to elbow, marched on to the barracks. Kylie couldn't help herself, she began to sing.

"We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz," she sang, then stopped. What was the next line? Oh, yeah. She'd just watched that DVD a few days before coming here. She couldn't have forgotten it already. "You'll find he is a whiz of a Wiz, If ever a Wiz there was." As she continued singing, she tried to do the singing/skipping that she remembered Dorothy and company doing, but was halted by her uncooperative companions.

Shawla only kept walking forward while Mareena looked at Kylie oddly. "What's a wizard, why are we off to see him, and what makes him so wonderful?" she asked. "And what's 'Oz'?"

"Who cares?" Shawla asked sullenly, though Kylie thought she detected a spark of interest in her voice.

Kylie chewed her lower lip in thought, then nodded to herself. "Don't your Harpers entertain you as well as teach you?" she asked, wondering if the Harpercraft didn't put on plays. There hadn't been a Gather since she arrived, and the only exposure she'd had to Harpers was the background music that was periodically played during the evening meal. Come to think of it, she'd been kept so busy she couldn't remember any free time entertainment which she could compare this to. Had she opened a can of worms?

"Oh, yes, we have plays during Gathers. It's the end of the season though, and most of the cotholds have been harvesting their crops, then preparing for winter. Then the snows came, making travel dangerous. The approach of Turns End should bring around those who haven't had time for a Gather earlier," Mareena offered, then frowned. "You should know this."

"I've lost track of time being in the Weyr. I haven't been here as long as you," Kylie answered smoothly. Shawla, who had been giving Kylie suspicious glances nodded as if this made a lot of sense.

"Same thing happened to me my first few months here. And we didn't even have the promise of eggs on the Sands yet," the formerly sullen girl offered. Kylie was strangely pleased that Shawla was finally coming around to being civil towards her.

"Yeah, I didn't realize it had been this long," Kylie said. "Anyway, there were a few Harpers at our hold who did this really different play, featuring a girl named, um, Dorthee and her 'lizard Toto. She gets swept up in a tornado and is dumped in a fantastic place called Oz. Later on, I can tell you the story?" Kylie was sweating now - did Pern have fairy tales? What could be Pernized, and what not? Would they accept her explanation?

"Oh, Kailisu, that sounds like a wonderful story," Haneset, Clemoly and Soneja had just caught up to them. "You should tell us tonight!"

"Tell us what?" Andijer asked, closely followed by Irillan. Kylie raised her brows and grimaced. Why did she give in to impulse so often? Would she never learn to not follow her first automatic reflex? Well, if she hadn't now, she probably never would.

"Kailisu started singing this silly song, and says it's part of a new Harper play that was performed in her hold," Mareena said skeptically. "It's so absurd though that . . . ."

In a move that was decidedly out of character for her, Shawla whirled on Mareena. "Just because you've never heard of it means it doesn't exist?" the formerly subservient girl demanded. "This may come as a shock to you Mareena, but you don't know everything." Forcibly yanking her arm from Mareena's she stalked away, presumably towards their barracks. Mareena stared after her, an unfathomable expression on her face.

"What scored her nose?" Andijer asked as they all watched Shawla striding across the Bowl.

Kylie shrugged, giving him a wry look. "I think I put my foot in my mouth again. She said something about me Impressing blue, I said she was more likely to, and it's been weird ever since."

Irillan nodded sagely. "That's because she doesn't want to admit she might prefer women over men."

"Oh, come on now," Haneset exclaimed. "Just because Hodziru wasn't able to entice her to his bed doesn't mean she's a woman lover!" The pretty brunette sidled away from her blonde admirer as if his belief could rub off onto her.

Mareena shook her head. "Irillan's right," she stated with confidence. "That's what I wanted to tell you, Kailisu, when Shawla hit you." There was a gasp from one of the girls. Mareena sent a quelling glance their direction, then continued. "Now is as good a time as any."

"Fine. Then why don't we go to the dining hall and get something to drink. I'm dying of thirst."
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Old Sep 8 2006, 09:32 PM   #19
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Chapter Eighteen
* * * * *

Settled around an out-of-the-way table with plenty of klah, water, juice and a nice platter of finger-foods Kylie, Haneset, Clemoly, Soneja, Andijer and Irillan waited for Mareena to continue with her explanation. The object of their interest seemed to be enjoying the suspense she was causing. With a smug expression upon her face, Mareena was perusing the platter with agonizing deliberation. At least, Kylie thought, it was agonizing to her. While the rest of the group had begun eating, nibbling, or otherwise enjoying their impromptu meal, the Queen Bee was keeping them in suspense. Mentally she shrugged. Maybe this was another difference between herself and the Pernese natives. She was impatient. They . . . .

"Mareena, would you pick something and get on with it!" Clemoly burst out irritably. "Here. You like these, and this, and this." While speaking, Clemoly was taking different items off of the platter and loading up Mareena's plate. She then filled Mareena's mug with klah, grabbed another and filled it with juice, then grabbed yet another and filled with water. "You have a variety of things to drink, to eat, and now have no excuse for dallying." She crossed her arms over her chest and glared.

With a smug laugh, Mareena took a drink of klah. She then nibbled a bit of meatroll, took another drink of klah, then settled back. "It's really not as big of a deal as the rest of you are making it out to be," she commented taking another small bite. "But since you all simply must know, Shawla came from Ruatha about a sevenday after I was Searched. Since I was new here, I felt it wouldn't hurt to have a friend or two."

"Yeah, Irillan and I weren't good enough for her," Andijer commented in a loud whisper to Kylie and Haneset.

Mareena rolled her eyes, shooting the girls a piteous look. "Do you blame me?" she asked. "Now, back to the story."

"Shawla is actually the daughter of Lord Holder Sheralan of Ruatha." The surprise shown by the group was nothing to Mareena's next bombshell. "She was caught 'experimenting' with one of the older drudges. Or maybe the older drudge had been experimenting with her. Either way, the drudge was dismissed and Shawla was sent here."

The group was silent for a moment, digesting this news. Then Haneset, a puzzled frown on her face spoke up. "She was Searched, wasn't she?"

Mareena sniggered. "That's the beauty of being a Lord Holder's daughter. Lord Sheralan paid Weyrleader J'ten to 'Search' Shawla."

Haneset was wide-eyed. "Does my . . . does the Weyrwoman know? No one except Weyrbred are supposed to be able to Stand without being Searched!"

"And why not? Mareena asked. "Why should Weyrbred be exempt from Searching? Why shouldn't others be allowed to stand if they want to?"

"Because it's just not done. It's . . . it's . . . tradition!" Haneset looked around the table but found no support there. The rest of the group was Holdbred or Craftbred, but not Weyrbred. Finally she looked at Kylie, who shrugged.

"I've never understood the reasoning either, unless it's to keep the numbers of people wanting to Stand down," she said finally, drawing on her knowledge of Pern through role-play. "However, I thought that if someone were to come to the Weyr and ask for sanctuary, that they could request to Stand after a certain amount of time. Is that not true?"

The others looked at Haneset. Being Weyrbred, she would know better than anyone else.

"Ye-es, that is true up to a point," Haneset said hesitatingly. "At least one dragon needs to 'officially' Search them, though."

"So technically Shawla could have been Searched, but her father's bribery superceded it," Kylie stated. Haneset nodded miserably, somewhat closed in upon herself and Mareena nodded enthusiastically. Kylie felt bad for Haneset - it wasn't her fault that some possible corruption existed in the Weyr leadership. The fact that the corruption existed with her birth parents had to be even worse. Kylie, however, originating from the good old United States of America would have been surprised if there had not been any corruption.

"In defense of the Weyr leadership," Kylie said, trying to smooth over the rough edges of this conversation, "since we are only now gearing up for a Pass, there haven't been that many clutches to stand for. Therefore, it's not surprising that the Weyrs have not been open to any and all comers. But maybe, now that more dragons will be hatching more people will be allowed to just come to the Weyr without a formal Search." She looked around the table and noticed the softening of demeanor.

Haneset was nodding too enthusiastically. "Yes. That's it. We're still in an Interval. It's got to be it."

In about the tenth uncharacteristic move of the day, Mareena leaned over the table and patted Haneset on the back. "It's not your fault. I mean, your mother and J'ten do what they can to run the Weyr properly. If that means taking a few bribes, then so be it. It's not like they're Bitran or anything."

"And it's not like they raised you," Irillan interjected, putting his arm around her. "Weyrwoman Rhanda just gave birth to you. That's all she did."

Irillan's attentiveness seemed to do more for Haneset than anything Kylie could do, so she left things as they were. She did look at Mareena surreptitiously, however. By her telling them this, it helped give an insight into Shawla. But what was in it for Mareena? She couldn't help but think the other girl had an agenda, and they were all on it.

Soberly, Haneset was nodding in agreement. "So, Mareena. I assume that the reason you brought all of this up was to explain Shawla's behaviour earlier today? When she what - punched Kailisu?"

"Right in the gut," Mareena said before Kylie had a chance to say anything. "I'm sure that her irrational behaviour earlier was the result of that remark. She still hasn't come to terms with whether she's a woman-lover or not. So, we don't even mention it. Agreed?"

"Agreed," came a chorus of voices. Maybe they should talk to the rest of the candidates, but Kylie didn't know them as well as she knew this group.

"Fine. I think our hour's up, so we need to go for our afternoon classes," Mareena said, rising from her seat. The others followed suit, and soon they were out in the Bowl, joining the rest of the Candidacy class. Shawla was already there and greeted everyone warmly.

The hour break must have been good for her, Kylie thought. It gave her time to calm down.

The rest of the day went smoothly. Kylie didn't open her mouth with more sarcastic comments, Shawla didn't punch anyone else, and Mareena wasn't nearly as smug as she used to be. Maybe they were all finally learning to work together instead of at odds with each other. Yet, Kylie still had her reservations. She still didn't want to trust Mareena.
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Old Sep 8 2006, 09:33 PM   #20
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Chapter Nineteen
* * * * *

Several days after their first dragon ride, Kylie was back to working in the kitchens. While Candidacy meant more classes, there wasn't much R'mez needed to teach them. After Impression was when he would have his hands full, but until then the candidates had one day a week for a ride along, one day for other classes and the rest of their time belonged to the Weyr. One thing that changed was that each candidate was assigned to the area they showed the most affinity for. This meant that the only time the group from that day's talk were together was during the evening meal and bedtime. Kylie was almost sorry about this - she missed trading barbs in the kitchen with Mareena and Shawla, but Mareena was assigned to the Housekeeping Staff and Shawla was assigned to the Tailorcraft. Clemoly was with the Infirmary, so they were able to see each other periodically when Clemoly needed something out of the kitchen, or Kylie needed to get a bandage or ten. She also had the pleasure of working with Andijer and Irillan, both self-proclaimed 'Beastie Boys', as they were still with the Beastcraft. When Andijer told everyone their nickname Kylie choked on her laughter. Though she had a coughing fit which worried everyone at first, she restrained herself from asking the boys if they had to 'fight for the right to party'.

Haneset, Soneja and Kylie ended up in the kitchen together. Wyncia admitted she had seen something in all three of them, an affinity for creating edible dishes that she could enrich. Even if they all Impressed, knowing how to cook and cook well was a useful trait. Kylie also wondered about Wyncia's foresight when Thread became a reality once again. It was very possible that any or all of them could become dragonless if they Impressed at all. Having a craft to fall back on was thinking ahead.

"Creeoooo," Noyance came flying in, landing on Kylie's shoulder and rubbing her cheek with her velvety-soft head.

"I'm sorry," Kylie said softly. "I didn't mean to freak you out."

"What did you say?" Wyncia asked, joining Kylie at the table where she was portioning out dough for rolls.

Kylie shook her head. "Nothing. I was thinking about something morbid, and Noyance didn't care for it."

"Mmmhmmm," the kitchen overseer looked skeptical, but didn't say anything else. "I need you to get another bag of flour from the storage area. Bring some salt, too."

"Flour?" Kylie groaned. The flour was kept in 25 pound burlap bags. She hated getting flour.

"Oh, quit complaining. You know you can carry it as well as anyone else now," Wyncia said sternly, but her eyes were crinkled in amusement. "You're not the spoiled little weakling you were when you got here."

"True. But that doesn't mean I like to get the flour," Kylie retorted, an answering grin on her face. "At least the salt isn't so heavy!"

"But you're getting both, so it doesn't matter," Wyncia handed Kylie a towel to wipe off her hands. "Now, go!"

The storage cave was fairly deep inside the Weyr cave system. While tunnelsnakes would be a problem no matter what, most other vermin didn't venture as deeply into the caverns so foodstuffs were less likely to be lost through shrinkage. It was also cool and dry in those caves - something Kylie had been surprised at. She'd always thought of caves as being dank and damp. It was after several weeks of her arrival on Pern that Kylie realized the hot springs and heated Weyr lake were the cause of the comfortably warm living quarters which everyone took advantage of. The cave systems which ran outward - away from the lake and the springs but towards the outside world got cooler the further away from the center. At certain points, the caves were warm and dry, cool and dry, tapering into cold, dank and damp. One of the reasons no one liked to go to the storage cavern was due to its distance away from the center of activity - it seemed to take forever to walk the tunnels through the mountain to it, then come back lugging 25 - 50 pounds of flour, sugar, potatoes or other items.

Well, Kylie mused, at least I won't have to do dishes. Wyncia's usually fair like that - whoever gets the heavy stuff doesn't have to do the other scut-work.

Noyance rode along on Kylie's shoulder. "You know you'll lose your free ride when I get the flour," she told her 'lizard while skritching her head. Noyance made a sound suspiciously like a purr, curled her tail around Kylie's neck and seemed to go to sleep. They walked along for a little longer, then Noyance suddenly came awake, shrieked and disappeared between. Before Kylie even had a chance to comment, Noyance came back, flew a few laps around the area they were in at the time squawking madly, then disappeared again. Sill learning the vagaries of firelizard habits, Kylie shook her head and continued on to her destination.

Lifting and carrying the flour and salt would have been an impossible task for Kylie three months earlier, but now they were just another annoyance. She could almost lift two bags of flour, but realized when she did that the long trek back to the kitchen would exhaust her more fully than she wanted to be. One 25 pound bag of flour and a five pound bag of salt were enough for now. Maybe in another three months, she though grinning to herself, pleased at the changes she'd noticed already.

Back home, Kylie had lost all hope of losing weight. Granted, she was only fifteen but true to the nature of most teenagers she wanted immediate results. Plus, she had no willpower. Her excuse had been that school was hard, and people just didn't like her, yet after being here she could see why. She didn't much like who she had been either. She still didn't know if she liked herself, but at least it was easier to look at herself in a mirror, or looking metal than it used to be. She'd prevailed upon Haneset to cut her hair once the dead ends had grown out, and was amazed at what a healthy diet could do! It was shiny, thick and bouncy enough for any shampoo or conditioner commercial. Her acne had cleared up almost overnight, her skin had a healthy glow to it and she'd lost enough weight that she could wear normal clothes. Granted, she still considered herself 'full figured', but she wouldn't be ashamed to be seen naked now.

Naked. Now if she could get that arrogant bronzerider to look at her again, she'd get naked for him. Oh, yes she would. Then tell him to go pound firestone, because he was not worthy of her. Not the way he had acted, oh, no. Maybe during the Turn's End Gather that Mareena had kept talking about she could refute him! That would be fun. Or, well, she could wait another three months and see what she looked like, but she wanted to do it now. Today. That would show him, that she was ready and he couldn't have her. Maybe she'd throw him over for Andijer - now there was a nice boy. Andijer had been so nice to her. His brother wasn't bad looking either. There weren't very many ugly riders here, come to think of it. Granted, some weren't to her taste, but hey, if they wanted her she'd take them.

Kylie shook her head and gave a shaky laugh. She'd read somewhere that exercise made you horny, but she had just assumed it would be sit-ups that would do the job. Not carrying a sack of flour. Yet if someone were to come up to her now, asking for sex, she suspected she would go for it. How odd was that? Her mind started musing again as she continued down the long dark corridor. Yes, it was dark down here. Very dark. If it weren't for the glow baskets every ten feet or so, she wouldn't know which way she was going. The thought of being in a dark corridor, not knowing who was around the corner was deliciously frightening. What would she do? Beg to be let go? Beg not to be let go? Maybe they would hold her from behind, running their hand down her side, slowly reaching under her tunic, their hand moving toward her brea . . . .

Stop it! Now, where did that thought come from? This was so unlike her, yet Kylie could still feel a tingle in her . . . well, definitely not in her belly. She remembered the last romance book she read and had to laugh at its description. If this was how it felt to be aroused, the belly had absolutely nothing to do with it. If they wanted to put in a description, 'loins' was much closer than 'belly'. Speaking of loins, there was still a tingle there. Kylie wanted a drink of water. Or klah. Or whiskey. No, forget the whiskey, she'd tasted that once. Vodka. Yes, vodka had no taste from what she'd been told. But it did burn on the way down, well, the whisky had at least. Would that negate her feelings or increase them? Oh, a rock. She could sit down for a moment.

Kylie sat, putting the flour down beside her. She'd never walked these corridors alone before, so obviously the imagination her mother had always called 'overactive' was on overdrive. Kylie took several deep breaths and held her head. Slowly she got these odd feelings under control. Another two or three deep breaths to hold her, she picked up the sack of flour and hoisted it to her shoulder. The salt had a convenient loop that she could use to carry it with, but she had been holding it in front of her. Maybe it was the salt knocking against her . . . uh, belly . . . that was causing this. That would make sense. Rearranging the flour on her shoulder, she adjusted the way she was holding the salt. There. That should do it. Kylie continued on through the corridor, no stray bags hitting against any stray parts of her body. By the light at the end of the tunnel, she could tell she was almost there and breathed a sigh of relief. Another five minutes, then through the short corridor connecting the inner rooms of the Weyr together, past the dining hall and she was home free.

Free. She was free to feel like a woman. And man, she felt like a woman. She was in such a good mood, feelin' alright, gonna let it all hang out. Kylie started humming the song but she was feeling so good, so fine that she couldn't help herself, she started singing out loud, "Oh, oh, oh, I wanna be free-yeah, to feel the way I feel. Man! I feel like a woman!"

On that note she stepped out into the well-lighted corridor and was hit by such a wall of need and want that she sagged back against the wall, clutching the bag of flower against her. What was going on? Was she getting ill? Shaking her head she straightened up and headed left towards the kitchen. She'd talk to Wyncia about going to the Infirmary if the feeling persisted, but as she put her mind to it she was able to quash it to something more tolerable. It was a good thing no one was in the corridor - it kept Kylie from acting the fool and throwing herself at someone. Shaking off the urge one more time, she readjusted the bag and began to walk once again. She passed by a room that was filled with people and took a moment to look in. Odd, she'd never seen this room used before, nor this door open. Well, it looked like some kind of meeting, and this door probably should be closed. Setting down the bag once again, she stepped into the room to close the door.

Suddenly there was a shriek from one of the women in the room, and a victorious cry from one of the men. The other men in the room let up a mass groan and Kylie made a mental note to ask Wyncia what was happening. Were they voting on something? As she took hold of the handle to close the door one of the men staggered towards her, his face showing disappointment and loss. Then, as he saw her his face filled with a passionate hope. "Hello, beautiful," he whispered, his voice erotically sexy. Wrapping his arms around her, he covered her mouth with his own.

It was as if he were the answer to what she was searching for in the dark corridor. Kylie met his lips hungrily, forgetting who she was, what she was doing here, and where she needed to be. All that mattered was the burning passion which enveloped them.
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Old Sep 8 2006, 09:36 PM   #21
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Chapter Twenty
* * * * *

T'gat was busy fitting his fighting straps on Tazemeth when the large bronze broke free from the straps which had already been fastened on. With a loud shriek, he headed towards the feeding pens where several other bronzes were already heading.

"You big bronze lump! What do you think you're doing?" T'gat began to gather the broken straps, winding them into a coil. Stupid dragon, these straps were brand new and were now ruined. Maybe a weyrling or three could use the leather.

Loth will rise when she wakes. If Tazemeth could say anything to dampen T'gat's anger, then this was it. Broken straps made from solid gold would be forgiven, if a queen were rising.

Blood, don't eat, T'gat instructed, hurrying to the feeding grounds to ensure his dragon did just that. Tazemeth was usually good about his blooding, but T'gat made sure to control him even so. A gorged bronze would never win a queenflight, and he had every intention of winning. Half Tazemeth and half T'gat, the bronzerider nodded to the other riders whose bronzes were blooding their kills. Tazemeth did nothing of the sort, instead picking out his beasts, killing them in one swipe and sucking the blood out of their bodies.

The first beast was always the hardest. Whenever dragons hunted, they would immediately eat their kill. When a queen rose the dragons instinctively knew they needed energy and hunted once again. But to keep from being weighed down, they had to blood their kill, not gorge on the succulent meat that was so convenient. T'gat had to force his will upon Tazemeth, but once the hot blood began to course down his throat, Taz began to blood on his own. T'gat could feel the effect of the blooding on the dragon - there was something primal and raw about the act.

T'gat was amazed at how sensual he felt whenever his bronze blooded, and wished it were more often. Greens didn't blood - there was no reason to - they rose just to be caught. Not golds. Then he realized, with a Pass coming it would be more often. Since Telgar Weyr had only two queens right now, the pickings were slim for bronzeriders. Granted, there was one more on the Sands, but even three wouldn't be enough. Whether Tazemeth or another flew Loth, T'gat sincerely hoped it would be high and long. They needed all the dragons they could produce before the Pass began.

You catch her, Taz, you just go on and catch her, T'gat advised, leaving the pens and running towards the flight room. Telgar had begun a tradition several Intervals ago of a central location to meet during a flight, whether it be gold or green. This made it easier for all riders involved to find each other. After a fatal green flight where the green's rider was waiting in one weyr and the winning blue's rider just couldn't seem to find her, the 'Tradition' was put into place. The green and blue both ended up going between because their riders were unable to bring them back. The Weyrleader of that time did not want anything like that happening ever again. So far, it had not.

By the time T'gat reached the flight room Taz had blooded and was waiting upon the heights. Through Tazemeth's eyes T'gat could see that Loth had just awoken and swooped into the feeding pens. Her rider, Loryan, stood just outside the pens, stiff in concentration as Loth tried to feed. Restrained from feeding on the already blooded carcasses, Loth arched her back and shrieked defiantly at the waiting bronzes and at Loryan. Swinging her head from side to side, she tried breaking the hold her rider had on her, but the bond was too strong. Soon she had killed a beast and was draining the blood out of it.

Two more drained beasts later, Loth was ready. The look in her red-orange whirling eyes was no longer defiant but arrogant, superior. It said that none of these bronzes were worthy of her. Tazemeth sent a wave of assurance to T'gat, that yes, they were worthy of this magnificent dragon and only needed to prove themselves. T'gat smiled where he stood in the huddle of hopeful winners. His dragon was the best!

With a derisive shriek, Loth launched herself out of the beast pens and out of the Weyr in a move so quick it took all the bronzes by surprise. Tazemeth launched himself off of the rim, not the first to launch but not the last. The bronze dragon settled himself into a race he meant to win, flying easily and strongly. He took advantage of any tailwind he could, noticing that Loth herself had chosen to fly with the wind instead of against it. There were other bronzes next to him and in front, but the bulk of bronze followers was behind them. Let's see if we can keep it that way, T'gat/Tazemeth thought.

There was no chatting back and forth between the bronzes. There was no taunting from Loth. The queen taunted enough by staying ahead of the pack, weaving in and out of clouds, climbing higher and higher. T'gat/Tazemeth were impressed with her flying skill - she avoided clouds as much as she could while climbing. Flying in clouds was hard and heavy work, slowing a dragon down because of the inherent moisture. By shooting in between two of the fluffy white menaces, Loth was ensuring that only the smartest (or luckiest) dragons prevailed, since those caught in the cloud cover would be hindered by the excessive moisture.

Several more dragons fell back, leaving only five still in the lead. T'gat/Tazemeth strained forward, the golden body beckoning. She's starting to slow, they thought as they fought harder to get ahead, the glowing golden tail within touching range now. Loth was flying straight ahead of them when she changed direction and went up even higher. T'gat/Tazemeth overshot, still flying in a straight line while one of the other dragons bugled his victory.

Serlath, Tazemeth informed T'gat as they bellowed their disappointment with the three other dragons who were still with them.

R'kel, T'gat informed Tazemeth as he broke away from the group huddled around Loryan. Tazemeth dove into the Weyr lake with the other bronzes while T'gat needed to clear his head. The bulge in his trousers needed relief. While other riders preferred to drink their losses away, T'gat preferred to find a more entertaining exercise. Some of the Weyr workers hung around the flight room in hopes of catching a rider's eye for a little bit of fun. That was what T'gat was after now. He turned, still feeling lusty from the flight and noticed a waiting blonde-haired girl by the door. He strode over to her, figuring that she was there to ease someone's pain. It may as well be his.

"Hello, beautiful," he said as his mouth came down on hers. With the passion in which his kiss was returned, he knew that she had been waiting for one of them. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her to one of the empty guest rooms. His need was too urgent to wait for Tazemeth to take them to his weyr. Besides, she was a worker. She could clean up afterward.

Shouldering the door aside, he kicked it closed with his foot and began to expertly remove her clothing. She answered in kind, willingly yet clumsily. It didn't matter. All that mattered was her as they sank down upon the bed.

* * * * *

An afternoon of lovemaking following a queenflight was a good day indeed, T'gat thought as he stretched after waking up from his short snooze. Tazemeth may not have won Loth's flight but that didn't prevent him from enjoying the residual effects. Actually, it was good for Tazemeth too, since their minds were joined so closely that whatever T'gat felt, Taz would feel too. It was too bad that Taz had lost though. The bronze deserved a good queen flight.

I may have lost, but you certainly didn't, came the wry comment from his dragon.

Oh shush. You'll be chasing a green in next to no time, T'gat answered cheerfully. While it wasn't the same, it was better than not winning at all.

She's not my type anyway. T'gat had to openly laugh at that comment. Sour grapes from his dragon?

"Mmmffff," came a sound from next to him. T'gat had to smile. He had no idea who he'd grabbed after Tazemeth lost, but she had been ready, willing and able. He'd have to get her name - this was one he wanted in his bed again. He smiled again at the positions she allowed him to put her in. From the cries still ringing in his head, she had enjoyed it.

A tousled blonde head poked itself out of the covers. "What happened?" the girl asked, and T'gat grinned at her. Yes, a fine day indeed. She was passably pleasing to look at, though more overweight than he liked. He revised his thought on looking her up later - after all, he had standards. She looked somewhat familiar, yet after so many flights in a Weyr - both green and gold - all workers began to look alike. Her nose was angular and slightly small compared to her full cheeks, but her lips were full. His thoughts stopped there for a moment as he remembered what those full lips could do when encouraged properly. Back at his mental assessment of the girl, he realized that her eyes were an unusually dark blue color. Framed as they were by light lashes, they stood out in her face. At the moment they were looking quizzically at him, and he realized he hadn't answered her question.

"Loth's flight happened," he answered, still grinning. "Tazemeth lost."

"Oh." The girl looked around, then looked straight at him. "So, you're a bronzerider? Do you always grab someone just passing by when you lose a flight?" Now she looked a little agitated, as if she hadn't been there to help out the flight losers.

T'gat frowned slightly. "You were there, in the room. What else could you have been doing there?" In a Weyr where there were so many willing women, he had no need to bed an unwilling one. Come to think of it, they had gone out the back way, and there hadn't been anyone there.

The girl looked down and drew the sheets up to cover her breasts. T'gat hadn't even noticed that they weren't covered before. "I . . . I didn't know. I'd been down in the food storage caves, and . . . ." she waved one hand vaguely while the other still clutched the sheet to her chest. "I've never been around . . . I, uh, I'm fairly new here." Upon closer scrutiny, T'gat noticed that what he thought was a glow of satisfaction on her face was, in fact, dried tears. Her eyes, the blue of which was so striking, were rimmed in a red he hadn't noticed. Her lips were red, not naturally so but from swelling.

The pieces fell into place for T'gat then. She'd been so deep in the mountain that she hadn't felt the effects of Loth rising. And she had the luck, be it bad or good, to come out right at the end. She must have been frightened out of her wits at her feelings. And he had just ravaged her without a care - yet she had ravaged him back. Hadn't she? Now he wasn't so sure. Were those cries she made of pleasure or pain?

"Uh, if it makes you feel any better, I had no idea you didn't know," he said, not sure if he were being lame or complimentary.

"Oh. Uh, sure. Is that a compliment?" She raised her eyes back to him - warily, not coquettishly as he originally thought.

"Actually, yes it is. I'm T'gat, by the way. Rider of bronze Tazemeth."

The wariness which had cloaked her demeanor shattered. The girl's eyes went icy-cold, and she slid away from him as if he were a poisonous tunnelsnake. "T'gat. Of all the riders who could have . . . of all the . . . why you?" She may have said a few other things, but her anger had made her incoherent. She'd flung the sheet away and began searching for her clothing. T'gat looked at where she had been sitting and blanched. Blood. She had been a virgin. But why was she mad at him?

"I guess I'm good enough for you when you're not in your right mind," she was saying hotly. "But meet a girl by a river and you look at her as if she were ****. Not good enough to sit on your dragon." She turned to him, her pants on but holding her shirt. "So, do I pass muster now?"

What was she talking about? "What are you talking about? I don't know you, do I?" He must have looked sincerely confused, because she blinked, then turned away to finish putting her shirt on. He reached down to get his own trousers when he heard a sound, and saw her shoulders shaking.

"Uh, are you all right?" he asked as he slipped his legs into his trousers, knowing full well that she was not all right.

"NO! No, I am not all right you ignorant jackass! You grab me without a by-your-leave from the hallway because your dragon can't win a gold, you force me to do things I've never even thought of before, and you don't even remember you brought me back on Search! Why should I be all right?" Her voice had risen with every word until at the end she'd lost so much air that she could barely get the last words out. She began to cough, which coupled with her tears turned into hiccups.

As she whirled on him again, her face was swollen and puffy from crying. Ironically, this was when T'gat remembered where he had met her.

"You're that fat girl two dragons in my wing Searched!" he exclaimed. "Klee something, wasn't it?" This probably wasn't the right thing to say, considering the high-pitched keen that came out of the girl's throat, and the whole-hearted crying that came afterwards. T'gat backed away from her, bending to pick up his own shirt. Maybe he'd go to his own weyr and work on those broken straps.

And leave her here? Tazemeth asked.

What else am I supposed to do with her. Look at her - she's a mess. I can't believe I was thinking of taking her to bed again.

But she's upset.

Yeah, and apparently my presence makes her more so. Like I said, time for me to leave.

You could try apologizing. Tazemeth spoke hesitantly, as if he weren't sure he should do that.

Apologize? Why? What do I have to apologize for?

For hurting her feelings?


T'gat finished getting dressed and left the room. She was Searched, she wanted to be a rider. She needed to thicken her skin, otherwise she'd never get by. Tazemeth stayed quiet - T'gat wasn't sure if the bronze just didn't approve, or gave up on getting him to apologize. No matter what, T'gat was not staying around while that Klee-whatever cried because he called her fat. She's lucky he didn't call her ugly, too, considering that crying never did anything for a woman's face.

Too bad. She had been a good lay.
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Old Sep 16 2006, 12:19 PM   #22
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Chapter Twenty-One
* * * * *

The bronzerider hadn't even bothered to stay and make Kylie feel better. She didn't even notice T'gat leave, she'd been so focused on feeling sorry for herself. Now she was torn between crying again, or cleaning herself up to go back to work. In a way, T'gat's indifference made her angrier than upset. What kind of man would leave a woman in her obvious distress anyway?

One who has better things to do than coddle a Weyr worker.

Well, true. She was expecting to be coddled. But she was also understandably upset, too. After all, she had been the object of his disgust when they first met, and now she was good enough to take to bed? That situation seemed a little hypocritical, didn't it?

And how do you think he felt. Your actions questioned his virility.

Huh. She hadn't thought of that. Obviously her conscience was working overtime, even if it did have T'gat's voice. Granted, she was a virgin, as the bedclothes proved beyond a doubt, but it couldn't be nice for any man to be greeted after a bout of lovemaking with not only tears, but hysterics. Maybe she owed him an apology - though she still felt he owed her one also.

Someone has to take the first step.

True. Maybe if she took the initiative and apologized to him for her actions, then he just might apologize to her also. And if he didn't, then he wasn't worth the time of day.

Good girl.

Odd to have her inner voice praising her, but since she'd obviously been overly distraught, maybe she was also a little schizophrenic. Hopefully it would stop - otherwise what dragon would Impress someone with two personalities?

Two dragons?

Lord help her! The thought if Impressing two dragons seemed wrong, but what seemed even worse was this second personality of hers cracking a joke. Obviously her subconscious was punishing her for something - but what? OH. Yeah. She'd been so busy trying to fit in here on Pern that it had been weeks since she'd thought about her family. Granted, while she hadn't been consciously missing her family, there was an underlying sadness in her mind. And while it was not totally gone, at least she'd kept it subdued. Maybe she needed to think about her home once in a while, just to keep herself sane.

Her voice didn't say anything about this, so she rose from the bed she'd been sitting on to go find some water to clean up with. That's when the pain hit her and she sat back down again. If this was how sex affected people afterwards, then why would they continue to do it? It hurt to walk. It hurt to sit. It hurt to just stand up. This was not what she expected! Slowly she got to her feet again and began to hobble towards the door. OK, so it did get better. But now she was aware of the stickiness between her legs from her exertions, mainly because it had dried and was pulling at her skin. She needed a soak. Maybe that would help her, too. As she painfully made her way toward the door, it opened.

"I thought I'd come back and . . . good Faranth, look at you! You can barely walk!" T'gat strode into the room, scooping Kylie up in his big, strong arms and depositing her back on the bed. Kylie opened her mouth to protest.

What happened to being nice? Taking the first step?

True. But did he have to . . . ?

Look on the bright side, he's showing concern for you instead of revulsion.

True again. May as well start on the 'being nice' avenue.

"Um, thanks for coming back," she started, not knowing what to say. Actually, the position she was in was embarrassing, and she had no one to talk to. "Uh . . . er, could you get me some numbweed? I need to go back to work."

"Work? I think not. You need to go see a Healer." T'gat had deposited her on the side of the bed he had been using and was looking at the blood on the sheets, a worried look on his face. "This is too much blood. I'm willing to bet you were a virgin, but even so, it's too much. I think I tore you."

Kylie gave T'gat a puzzled look. "Tore me?"

The bronzerider started to give Kylie a derisive look, then it changed into one of sympathy. "I forget, you probably don't know much about sex, being Hold-bred and all." When Kylie started to disagree, T'gat sat on the bed next to her, taking one hand in hers.

"For a woman, the first time they have sex is going to be uncomfortable because the hymen needs to be broken." Kylie nodded impatiently and opened her mouth, but T'gat forestalled her once again. "A mating flight is very rough for the players - not just the immediate participants, but even those of us who do not win the flight. Our minds are still in that flight-frenzy, our dragons are linked to the queen and her winner. Most riders go drink their loss away, but some of us find that a more . . . recreational . . . pastime works better.

"The women that hang around the Flight Room know that, and are prepared for rough sex. You, on the other hand, were barely prepared for normal sex. You weren't open enough for me and, well, I am quite well endowed." T'gat grinned wickedly at that revelation. Kylie just stared at him.

"You mean to tell me," she said slowly, "that . . . that . . . ." She trailed off, too embarrassed to put it into words. At least, not publicly. Yet there was a little niggling thought at the back of her mind - T'gat had literally ripped into her. If she didn't do something soon, she was going to break down into hysterics.

T'gat must have sensed something the same, for he arose and picked her back up. "Therefore," he stated, "I need to take you to see the Healers. They can check you and ensure you aren't hurt too badly." He turned towards the door and headed towards the Infirmary.

* * * * *

There was nothing wrong with Kylie that a few days of bed rest and some numbweed wouldn't cure. It surprised her that Wyncia wasn't upset with her for not being able to work, yet when she mentioned something about it Haneset looked at her in shock.

"Why would anyone be mad that you can't work? If you kept on working you could hurt yourself even worse. How bad did they treat you at Tolidohyo Hold, anyway?"

Opening her mouth to say something, Kylie realized that there had never been slavery on Pern. Well, maybe during Lord Chalkin's time, yet had he even existed? The only validation Kylie had about the books ever being right was Faranth's name, and the names of the Weyrs and Holds. As for the stories - did they ever happen? Or was it possible that she was in a different timeline altogether? She wished she had someone to talk to about her thoughts, but she was the only one here from her time.

"Well," Kylie said hesitantly, "I . . . I was told that a Candidate was no better than a . . . drudge . . . ." she faltered, looking at the expression on Haneset's face. The girl was absolutely livid with rage.

"How dare anybody speak of the Weyr like that! If your family weren't gone I'd . . . oh." With the inadvertent reminder that Kylie had no family, the wind was taken out of Haneset's sails. "Oh, Kailisu, I'm sorry."

Staring at Haneset in shock, two tears trailed down Kylie's face. She hadn't been talking about her family, but Haneset reminded her of how much she missed her mother and father and yes, even her brother. Noyance, lying in her usual place on the pillow beside Kylie's head reached her head over and rubbed against Kylie's cheek. This made Kylie feel a little better - better enough to try and set Haneset straight.

"It wasn't my mother, Haneset," she said haltingly, trying not to sob. Hadn't she cried enough for one day? "It was some . . . friends . . . who said this.” The owners of Black Benden Weyr had started this RPG to fill a niche in the role-play community - basically one that followed the premise of the book Dragonflight and only that book. No females on green or blue. A very dark Weyr, where women were brought in to be sexual playtoys and drudges.

Haneset nodded, her face losing some of its anger. "Well, obviously these so-called 'friends' of yours need to come to a Weyr just to see how things are really run. Make you work when you're ill, indeed." She snorted, then fluffed Kylie's pillow, dislodging Noyance while she was at it. With an angry squawk, the green firelizard disappeared between, only to reappear at the foot of Kylie's bed.

"Maybe your right. I go to see the Healer again tomorrow, and she'll let me know if I can come back to work. Tell Wyncia I'm sorry."

"You'll only make Wyncia mad by all this unnecessary apologizing. You tell her yourself when you go back. Now here, drink this." Haneset handed Kylie the valerian, mint and chamomile tea to drink so she could go back to sleep. While the valerian smelled and tasted horrible, mint and chamomile were added to try and make it more palatable. Kylie wasn't sure if the effort worked, but she wasn't about to try straight valerian to see the difference. The tea had cooled down enough that she could chug it, holding her breath the whole while. Haneset sat there with an amused expression on her face the whole while.

Reaching for the sprig of mint leaves, Kylie immediately ate them as soon as she was done with the tea. "Sure, you laugh. Wait until you have to drink this stuff." She made a face as she swallowed the last of the mint down.

"Trust me, I've had enough to already last me a lifetime," Haneset said as she got up to leave. "At least it's not as addictive as fellis."

"Fellis would probably taste better," Kylie yawned. She knew it wasn't the tea acting this quickly, she was truly tired. But the valerian would help her sleep the night through. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Haneset quietly slipped out as Kylie began to softly snore.
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Old Sep 16 2006, 12:20 PM   #23
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Chapter Twenty-Two
* * * * *

The Healer told Kylie she could do light duty in the kitchen. She also informed Kylie that there was to be no dragonriding for at least another sevenday. There were only two more ride-alongs to happen, so Kylie was understandably dejected. Of course, she was also understandably sore, but the thought of not being able to ride Winvath was more painful than any number of debilitating injuries she could think of. Taking pity on her, Jandana stayed behind to talk with her, and go over some of the finer points of dragonriding that the rest of the class wasn't privy to. In other words, they went to the lake to give Winvath a bath.

Kylie had seen riders bathing their dragons from a distance, but had never had the chance to watch them. What with her kitchen duties and candidate classes, there just wasn't much time for loitering around the Weyr lake. The reality of what was needed to give a dragon a bath was staggering, she discovered. She knew they'd need soapsand, but the amount! It only took a small handful to bathe herself, including her hair. For Winvath, they needed a pail about the size of a gallon paint can. Brushes and rags? Well, there were just a lot of rags, but the brushes were huge. They reminded Kylie of push brooms.

Jandana also decided that since she had a willing victim . . . rather, helper . . . she'd also give her green the oiling she had been needing for several days now. The oil was stored in a container reminiscent of a 50 gallon drum. Of course, Winvath didn't get her spa date scott-free, she had to carry her things down to the lake. Every weyr was equipped with at least one of the large heavy nets that the dragons used for transporting items. Winvath used that to carry her supplies, which she did happily. After all, she was the one being pampered.

The two women walked companionably down to the lake, chatting about whatever came to mind first. For Kylie, this was dragons, Impression, and How To Impress Your Life's Dream 101. Jandana was more interested about Kylie's life before she was Searched for Telgar Weyr, so Kylie tried to keep the topic on dragons.

"I don't know what else to tell you," Jandana finally said, her voice showing faint exasperation. "You either Impress, or you don't. As long as you keep welcoming thoughts in your mind. I Stood for," she stopped talking to tilt her head up and tally the Clutches she had Stood for, "three Clutches. If it had been now, during a Pass, there would have been many more. As it was, we did have another queen for a while, but her rider died from winter pneumonia about eight Turns ago. You just need to remember that a baby dragon wants to be wanted, so you can't let her know that you don't think she'll want you. There will be three times as many candidates on the Sands as there are eggs. The dragons will go to the first mind that is compatible and welcoming."

It made so much sense, both coming from Jandana and from R'mez, yet Kylie was afraid she'd blow it. So, she'd just have to stop thinking like that. Kylie nodded. Easy enough.

"So, I hear that there was some odd disaster that took out your hold. Can you talk about what happened?" Jandana asked this hesitantly but firmly, as if she knew this would be hard for Kylie to talk about - yet she still wanted to know. Kylie hesitated, then decided to tell the truth as she knew it.

"Uh, I don't know what happened. One day I was at home fighting with my brother, the next thing I knew, I was waking up next to the Lemos River. I remember a loud noise and light." And cold, she realized. Bone-chilling, searing cold. Similar to what she felt when Jandana took her between, but worse. Longer. More. Today was the first time she realized that.

"Hey, you all right?" Jandana asked, and Kylie realized she was shivering. Rubbing her arms, she stopped the shivering, at the same time Jandana stopped at the lake's edge. Sitting down, the greenrider pulled off her shoes and socks, and rolled up her trousers. Being made of cotton, it wouldn't matter if they got wet, but Kylie understood why she did it. The feel of wet clothing against her skin made her cringe, too. Jandana turned and smiled when Kylie finished. "Ready?"

"Ready," Kylie smiled back, then waded into the water with her friend. She was surprised at how warm the water was, then was surprised about being surprised. They were in a volcanic crater. The water in the caverns was heated by the geothermal tunnels. Why wouldn't the lake be warm, also. It probably made it nicer in the wintertime, for those days the riders still needed to wash their dragons. Just because cold weather set in didn't stop anyone from getting dirty. She stopped next to Jandana and took one of the brushes held out to her, then looked up at Winvath. And gulped.

There was an awful lot of dragon to wash. Why didn't she look so big when Kylie was riding her? Well - she had that first day, but since then it had been getting easier. Until today. Wash that huge expanse of dragonhide? Then moisturize it?

Seeing her expression, Jandana let out a soft laugh. "It's not as daunting as it looks. I promise."

"Yeah, sure," Kylie said dubiously, but gamely waded into the lake with Jandana.

Soapsand was sprinkled on Winvath, then the brushes were used to wet it down and rub Winvath's hide. The grainy soap and rough-textured brushes also served as an exfoliant. Kylie learned that day that a dragonrider may give his or her dragon a full bath only after firestone drills, but otherwise the dragons were left to their own devices. By the way Jandana explained it, Kylie likened the act to a day at a spa for a human. Dragons were intelligent creatures after all, and they liked to be pampered as much as the next person.

One thing that Kylie wanted to find out was the origin of soapsand. After all, this had been a debate on many a Pern bulletin board for as many years as Kylie had belonged to boards. So, she asked. Jandana gave her an odd look, since this was supposed to be one of those common knowledge things.

"My parents always had some. I never knew where they got it." It was as good an excuse as any, and appeased the greenrider.

It turned out that soapsand was made from an indigenous plant. It began as a berry with a waxy texture. When the berries were cooked, mashed, strained, then cooked to too high of a heat then cooled too quickly, the resulting goop would crystallize. When spread out to dry it could be broken up into its crystal, or sand like form and stored. This, to Kylie, made much more sense than finding sand anywhere water could find it that was soapy. Curiosity assuaged, she turned back to the business at hand of bathing Winvath.

Noyance flew in right after they began to scrub, and with her came several of the other 'lizards of the Weyr, who all began to help by dribbling the sand on hard-to-reach spots, and using their nimble feet to scrub the very top of the dragons. Hearing some playful shrieks, Kylie was made aware of some of the Weyr children. When she looked at Jandana and pointed to the kids, the greenrider laughed.

"Just try to keep them away. They're perfectly safe here - once one child is in the lake, the dragons start listening for them. No youngster has ever come to harm through helping bathe a dragon. Most of the dragons enjoy their attentions, and everyone knows the ones to stay away from." At Kylie's shocked look, Jandana shook her head, green eyes twinkling. "No, nothing like that. The dragons don't hurt them - they are sort of like a . . . a cornered feline. A lot of noise, but no action against anyone unless they are bothered. But the dragons don't even go that far - no dragon has ever knowingly harmed a child."

It seemed to Kylie that there were a lot of 'no harms' done at the Weyr, yet what Jandana said made sense. So, she shrugged and went back to scrubbing an unusually flaky patch of skin. It was a good thing that Winvath was going to be oiled. She seemed awfully dry. For a split second Kylie wondered if Jandana were taking good enough care of her dragon, then remembered in her candidate classes how a dry patch could pop up overnight. That's obviously what happened here, though she wondered if she should ask anyway. Something made her decide not to, and she went back to exfoliating.

As they were finishing up Winvath's bath, the ride-along Wings returned. By now Kylie was sufficiently mollified from her 'special' duty and watched the two Wings land without as much regret as she would have if Jandana hadn't gone out of her way to make her feel better. Another reason she shouldn't go around making empty accusations, Kylie thought. Talk about stabbing someone in the back!

To her surprise, the Wings rose again, then landed by the lake. "What's going on?" she asked as the two walked up the short incline from the lake to the shore. Jandana snorted.

"It seems that 'someone' saw us here and thought you were getting an unfair advantage on caring for dragons. So now the whole class will be bathing and oiling the dragons that carried them." Jandana's tone told Kylie just what she thought of this person. At first Kylie felt a pang of disappointment - she wasn't so special after all since everyone else would be doing what she just did, then she decided she was being childish.

After all, now they were all doing what she was doing. She was setting the trend!

"Good thing we were done with the water," Kylie said cheerfully. "Bathing sixty dragons at once can't be fun. I'm sure there are spots around the lake no one wants to use."

"We'll find out in ten Turns, won't we," Jandana said, heading up the bank to where Winvath was sitting in the sun, drying off. Some of the helpful 'lizards were still there, but most had gone off to help out the newcomers. Kylie smiled - there would be a lot of tired 'lizards tonight. Noyance chirped, as if in agreement.

Oiling Winvath was easy. Dip a large 'mop' in the drum of oil and slather it on the hide. An added benefit, though it didn't seem so at the time, was the amount of oil a person got on themselves. Kylie thought it was an added benefit because she had been plagued with naturally dry skin since birth - though that hadn't been bothering her as much lately. Maybe it was the better diet. No matter what, Kylie knew that the next day her skin would be nice and soft.

Winvath had to wait until Kylie and Jandana had cleaned up around them, then she was able to take the net full (but considerably lightened) of supplies back to her weyr. After she had deposited the items in their corner, she flew up to the Heights to let the oil soak in and show off her gleaming hide. Jandana gave a soft smile. "She's due to rise. Her flights are always better when she feels like she looks good."

"Maybe we should paint her toenails," Kylie said without thinking. "Put a pink bow on her head. Make her look pretty."

Jandana looked at Kylie in disbelief, then began to laugh. "Winvath says that if you put paint on her talons, she'll use one of them to . . . oh, uh, I'm not sure that is possible, let alone safe. Maybe we'd better not."

That was a near miss. Apparently there was still some type of manicure-style paints around, otherwise Jandana wouldn't have understood the joke. Then again, why not? She wasn't sure when nail polish was invented, but the human race had been learning how to decorate it's collective body for millennia. A little thing like 'acrylic' wasn't going to stop anyone. Kylie smiled, both at her thought and at Winvath's reaction. "Tell Winvath I'm sorry."

"Winvath doesn't need to be told you're sorry. You were making a joke, and she can take it for what it was - a joke. Which she is." Jandana smiled at her as they crossed the Bowl. "Let's go get something to eat."

Once settled at a table with a plate of cheese, meat and fruit, Kylie and Jandana began chatting about different aspects of dragonriding and care.

"What you need to remember is that Winvath is a fully grown, mature dragon," Jandana said. "The first time I ever rode her, she was only four months old so she was easier to climb up on. Since we did it daily from then on, I never noticed the difference. You're trying to learn how to ride a fully grown dragon."

"Didn't you go on ride-alongs?" Kylie asked.

"No - R'mez wasn't the Candidate/Weyrlingmaster at the time. When he was given this position, it was because he'd had some revolutionary new ideas. His predecessor, V'nayl had been sufficiently impressed with his ideas to give him a couple of classes of his own. When he'd proven himself, he was promoted."

Kylie was impressed. "I take it the Weyr embraces new ideas?"

Jandana laughed. "Not always. But if the idea is proven effective, it's taken under consideration."

"Hmm." Kylie took a sip of klah in thought. She wondered if any ideas she had would be embraced or just thrown out the window. Of course, one needed an idea to put forward. Semi-daydreaming she was startled when someone seated themselves next to her.

"Mareena and her big mouth," Haneset grumbled as she reached over and took a slice of cheese from Kylie's plate. "The ride-along was great. Then Miss Perfect sees that you're doing something she's never done before - bathing a dragon. So she raises a big stink, and of course now we all have to go bathe dragons. Then we get to oil them." A sound made her look up - Jandana was chuckling at her and Kylie wasn't far behind.

"Jandana and I only washed and oiled Winvath because I couldn't go on the ride-along," Kylie said, patting Haneset on the shoulder in sympathy.

"Yeah, well all Mareena saw was you doing something she couldn't." Taking a piece of meat this time, Haneset made short work of it. "I guess that giving a dragon a bath is a big novelty to you Holdborn, but I've washed enough dragons in my time and don't want to bathe any more until I get to mine! To emphasize this, she drank down Kylie's klah and slammed the mug on the table.

Though Jandana raised an eyebrow at her and Kylie just looked at her, the two were holding back laughter and Haneset could tell. Finally she grinned and relented.

"Go ahead. Laugh if you must," she said good-naturedly.

The two obliged, then several of the other kitchen candidates came by to share the table. Soon there was a lively group clustered around the table talking, chatting and laughing until it was time to go back to work.
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Old Sep 16 2006, 12:22 PM   #24
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Chapter Twenty-Three
* * * * *

Before she knew it, it was Hatching day.

Soneja, Haneset and Kylie, amongst other candidates, were in the kitchen working on the Hatching day meal, their mandatory white robes folded on a shelf in one of the closets. Just because they would possibly be the guests of honor did not exempt them from helping to prepare the Hatching Feast. All spare hands were needed and as Wyncia pointed out, they weren't needed on the Sands until the dragons told them to be there.

"How do they know it's today, and not tomorrow?" Kylie asked as she pulled more of her potato crisps out of the boiling oil. Craving potato chips one day, she'd talked Wyncia into allowing her to experiment. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the crisps were a huge hit with the rest of the Weyr. Now they'd be available for the Lords Holder who attended the feast. Her next project was going to be corn chips. Or pretzels. Maybe even pizza, some day. Her mouth watered, and she caught Wyncia looking at her.

"Thinking up a new item? We're not experimenting today, you know," the Kitchen Head said. "Now, your question. How do they know it's today? They just . . . do. Maybe the dragonets tell them.

"The Weyrwoman says that they can hear them trying to get out," Haneset offered. "They tell the Weyr when they start chipping at the inside, and when the little ones are close, that's when they start humming." With Weyrwoman Rhanda being her mother, she probably would know. Or, because she was Weyrborn. Whichever reason it was, Kylie was predisposed to trust Haneset that the dragons knew.

As if on signal, the stones in the floor began to vibrate and sound began to fill the cavern. Wyncia nudged Kylie away from her rolls and handed her a towel. "Go, put your robes on and get out of here," she said with a grin. "I'll be there watching you."

Kylie hurriedly wiped her hands and arms of the flour which dusted them, threw the towel down and with the rest of the candidates in the kitchen hurried to the closet for her robe. Since these robes were basically shapeless white things with a neck hole, arms and a belt it didn't matter who got which one. Hands were grabbing them off the shelves, and the candidates - male and female alike - were stripping off their clothing and donning whichever robe they happened to grab. One size fits all, Kylie thought in amusement as her clothing fell to the floor and the harsh linen of the robe slid over her naked body. Hopefully this will be the only time I need to wear this thing. It itches. She scratched under her arms and noted with some amusement that some of the others were surreptitiously scratching also.

"Shoes or no shoes?" she called out. Her mind was blank. Some of her Fandom Weyrs had their candidates wearing shoes, some didn't.

"No shoes," someone else cried out and several groans were heard, Kylie's included. Even with footwear, the Sands were hot. Without, they would be intolerable. Well, as R'mez would say, what's a little discomfort if your reward was a dragon? Kylie must have said this out loud because several of the others looked her way and grinned. She grinned back, then looked out the door that led to the Bowl. From there it was a short walk to the Hatching Grounds.

Excitement filled the air as the now white-robed candidates milled about in the kitchen area. Frowning slightly, Kylie looked at them, wondering what was keeping everyone. Mentally she shrugged. She was going. She wanted to Impress a dragon today. Scratch that - she wanted to Impress the gold dragon today. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and left the kitchen by the outside door, marching across the Bowl in her bare feet. Hearing a scuffling behind her, she noted that the others were following her. What, were they waiting for someone to take charge? she thought as she unintentionally led the kitchen candidates to the Sands. Fancy that. Me, a leader. She almost started giggling but knew that if she began, she'd never finish. Haneset finally caught up to her, touching her on the sleeve.

"Nervous?" she whispered.

"Of course. You?"

Haneset snorted. Together the joined the end of the short line of candidates who had been making their way from different areas of the Weyr. More were running or walking to join them, falling into line behind the kitchen contingent. Kylie noticed Mareena way up front and uncharitably wondered if the girl had been waiting there all day, not going in to work like the rest of them. Then she brushed the thought aside. It didn't matter. "The dragon decides" was as true on the real Pern as it was in any Fandom Pern.

While the candidates had been milling about in the kitchen, an unspoken agreement was made to fall into line in front of the entrance to the Sands. They stood there, over sixty young hopefuls waiting to Impress 27 dragons. R'mez stood at the front of the line, and at some unseen signal the first candidates in line began to file in. Kylie turned to Haneset, her eyes tearing up at the excitement. "Here we go," she said, her voice cracking. "Good luck!"

"Good luck to you too," Haneset said, clutching Kylie's arm. Soon their end of the line began to move, and they were heading towards what could be the biggest change in their lives.
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Old Sep 16 2006, 12:38 PM   #25
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Chapter Twenty-Four
* * * * *

The eggs lay on the Sands in varying positions, gold Breylith hovering possessively behind them. Trips to the Hatching Grounds had been a daily thing their last two weeks of Candidacy, yet Kylie felt a difference in the soles of her feet, in the air, in her very being. Maybe it's the humming, she thought as she took her place amongst the rest of the hopeful candidates. This sand on bare feet doesn't make it any easier, either. She stood there, first standing on her tippy-toes, then on her heels, then the sides of her feet trying to find a comfortable stance. Nothing was working.

It'll be over before you know it.

"What?" Kylie asked.

"I'm glad we were one of the last, instead of one of the first in," Haneset whispered to her, and Kylie nodded. She looked down the half-circle which had formed at Mareena and allowed herself a slight malicious smile. That one had been here longer than she and Haneset had, so she had to be even more uncomfortable. Good, she thought.

Now now, nothing good ever came from petty jealousies. Let it go.

Kylie whipped around. "Who said that?" she asked sharply, but no answer was forthcoming. Some of the candidates looked at her oddly, and a couple even edged away from her. Sighing, Kylie gave an abashed smile. "Nerves," she said, pointing to the eggs, a few of which were now rocking. The others nodded and took their places back, and soon everyone's attention was once again on the eggs.

Candidate Master R'mez had already informed the group that he would not be making any speeches once they were on the Grounds. Now Kylie understood why - the humming of the dragons was getting louder as they stood there, staring at the eggs on the Sands. The mottling on the eggs had a motion to them, a rhythm that matched itself to the humming of the dragons. Distantly Kylie wondered how humming could have a rhythm, but that was lost in her fascination of watching the shadows on the eggs swirl and eddy as if they were the living beings and not the sentient lives they held. The humming swelled, coiling and eddying around Kylie until she felt enclosed by the palpable existence of sound - the sound of life, of regeneration, of renewal. The humming built to a deafening crescendo - then stopped.

Nothing moved. No one spoke, coughed or even breathed. Even the slight breeze which had been giving scant relief to the candidates was gone. One of the eggs was rocking frenetically.

***CRA-A-ACK***

The sound of the egg shocked everyone out of their stupor, and the sound of multiple breaths exhaling was heard. Kylie let out a whoosh of breath along with hundreds of other observers or participants. The sides of the egg fell away, and a dark draconic head was seen as the hatchling shook to rid himself of eggshell fragments. He raised his face to the sky and creeled in hunger.

Breylith creeled back but otherwise did nothing. Her children needed to find their partners like she had found hers - without draconic interference. As if he understood that, the first Hatchling swing his ungainly head around and began to scan the crowd.

"Bronze!"

"It's a bronze!"

"A good omen for a good Hatching!" Whispers were running rampant throughout the crowds. The onlookers were almost as excited as the candidates themselves and Breylith sat back with her mate, Gorth. Both seemed to have pleased expressions on their faces.

The Hatchling stumbled towards the crowd, his head still weaving around, as if taking the mettle of each and every candidate. As he walked closer, his movements became stronger and more sure. Suddenly, with a churrup of success, he launched himself at one of the boys down at the other end of the semicircle. The crowd cheered. Nalesoki, Kylie thought, one of the candidates she hadn't had much truck with. Wonder what he'll go by now?

N'soki.


Yes, N'soki is a good name. Brushing the tears out of her eyes, she watched the two as N'soki carefully led his dragon away from the commotion. At the joy on his face, Kylie's stomach clenched.

Dragonman, dragonman,
'tween thee and thine,
give me a glimpse of love
greater than mine


Anne's words drifted through her mind. She closed her eyes and shook her head at her own hubris. How could she ever think she deserved that kind of happiness? This was reserved for those far more deserving than she!

The touch on her shoulder made her jump. She turned, and Haneset was smiling softly. "That will be us, you know," she said in Kylie's ear. Kylie nodded, but had her reservations. Haneset deserved a dragon, true, but not Kylie. Not by a long shot.

Another loud crack was heard, though this one was muffled by the noise of the excited crowds. This one was a brown and he, too, made his choice relatively quickly. Soon there were eggs splitting and breaking simultaneously and the grounds were cluttered with eggshells and hungry dragons. Standing at the outskirts, Kylie and Haneset watched and waited. Kylie noticed it did no good to force yourself upon a hatchling. Another boy she was not well acquainted with tried to force a bronze to look at him. While he didn't Impress the young dragon he was instrumental in helping to feed the Hatchling. Kylie hoped that he was right-handed, then wondered at her blasé attitude.

It's because you know they don't know any better.

Well, that was true. They didn't know any better and that boy shouldn't have gotten in the dragon's way.

As dragons seemed to pour around her, finding their mates and leaving her stranded, Kylie realized her prediction was going to come true. She wasn't going to Impress today. Suddenly she heard a noise behind her and turned.

The gold egg, set dead center amidst the rest of the eggs and upon a slight rise, had a hairline fracture the length of one side. Soon more hairline fractures were seen creeping down the egg from its pointy top until the shards fell away from the little queen at the center. Regally she surveyed the onlookers first then sniffed, as if she found them lacking. Opening her wings, she preened for her audience then turned her attention to the ten or so females left. Standing up she shook herself and began walking towards the gaggle of girls holding their collective breaths. Head weaving much like the first bronze who had hatched, she took the measure of all standing in front of her. Then, something in the little queen's eyes told Kylie that her choice had been made.

Kylie exhaled.
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Old Sep 23 2006, 03:43 PM   #26
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Chapter Twenty-Five
* * * * *

Thirty-four dejected candidates remained on the Hatching Grounds after the new Weyrlings and onlookers left for the Hatching Feast. The number would have been thirty-five, except that Brouson was the candidate who ended up in the Infirmary after losing part of an arm to a hungry dragon.

Once the stands were empty of stragglers, the candidates moved up off of the hot sands to cooler footing. They still wore their candidate robes - no longer a mark of pride amongst them, but a mark of failure. They sat in silence for the better part of an hour. Finally Haneset took a breath and opened her mouth.

"If anyone gives me any of that drivel about," the speaker's voice went falsetto, "'Your dragon just hasn't Hatched yet', I'll beat them to within an inch of their lives," a slightly older red-headed girl said nastily. Haneset shut her mouth and turned away.

"Why? Why did she have to Impress Mareena? Anyone else but Mareena!" Kylie wailed, then caught the eye of the redhead and let her voice drop. "That one did not deserve a queen!"

"What makes you the expert?" the redhead sneered, and Kylie dropped her eyes, mumbling an apology. "No, really." Now the redhead was wistful. "Why does a dragon pick one person over another?"

Kylie was silent, but felt eyes upon her. She looked at the redhead. "You're asking me?" she squeaked. The redhead nodded.

"I don't know!"

"Well, you seemed to think that Mareena didn't deserve to Impress Orovith."

Kylie winced at hearing the dragon's name. Somehow, just saying Mareena Impressed didn't seem as final as saying that Mareena Impressed gold Orovith. Her shoulders slumped. "I guess it's because I didn't care much for her."

"In other words, she was a wherry-bi . . . " Haneset started to cheerfully put in, but stopped when she saw Candidate master R'mez on his way through the stands to see them. "Here comes our pep-talk," she said sotto-voce. Kylie grimaced. How was Haneset so perky after the day's events? She shared an empathetic glance with the redhead. Well, at least she wasn't the only one who didn't understand her friend. When she looked back, she saw that R'mez was standing in front of the group, on the first step of the stands.

"So, how's the pity-party going," were his first words, and several of the candidates gasped. "That's right. Pity-party. Poor poor you, you didn't Impress a dragon today." R'mez' voice had taken on a sneering quality, which abruptly changed. "There were twenty-seven eggs, and sixty-two of you. Thank Faranth that we only had one casualty, and that due to stupidity and not my training. Did you think that you all were going to Impress?" R'mez had his arms folded across his chest and looked every bit the imposing Candidate master.

"Well?"

"Uh, well sir, it would have been nice," Andijer said, startling Kylie. She'd been so immersed in hers and Haneset's misery that she hadn't even noticed Andijer was still with them. Her eyes darted around the remaining candidates. Clemoly and Shawla were still there, but Irillan and Soneja were not. For the first time since the Hatching ended, Kylie allowed herself to smile.

"It would have been nice? Of course it would have been nice. But it didn't happen." R'mez sighed and dropped his arms. "How do you think your mates feel, you sitting here sulking instead of sharing their joy. How would you have felt if it had been you Impressing instead of them and they didn't come to see you?"

Kylie was sure someone would say 'pretty good', but no one was that stupid. Briefly she considered it, then rejected the idea. He was right - Soneja and Irillan were probably hurt that their friends hadn't come to offer congratulations.

There's hope for you yet.

Who was that?

Andijer stood up. "You're right, sir. We should go to the Feast and congratulate our mates."

"That you should. And don't forget - Loth just rose not too long ago. We'll have another clutch on the Sands before you know it. Not everyone Impresses their first time, and you can Stand for Impression until you're twenty-third Turn." He looked each candidate in the eye, then made a shooing motion. "Now, go. Enjoy."

The left-over candidates got up and began filing down off of the stands. Kylie rose but felt a hand on her shoulder holding her back. "Kailisu, I'd like to have a word with you," R'mez said as he motioned her to sit down. Haneset stopped and sat down too.

"No, Haneset, I need to talk to her alone."

"Uh . . . sure," Haneset said uncertainly as she looked at Kylie. Kylie just shrugged. She had no idea what R'mez wanted, but doubted she was in trouble. It just didn't feel that way.

Everyone had been gone for several minutes before R'mez spoke again. "What happened out there?" he finally asked.

"Sir?" Kylie looked at him in surprise.

"Why didn't you Impress?"

This was getting weird. "You said yoursel . . . ," she began when he chopped off her words with his hand.

"I'm well aware of what I said. What I want to know is, why did you suddenly decide you shouldn't Impress?"

"WHAT?"

"Breylith had high hopes for you. Adexith had high hopes for you. Hell, practically all the dragons in the Weyr had high hopes for you."

"All the dragons?" Kylie was speechless. Then it hit her. Hell?

"This isn't Saturday Night Live, Kylie. It's not Wayne's World. 'I'm not worthy' isn't a joke here, it is a mental signal telling the hatchlings that you don't want them."

Kylie's jaw had dropped. She tried to close it, but it kept dropping, making her look like a fish.

Isn't there something you say about an open mouth catching flies?

Kylie closed her mouth. Then she opened it again. "You . . . you . . . you're from . . . you're from Earth!"

R'mez gave Kylie a conspiratorial smile. "Yup. I'm from Earth. Did you think you were the only one?"

"Well . . . yeah."

This time R'mez snorted. "Something that can happen once is bound to happen more than once," he said. "There aren't that many of us since conditions have to be just right and no one knows what they are. Probably about six or so on the whole planet. But that's at this point in time."

"Hunh?" Kylie was nothing if succinct.

"One of the other Exports was looking in the records - she's at Ista Weyr, by the way, and has found what she thinks is incontrovertible evidence that there have been Exports in the past. There probably are in the future, too."

"Oh."

"What year are you from?"

Kylie finally had to answer something that resembled a real word. "2006."

R'mez whistled. "Yeah, definite difference. I've been here for twenty-nine Turns but I'm from 2001." He chuckled. "Kylie, I was nineteen when I was exported here. I Impressed Adexith when I was twenty-two."

At that revelation, Kylie brightened a bit. "Three years standing?"

He shook his head. "Actually, first time. When I Impressed, queens were only clutching every five or so Turns.

"Oh."

"I was very lucky. Not everyone who exports from Earth gets to Impress," he said softly.

"Oh. OH!" The significance of that finally hit Kylie. She could Stand every six months until she was twenty-three. Others had come here, and if lucky got to Stand once.

"But . . . Wayne's World?"

"I watched Comedy Central too, you know," R'mez stated smiling, then sobered up. "But, speaking of Wayne's World - this 'I'm not worthy' attitude has got to go. Adexith was not happy when you started thinking that."

"Adexith? But . . . ."

"The dragons find something amusing and entertaining in our minds," R'mez said while Kylie wondered if she'd ever get to complete a full sentence again. "We're not what Fandom called 'Hears All Dragons', but most dragons love to listen to us think, and will talk to us. Whether we want them to or not. I think it's a novelty or something."

"Oh. So those voices in my head actually were voices in my head?"

"Pretty much. Anyway, both Breylith and Adexith were not happy when you started thinking you wouldn't Impress. You were actually telling the hatchlings that they didn't want you."

"No I wasn't!" Kylie was incensed. She was not telling the hatchlings . . . .

"Yes you were. If I have to get Adexith and Breylith to go over it with you, I will. But just think of what you were thinking."

Kylie thought. She felt a slight nudge to her mind, remembering her exact thoughts and the exact times she thought them. And realized that R'mez was right. She turned to him, horrified.

"Fine. Now that you know where you went wrong, go to the Feast and have fun."

"But . . . "

"Oh, and keep this Earth-thing under wraps. Jinna told me one of the records she unearthed. It seems that a young male Exported here and tried to start changing things right away. At least, that's what she was able to gather from the record. The Pernese thought he was mentally disturbed and kept him sedated most of the time - with fellis."

Kylie was staring at R'mez, open mouthed once again.

"He became a fellis addict, of course. But even under the influence, he insisted he wasn't from here. He finally died of a fellis overdose."

"And that was in the records?"

R'mez nodded. "The Healers here keep very good records. Plus, Jinna suspects the Healer in question was either another Export, or the child of one but there's no way to tell for certain. This happened around five hundred Turns ago, and I refused to take Jinna between times to check out the story."

"Jinna's not a rider?"

"Shells no, girl. She's an Archivist for Ista Weyr. Though there's still time for her - she Exported here when she was thirteen . . . during the World Trade Center disaster. She's eighteen now, and has the right to Stand until she's twenty-three.

"Oh." Kylie looked down at her feet, trying to assimilate this knowledge. It was so . . . overwhelming. She wasn't sure if she were more disconcerted by the revelation that R'mez was from Earth 2001, or that the dragons were upset she didn't Impress.

We're not upset that you didn't Impress. You may not have Impressed today anyway. We're upset that you didn't even try.

I'm sorry, Kylie thought. Now that she knew the dragons were talking to her she understood why sometimes the voice in her head was female and sometimes male.

"So, have the dragons sufficiently berated you," R'mez asked wryly.

Kylie nodded.

"Good. Now, go enjoy the feast, and congratulate your friends. And if you need to talk, well, Adexith will know. He seems to always be listening to you."
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Old Sep 23 2006, 03:46 PM   #27
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Chapter Twenty-Six
* * * * *

The Weyr had gone all-out for the Hatching Feast. Tables groaned, laden to the breaking point with the abundance of foodstuffs that Telgar Weyr's kitchen had produced. Telgar Hold had offered their kitchen staff for the feast also, so much had been flown in a-dragonback. The appetizing smells of roast wherry, roasted herdbeast, stews and bread wafted through the Dining Hall and out into the Weyr Bowl. While all food was kept in the Hall, tables had been set up outside to accommodate the sheer multitude of people who had arrived for the Hatching. Wine, beer and ale flowed freely, while people gathered in small and large groups, laughing and chatting with each other.

Kylie stared at the teeming mass of people, lost. All this had happened while the dragons were Hatching? She thought back to the previous few days and realized that they had been baking and cooking more than usual. Activity had been more frenzied, but in the excitement of the upcoming Hatching she hadn't noticed.

Today's Hatching had been turned into a Gather.

She looked around some more, getting her first sight of a real Pernese Gather. There were stalls set up around the outer perimeter of the Bowl, brightly colored flags flying and advertising the Craft to which they looked. Those people who had finished eating were browsing the stalls, haggling with the vendors and leaving with wrapped packages, both participants pleased with the outcome. There were a few tents pitched in the more shadowed areas of the Bowl. Men and women were seen going into these tents, yet very few came out. Briefly Kylie wondered what went on in there, then decided she didn't want to know. Right now, she wanted to find her friends. Since the conversation with R'mez hadn't taken that long, she thought she'd find them either in a food line or already at a table. Walking towards the entrance to the Hall, she mused upon this Gather that had broken out within a few hours.

There hadn't been a Hatching in five Turns, and with Loth's rising while Breylith's eggs were on the Sands, there wasn't any doubt that the Pass was imminent. Not that anyone had been doubting it. Telgar was just the last Weyr to have her queens rise in close proximity to each other.

Everyone knew that Fort Weyr was the first Weyr founded, and Telgar Weyr had been the last Weyr inhabited. it was also common knowledge that approximately ten Turns before a Pass the queens began to rise more often - twice a Turn - to repopulate the Weyrs into full fighting condition. What no one knew was why the Weyrs followed their order of founding when their queens began to escalate their breeding cycle. Fort Weyr had already had three Clutches in the past two Turns. Benden and High Reaches had Hatched two, and a third was on each Weyr's Sands. Igen and Ista's second Clutches were on their Sands. Telgar was the final round in the cycle. And while it may have seemed unfair that Telgar was always last, they would also be the last Weyr to begin fighting Thread and the last Weyr which this Pass' Threadfall would affect. Telgar Weyr was the Anchor Weyr.

All of this had been taught during Kylie's candidacy classes and she mused upon it while searching for her friends. She finally spotted Haneset's mane of chestnut-brown hair at one of the further tables, head bent in conversation with Irillan. Kylie smiled. Irillan had Impressed, though she didn't know what color or what his honorific was. It didn't matter - what mattered was that one of the small group had Impressed! Two of them, if you counted Soneja. While Kylie hadn't been very close to Soneja since she had arrived at Telgar Weyr Haneset and Clemoly both seemed to be very friendly with her. Granted, Soneja was one of Mareena's minions yet it seemed to Kylie that when Mareena wasn't around the rest of the group was a lot easier to get along with. Even Shawla.

Kylie wondered how Shawla felt about Mareena Impressing. The poor girl would probably be lost without her leader. At least she had a chance at Loth's Hatching. From what the Candidate Master said, not everyone was that lucky. She sighed, still somewhat in shock at R'mez' revelation and at the fact that the dragons had been disappointed in her actions. If only . . . .

"Kailisu! It's about time you got here!" Haneset turned towards her, eyes shining brightly. "Irillan - R'lan now - impressed bronze! Do you believe it! There were only three in the Clutch and he Impressed one of them!"

R'lan was smiling and blushing. "His name is Lacorth," he said, his whole being suffused with love and joy. As Kylie watched his eyes went blank for a moment, then focused on the group again. "He's sleeping now. I'm real tired too - but that's what R'mez said to expect. It's . . . it's just so different, and wonderful, and . . . and I can't even think of words for it!" The stocky blonde's eyes were shining so brightly that Kylie suspected they could close all the glows in the cavern and still see as if it were daylight. She smiled proudly at him.

"I'm so happy for you, R'lan. I'm sorry that I was too selfish to come to the Feast earlier." She hugged him, much to his surprise but when she let go the joy was still on his face.

"We got here before they did after all," Andijer said from his seat on the other side of R'lan. "Our new weyrlings were feeding their lifemates and getting situated in their new quarters." He punched R'lan lightly in the arm, grinning. "So, Kailisu, what did R'mez want you for? Did you do something wrong?"

"Sort of," Kylie said to a suddenly attentive audience. Haneset scooched over so Kylie had a spot to sit and Clemoly returned from the nearest buffet table with a plate of food. Kylie cocked her head at Clemoly, surprised at the gesture. "Thanks, Clemoly," she said, taking the plate and placing it in front of her. She picked up a slice of wherry with her fingers and took a hearty bite, realizing she was ravenous.

Clemoly nodded as she sat on the other side of Kylie. "I didn't know if R'mez had chewed you out for something, and figured that if he had, you'd appreciate this. If not, well then - you owe me." She gave Kylie a big grin.

Chewing, Kylie nodded. "Right. Well, you can decide." She looked at everyone who was sitting there - her closest friend Haneset, the two boys who had befriended her with no questions asked, Clemoly, who wasn't as mean of a person as Mareena tried to make her and the few others who, being newer, she hadn't gotten to know quite as well yet. The redhead who had been so vocal on the Stands was there and Kylie nodded to her.

"First though, where's Shawla?"

"She may still be back at the barracks with Soneja," Andijer answered. "We can catch them up later. Now, tell!"

"Just a minute. What do you mean, at the barracks? Wasn't she in the Stands with us before R'mez interrupted us?"

"Shells no, Kailisu! She Impressed a blue. We don't know what his name is . . . ."

"It's Goncaanth," Iri . . . R'lan interrupted. "Soneja Impressed green Aylorth."

Kylie was stunned. "Whoa. I must have been more upset than I thought. I could have sworn she was on the Stands with us! Anyway," she gave an uncomfortable laugh, "the reason R'mez had me stay behind was because, well, Adexith was listening to me during the Hatching and . . . ," of course this revelation received some chatter from around the table.

"Listening to you? Are you a Torene?" the redhead sounded both skeptical and wistful.

Kylie shook her head. "No, I can't hear them unless they want me to. But, R'mez said that certain people are more interesting to dragons than others and, well, I'm one of those lucky ones." She gave another uncomfortable laugh. "Lucky me. I've been hearing voices in my head since I got here, and today I find out why." She rested her head in her hands, elbows on the table.

"My mother told me that her grandfather was the same way," Clemoly said. "Dragons would talk to him because they wanted to. He used to tell her stories about that - he arrived at the Weyr right after a Hatching so had a little over five Turns of dragons keeping him company in his mind. He was from High Reaches," Clemoly said in an aside, in case someone tried to dispute her. "Mum sent me to live here with her sister Joslin because she didn't like the High Reaches Weyrleaders.

"Anyway, I guess that once he Impressed the other dragons stopped talking to him directly because it was rude."

Kylie nodded. "That makes sense," she said. "Anyway, I almost thought that I wouldn't be allowed to Stand because I was going crazy," tears filled her eyes. "When I saw that first boy Impress, N'soki, the look on his face was just too much. I couldn't imagine being, um, worthy enough to feel like he did." She took a deep breath but now her eyes were brimming. "The thought was so overwhelming that all I could think was that I could never deserve that kind of love in my life." Tears were freely flowing down her face now, and she noted that several of the others were close to tears too.

"When the little queen Hatched I looked at Breylith and just knew that I fell short. And she passed me by without a second glance. When R'mez had me stay back, he told me that both Adexith and Breylith were angry with me. Then Breylith said she wasn't angry that I hadn't Impressed, but was angry because I hadn't tried." Wiping the tears from her eyes, she sniffled, smiling weakly.

The others stared at her. Even people at nearby tables had gone quiet, listening to Kylie's story. Finally the redhead broke the relative silence at the table. "Maybe that's why we keep getting told to think positive thoughts?" she said quizzically.

"Makes sense, Barzela," Haneset said. "Andijer, Clemoly and I are all Weyrbred, so we never even thought that we didn't deserve to Impress. But, the rest of you are Hold- or Craftbred. What did you think?"

After a short silence, R'lan spoke up. "I tried not to think, but at first when N'soki Impressed I wondered if I could ever be that lucky. Then, well, I remembered R'mez' words about thinking positive. So I did." Then he smiled, and the smile was so loving, almost sensual that Kylie felt uncomfortable. She saw that a couple of the others felt so too.

One of the newer boys spoke next. "I think I was feeling the same way Kailisu was. That I didn't deserve to Impress." Barzela nodded and a few of the listeners from other tables were nodding their agreement. Kylie was surprised and gratified that she wasn't the only one.

"Well, I guess we know what we need to work on in the next three months," she said, and Barzela looked at her quizzically. "We need to build up our self esteem."
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Old Sep 23 2006, 03:49 PM   #28
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Chapter Twenty-Seven
* * * * *

The day had been exhausting for all the candidates - whether they Impressed or not. Yawns were not so surreptitiously being suppressed by tired contenders, and the chatting that had been lively and animated while they were eating had slowly tapered off. Haneset was practically asleep on R'lan's shoulder, and he looked as if he would be falling off of his seat soon. Clemoly had her face on her hands, her eyes half closed. Barzela's head kept on nodding, and Andijer looked as if he were going to fall backwards off of his bench. Kylie decided that if she wanted to see what was going on outside, she'd better do so now before she fell face first in what was left of her food.

"I'm going outside," she announced to the rest of the group. "I had no idea a Gather was being worked on, and I want to see what there is to see before we get snowed in for the winter. She rose.

Barzela's eyes flew open, then they crinkled in laughter. "You sure you want to go out like that?"

"Like," Kylie looked down, "what. Oh." None of them had thought to change from their candidate robes. Kylie looked around the dining hall and spotted other white-robed people and realized that none of the thirty-something candidates who had not Impressed had bothered to go change. She shrugged.

"Why not? So I didn't Impress. At least I was Searched, and this way," she gave Barzela a crafty grin, "maybe some of the vendors will feel sorry for me. Especially since I don't have a mark in any denomination on me."

"No marks? Kailisu, why didn't you tell me!" Haneset's head flew up off of R'lan's shoulder so fast that Kylie was surprised she didn't get dizzy. Then Haneset put her hand to her head. "Oooh, moved too quick." Kylie chuckled.

"I don't need marks. I'll worry about that if I see anything I like. Besides," she gestured to her formerly pristine white robe, "what vendor is going to try and overcharge a candidate who's been left standing? Who'd charge a candidate who's been left standing? "

"I don't know . . . ," Haneset said slowly.

Barzela was giving Kylie a calculating look. "You'd exploit your failure?"

Before Kylie had a chance to say anything Andijer burst out laughing. "Why not? I like the way you think, gorgeous!" He winked at her, then rose, coming over to her side of the table. "I'll even escort you. I'd like to see how this goes."

"Gorgeous?" Kylie looked at him, raising one brow.

"Yes, gorgeous," he said in a deeper voice, staring intently into her eyes. She caught her breath, her eyes widening. The two had gotten along quite well since she'd arrived at Telgar Weyr, but this was the first time he acted anything other than a clown. And when had he gotten taller? And filled out more? And . . . she realized that the others were staring at her, Barzela and Clemoly with knowing grins on their faces. Fine, he got taller and bulkier and better looking while she was getting rid of all that fat she'd arrived with. They had all changed.

Mentally she shook herself, understanding that he was waiting for her. "Well then, handsome," she answered coquettishly and hoping she wasn't sounding foolish, "let's go!" She took his arm and they both walked towards the doors going outside. She glanced back and saw Haneset, Clemoly and Barzela watching her with grins on their faces. Haneset winked. Kylie rolled her eyes and faced forward once again, almost tripping on another candidate who was sprawled out at his table, half asleep.

"Watch," Andijer said quietly, drawing her closer. "I wouldn't want you falling on that pretty face of yours." By now they'd almost reached the door but a movement caught Kylie's peripheral vision, compelling her to look in that direction. She stopped, her insides going cold. Mareena was sitting at a table happily chatting with the Weyrwoman and Weyrleader as if she'd been friends with them all her life. Several of the other new weyrlings were sitting at that same table, but Mareena was the center of attention and seemingly enjoying every bit of it. For a moment their eyes met, then Mareena's moved on as if Kylie's presence were immaterial to her own victory.

That should have been me, Kylie thought jealously, trying to shake off the feeling of failure Mareena's look had given her. I am every bit as worthy of a queen as she is. More so.

Let it go. There will be more Hatchings. Orovith's rider didn't even see you. Breylith's assurance made Kylie blush in shame at her ungenerous thought. Obviously Orovith saw something in Mareena. Didn't she? Breylith was silent to this unvoiced query.

"Never mind her," Andijer whispered to Kylie. "She'll be too busy to torment you, with her duties as a gold weyrling." Kylie turned hurt eyes to her fellow candidate. "Truth hurts, Kailisu. You can't dwell on what could have been, only on what can be. No one ever accomplished anything focusing on the past."

Kylie nodded, realizing Andijer was right. The only way focusing on the past was helpful was using it to prevent the same mistakes. Taking a deep breath, Kylie straightened her shoulders, then smiled weakly at Andijer. "Then let's go enjoy the Gather," she said, stepping out into the late-afternoon sunlight.

* * * * * * * *

She stopped in wonder almost immediately after leaving the Dining Hall, but Andijer quickly dragged her to one side so others could leave without tripping over her. "Whoa," she exhaled. "How . . . whoa." Even coming back from the Sands she hadn't noticed the full extent of the activities going on in the Weyr bowl. She'd been dejected, sure, but how had she missed all this?

Chuckling, Andijer tugged on Kylie's arm to begin leading her around to the various stands. "The Trading caravans knew Breylith's Hatching was imminent, so the ones which would be heading north for Turn's End began coming up here early. The rest of the Weyrs already had their Fourth Pass Hatching Gather - ours was the last, you know." He looked at her to see if she understood or remembered her teachings.

Kylie nodded - she'd picked up most of this during the classes she was required to take as a new candidate. Yet the theory was nothing compared to the reality. Even her reading of the book Dragonsinger didn't prepare her for the activity which was prevalent in the Weyr bowl.

"I'm not sure where to start," she admitted to Andijer as she took in the Gather. The smells of Pernese junk food wafted under her nose and she was suddenly homesick for the Lucas County Fair in Maumee, Ohio. She hadn't missed a Fair since she was born, and now - now she was in a strange country, with strange animals and strange foodstuffs. This Fair . . . or Gather, as it were . . . might be strange also, but at least it was a lesser strange than most. An opportunity for people to get together in one setting, eat food that was dubiously good for you and spend your money on non-sensical items. She wondered if there were games of chance, or even types of rides for the children. Were there even children? To answer that question a gaggle of youngsters ran across their path, laughing and shrieking in joy. So there were children.

Unaware of the turmoil going on through Kylie's mind Andijer pulled her to the right. "We just ate, so let's go to some of the sellers first. There'll be jewellery, leathercraft, woodcraft, and even stands selling luck! Have you ever been to a Gather?" He looked at her questioningly. To anyone else in the Weyr that may have been an odd question, but since Kylie's background was so riddled in mystery, Andijer probably wouldn't know if they had Gathers where she grew up or not.

"Yes, though I'm interested to see where this Gather differs from the ones I've been to," Kylie answered, her eyes already upon the first stall they would be coming to. It was one that sold lady's finery - scarves, head coverings, handkerchiefs and cloth purses. This surprised Kylie - she hadn't seen any type of bag upon a woman's body since her arrival, then she chuckled softly to herself. The Weyr was a small community, where everyone took care of each other. In a place like this, what use was there in an item meant to carry spare change? Besides, most workers' clothing came with sufficient pockets to carry small needed items, such as handkerchiefs and the ever-present vial of numbweed. These purses were only for show, and most likely only for the very wealthy.

The same went for the scarves and handkerchiefs. These were too ornate for every-day use, especially with the pretty dragons and fire-lizards embroidered upon them. Kylie nodded to herself, understanding even more about this enigmatic place. This stand was not for the day-to-day wares which would be sold at any market square. Gather stalls were for the fripperies, items which were more a luxury than a need. But, these items held no interest for her. Yes, those gaily colored scarves were pretty, but she had never worn a scarf when she was at home, let alone now. Maybe when she was older. She shrugged. "Pretty, but not for me," she said to Andijer, who's possessive hand had left her arm as he did his own browsing. The stall vendor looked down his nose at them, then turned to a couple who seemed more interested than they did. He did keep one eye on them, though, as if they would steal one of his precious scarves.

As if, Kylie thought as she and Andijer moved on to the next stall - one that sold leatherworks. If I were going to steal something, it wouldn't be the likes of that. Now, the Leathercraft stall was more up her alley. Leather mugs with exquisitely carved dragons, runnerbeasts and even the hold and Weyr badges. She wondered what it would be like to drink out of a mug made from leather and shuddered. It couldn't be that tasty . . . or maybe it would be too tasty! Give her metal or pottery any day! But as a decoration, now that would work. The belts were gorgeous, too, and handsomely made, but the dark brown leather vest! That was something she would have to have one day. As if in a trance, she moved towards it, hanging in a spot of prominence at the stand. It was a dark coffee-brown, almost black, with metallic-colored thread embroidered throughout the front and back. While the style was a plain open-breasted pattern, the embroidery made the vest special. Though Thread hadn't fallen for the past two hundred or so Turns, the scene was of a Threadfall. Bronze, brown, blue and green dragons spouted flame at clumps of writhing thread, the dragons embroidered so intricately you could almost see them moving. Whatever was used for the Thread had a slight shimmer to it, adding to the illusion of movement.

Kylie sighed over the vest, then reluctantly turned away. There was no way she could pity her way into this piece of finery, though now she had something to work towards. Andijer was still looking at the mugs.

"Why would you want one of those?" Kylie asked, puzzled. "I mean, you can't use them to drink out of. It's not like they would hold wine or water, let alone something like klah.

The Journeyman behind the counter chuckled at Kylie's question. When she looked at him as if he were making fun of her, he shook his head. "There are still people who ask that, miss, and my family has been manufacturing these mugs since the Second Pass. Here," and he picked up a leathern tankard which hadn't been used yet. "Pour anything in here - anything, and try it."

Hesitantly Kylie took the tankard while Andijer looked on, grinning. She looked around, but the only thing to drink was a wine seller conveniently situated close by. A crowd was gathering, people muttering about what was going on. Embarrassed, Kylie put the tankard back on the shelf of the stall, backing away. "I, uh, I'm sorry," she said, turning to leave but her way was blocked by a large, burly man. In her state, he looked truly intimidating, so she backed away from him, breath quickening in fear.

"Now, lass, don't you worry about a thing," the burly man said as he pulled out a wine flask and poured the tankard full. "Notice, the wine does not leak out. Try a bit - go ahead now, try it." He was big, but his mannerisms were non-threatening. Kylie took the tankard and sipped. Surprisingly, the wine tasted good. She handed the tankard to Andijer, who also took a sip and nodded. The large man patted Kylie on the back in what was supposed to be a friendly manner, almost knocking her to the ground.

"Let's thank these kids for demonstrating our wares," the man said loudly to the crowd, and Kylie realized that he was another Leathercraft worker. The Journeyman behind the counter winked at her, then handed Andijer a mug. "For two young 'uns who didn't get their dragon today - their very own dragon!" the burly man then bellowed, and the crowd cheered. He leaned down to whisper to the two. "Go on now - we're going to be busy. And when you do Impress next time, remember Gorlin and Fenrod of the Leathercraft!"

Kylie and Andijer hurried away, Kylie still bemused with what happened. Andijer grinned the whole while, and when they were a fair distance away from the stall, Andijer turned and pointed for Kylie's benefit. "Look. They're doing more business now than they probably had all day. Sometimes, losing means winning." Kylie nodded, not trusting herself to say anything yet. She held her tankard up and saw it was dark brown with a gold dragon painstakingly carved in the leather. A glance at Andijer returned a tan tankard with a bronze dragon carved on it. Eyes wide, she followed Andijer to the next stall, where they took one look and kept going. Herbal products didn't interest either of them.

They continued to move from stall to stall, browsing in earnest. While they didn't score any freebies of the same caliber which the Leathercraft stall gave them, they did end up with a few goodies without needing to spend any marks. Andijer told her it was good for business, and Kylie had to agree. No matter what they left with, the people around the stalls seemed to buy more after they left.

* * * * * * * *

Several hours later, when the sun had spent its last rays upon the festive crowd, Kylie and Andijer tiredly headed back to the candidate quarters. Even though there had been earlier overtones of romance between the two young candidates, by the time they returned to their quarters they were both too tired to even think about a possible assignation. They hugged, then stumbled off to bed.

Maybe tomorrow, Kylie Sue thought as she drifted off into slumber.
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Old Sep 29 2006, 09:09 PM   #29
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Part Two.
Chapter Twenty-Eight
* * * * *

Three Turns later

"Kailisu, the Searchriders are bringing in a new batch of candidates for Orovith's first Clutch," Wyncia called out as she entered the kitchen area. "Do you think you can organize them in here? Holna in Laundry lost most of her girls at Breylith's last Hatching, so until we can determine who would work out best from the newcomers, I'd like to take some of our more experienced workers and put them there."

Kailisu gave Wyncia a mock frown. "Sure, take all the good help away from me. I'm only working with the Weyr's food here," she said good-naturedly. Haneset looked up from the bread table and giggled. Kailisu grinned back, then looked back to Wyncia. "Go ahead. I understand why you don't want the newbies to work there. Once is enough."

Those not familiar with Telgar Weyr's Domestic areas would think placing newcomers in the area which prepared the meals for the whole Weyr did not make sense. After all, who wanted a large meal prepared by someone who had never cooked before? Three Turns ago, Kailisu would have agreed with this thinking. Today, she knew that most Pernese children, unless they belonged to the Lord Holder's family understood the basic fundamentals of cooking and cleaning. Shells, even a Lord Holder's get had more Kitchen skills than Kailisu did when she first arrived on Pern. There were plenty of places in the Kitchen which Kailisu could put them to work that wouldn't bring harm to anyone. And if the bread was a little salty, or the roast wasn't seasoned properly, well, that was the breaks.

Laundry was different. In the laundry room, the workers worked with scalding hot water and caustic soaps for the hard-to-clean items. About a Turn earlier, one of the newly arrived candidates was immediately placed in the Laundry room. Within a day she had somehow managed to splash scalding hot water on several of the other workers, and had spilled some of the lye soap on herself. After healing in the Infirmary for a week or so, she had been sent home and no candidates were allowed to work in the Laundry again - until they had been certified as not being a klutz.

In the kitchen Wyncia and her more experienced helpers made certain that no candidate would handle any sharp objects for at least a sevenday. So far, this had worked out well. Normally they were set to do fun things like hauling the carcasses out of the meat locker for the others to chop up, washing dishes, churning butter, and kneading dough. Kailisu loved the looks on their little faces when she set them to cleaning vegetables without a sharp knife. Good survival training, she thought.

"Psst. Here they come," Haneset stage-whispered to Kailisu. Headwoman Joslin came into the kitchen, about nine girls varying from ages fourteen to twenty following her. Even though two of the girls were older than Kailisu, she still thought of them as young. After more than three Turns in the Weyr and working in the kitchens, she was an old hand at Standing for Impression. These girls had probably never even been to the Weyr before.

"Good afternoon, Kailisu, Haneset," Joslin greeted the two friends. "Is Wyncia around?"

"Good afternoon to you too, Headwoman," Kailisu said respectfully. "No, she and Hilma went to help Holna in the Laundry." She gave Joslin a puzzled look - hadn't she been the one to suggest this temporary change in duties? Joslin's expression back to Kailisu was chagrined. If the candidates weren't all standing behind the headwoman, Kailisu suspected she wouldn't have received even that slight admission of forgetfulness. As it was, the look was Joslin's equivalent to hitting her forehead with the palm of her hand.

"Good, I figured as much but wanted to make sure," Joslin said, while Haneset mouthed "good save" from her position by the kneading block. Kailisu grinned, but kept quiet while looking to Joslin for more instructions. She already knew what the Headwoman was going to ask, but protocol must be kept and it wouldn't do for the newcomers to see any disrespect on their first full day in the Weyr.

The nine girls seemed too busy looking around the kitchen in awe to notice anything. Not only was it probably twice as big as the kitchen at Telgar Hold, most of these girls likely came from smaller holdings around the area. Then there were the firelizards.

Just about every domestic worker in the Weyr had at least one - this made it easier for the different areas to communicate with each other. Kailisu didn't exactly come up with the idea, but when Noyance mated and had her first Clutch, she had immediately allocated eggs to Headwoman Joslin, Wyncia, Holna, Tebeaja in Supplies, and Glenaust and Pifeze who oversaw cleaning the riders' weyrs and the overall Weyr respectively. Each succeeding clutch eggs went to people who worked in the domestic areas - permanent workers got first choice, then the candidates could choose. Since each clutch produced six to ten eggs and half of those were usually greens who had their first mating flight anywhere from eight to fourteen months old, there was no shortage of eggs to give out. Several people already had two or three 'lizards looking to them, and there were always more on the way. Not every green firelizard in the Weyr was considerate enough to Clutch where the eggs could be found. Luckily there were enough well-trained 'lizards in Telgar that there was never a shortage of eggs.

Of course, the Weyrleaders always had the right to demand an egg or three to give away - cementing Weyr/Hold or Weyr/Craft affiliations. No matter how numerous the 'lizards were in the Weyr, they were still scarce in the surrounding area. Kailisu suspected it was because of the dragons - since 'lizards were basically miniature dragons, she thought maybe the two breeds were so enamoured of each other that they formed a symbiotic relationship. It was uncommon to see a dragon bathing alone in the Weyr lake - there were usually several dozen firelizards hovering around to help clean them. Noyance very rarely had to give up any of her eggs to the Weyrleaders - there were always plenty to be had.

Not long after Kailisu Impressed Noyance, she discovered that firelizards were much like cats - if they weren't on a mission, they were either napping or looking for handouts. Napping in the Kitchen area was a firelizard's Nirvana. It was warm, there were always scraps to be begged, and at least one person would give a needy 'lizard a nice head-skritching. Kailisu smiled. She was always one to give a good head-skritching to any one of those beggars up there. And now, there were nine more victim...erm, targets for the numerous colorful wall decorations.

Nine more people who still thought that having a firelizard was special. Kailisu nodded to herself. Whoever's green 'lizard had the next Clutch would have a lot of new people to give eggs to. And more people on their way, she was positive.

"Girls?" Joslin was saying to the gawking candidates. One of them started, and they all looked guilty for not paying attention to her. Kailisu hid a smile. "Girls, this is Kailisu, she's a fellow candidate and will be showing you around the kitchen. I want you to listen to her, she knows what she's talking about. Kailisu, meet Sanjena, Thorasa, Yuinan," Joslin indicated each girl as she named them off. "Lacarma, Brisa, Brekla, Kija," Kailisu began to feel her eyes glaze over. How was she to remember all these names? "Adalga and Gillan." Joslin looked at her expectantly.

Kailisu smiled, no indication of her previous inattention on her face. "Welcome to the Telgar Weyr Kitchens. As the Headwoman said, I'm Kailisu, and I do a lot of the cooking in here. Most of us who are working here right now are also candidates, but until you know what you're doing, you'll be looking to us for direction. The tall dark-haired girl over by the stores is Alna," Kailisu waved at her and Alna waved cheerily back. "Fabergh is cutting up vegetables for the stew pot, and Delroedi is cleaning them." The two girls, one with dark skin and dark hair, the other light-skinned and light-haired turned their heads, nodding to the new girls. They turned back to their task, but not before Kailisu saw a gleam of mischief in Delroedi's eye. These two bore watching - they were almost worse with the practical jokes than Andijer . . . erm, An'jer now . . . had been. Quelling a pang of loneliness for the Weyrling, she continued with introductions.

"Over by the bread is Haneset - you'll probably be helping her first, because we don't know how much longer she'll be able to work here." Indicating with her hand that Haneset should get up, the other candidate slowly moved around the table, showing off a very pregnant belly. One of the girls gasped, a few of the others looked shocked. Kailisu cocked her head looked at them in amusement. "Something wrong?"

"She's pregnant," one of the girls, Kailisu thought it might have been Brekla, said in shock.

Haneset bit her lip to keep from giggling. Several of the other girls in the kitchen turned back to their work, some with shaking shoulders. Kailisu's lips twitched, but she heroically kept from laughing.

"Yes, she's pregnant," Kailisu said simply, her expression slightly questioning, as if she were waiting for the girl to finish.

Another of the girls (Lacarma?) burst out, "But how can she be a candidate if she's pregnant?" Lacarma looked like she wanted to say more, but stopped, afraid of looking foolish.

Kailisu nodded. "That's right. Haneset is pregnant, and yes, she is a candidate. She's due within the next couple of sevendays, so she'll be fine to Stand for Impression. As for the last Hatching, she was only five months along, and we've had women Stand much farther along in pregnancy."

The girls were looking shocked. "But, what about labor?"

"Doesn't it scare the dragon?"

"What about the father?"

"Isn't she married now?"

The questions were flung at Kailisu so quickly she just stood there until they finished. Then, even though these were questions that R'mez should answer, she did so instead, knowing that if these girls couldn't handle the reality of Weyr life it was better for them to realize this now, than to wait until after they'd spent so long at the Weyr their family would have thought they were ruined anyway.

"Dragonriders don't marry," Kailisu began. "Haneset is carrying the child of a dragonrider, so marriage for the two of them is out of the question - as well as something neither wants." At the stunned looks on these girls' faces, Kailisu remembered back when she first came to the Weyr, and how these revelations shocked, stunned, and at times repulsed her. Two and a half Turns later, as far as she was concerned this was life as she knew it. Of course, she did have the advantage of inside information at her hands.

"The reason neither of them wants to marry is because they really don't have any feelings for each other. Also, Haneset has been fairly exclusive with one of our younger bronzeriders, R'lan. However, she and W'kel hooked up because of a mating flight. This happens in a Weyr - and for you girls, the sooner the better. If you choose to stay." She stopped, wondering if there were any questions but they were all quiet, digesting this information. Until one tentatively raised her hand.

Kailisu nodded, and the girl she though was Sanjena spoke up. "What does 'hooked up' mean?"

Fabergh burst out laughing, and Kailisu's face turned red. Even after all this time, she still caught herself using Earth slang. Well, if R'mez could after twenty-some years, then she could after three. "Hooking up is a term I, uh, made up a long time ago. I should have said 'slept together'."

"I like it." Brekla again. "It's not like much sleeping goes on at that time."

"Brekla!" Sanjena seemed shocked. Kailisu wondered how much of that was show. She had a feeling Sanjena knew more about hooking up than Brekla did.

Lacarma wasn't going to be outdone by those questions. "What about love?"

"What's love got to do with it?" Kailisu asked. Then, not being able to help herself, she added, "What's love but a second-hand emotion?" At the series of blank stares, she cleared her throat, hearing a muffled sound coming from Alna's direction. "Right. Anyway, in a Weyr, love and sex do not go hand-in-hand. One of the biggest rules is, 'the dragon decides, the rider complies', though that's reserved for gold and green flights and their winners. However, when a gold rises her broadcasting can catch the unaware with their pants down. Literally."

Several girls breathed a long, drawn out "Ohhh."

"Anyway, back to the original questions . . . ."

"Would you suggest that we get caught up in a gold flight?"

Kailisu blinked. "What?"

"My sister said that you got caught up in a gold flight, and you liked it. I was wondering if you recommended it." Sanjena's dark eyes looked innocently at Kailisu, and she suddenly realized who this one was.

Who would say that Kailisu had 'liked' her first gold flight? Then inspiration hit. "You're Mareena's sister," she said. Sanjena nodded. For some reason, Kailisu wasn't getting a 'mean' vibe off of the girl, she seemed genuinely interested. They may be sisters, but it seemed that Sanjena and Mareena were going to be two totally different people.

Kailisu opened her mouth up to speak, and realized she was getting thirsty. "You lot have many more questions, don't you?" she asked. The girls nodded. Wonder if R'mez would mind if I talk to them.

R'mez is hoping you'll talk to them, Adexith offered. Less for him to worry about.

Great. "Well then, why don't we get ourselves a snack here, and I can tell you everything you wanted to know about being a female candidate."

As she started pointing out where things were in the kitchen so they could get it themselves, she saw Joslin try to sneak away.

"Hey, you're still here?" she asked, trotting over to the Headwoman.

"I wanted to see how you'd do. Wyncia is right. Your question and answer session with new candidates is very entertaining. I just wish I could be here for the rest." Chuckling to herself, Joslin left the kitchen.

Kailisu watched her leave and rolled her eyes. Management!
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Old Sep 29 2006, 09:13 PM   #30
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Chapter Twenty-Nine
* * * * *

"So then I told them about what happens in gold flights, and how Haneset and W'kel ended up rolling in the furs. That graduated to fostering out the babies as soon as they could be fostered." Kailisu took a long draught of wine, glaring at R'mez as he sat on the other side of the table laughing. It was several days after the newest batch of candidates had been brought in. She'd finally had a chance to talk to R'mez about her trials with these girls.

"Go ahead and laugh, but it's not easy telling these idealistic Holdbred that they can have a dragon, or they can have babies, but they can't have both! We really need to get them in the Weyr earlier than this!"

"I remember a certain 'Holdbred' girl who thought the same thing," R'mez reminded her, still chuckling. "You couldn't handle the reality, even though you had read about it. These girls grew up with tales about it, yet it still didn't affect their thinking when they were shown the stark reality. Everyone thinks they're going to be special, or exempt from the rules."

Kailisu grimaced, looking into the depths of her wineglass. R'mez was right, she had been very naive back then. She chuckled. "It was amusing to see the looks on their faces when R'lan came to the kitchens to escort her to the barracks. She openly admits it's not his child, yet he acted as if she weren't pregnant with someone else's babe."

"Well, they'll learn. And you were right to introduce them to that reality first. I've heard that one of these girls has decided they wanted to go home. Couldn't handle the thought of not being with her children." R'mez topped off both their wine glasses with the cheap watered down version they used for everyday drinking. "Did they meet Kailan yet?"

Kailisu laughed. "Yup. And that may be what changed that one girl's mind. Kailan is starting to get to the real cute stage now - she's already celebrated her first birthing day, and she is getting into everything. Barzela has her hands full with her, yet thanks me every time she sees me for giving birth to such an adorable child. She thanked me in front of those Hold girls, and all they could do was stare. I told them that Barzela is giving her much better care than I ever could. Shards, R'mez, I didn't even want kids."

The Candidate Master laughed. "Should have thought of that after . . . ."

"Oh, you." Kailisu playfully swatted at him. "I could have taken the short ride between. J'ret was willing to take me. But we decided to do our duty by the Weyr." She smiled at R'mez in self-satisfaction. "At least I know I can carry to term, and that it's not such a bad thing for me." The smile fell from her face as she continued more soberly, "The Weyr needs all the people it can get, too. By the time Kailan is old enough to Stand, the Pass won't even be a third over. She can Stand, Impress, and give me a grandchild who would still fight Thread. No, I did right by having her." Kailisu took a sip of her wine, knowing that she still hadn't been introduced to the brutal reality of Thread.

R'mez reached over and patted Kailisu's arm. "Hey. I haven't seen Thread yet either. This is going to be frightening for all of us. Think about it - no one knows what to expect. In that, you, I and the natives are all equal."

"True. You're right. But for some reason, that really doesn't help soothe me." She got up and began pacing. "We can die. Easily. Painfully. Is that what we want?"

"'Dragonmen must fly when Thread is in the sky'," R'mez quoted. "And even if you aren't yet, Kailisu, I am a dragonrider. My function is to fight Thread, just as my function on Earth was to keep America safe."

Obviously the Marine in the man was coming out again, and reminding Kailisu just how like the Americas military organizations were like a Weyr. Or maybe the Weyr structure was run like a military organization. Either way, R'mez was an officer, while Kailisu wasn't even Infantry yet. She was just support personnel, and wouldn't understand until she became Infantry. If that ever happened.

Be patient.

"I notice you're not as gloomy about not Impressing as you used to be," R'mez continued, changing the subject. "Adexith has kept me informed on your mental progress."

Kailisu wrinkled her nose at him. "That may be so, but we've had what? Four Clutches since that first one, and no dragon's even looked at me. I may end up being in the Kitchens for the rest of my life."

"That may be so, but you're only eighteen now. They ask that you stop Standing at twenty-three. Therefore, you've still got many more Clutches to go. If you choose to."

That was the kicker. Did she choose to? Or was there a point when she decided to stop Standing and become a career woman. "Wyncia has said that I could be more than just a Kitchen worker, or a cook," Kylie mentioned hesitantly. "Luckily there's no hurry in something like that - we have enough people managing the workers right now."

"You also have a future in training Candidates," R'mez said. "You seem to be able to get through to the females better than I can."

"Great." Sarcasm dripped from the word, but Kailisu wasn't fooling anyone in that room and everyone knew it. Even with the hard questions that were asked by some of the more savvy candidates, she enjoyed those question and answer sessions. She went back to thinking about the last one, and remembered something else that she thought amusing.

"We may have lost Lacarma to normal Hold life, but a few of the others thought that becoming pregnant and giving birth after they Impress was not such a bad thing. Especially when I told them that some of the dragons helped in pain management."

R'mez chuckled. "Did you mention that this was only older dragons - weyrling dragons were kept quiet by one of the queens?"

"Oh, I may have mentioned something like that," Kailisu said innocently. She noticed a drop of wine had spilled onto the table, and began playing with it, making shapes with her fingernail. What if he didn't like that she wasn't totally straightforward with them? She answered their questions, yet made Weyr life seem more glamorous than it really was.

A bark of laughter caused her to look up. "I may have to ask Weyrwoman Rhanda to assign you to me for Candidate training. You just seem to have a knack of telling them what they want to hear."

"Well, if they asked the right questions . . . ," Kailisu looked up, biting her bottom lip. "I really thought Sanjena would ask more questions than she did, but either Mareena hasn't talked to her much, or she doesn't want to ruin the surprise for the rest of the girls."

"Our young weyrwoman most likely didn't warn her sister," R'mez stated flatly. "I've heard that N'val and Z'lek have their hands full working with her, and Loryan is about ready to strangle her."

One thing that translated well from Earth Pern Fandom was the training of a goldrider. The Weyrlingmasters handled most of the training, but one of the junior weyrwomen handled the training specific to one who Impressed a queen.

"What about the Weyrwoman?"

"Rhanda thinks Mareena just needs to focus. I think that the fact she Impressed a queen went to her head and she's just been dizzy with the power. Once we get two more queens in the Weyr, she should settle down."

"Maybe she'll settle down after her first flight. Do the bronzes have any idea when Orovith will rise? We're already bringing in candidates for her eggs."

"Adexith says soon. Maybe even today." R'mez folded his arms on the table and leaned forward questioningly. "Thoughts?"

Kailisu took a deep breath. "I'm sure you remember how, back where we come from people liked to psychoanalyze problems all the time?" R'mez nodded. "Well, maybe Mareena is scared. Maybe she's overcompensating for the fact that she's so unsure of herself. She was a bully - sometimes bullies are so unsure that they . . . ." R’mez was looking at her incredulously, so Kailisu tapered off. "What?"

"Nothing. You may be right though. But, until after her flight, we can't be sure."

Are you done analyzing yet? Adexith sounded odd, strained. Kailisu wondered what was wrong, then her eyes flew open.

"C'mon, let's go!" R'mez was already grabbing Kailisu's arm and dragging her over to his dragon. Since they were up in his weyr, several hundred feet above the ground they relied on Adexith getting them to the Bowl. R'mez had to get to Mareena's weyr while Adexith blooded. Come to think of it, Kailisu had to get to the kitchens and take care of her own charges.

Kailisu had no idea how they mounted the bronze or how they made it to the Weyrbowl. She did suspect she wasn't quite riding him, more like flung across his back and holding on to his skin for dear life, but at least she made it to the ground in one piece.

Practically falling off of his back, the two friends hit the ground running, R'mez for Mareena's weyr and Kailisu for the kitchens. She had candidates to either protect, or make sure they weren't hurt during the flight. That was, if she could keep her mind off of Orovith's broadcast herself!
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Old Sep 29 2006, 09:16 PM   #31
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Chapter Thirty
* * * * *

Orovith hadn't started blood by the time Kailisu reached the kitchens, of which she was eternally grateful. The noise from the beastpens carried through into the kitchens, indicating that more bronzes had joined in the fray.

"Bronzes blood," she called out as she came to a skidding stop by the kneading table. Haneset looked around in surprise from her seat where she was supervising several of the girls in the finer points of kneading dough and shaping rolls. The kitchen was a-bustle with activity as usual, several of the girls set at various tasks of cleaning tubers, cutting meat or doing dishes. Yet when Kailisu made her announcement, the bustle quieted.

"Orovith rises at last?" Wyncia asked as she walked over to the table drying her hands with a rag.

"Yes. At least, the bronzes are blooding. Orovith hasn't awoken yet, but I did notice a very healthy glow on my way back here. None of our new girls have been privy to a goldflight yet." There had been several greenflights the past couple of days, and Kailisu suspected that at least one of the girls had taken advantage of the feelings imparted from that flight. On the other hand, saying a greenflight was like a goldflight was akin to saying a summer cold was like fire-head.

Wyncia was nodding to Kailisu's statement. "What do you propose we do, then?" she asked as the girls stood clustered around.

Considering even though the broadcast from a goldflight was strong, it was still not the orgy-producing, hormone inducing event that most Holders and role-players thought it was. Yes, it could be uncomfortable for a while, and yes, if two consenting adults were in the vicinity of each other they could end up in the furs but for the most part, when forewarned those feelings could be ignored. In the case of a rising queen, ignorance was not bliss. It could be very painful, as Kailisu could attest.

The question was, how many of these girls were still virgins? How many weren't and would want to experience the pure animal lust that came from the residuals of a queenflight? Kailisu was not going to dance around the subject, no matter how many sensibilities could be hurt. She motioned the newcomers to gather 'round, and began talking. The veteran kitchen workers stayed at their stations, though some edged closer to see what Kailisu would say.

"I've told you all what to expect from a goldflight. Some of you grilled me mercilessly on the subject when you first arrived at the Weyr." A couple of the girls giggled nervously at this. "Here's the deal - you can take advantage of how this flight will affect your emotions and find someone to ride it out with now. Otherwise, you can stay here in the kitchens and continue working until your shift is over." A couple of the girls looked at each other consideringly. Kailisu could just hear their wheels turning - getting out of work early for the rest of the day versus staying and doing their duties?

"Those that don't leave today will be allowed to take one full rest day off on any day of their choosing in the future - an extra rest day." Now the girls were looking unsure, weighing taking the rest of today off against a future full day.

Brekla finally spoke up, possibly voicing the concerns of some of the other girls. "What would you do?" she asked timidly.

"Me? That depends on what you mean. If you are saying 'what would I do if I just arrived here, innocent, virginal and pure', I'd say no sharding way." She heard an amused sound from Fabergh's station, but chose to ignore it. "I was caught up in a goldflight while still a virgin. It seemed wonderful at the time . . . until I got up to walk." Concerned glances flew around the room. Kailisu smiled softly - maybe she was getting through to them. "I was tight, small, and penetrated by a man who was, shall we say, well-endowed. He ripped his way in. I was afraid to ever have sex again." Now the looks had turned to full-fledged fear, but Kailisu held up her hand to forestall any issues. "As you can tell by my introducing you to my daughter, I got over that fear." She smiled brightly.

"Now, if your question, 'what would you do' meant today? If I had my druthers, I'd look for one of my male friends and spend a wonderful afternoon having hot, wild sex with him." There was a snort from next to her, and she glared at Haneset, who's eyes were dancing with amusement. "It wouldn't be An'jer, the father of Kailan. Since he Impressed blue Novoth at Breylith’s most recent Hatching, An’jer and I haven't been together. After you've Impressed, you are discouraged from having sex until the dragon's at least ten months old. Novoth's only two months." Kailisu's obvious disappointment at this event was cause for many amused glances. What her disappointment didn't tell them was how An'jer had subtly changed since he Impressed. How he no longer seemed to feel about her the same way he used to. But that was neither here nor there. She was answering a valid question from a candidate, and looked at the group to see what the reaction was.

"Oh." Brekla wasn't expecting this forward of an answer. "What does An'jer think about you having, uh, relations with other men?"

Kailisu shrugged. "He's Weyrbred. He's a rider. Once Novoth has grown old enough, he's going to start chasing every green he can, until he settles down and decides which ones he likes better. During those times, Novoth is bound to win once or twice. I've told you before and I'll tell you again. Sex does not equal love in a Weyr. Sometimes, sex is just that. Sex." She waited to see what kind of doozie-esque questions these girls would come up with next. She wasn't disappointed.

"Kailisu, would it be horrible for us to hang around Mareena's weyr and, um, console the riders who lose?" Sanjena looked hopeful. Either she didn't have any of the male candidates interested in her, or she just wanted to dive in with her eyes closed.

Kailisu sighed. Had they not been listening to what she said? "I can't answer that without knowing your previous experience." Several of the girls looked at her indignantly. Kailisu closed her eyes for a moment, shaking her head. "Don't look at me like that. I know as well as any of you that just because you're supposed to be virgins doesn't mean that you really are. And that is what I'm getting at. A bronzerider who has lost the queen flight is still with his dragon. He doesn't have time for the niceties of foreplay. Sex with a losing bronzerider after a queenflight can be rough."

"On the other hand it can be good if you like rough," said Fabergh with a predatory smile. Kailisu rolled her eyes. Well, at least she knew one worker who was taking the afternoon off.

"Yes, if you like rough it can be good," she agreed. "I just wouldn't advise it for your first time. It was a losing bronzerider who I ended up with." She looked at the gaggle of girls hanging around the table, some with knowing looks and some that seemed to have an innocence about them. "I am not a voyeur, I do not care if you've had sex or not, nor do I care how many times. I have not been keeping track of who you hang around with, who you may or may not sleep with or if you even like men." Someone giggled nervously, and Kailisu tried to keep herself from making a note of who it was.

"I merely came here to warn you that the bronzes were blooding and that Orovith was soon to rise. You do with that information what you wish." The noise from the beast pens had quieted down, when suddenly there was a feral shriek from the air and the animals let out frightened bellows. "If you'd like, we can watch Orovith blood," Kailisu suggested. Everyone from the kitchens rushed for the door that let out into the kitchen courtyard, which led to the beast pens.

The girls gasped at the nearness of the queen. "I thought when you said we could watch it would be from a distance," Sanjena breathed accusingly. Her eyes were wide and fixed on the golden form which was beginning to glow from her blooding. One of the things Kailisu had noticed the first time she watched a queen blood was that they didn't exactly suck the blood like was indicated in the books. Instead, the dragon caught the herdbeast and while it was still living, bit down on the carotid artery, which quickly gushed the blood into the dragon's mouth and down its throat. Once the artery was finished pumping the blood the dragon would flip the beast up to drain the rest of the blood down its own throat, then hurl the beast away and start on the next one.

She found it fascinating. She wasn't sure how the new girls felt - they had expressions that went from repulsion to fascination. Kailisu smiled, she remembered the first time she'd seen a dragon eat. This was nothing! As they stood there watching, Kailisu became aware of the first stirrings of her libido. She smiled at her own thoughts. Stirrings be damned, she didn't care what anyone thought of her odd terminology. She was damn . . . erm, sharding horny! Well, at least women didn't advertise their wantonness like men did. Trying to keep her thoughts off of her increasing discomfort, Kailisu watched as Orovith drained a second, then a third herdbeast. The glowing golden queen surveyed those who watched her with a regal disdain, then ignored them.

With a challenging cry, Orovith launched herself into the air and was soon gone over the bowl rim. Bronzes launched themselves after her, and the chase was on. Kailisu could already feel the blood pounding in her head from the excitement of the chase, but if these girls planned on taking full advantage of the flight she needed to stay in the kitchen. She looked at the girls, every one of them flushed with sexual heat. This was probably the first time any of them had felt this aroused. It was exhilarating, but if there was no promise of release it could also be painful. Being their first time around a goldflight, Kailisu felt a moment's pity for them. But she couldn't allow herself to think about it too much - after all, it wasn't always men who a woman could find to assuage her need. Time to get back to work. She left the girls with one last bit of wisdom.

"Like I said, it's up to you what you do with this opportunity. There'll be another though. There's always going to be another. Breylith's clutch just hatched, so she'll be rising again soon. Loth is about a month from clutching, then she'll rise again. It's an endless cycle." She made eye contact with each girl, trying to gauge what they would do.

"I'm going back into the kitchen, to continue work. You decide what you want, and I'll see you whenever." She turned and headed back into the kitchen.
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Old Oct 6 2006, 09:12 PM   #32
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Chapter Thirty-one
* * * * *

The small pep-talk on queenflights, sex and virginity made Kailisu realize that newcomers to the Weyr really weren't well prepared for these flights. Previously, when only two queens were rising it didn't matter so much because there were only four flights a Turn, and the chances of newcomers arriving right before one of them was low. Not only had the Weyr finally run through their initial candidate prospects and Weyr-born, with Orovith's rising the flights would increase to six a Turn - approximately one every other month. The odds increased dramatically on people coming in unprepared for a queenflight. Granted, there were several green flights a day, but unless one was extremely sensitive to dragons it was hardly noticeable. Besides, only about three or four dragons would chase after any given green, reducing the chances of heavily lustful broadcasts.

Even when she'd first arrived at Telgar Weyr Kailisu couldn't remember any memorable greenflights. She definitely remembered her first queenflight, and was determined to be there for her girls if anything came of this flight. Kailisu didn't know when she first started thinking of this batch of girls as 'her' candidates, but they were hers, though she lost another one. Adalga, a cute girl with straight dark hair and a very dark complexion left because she couldn't handle the mating-flight lust. Kailisu was saddened to lose her - Adalga's family had moved north from Igen Hold for some obscure reason, and her exotic looks threatened to overwhelm even Mareena's sultry features. Though it was silly and childish to keep harboring a grudge against the newest queenrider, Kailisu couldn't help it. Since she kept her feelings to herself it really did no harm. Kailisu held a grudge - she didn't act on it.

One reason Kailisu probably took these girls under her wing was because the day of Orovith's mating flight not a single one went to act on her natural impulses. Instead, the whole group of eight had trouped back into the kitchens and went to work alongside Haneset and Kailisu, though Fabergh and Delroedi had been gone by then. And if there had been a lot of 'accidental' touching of each other, the next day nothing was said to that effect. Kailisu was proud of them.

That day had started her thinking about first-time flights for anyone. So, she called upon Shawla and Soneja to come and tell the girls about the joys and the horrors of a greenrider's first flight. Though Shawla had actually Impressed blue, Goncaanth had chased a male-ridden green and won. After the flight was when Shawla's friends had discovered she'd been a virgin, and that her partner had not only been well-endowed but overly enthusiastic.

Shawla, Soneja, R'lan and Mareena were all in the same Weyrling class so their dragons were fairly close to each other. Clutch-brothers and -sisters usually stayed mentally close throughout their lives, and this class was no exception. Moments after the flight Goncaanth had the presence of mind to bespeak Orovith who bespoke Breylith. Shawla was taken to the Infirmary for heavy haemorrhaging. This had also been greenrider V'teran's first flight, and though he carried his own vial of lubricant as male greenriders were encouraged to do, it either didn't enter his mind to make use of it, or it never occurred to him that he would need to use it on a female.

Shawla spent almost two sevendays in the Infirmary, and was grounded for another month. Yet throughout her ordeal, she never lost her sense of humour which she had discovered after Impressing Goncaanth. Her friends, both rider and non visited her every day, as did V'teran. She and V'teran had even become close friends, so Kailisu thought maybe the two of them could come and give a talk. Soneja she wanted for the other side of the coin - how wonderful a first flight could be when both parties knew what they were doing.

R'mez thinks you would become a good Candidate Master, Adexith said, interrupting her thoughts. Kailisu looked up from the parchment she was writing on, realizing she was creating a lesson plan for the candidates. The dining hall was all but empty at this time of day; the kitchen was under control so Wyncia told Kailisu that if she had good ideas for candidate lessons, write them down.

Yeah, Kailisu answered. And I'll Impress a brown at the next Hatching, too.

Candidates fall under the Weyrwoman's responsibilities. I'm sure Rhanda would be more than happy to delegate this one aspect of her job to you.

Breylith decided to chime in. I know she would give it to you. Loryan isn't candidate friendly and Orovith's thinks she's too good to be a teacher.

You're all forgetting I am not a rider, Kailisu reminded the two dragons. I doubt anyone would listen to me unless I had a dragon looking to me. After that, I'm not sure that a greenrider would be considered a good Candidate Master.

Why not? You don't need a dragon to teach candidates. The only time you need one is during the ride-along, and any of our fine riders would be willing to carry you. And if you Impress green, why can't a greenrider be as good a teacher as a bronzerider? Adexith sounded perplexed, as if he didn't understand how Kailisu's mind worked. Which made sense, considering it was her unusual thought processes which caused the dragons to speak to her anyway. So, she tried to explain her reasoning to him, only to realize that her reasonings were based in ignorance.

The Candidate Master, as well as the Weyrling Master is supposed to be a brown or bronzerider because blues aren't smart enough and greens are flighty, she answered, pulling on former knowledge from the role-play groups she had belonged to. Silence met her words, and she sat back, thinking about what she'd just said.

Why did the Candidate Master have to be a brown or bronzerider? Granted, it had been traditional in the ten Weyrs she had been a member of, but the position was considered a ranking position and rank was always associated with bronzes and browns. But wasn't the actual, real-life position more about knowledge and competence? Sure, when teaching weyrlings to go between or drop firestone, or drill in mock-Thread drills it was better to have one of the larger dragons there in case there were accidents. But couldn't someone just come and fill in during those times?

As for blues and greens being less intelligent and flight - well, that was a crock in itself. Soneja wasn't flighty. An'jer wasn't stupid and neither was Shawla. As a matter of fact, she couldn't think of one blue or green rider who fit the stereotype she had given Adexith and Breylith. Any of the riders she had the privilege to know would make a great Candidate or Weyrling Master. Granted, some of them were too young but in the future, possibly.

And another thing - why did the Candidate Master even need to be a rider? As long as they knew dragons, it didn't matter if they had one of their own or had a close friend they could count on. It was the knowledge they imparted. Kailisu shook her head - it took her long enough, but she was rid of yet another preconception drilled into her in her former life.

Guess I still have things to learn, don't I? She asked hoping that the dragons were still talking to her.

You've done stupider things than that and we still talk to you, Breylith said consolingly.

Kailisu breathed a sigh of relief and leaned forward to put the finishing touches on her parchment, before taking it to R'mez for approval.

"Flighty? You think I'm flighty?" An angry tall red-head was heading towards Kailisu with murder in her eyes. "How dare you call me flighty!"

Thanks, guys.

You know that other dragons listen to you. Winvath was one of them. And we didn't know that her rider would be so angry. Sorry.
Breylith didn't sound sorry at all. Kailisu sighed. Actually, she should have been more careful. A lot of the dragons liked to listen to her, even if they didn't always say anything.

"Jandana, I . . . ."

"Don't you Jandana me! I am not flighty, thank you very much. I am very, very grounded and I would appreciate it if you would remember that." The rider's green eyes blazed in anger, her pale cheeks flushed a dark pink. Since she had come running to the main cavern her dark hair was dishevelled and unkempt. Kailisu was unwise enough to reflect that she had no idea Jandana's hair was so frizzy.

Winvath kindly relayed that thought too. "Frizzy? Now I'm not only flighty but I'm frizzy? You have a lot of nerve, Kailisu!" With that, Jandana turned on her heel and stalked out of the cavern.

Thanks, Winvath, she said crossly. Your rider used to like me.

She could hear telepathic chuckling from many dragons and sighed. Some day she might learn to focus her thoughts on only one dragon, but since they all seemed to enjoy listening to her that didn't seem likely to happen. Instead, when she talked to one, she talked to all.

Jandana will be fine by tomorrow, Winvath assured her. Yet somehow, Kailisu felt she was being used as entertainment. Sprinkling sand on her completed list, she gingerly blew it off the parchment and funnelled the sand off the table and back into the container she now kept at her side. Time to take this to the Candidate master and see what he said.
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Old Oct 6 2006, 09:15 PM   #33
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Chapter Thirty-Two
* * * * *

Kailisu wiped her hands on a towel and threw it in the laundry bin along with the apron she just took off. "Wyncia! I need to go talk to Weyrwoman Rhanda before I go meet these new candidates," she called to her supervisor. No matter how integrated she got in Pern, some habits couldn't die - such as considering Wyncia and R'mez her supervisors, bosses, managers or whatnot. While the hierarchy in the Weyr was self-evident, there were some things she just needed to keep straight in her own mind.

"Go ahead, Kailisu," the answer came back from the meat-storage cave. "Haneset can help me."

Kailisu looked dubiously at her friend whose belly was about ready to pop. Haneset laughed. "Go on, one of the others will help me out if the baby comes." Fabergh and Delroedi, who were both hovering close by nodded.

"I don't need to go to Laundry until after the mid-day meal," Fabergh said. "Besides, I think you did a great job training the new girls." They all looked over at Sanjena and Brekla who were busy peeling and chopping tubers. "If we need you, we'll send Noyance or Justin to find you." Delroedi nodded, validating her friend's words.

Taking a deep breath, Kailisu nodded. It was stupid for her to be this worried; babies were born in the Weyr all the time. All the kitchen candidates each had at least one by now - in some cases two. Shards, Kailisu's own Kailan was over a Turn old. Sometimes she felt guilty for not being a mother to her daughter, yet her feelings had no bearing. Some women were natural mothers, some weren't. And Kailisu was not. She knew that while she was pregnant, she knew that after. Best of all, when she admitted she wanted to foster her child out, no one judged her!

The same time she was pregnant, her fellow candidate Barzela was pregnant also. Unlike Kailisu, Barzela was a natural mother and immediately offered to take in Kailan. Both Kailisu and Andijer happily agreed. Andijer hadn't Impressed Novoth yet, but he had as much inclination to be a father as Kailisu had to be a mother. And while Kailisu had the option to take a short trip between to terminate the possible pregnancy, the Weyr encouraged pregnant females to carry to term. The Weyr babies of today were the dragonriders of tomorrow.

She hurried down the corridor to Weyrwoman Rhanda's office. She wondered if the Weyrwoman would be so accessible to her if she couldn't talk to Breylith.

Rhanda tries to be accessible to anyone who needs her, Breylith assured her. Besides, you are well on your way to becoming a good Assistant Candidate Master. Or Assistant Cook.

Kailisu let out a bark of laughter, causing several riders and other Weyr personnel to give her odd looks. While it was normal to see riders talking to themselves or reacting to what seemed like nothing, to see a candidate act that way was not normal. The fact that some dragons talked to the candidate was not advertised throughout the Weyr. Shrugging and smiling at the people she passed, Kailisu giggled all the way to Weyrwoman Rhanda's quarters, where she knocked on the door.

"Enter," came the muffled voice from within, so Kailisu entered. She tried not to stare, but she had never been inside either Weyrleaders’ chambers before, so wanted to see just how luxurious they were. However, she wouldn't get much of a chance to do so since not only was Weyrwoman Rhanda awaiting her, so were junior weyrwomen Loryan and Mareena. What were they doing here? she thought ungraciously as she tried not to let her surprise show on her face.

Learning how to be Weyrwomen, Breylith told her crisply while Rhanda gave her a stern look. Great. Why did these dragons insist on telling their riders every sharding thought that crossed her mind?

While Rhanda's expression softened to the point she looked about to laugh, Breylith answered with the most obvious answer. Because we can.

Realizing the mental conversation would be going nowhere, Kailisu made a valiant effort to ignore Breylith. "Good day, Weyrwoman Rhanda, weyrwoman Loryan and weyrwoman Mareena," she said, nodding to each in turn. Then, not knowing what to do, she stood there with her hands clasped in front of her.

"Good day, Kailisu," the Weyrwoman answered. "For the time you're in here, you may dispense with the formalities." She looked at the other two, and while Mareena looked like she wanted to protest, the most junior of weyrwomen kept quiet. Kailisu also noticed that Rhanda didn't give her an explanation as to why they were there, not that she had to. Well, Breylith had already answered that question, but the others didn't know that. Rhanda waved Kailisu to take a seat at the same table the others were at while she poured her a glass of wine.

"Weyrwoman Rhanda! I can do that!" Kailisu protested but was once again waved to her seat.

Setting the glass in front of her, Rhanda took her own seat and leaned forward with her arms on the table. "Now, what is this idea you have that might help the candidates coming here?"

Kailisu wasn't ready to put her idea in front of an audience. If it had been just one of them, fine. But all three? One of them being the instigator of all the harassment she had suffered before the first Hatching. Maybe she should just leave, give it up. As this thought crossed her mind, another part of her squashed it flat. Why should the fact that she was sitting at a table with three weyrwomen intimidate her? Rhanda wasn't intimidating, and neither was Loryan. Loryan was actually quite quiet. No, her problem was with Mareena, and why should she have a problem with her? The girl had gotten what she wanted. Plus, and Kailisu took a chance to scrutinize Mareena closer, she didn't seem as intimidating as she had over three Turns ago. Mentally shaking off her stage fright, Kailisu put forward the sheaf of reed-paper she had brought with her.

"In the past two sevendays, five candidates have gotten lost in the Weyr. Candidate master R'mez tries to pair each new candidate up with a veteran candidate, but even still, the Weyr is a large and complex place and very intimidating to those not used to being here." She stopped to take a deep breath and to gauge her audience's reaction. Surprisingly, the three women were looking at her with interest.

"As the Pass draws closer, the problem with lost candidates will only increase. While I'd love to be able to give each candidate a fire lizard the minute they get off the Search dragons, this is not a practical or feasible idea. So, in this folder is a set of . . . signs, which I have drawn up." Now she was blushing as she pulled out her signs. Not being an artist, they were crudely drawn, but she hoped to get someone who was better with the stylus to draw the actual signs.

Surprisingly, it was Loryan who spoke next. "I'm assuming these signs will be placed at intervals to point candidates in the right direction?"

"Uh, yes," Kailisu replied, surprised. Then she realized - this had been tried before and discarded because it hadn't worked! How could she have come up with such a stupid idea?

Loryan was nodding. "This has been tried before, but not all candidates can read. And in dark corridors, they can't always be seen."

"Well, part of my plan was for those candidates who were still learning how to read," Kailisu admitted, since she herself had been Pernese-illiterate when she arrived here. "They're to be color-coded instead. The ways to the infirmary would be a bronze dragon, the ways to the Weyrleaders' quarters would be a gold dragon, to the Dining Hall would be a brown dragon . . . ." She trailed off as she pushed the pictures on the table into a row.

Mareena was nodding as she picked up one of the pictures. The dragon had been sketchily done, but one could tell what it was. "I remember when I first came here. It was hard finding my way around. This is a good idea, except . . ."

"Except that in the dark, you can't see the color coding," Loryan finished for her. Mareena shot her a glare, then quickly blanked her face. Kailisu pretended she didn't notice, but wondered what was between those two.

"How about crushing glows and mixing with the paint?" she asked, and got surprised looks from all three.

"I don't know if that's ever been done," Weyrwoman Rhanda admitted. "But, I'll contact the various Craftmasters, to see what painters have tried. The paint would need to be renewed periodically, though."

Kailisu chuckled. "We're getting new candidates in the Weyr all the time. I'm sure we can have some of them do the painting."

In perfect agreement with Kailisu, Mareena also chuckled. "What better way to learn their way around the Weyr?"

"The idea is a sound one," said Loryan slowly, "but different color dragons seem to be too ambiguous. What about a picture denoting what the place is?" At the blank looks the other three were giving her, she continued. "The Infirmary. How about, instead of a bronze dragon, we use a person on crutches." She looked at Kailisu and held out her hand. "Do you have any blank papers?"

Kailisu nodded and handed one to her. Loryan, obviously no artist herself, drew a stick figure of a person on crutches. "See, we could use this, carve it into the Weyr wall, then paint the outline with that glow-paint if it works. And, the simpler the drawing, the easier it would be for people to interpret it."

"So, what you're saying is, we have this as a symbol for the Infirmary," Kailisu repeated, "and, for the Dining Hall, we use something like, oh, a table and chair?" Pulling the paper back, she quickly sketched an easy stick-table and chair.

Mareena jumped in. "For the Laundry, we use a shirt." She grabbed the paper and sketched in a simple shirt.

Smiling at the way the three were working together, Rhanda jumped in. "For the Kitchen, a knife."

"The Beast pens, a beast."

"The Stores, a sack of flour."

"The Candidate Barracks, an egg?"

"Good one! Weyrling Barracks, a rider and dragon?"

"Oooh. How about - for the latrines, a guy peeing?" Kailisu had done her own version of a popular window sticker she had seen on many cars back in a different life. The others looked at it and burst out laughing.

"Kailisu, I'm not sure that's appropriate. And yet, it has a certain appeal to it." Rhanda was smiling as she looked at what Kailisu called the Calvin. "Tell you what. You can use one or two of this picture, but for the rest," and she pulled the paper towards her and scribbled something on it, "use something like this." It was an exactly drawn replica of a chamber pot. Since they were using a knife for the kitchen, it would be perfect.

The group was clustered around the table now, perfecting the drawings and re-drawing some of Kailisu's finished drawings. Mareena was elected unanimously to finish the drawings and find someone to carve them on the Weyr corridor walls. As Kailisu leaned over, head butted up against Mareena's while the two laughed together over one of the drawings, a shock of cold air hit right above the table as firelizards galore tried to get the attention of the people they looked to, or friends of the people they looked to. At the same time, dragons were bugling.

"Loth's Clutching!" Loryan cried, getting up to go running to the Hatching Grounds.

"Haneset's in labor!" Rhanda and Kailisu said in unison as they collided trying to get to the door. Standing back, Kailisu gestured for Rhanda to go ahead - after all, it was her daughter.

As Kailisu moved to exit, she realized that she needed to clean this place up and go get her candidates. Watching a dragon clutch for the first time was something she wanted to make sure all her candidates got to see. But first, the papers.

Mareena moved to intercept her. "I'll clean up here. And I'll find the candidates and take them to the Sands. Haneset's your friend, you need to be with her," she said gently.

"I . . . thanks!" said Kailisu, turning to leave. Then, she turned back around, ran over to Mareena and hugged her. "Thank you so much!" Leaving a very surprised Mareena behind her, she dashed out the door and down to the Infirmary.
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Old Oct 6 2006, 09:20 PM   #34
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Chapter Thirty-three
* * * * *

The screaming from the Infirmary informed Kailisu that Haneset had not yet completed labor. On one hand, she had wished the babe had already been born, yet on the other hand she was glad because she wanted to be there for the birth of her best friend's first baby. Dashing into the Infirmary, she noticed R'lan already by Haneset's side, Rhanda mopping her brow with a cool cloth. An'jer was even there, encouraging his friend even as she cried out once again.

"Kailisu! Where are you?" she screamed.

"I'm right here," Kailisu said as she skidded to a stop next to her friend. She didn't even have time to reflect how it would have bothered her three years ago to be in a room with a naked pregnant woman in labor. Of course, it was hard to reflect on something as minor as that when said pregnant woman was trying to fuse all her fingers together. "How are you feeling," Kailisu gasped as Haneset's contraction left her fingers bloodless and flat.

"Oh, you know, same as any other day," Haneset answered weakly. The Weyrwoman gave Kailisu a tight-lipped smile, and the candidate realized that Rhanda was very worried. Breylith?

It's just a mother's worry. Everything looks normal from my viewpoint, the gold answered nonchalantly, but Kailisu could sense an undercurrent of worry from the dragon also. Was something wrong with the babe? Or with Haneset?

Several painful hours later, it was apparent that the baby just did not want to leave the warmth of its mother's womb. "Must be a boy," Kailisu muttered during another contraction that left her thumb wondering if it would ever feel again. Haneset moaned in agreement, yet it seemed after that observation the baby decided it was time to make his entrance into the world.

And enter he did, with a loud cry the moment he was free of the womb. The Healer tied the umbilical cord and had R'lan cut it while one of her assistants cleaned the baby up. He was then handed to an exhausted mother, but her exhaustion meant nothing to him. He was hungry.

"Just like Novoth at his hatching," An'jer said, coming up behind Kailisu and holding her.

"Just like Kailan at her birth," Kailisu countered as she watched the happy couple with their child. Haneset and R'lan were one of the exceptions to the 'no relationships' rule. Even after R'lan had Impressed bronze Lacorth he'd continued to be attentive and loving to Haneset. Kailisu wondered if the feelings would stay the same once Haneset Impressed - if she continued to Stand. Maybe Haneset would be like Barzela - content to be a mother and a caregiver instead of continuing to try to be a rider. Well, they would just have to see - Loth had just lain her thirteenth egg - a gold. While she would have liked to be there to see it, she knew that the Clutching wasn't what mattered, it was the Hatching.

"Anyone who has not just gone through labor, it's time for you to leave," said a vaguely familiar voice and Kailisu turned to see Clemoly coming towards them, a broad smile on her face.

"Clemoly!" she squealed, hugging her friend. Kailisu had been so busy working in the kitchen in the morning and with the candidates the rest of the day that she hadn't had time to see anyone not a kitchen worker or candidate. Well, except for An'jer, though he was the one who made time to see her.

"Shhh," Clemoly said, nodding her head at the now-sleeping mother and baby. Kailisu was instantly contrite, but still had a goofy grin on her face. "So how have you been?" she asked as she clasped An'jer by the hands and kissed him on the cheek in greeting.

"Busy as always," Kailisu admitted, grinning as An'jer returned the chaste kiss. While at the moment she and An'jer were exclusive, it wouldn't be long before his blue was chasing rising greens. Surprisingly, this didn't bother her as much as she thought it would. Telling her candidates it wouldn't bother her was one thing, admitting it to herself was something different. "I assume you've been super busy as well?"

"Don't you know it. Masterhealer Jarvis says that if I don't Impress, I should go to the Healer Hall for training. While I think it's too late, he says I have a natural gift."

"Oh, Clem, it's never too late to learn," Kailisu said, hugging her friend once again. "Candidate master R'mez is bound and determined to make me an assistant. He thinks the candidates take to me." She rolled her eyes to show Clemoly exactly what she thought of that, but Clemoly cocked her head appraisingly.

"I never would have said this when you first came to the Weyr, but you do have a slight authority about you now," the apprentice Healer said. "Besides, I've seen you taking them around. You're good with them!"

Kailisu stared at her for a moment, then blushed. "Uh, well, thanks," she said, not used to this much praise. Clemoly laughed.

"C'mon you two, we need to leave the new mother and baby to their rest," she said, herding them out of the room. R'lan and Rhanda had already left.

"Right - how about we grab a quick cup of klah?"

"Can't. I need to go tend to Novoth. I swear he grows several inches every day!" An'jer laughed, then gave Kailisu a quick kiss before leaving. That left Kailisu and Clemoly together.

"I really need to clean up in here," Clemoly said regretfully and Kailisu sighed.

"It was a good idea while it lasted," she said and the other girl nodded. "Oh! Did you know that Loth laid a gold egg this time?"

"Really?" Clemoly's interest was piqued. "I didn't see Noyance or Justin come in while Haneset was in labor."

"Oh. Breylith told Rhanda who told us," Kailisu said glibly. She really didn't want anyone jealous of her just because a few dragons thought she was interesting to talk to! "So, are you coming to any of the candidate classes this time?"

Clemoly shrugged. "Depends on if I have time. We've already been through them several times now, so I think I'll just stop by a few days before the Hatching, and let Master R'mez know I'm Standing."

That made sense. There were only so many candidate classes one could take before they began to repeat. The only classes the candidates went to regularly were the Harper-held ones, where they were taught to read and write. And once they were proficient enough in that, they stopped going. Weyr life could sometimes be more taxing than hold life.

"Well, hopefully I'll see you before the Hatching, and under less busy or trying circumstances," Kailisu said as she hugged Clemoly one more time.

As she walked out the door, a thought came to her. She'd forgotten to ask the babe's name!
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Old Oct 14 2006, 08:03 PM   #35
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Chapter Thirty-Four

* * * * *

"A gold egg on the Sands means heavy competition," Kailisu was saying to the female candidates during the second week of candidate classes after Loth Clutched. "Only one of you will Impress the dragon that hatches from that egg. The rest of you must make a choice: Do I wait and take my chances on the queen, or do I roll the dice for what seems like a sure thing? Because one third to half of every clutch is green dragons, so the odds of Impressing a green are in your favor, while the odds of Impressing a gold are not."

The candidates, both male and female, were intently listening to Kailisu lecture. She could feel all eyes upon her as if they were hanging on her every word. Well, they should if they knew what was good for them. Granted, Kailisu had stood many times now and had not Impressed, but this didn't mean she knew nothing about Candidacy. After each Hatching, she would note down who Impressed, what they Impressed and what it was about them that caused them to Impress. At the moment, she had a lot of notes that went nowhere, but someday she meant to compile them together. Apparently having an accountant for a father had been more of an influence on her than she realized.

"For you boys, it still comes down to a choice. There will be a lot of blue dragons hatching, quite a few browns, but only a very few bronzes. You too must make the choice - do you want to Impress what can be a sure thing, or do you want to wait? And don't forget, if there aren't enough girls, the greens will start looking to you boys to Impress them."

Some of the boys were starting to look a little apprehensive. "Kailisu?" One raised his hand.

"Yes, Meejit?" she acknowledged, though she knew what he was going to ask.

"If one of us - one of the guys, that is - Impressed green or blue, does that mean . . . uh," Meejit's face had turned a bright red, and several of the other guys were snickering.

Kailisu smiled and cut him off. He wasn't the first to ask this question, and he wouldn't be the last. She also suspected he was going to be a green rider no matter what, but looks could be deceiving.

"Those of you who Impress blue, no, it does not mean that you prefer men over women. It means that a blue dragon picked you to be his life partner. Those of you who Impress green, the jury's still out on that one." At the blank stares she received, Kailisu mentally kicked herself. Three years, and she still allowed some home-slang into her speech. "Sorry.

"If you are male, and Impress green, it may mean you prefer men as a sexual partner. It may also mean that you are mentally more sensitive than the guy you are standing next to. Or, it may mean that there are three of you left on the Sands, and the last dragon to Hatch is a green who has no other choice."

Meejit still looked a little green around the gills, Kailisu noted. He raised his hand again, and she nodded.

"But what about, what happens when . . . ?"

"When a green rises and you are her rider? You won't even notice, for the most part," Kailisu said soothingly, and some of the guys looked a little relieved. "Always remember: The dragon decides, the rider complies. This goes for everything, including flights. Next week we'll have some guest speakers here, regarding what happens during flights."

Some of the candidates looked interested at that revelation. Kailisu just hoped that Shawla and V'teran were up to the challenge. But, if they could spare one couple . . . .

Thorasa's hand was up in the air now. "Kailisu? Did you and your friends have any other observations about Weyr life?"

This question surprised Kailisu, probably because she hadn't thought of it. Now, well, maybe it could help.

"Well, one thing we said regarding an all-male greenflight was: a bronze rider was likely to sneak out as soon as he woke up, a brown rider would probably stay for breakfast and a blue rider would probably come back for seconds." She had a wry grin on her face as she said this, and several people in the class laughed. Meejit was not one of them, so she resolved to talk to him alone after class.

* * * * *
She didn't single the young man out after she dismissed everyone, but she did keep an eye out for him. Several eyes, in fact - Breylith, Adexith and Winvath all watched for him at various times until Winvath let her know that he was alone at the beastpens during the mid-day meal. She excused herself from the table where she was eating with her friends and hurried outside to the pens, where he was leaning against the wooden fence, watching the Weyr's runnerbeasts graze.

"Meejit," she said softly as he turned around, surprised to hear her voice.

Holding up her hand, she continued toward the pen and leaned up against it herself. "You're worried about Impressing green, aren't you?" she asked.

Mutely, he nodded.

"There's no shame in riding a green dragon. You'll still be a dragonrider, one of the most important defenders of Pern."

The boy turned to her, his face bright red. "But, my family. My father wouldn't understand if I were a boy-lover."

Wracking her brain, Kailisu tried to remember where Meejit came from. Ah, yes, that was it. The Smithcraft. This boy didn't look like he could wield a carpenter's hammer, let alone be the offspring of a Smith. He was small - only about five foot six inches, and there was no meat on his bones. She wondered if he were truly his father's child, then threw that thought out of her mind. "Are you sure?" she asked while surreptitiously appraising him.

"I think he would . . . would disown me," he cried, slumping over and resting his forehead against the fence.

"Be that as it may, you'll still have a place here," she soothed, stroking his back like a mother would. "Besides, don't count your dragons before they've all Hatched. You may still Impress blue, brown or bronze. I can see you as a blue rider right now!" Surprisingly, she could. But he couldn't live in fear of what he might Impress, before the eggs even cracked.

"I know. I know you're right, but . . ."

"Meejit. Loth laid twenty-three eggs. One is gold. So out of twenty-two eggs, eleven will probably be green. We have over sixty people Standing for Impression, twenty-five of who are female. The chances of you Impressing a green are slim. Very, very slim." Actually, she thought, with his attitude his chances of Impressing were about nothing.

He was looking at her hopefully. "Really?" he said.

"Really."

Suddenly, his face was wreathed in smiles. "Thanks for the talk, Kailisu," he said. "I think I'll go eat now." He ran towards the dining hall, leaving her watching him bemusedly.

No one said this job would be easy, she thought. But why was it so strange?
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Old Oct 14 2006, 08:07 PM   #36
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Chapter Thirty-Five

* * * * *

The sound started as no sound at all, slowly growing louder and louder until it was a rumble that permeated the ground, the walls, the very bones of those sleeping. Kailisu slowly came awake while the sound was still in its infancy, lying on her cot trying to make sense of it all.

Then Noyance and Justin were on either side of her, chattering and pulling at her hair, images of ovoid objects foremost in their minds. As Justin grabbed her blanket to pull it off of her, her fuzzy mind finally interpreted their message.

"HATCHING!" she called out to the still-dark barracks. "The eggs are hatching!"

There were several sleepy calls for Kailisu to please be quiet, but these calls were short-lived as the fire lizards looking to the candidates began swooping into the room, trying to wake their own pets.

Smiling at the little winged alarm clocks, Kailisu quickly slipped on her white robe, then slipped a darker one on over top. She would have slipped her shoes on too, but realized that there was too much slipping going on, so instead she sat on her cot, pulling her shoes on like a normal person. Once she was ready for the outside world, she hurried out the door to the Weyrbowl to see what time it was.

What I'd give for a good windup clock right now, she thought as she left the warmth of the barracks and entered the cool pre-dawn air. It reminded her of her one failed camping trip in times gone by, when she'd had to use the restrooms in the middle of the night. Back then her way had been lighted by street lamps, and the glow of the perpetual lights on in the restrooms. Now, all that lit the Bowl were the two moons and the now-familiar star-studded sky. Are these babies going to hatch in the dark? she asked herself as she saw a shape coming towards her.

You know as well as we do, a baby is a baby and will come into the world whenever they wish, Breylith told her with some amusement.

"Kailisu! Are your Candidates ready? The dragons are humming!" R'mez called as he hurried over to where she was standing.

"I hear. It caught me by surprise is all," Kailisu said as she went back into the barracks, R'mez not far behind her.

"I wish we had electric lights here," she admitted to the Candidate master as she began opening glow baskets. Protests at the light were coming from various cots, but she continued until the barracks were as filled with light as they were going to be. R'mez had smiled at her comment, but gone through the adjoining door to wake up the male candidates.

Now came the fun part. "Up, sleepyheads. The dragons are humming! Do you want the eggs to Hatch without you?" This got the attention of most candidates, and those whose attention she didn't get were soon woken by their cabin mates. Soon the girls' barracks were bustling with activity, and from the sounds through the door, the boys' side was just as busy.

"Kailisu! How will our families get here?"

"Kailisu! Are they Hatching now?"

"Kailisu! I can't find my robe!"

Kailisu was getting pretty tired of her name and thinking about changing it for the day. She assured her girls that dragons were already being sent to bring their families, that the dragons started humming at least two hours before the first egg would crack, and that the robe you're looking for is at the end of the cot, right where you left it. Several of the other veteran candidates helped Kailisu with the novices, yet it seemed that everyone looked to her. Not for the first time she wondered what they would do without her, if she Impressed.

Maybe that's why you haven't Impressed in the past Turn, Adexith said. You feel wanted here.

Maybe. Kailisu wasn't blind to her own wants and needs any longer. And these candidates had needed her - would continue to need her.

Just remember, candidates have been getting along without you for hundreds of Turns. They can do so again. Kailisu had to laugh. Adexith was so adroit at putting things into perspective!

I'll remember, she said.

"What are you laughing at?" one particularly clumsy candidate asked her crossly from a position on the floor, where she had fallen trying to untangle herself from her robe.

Kailisu laughed again. "Because it's Hatching day, and there are twenty-three of us who will Impress the eggs out on the Sands," she said happily. "Plus, Orovith should be clutching soon, so that means we'll have another try. And another. It's good to be at the Weyr!"

The candidate just looked at her oddly, then got up. Obviously, Kailisu was a morning person.

* * * * *

Someone had brought out the glow baskets and lined a path to the Hatching grounds with them. The Sands themselves were awash with glows, and while it was a far cry from daytime at least they could see the eggs, even if they couldn't see the visitors in the Stands. It may still be the wee hours of the morning, but no one was going to miss a Hatching it seemed, even if they needed to arrive in their night-clothes. Kailisu wondered what all these people would think of each other once the sun rose. Probably nothing. After all, it was a Hatching. The focus would be upon the candidates and the eggs at first, then upon the new Weyrling pairs. This was one time that decorum didn't matter, though she did get a glimpse of some guests who were already dressed to the hilt. Either they had still been up, or were from other time zones.

Or the dragons bringing them in were timing it, Adexith said disapprovingly.

Or the dragons bringing them in were timing it. Kailisu hadn't seen too much of that phenomenon happening at the Weyr, but not being a rider, she probably wouldn't. Ah well, she supposed she'd better get these kids in order here, instead of gawking at visitors she wouldn't even know. As it did every Hatching she attended, a wave of sadness washed over her that her parents and brother wouldn't be there to see this. Not that they'd understand, but to just have them there would be something.

As if on cue, Justin and Noyance both came zipping from whatever they had been doing to settle on her shoulders - one on each. Noyance rubbed her head on Kailisu's cheek, and Justin laid his little head on the top of her head. She smiled at the love the two 'lizards showed her, skritching them and promising them goodies after the Hatching. Then she got down to business, making sure the candidates were all in line, ready to go.

R'mez was at the head of the line, leading them in and Kailisu was at the end. In unspoken agreement, she and R'mez began to patrol the line-up of sixty-some odd candidates, taking a cursory headcount and ensuring they were all there. Not that anyone would look for them if they weren't - after all, since there weren't enough dragons to go around, why should anyone waste their time looking for a tardy Candidate? But they wanted to make sure they were all accounted for on the way back out. After Brouson had his arm bitten off at the first Hatching Kailisu had been at, they wanted to make sure no one else lost any limbs or worse! It hadn't happened yet, but there was always a first time.

Time to go, Adexith warned Kailisu.

"We're going," Kailisu whispered to Haneset, her partner in Candidacy after all these Hatchings. "I'm not sure I'll ever get used to this!"

"You certainly keep yourself busy," Haneset replied, proud of the progress her friend had made over the past couple Turns. "I certainly have no patience with all these people. I'd rather just make bread in the kitchen."

"And in private," Kailisu giggled. One thing that hadn't changed between Pern and Earth was calling a baby "a bun in the oven". "Maybe the next one will be R'lan's instead of W'kel's."

Haneset blushed. "Well, it won't be for lack of trying," she said, "though it'll be hard on both of us if I do Impress today. No sex for ten months."

"Don't you worry. There's a gold egg here today. You'll get it this time." The two girls in front of them turned and glared, but Kailisu just looked at them innocently. After all, they had been Standing longer than these two.

"I don't care if I Impress gold or green," Haneset admitted. "Just as long as I Impress."

"Good attitude!" They had reached the entrance to the Sands. Haneset reached for Kailisu's hand, and for the seventh time in three Turns, they walked towards the eggs together.
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Old Oct 14 2006, 08:10 PM   #37
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Default Re: Dragonsue

Chapter Thirty-Six

* * * * *

The candidates stood shifting from foot to foot on the hot sands, listening to the dragons hum and watching the eggs wobble slightly. Kailisu felt as if she were on a stage, with a spotlight upon her. They couldn't see any faces in the stands for the darkness. Shards, she could barely see the candidates on the other side of the semicircle as they stood around the eggs. While they waited she amused herself with remembering the times the candidates came into the Grounds for the egg touching, remembering the smooth, leathery feel of the eggs. A scant two days ago they were no longer leathery, but instead had that chalky, brittle feeling that she remembered bird eggs having.

Yet these shells were anything but brittle. One of the first chores a Weyrling had was to collect the eggshells from the Sands, for the shells would then be ground up and sprinkled on the food the newly hatched dragons would eat. Since the dragons wouldn't be chewing bones for the first month of their life, the shell-dust would provide them with the necessary nutrients for a growing dragon's bones.

One of the eggs gave a quick lurch as Kailisu was contemplating the Care and Feeding of Baby Dragonets and both the candidates and the audience gasped. The same egg gave a quick hop, coming back down and crackling around the bottom. Taking advantage of this opening first one foot, then another came out of the egg, kicking shell fragments away. The shell's denizen gave one last shake and the shell seemed to melt away around it, leaving behind a dainty, forest-green dragon. She sat there, looking around as if surprised at the view, then sat back and creeled piteously. The candidates were frozen into place.

"I am not waiting around for a possibility," Haneset hissed to Kailisu, and walked forward towards the little green dragon. The green stopped creeling and looked at Haneset quizzically, then gave a happy warble, running up to her and butting her in the legs.

She says her name is Zizzakath, Breylith informed Kailisu.

"What the shards kind of name is Zizzakath?"

Your best friend's dragon's name. She made a choice. She was tired of waiting, and she Impressed the first dragon of this clutch. Breylith sounded proud, and Kailisu realized that Weyrwoman Rhanda was probably proud of her daughter, Haneset, rider of green Zizzakath. At first, Kailisu wasn't certain how she felt as she watched Haneset walking off the sands with her new lifemate trotting along beside her, but she realized that she was proud. Not jealous, not sad that her friend might be in a different weyrling class than she would be in, but proud. Haneset had made the right choice.

As if Zizzakath's Hatching were a signal, several more eggs began rocking violently, several with hairline cracks down their sides. Forgetting about Haneset, Kailisu began to watch as dragon after dragon began to slowly come out of their shells, creeling in hunger and looking for the one who could best serve them. So far, there had been no casualties, and Kailisu began to hope that there would be at least one Hatching where no one was hurt.

Egg number fourteen had just produced a bronze, who had made a beeline for his partner when the noise stopped once again. Even as she turned, Kailisu knew what she would see.

Loth, in the manner of all queen dragons on Pern had placed the gold egg on a mound higher than the rest of the Hatching Grounds. No one knew why queens did this - whether it was to show off their next breeding progeny or a more reflexive habit of keeping their pride and joy safe. Or maybe dragons were natural Harpers, with an innate sense of showmanship. Loth's little queen seemed to be in the latter group, for she was on a hill almost as high as her mother. The egg had just split down the middle, and the little queen dragonet was sitting where the shells had parted, looking around as if surveying her kingdom.

Kailisu and the rest of the female candidates moved as one to pay homage to the queen, and Kailisu knew - she just knew she had to Impress this one, or she'd never Stand again. Gone were her doubts and fears about not being worthy. All she knew was she had to make this little gold hatchling an offer she couldn't refuse.

You are the most beautiful dragon on the sands, she thought at the little queen. I will cut up your food into the choicest little bits for you. You will get the best of the herdbeasts out there. I will sew satin pillows for your weyr couch. You will be oiled every day with the freshest, best smelling oils that we can make. I don't know you, but I already love you. Her thoughts and words were sappy, but she didn't care. All she cared about was the hatchling at the top of the hill, this beautiful hatchling that was a pale gold. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, bathing the Sands in a subtle glow, and the newest hatchling was framed by the sun's rays.

Slowly the little gold walked down the hill. For a hatchling, she was very regal and held herself as a queen should. As she reached the foot of the hill, she seemed to survey all before her as if taking their measure.

Oh, you darling dainty little beauty, Kailisu thought, though she could swear Breylith and Adexith were both sniggering in the back of her mind. You deserve someone who will take care of you, who will adore you for the queen you are. I have been waiting my whole life for you, and it will be meaningless if you don't become my partner. The queen continued to walk down the hill, looking at each of the girls in turn. She stopped, and Kailisu heard a click in her head. Everything fell into place.

Rainbow eyes looked up at Kailisu as her mind was suffused with a love so strong as to cause tears to begin rolling slowly down her cheeks. Dimly she heard the congratulations of Breylith and Adexith, but their voices seemed to come from far away. All that was important stood in front of her, caught in a rainbow haze.

Well, of course your life would be meaningless, said gold Rhavishath from her position in front of Kailisu. But don't ever talk to me in that sappy tone again. Now, where is that choice cut up food you promised me?
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Old Oct 21 2006, 09:47 PM   #38
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Default Re: Dragonsue

Chapter Thirty-Seven

* * * * *

Dragonets were walking, talking stomachs. Kailisu was made very aware of this as she cut Rhavishath's meat up into little bite-size pieces, and fed them to her one by one. Rhavishath daintily took each piece, until she finally got tired of the small, 'lizard size morsels.

You don't have to make them so small, she complained. I can handle something bigger.

But she wouldn't act like some of the other dragons and stick her head in the meat bucket, inhaling the succulent (to her) morsels. Meejit's brown Denzath on the other hand, had no such qualms. It was a wonder Denzath didn't get the bucket stuck on his head, and Kailisu had her reservations about how Meejit was going to handle this dragon. Shells, the brown was about as big as he was!

M'jit.

What?

It's M'jit, no longer Meejit. Don't you know anything? Now, feed me.


Obliging her bossy, beautiful queen, Kailisu began feeding Rhavishath larger chunks of meat, interspersed with drinks of water. That was never in the books either - the newly hatched dragons needed water as badly as they needed meat. Mentally she shrugged. There were a lot of differences that weren't shown in the books.

What books?

I'll explain later. Now, we need to put some oil on you before you start to itch.

Only if you wash me off, first. I've still got sand and egg goo on me.


It was amazing what Rhavishath chose to pick out of her mind. Well, maybe not so amazing. Kailisu tried to compare what it felt like having another entity in her mind to not having one, and realized that she could no longer imagine herself without. It was as if her whole life had been lacking something up until the events of a mere thirty minutes ago. How was this possible? Five years ago she wouldn't have believed anything like this could even happen and now here she was, living it.

Another voice entered her mind. R'mez says to stop dwelling and take care of your Rhavishath!

There was a distinct impression that Adexith was going to say more, but suddenly Rhavishath was on her hind legs, wings outspread, hissing up at the Rim where the adult dragons were grouped together, catching the sun's first rays of the day. Mine! she hissed menacingly. Go away. Mine! Kailisu dropped to her knees, wrapping her arms around Rhavishath and was surprised to find her shaking, the rage emanating from her small, sticky body. Making meaningless sounds, she tried to sooth her queen.

"What happened? What's wrong with Rhavishath?" Z'lek, one of the Weyrlingmasters, had hurried over at Rhavishath's obvious irritation. Then, his eyes narrowed as he looked at Kailisu.

"You were talking to another dragon? With yours barely out of the shell?" His voice was both incredulous and scathing, causing Kailisu to shrink back from him, coincidentally pressing closer to Rhavishath.

Head shaking in a side to side motion, Kailisu denied culpability. "No, sir, I wasn't talking to Adexith, he was talking to me. He's talked to me for several Turns now and . . . ." she trailed off as she noticed the other weyrlings looking at her. Z'lek had that withdrawn look most riders got when their dragons spoke to them, and finally he nodded.

"Tosquith talked to Adexith, and he verified that you're telling the truth," the weyrlingmaster said in a much kinder tone. "Sometimes there are people who can talk to other people's dragons, but it's not a good idea to do so right after Impressing their own. Adexith says he's sorry, and he's apologized to Rhavishath as well."

The little queen's shaking had stopped, and her eyes were losing that angry red tinge dragon eyes turned when they were upset. Kailisu hugged Rhavishath one more time, but she made no move to withdraw from the proximity of her queen. Especially when she saw the looks of awe the other weyrlings were giving her.

"No wonder you knew so much," a new bluerider breathed. "I thought you were smart but this, this is just even better!"

The only person who didn't look surprised was Haneset. Instead, she raised her head from her position at the other end of the feeding area and winked at Kailisu.

Zizzakath says that her rider says don't worry, be happy. Rhavishath relayed this, then looked back up at the Rim, as if daring one of the adult dragons to say something.

Kailisu laughed and drew away from Rhavishath. "I'm very, very happy. You have made me the happiest person ever. Now, let me wash you and oil you, because I'm sticky and itchy too."

The lake was too far for the new weyrlings to take their dragons, on this first day of Impression so barrels of water had been brought up by some of the older weyrlings to be used as bathwater. While Rhavishath imperiously nudged her, Kailisu started over towards the barrels, then a big grin spread over her face. An'jer was standing by the one he and Novoth had ostensibly brought up from the lake, waiting for her with a big smile on his face.

Oddly enough, Kailisu did not have a compulsion to run and fling herself into his arms. She preferred Rhavishath's company over her former lover's, and suddenly her eyes widened.

An'jer saw the expression on her face and laughed. "Now you understand, don't you?" he asked. Kailisu nodded, remembering the Hatching where he Impressed Novoth. She had been one of the first to greet him that day, to congratulate him on Impressing his blue dragon, yet he had seemed distant and detached. The only thing that had kept her feelings from being too hurt was Adexith and Breylith telling her it was a natural reaction from one who had just Impressed.

Even in the months since that Hatching, she and An'jer had lost their closeness, and now - well, she looked at him and saw a friend and a lover, but no longer saw him as the love of her life. That title was now held by a small gold dragon baby who was getting incensed that her Kaili was not bathing her like she promised and she itched, and there was sticky goo and sand all over her body, and if this gunk wasn't washed off now she would take matters into her own claws and that might not be such a good thing.

"Talk later," Kailisu gasped, reaching both arms around herself and scratching frantically. "I need to bathe and oil Rhavishath here now. Rhavishath, this is my good friend An'jer, rider of blue Novoth." Quickly she took one of the small buckets that was next to the large barrel, scooped up some water and poured it over Rhavishath. She felt the tepidness of the water through her own skin as it poured over her dragon, and her itching was relieved somewhat.

Feeling something on her shoulder, she looked over and saw An'jer holding out a sponge. "This will do for now. Once she gets bigger though, you'll need to use the scrubbing mop," he said, his voice still holding the excitement of watching a good Hatching.

Gratefully Kailisu grabbed the sponge, wet it with the water and sprinkled soapsand on Rhavishath's back. As the coarse granules dissolved into little foamy bubbles, she felt the itchiness of her own skin subside. Soon, Rhavishath was cleaned of egg goo, sand, and anything else her pale gold hide had picked up, and oiled to a glossy sheen. Standing back to admire her handiwork, Kailisu noticed that Rhavishath was mostly pale yellow, but with small whorls of variegated shades of yellow-gold on her hide. Newly oiled, the swirls and whorls really stood out, giving her a stunning shimmery look. Her wings were even lighter in color, as was her underbelly. At first Kailisu wondered if her underbelly was white, but realized it was a very pale yellow-beige. Contrastingly, her tail started off at its base as pale, but darkened as it got to the tip.

An'jer snaked an arm around Kailisu's waist from his position standing next to her. Leaning against him, she nodded to Rhavishath. "Stunning, isn't she? And now, she's surveying the rest of the clutch as if she needs to protect them."

Of course I want to protect them, Rhavishath stated haughtily. After I've slept a little. Her jaws opened wide in a draconic yawn and Kailisu found herself yawning with her.

"We need to get her to bed now," An'jer said knowingly. "Your things have already been moved into the weyrling barracks.

Kailisu's forehead started to crease in a frown - where did he get off telling her what to do? Well, he had been through this before, but . . . her face smoothed out and she turned and hugged him. "You're right," she said. "Come on, love, we need to get you to bed."

As they walked to the barracks, Kailisu realized that even though she had been hugging and kissing An'jer as if today were like any other day before Impression, it didn't feel the same. She didn't feel the same. Seven months ago they had been in love with each other. Last month she had been in love with him, but had not been able to spend time with him. Now - now she didn't love him with that all-consuming curl-your-toes-up love any longer. All that mattered was the golden beauty walking beside her. But how could she tell An'jer this?

In the weyrling barracks, the bronze, brown and blue dragons and riders were on one side and the gold and greens were on the other side, possibly because most greens would be Impressed by females. The bronzes and the gold had the largest dragon wallows, but since there would only be one gold at a time, there was only one large spot on the "girls'" side of the barracks.

Kailisu quickly found her things and was pleased to note that Haneset and Zizzakath were bunked next to them. She looked up and down the barracks, wondering who else had Impressed. With the exception of M'jit, she couldn't put faces to any dragons.

With An'jer looking on, Kailisu knelt beside Rhavishath as the little queen made herself comfortable in her bed. "Do you need a blanket, love? Are you okay with me going to get something to eat?"

Why shouldn't you eat? the queen asked sleepily. You fed me, now it's time for you to be fed. I'll be fine for now, but hurry back. Rhavishath curled up on her straw-filled wallow, and immediately fell asleep.

"C'mon, she's asleep," Kailisu whispered as An'jer followed, grinning. He was obviously remembering his first day as a weyrling, and for the first time since she Impressed Kailisu felt close to him. This reminded her . . . .

"An'jer," she began as they started walking towards the dining hall. The sun had finally made its way up and over the Rim, bathing the Weyr in full pre-noon light. How had that much time gone by already? The day was barely getting started, and here it had been at least ten hours since the eggs had begun to rock! No wonder she was starving, and her hunger was even more enhanced as smells of roast beef, pork and wherry came wafting out of the kitchen area of the caverns. Kailisu's mouth watered, and her stomach growled. It was time for breakfast, or at least the mid-day meal but it smelled as if a feast were being put on.

Ah, as it should be. Tables had been set up outside the dining hall, and guests still in various states of dress were eating, talking, laughing and enjoying themselves. Today's Hatching, while unexpectedly early had been a full success. No one had been hurt, and it seemed that most candidates who had been expected to Impress did. And there was one weyrling who was getting ready to break another's heart. Might as well do it on an empty stomach.

Before getting any closer to the crowd, Kailisu stopped and turned to An'jer. "I don't know how to say this," she began, her face a record of emotions.

"But you don't feel about me the same as you used to," An'jer finished softly. Kailisu's eyes widened and her cheeks flamed red. She opened her mouth to splutter something out, but An'jer beat her to it.

"How do you think I've felt the past seven months?" he asked her, again, softly. "I was relieved we weren't able to see each other, but I knew that if I said something to you, you wouldn't understand."

This surprised Kailisu. "What do you mean, I wouldn't understand?" she asked, though she knew the answer.

"You're Holdbred. I'm Weyrbred. Even though I didn't understand firsthand, I still knew that it would happen. I would like to say that if you Impressed before me I would have been able to handle this talk, but I don't know if that's true. But now that we both have dragons looking to us, it's easier."

Kailisu exhaled a breath she didn't even know she was holding. "I see." She couldn't even be mad at him, because neither of them had known exactly how they'd feel. "How did R'lan do it all these . . . Turns?"

"Faranth only knows. Maybe he and Haneset are closer than you and I are." Kailisu opened her mouth to deny this, but stopped, allowing An'jer to go on. "Or, well, he was Holdbred also. Maybe he felt it was the right thing to do. Either way, we'll see what happens now." He turned and gave Kailisu an impish grin. "Hug?"

"Of course." Moving in to hug him, Kailisu's stomach growled again, this time long and loud. An'jer broke the hug, laughing.

"Let's get you something to eat!"
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Old Oct 21 2006, 09:51 PM   #39
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Default Re: Dragonsue

Chapter Thirty-Eight

* * * * *

Since the dragons had been Impressed so early in the morning, weyrling lessons ended up starting that day. Kailisu approached her task of feeding Rhavishath with trepidation: she was terrified she wouldn't be able to kill the herdbeasts used to feed the young animals. Her relief was palpable when she discovered that the beasts had already been slaughtered. All the weyrlings had to do was pick a carcass hanging off of the slaughter tripod and carve enough meat off of it to feed the colorful walking stomachs who looked to them.

When Kailisu made this observation to Haneset at their fourth feeding of the day, the weyrbred girl laughed until she cried. Both Zizzakath and Rhavishath sat there patiently with their mouths open, waiting for their next mouthful of food but their humans were too busy holding each other laughing. The two dragonets looked at each other, then buried their faces in the buckets of cut up meat, scarfing the food down as fast as they could.

"What is going on here?" Z'lek's harsh voice broke through the girls' laughter, sobering them almost immediately. Haneset and Kailisu straightened guiltily, faces red from laughing. They tried to look sufficiently chastened at Z'lek's steely glare with no luck. Kailisu's stiff shoulders kept on shaking, and Haneset was making snorting noises out of her nose.

This did nothing to soften Z'lek's observation of them. "Well? Are you going to answer me?" he asked.

"What was the question again? Sir?" Kailisu managed to choke out. She didn't think the man could get any more stern looking, but he did. And something about that struck her as funny, because she started choking on her laughter.

"I said, what is going on here?" The Weyrlingmaster did not sound pleased, Kailisu noted. The problem was, she was unable to speak.

"Nothing, sir," Haneset managed to say, seemingly in the same dire straits of punchiness that Kailisu was in. "Kailisu said something, and I thought it was funny, and . . ." she waved her hand in the general direction of Kailisu, coincidentally catching a glimpse of her dragon snarfing down meat chunks. "Zizzakath!" she cried, running over to take the bucket away from the little green. "Chew your meat, don't inhale it!"

At Haneset's cry, Kailisu discovered she was in the same situation with Rhavishath. "Hey! Stop that!" she yelled as she grabbed her bucket away from the little gold. There was a brief tug of war with the wooden bucket, but Kailisu prevailed, and began to hand feed her little gold again.

"I want you two to think about this," Z'lek said as if the two girls were standing in front of him paying attention instead of dutifully feeding their dragons. "You were lucky. More importantly, your dragons were lucky. Just because they hatch out of their eggs able to walk and talk doesn't mean they can take care of themselves." His raised voice projected so he was talking to all the weyrlings, not just Haneset and Kailisu.

"Just like a newborn babe, you need to watch your dragonets at all times to keep them from hurting themselves." Now he fixed Kailisu and Haneset with a stern look, the girls' faces flaming crimson. "If they get into their food, they don't know that they should only have so much in their mouths, and that it needs to be chewed. Your dragons could have choked, and then what would you have done?" Z'lek stood there, arms crossed over his chest, staring at the two.

Pretending that the Weyrlingmaster had asked a rhetorical question, Kailisu and Haneset continued to feed their dragons. Their intense concentration on the task along with no eye contact with anyone else in the yard belied this pretense. To make it worse, Z'lek stood over them until the last cube was eaten. The girls stood up and turned but still refused to make eye contact with him. Kailisu's face felt red, and she noted that Haneset's was red. This was so embarrassing, to be made an example of in front of the rest of the weyrlings. A muffed sound at her side caused Kailisu to look over at Haneset, who was yawning, her mouth open almost as wide as Zizzakath's. Unable to help herself, Kailisu yawned too.

"It's been a long day, and you were up early," Z'lek said in a kinder tone. Kailisu looked at him in surprise since she had been expecting him to yell at them some more. "Tell me, Haneset, was what Kailisu said really that funny?"

Glancing at Kailisu, Haneset furrowed her brow then looked up at Z'lek. "Uh, I don't even remember what it was, so, no?"

He nodded as if this were the answer he expected. "As I thought. You're getting punchy, and it will only get worse." Raising his voice so the whole yard could hear, he spoke to all the weyrlings. "Take your dragons to the barracks. Get some sleep. The rest of you may be thinking you wouldn't let yourselves be humiliated, but Kailisu and Haneset were only the first. I don't want any more mistakes today." Several weyrlings nodded, and began to head to the barracks, dragons in tow.

Without needing to be told twice, Kailisu and Haneset both woke their protesting dragons and led them to the barracks. Before doing anything, they made sure the dragons were comfortable on their wooden platforms. Then they were free to get ready for bed. While changing into her nightgown, Kailisu thought it was a shame to be going to sleep while it was still daylight out. This was her last thought before her head hit her pillow.

* * * * *

As the days moved on, Kailisu came to the realization that being a Weyrling was harder than it looked. Even after living in a Weyr for three Turns and before that, reading about Pern since she could pick up a book, she was amazed at how little she really knew about the day to day life of a dragonrider. Every morning the weyrlings were awakened before the sun peeked over the horizon by their voraciously hungry dragons. If the dragons didn't wake them, then Z'lek was certain to - and his style of waking the lack-a-bed weyrlings was nowhere near as nice as having a dragonet mentally screaming "Feed me! Feed me! Feed ME!!". Within three days all the weyrlings were sure to awaken the moment their dragons minds started grumbling.

Since she had been working in the kitchens for three Turns, it didn't bother Kailisu to carve the meat off the carcasses and chunk it up for Rhavishath. On that first day she did note that there were some weyrlings who just couldn’t seem to get the hang of it. Well, she mentally shrugged, butchering isn't for everyone.

Why don't you help them? Rhavishath asked the day after Impression. It won't take much longer, and everyone can eat at once.

"Really?" Kailisu said thoughtfully. Feeling her dragon's approval in her mind, she approached Haneset, Fabergh and Delroedi with an idea. Luckily, her three friends from the kitchen were happy to help out. When several other weyrlings who were not averse to the messy job of butchering offered to help out also, an assembly line was born. Those who didn't want to carve the meat off the carcass chunked it or filled the buckets. No dragon was fed until the last bucket was full, then they all ate together. It worked out great, everyone was happy, everyone participated, and Kailisu thought that she saw Weyrlingmaster Z'lek look approvingly on.

"I wonder if any other clutch-classes thought of this," Kailisu said somewhat smugly to Delroedi as they fed their lifemates.

The other girl shrugged. "Possibly. I can't believe that we'd be the first to come up with something so simple."

Tosquith told me that if no one had thought of it, Z'lek would have introduced you to the concept, Rhavishath said. A split second later, Delroedi grinned and Kailisu had to smile at how telepathy with dragons worked. Her dragon had talked to green Yiprath, who in turn had relayed the answer back to Delroedi.

"Guess you have your answer, don't you?" she said. "Yiprath also says that Z'lek waits a day or so before introducing the assembly-line idea, to see which dragonriders show leadership ability." She patted Kailisu on the arm appreciatively. "Rhavishath chose well."

Kailisu blushed and went back to feeding her dragon. But she couldn't help smiling while she did.

* * * * *

No one was able to fashion a good assembly line for bathing and oiling the rapidly growing beasts. To the weyrlings' dismay, this daily task had no shortcuts and was much more draining than feeding their dragons. Z'lek warned them that anyone trying a shortcut that would result in harm to their lifemates would be publicly embarrassed - or at least, embarrassed in front of their peers. Another act he implemented was to have seasoned dragonriders stop by to check the bathed and oiled dragons. Some of the weyrlings complained that he was being too picky - until the first dragon exhibited signs of infection.

It was a week after Impression, and the weyrlings were working on the third bathing of the day. Kailisu was chatting with Haneset, Delroedi and Fabergh while using a small mop to spread oil evenly over Rhavishath's body when a loud noise caused all weyrlings at the lake to silence.

"Is this the kind of dragonrider you want to be? You've been a dragonrider for a week, and already you've allowed harm to come to your charge! What will happen next week? A broken bone? A missing wingtip? A chipped tooth? Do you even care?" Z'lek's voice was pitched to carry, and the acoustics of the lake helped to carry it even further. An agitated voice tried to answer but was cut off by Z'lek on even more of a rampage.

"What did you do? Try shortcuts? Do you think I tell you to do things a certain way because I like to hear myself talk? Is that it?" Another aborted attempt by the voice, and Z'lek went on. Kailisu was just about to ask Rhavishath what was going on when her unvoiced question was answered by her friends.

"Zizzakath says M'jit's in trouble" Haneset informed the others. They had positioned their dragons so they could chat easily while oiling yet not disturb anyone who did not wish to be included. Their dragons expanded upon that by repeating things that their riders did not hear, or informing them of events happening with the other groups. There were no secrets kept with baby dragons!

"Yiproth says that Denzath has an infected skin lesion," Fabergh added. "How could he let that happen?"

"Well, it is under his forearm," Delroedi said, taking pains to oil under Yiprath's forearms and back legs. The other girls took note and did the same with their dragons. "It's an easy place to miss."

Kailisu shook her head. "He had to have felt it though. Is he that insensitive to his dragon's well-being?" She, too, began to look at hard-to-spot places to ensure she hadn't missed anything.

Denzath says he's fine, Rhavishath consoled her rider. He didn't want to bother his rider with something so trivial.

The offhand comment caused the four girls to look at each other in consternation, then immediately focus on their dragons.

"Rhavishath, no matter how trivial, no matter how insignificant you feel something is, you let me know!" Kailisu said, and heard Haneset, Delroedi and Fabergh all saying something similar to their dragons. This incident did drive home one more piece of knowledge to all the candidates: their dragons relied on their human partners for everything. Including looking to their partners to know what was important.
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Old Oct 21 2006, 09:53 PM   #40
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Default Re: Dragonsue

Chapter Thirty-Nine

* * * * *

The only time the weyrlings had to themselves was when their dragons were sleeping. During this so-called 'free time', the weyrlings bathed, ate, cleaned their personal area in the barracks and took turns cleaning the barracks public areas. All of these tasks were accomplished in between caring for their rapidly growing lifemates. This meant very little rest for those who Impressed.

The first month was the hardest - Kailisu had never been so bone-weary exhausted in her life - and there wasn't anything she could do about it. If Rhavishath mumbled in her sleep, Kailisu was poised to attend her. If Rhavishath wanted comfort, she got it. If Rhavishath said "jump", Kailisu asked how high. The other riders were the same with their dragons, and soon exhaustion began to take its toll. For some, it just meant falling asleep during baths or meals. For others, the fatigue took a different turn.

One day after mealtime, Fabergh found Kailisu sitting in front of Rhavishath, just staring. Thinking back, the greenrider didn't recall seeing her in the Dining Hall.

"What are you doing?" Fabergh asked as she glanced over at Yiproth. Was there some danger here at the edge of the lake?

"Shhhh," Kailisu said without turning her head. "I'm watching Rhavishath. I think I can see her growing."

Fabergh just shook her head and went to find Z'lek, who physically dragged Kailisu to the Infirmary for a check-up. "I'm fine, really. I was just watching Rhavishath!" she protested loudly, but that didn't deter him. Z'lek's bronze Tosquith was over by Rhavishath calming her before she realized what was happening and could put up her own clamor.

The Healer assured Z'lek that it was just stress and lack of sleep, and gave Kailisu a relaxing herbal tea to drink before glows-out. When he noticed a pronounced increase of energy and alertness in Kailisu, all the weyrlings were given the same tea at bedtime.

* * * * *

Gradually the rhythm of weyrlinghood insinuated itself in the lives of the weyrlings. Six dragon meals a day turned to four, then to two, tapering off to twice a week where it stabilized. As the feedings decreased so did the bathing and oiling, though the time it took to give a bath and moisturize their no-longer-so-little lifemates grew exponentially.

Encouraged by Z'lek, the weyrlings spent their waking hours with each other, either with or without accompanying dragon. They bathed together, they cleaned together and they ate together. Gradually, almost without their knowing it they were working together as a unit. While their dragons slept, Z'lek taught them how to sew riding straps, how to read the weather, and how to fend for themselves if they ever needed to spend a night away from the Weyr.

Some of the group weren't sure why they would need to spend a night away from the Weyr, but Z'lek set them straight with stories of dragonriders escorting trader caravans through the mountains, injured dragons that could not be rescued until the next day, or sweep riders being caught in severe weather conditions and unable to fly, let alone fly between. Surprisingly, Kailisu had thought of all these scenarios plus others - she had played with these ideas when Pern was still a fictional place to her.

* * * * *

When the dragons were awake, Z'lek taught the group the theory of wingfighting, complete with having the riders stand next to their dragons and move in the separate wing formations by walking it through. Yes, it was cumbersome but it drilled the proper configurations into the budding wingriders' heads. He even went through the forms of the Queen's wing, since any rider could be placed on light duty, though he did warn that just because the queens rode lower than the rest did not make that wing's job that much easier. Kailisu could tell from the looks of some of her classmates that they didn't believe him. It didn't matter to her - they would find out for themselves in seven Turns when the Pass began. This started the young queenrider thinking while she and Rhavishath walked the wing formation.

Kailisu was a little concerned at the blasé attitude held at the Weyr concerning Thread. She would have thought that the 'riders would be a little more cognizant of their upcoming danger, but it seemed to her that the only thing changing was the weyrfolk's attitude towards a larger population of dragons. Some of the kitchen workers were heard complaining that the Weyr was getting too crowded with riders, and she'd even heard Jocelyn was contemplating two separate shifts for each meal.

Why didn't they understand the danger they were heading into? Then, it hit Kailisu. It had been two hundred Turns since the last Pass, and any Pernese involved in that Pass were long-since dead. She, not being of Pern, had lived with a virtual simulation of this danger since she was nine Turns . . . erm . . . years old. That was her age when she'd first picked up the book Dragonsinger, and had become hooked on the world Anne McCaffrey had created. She had been given her first computer on her eleventh birthday, and had joined her first role-play Weyr before she was twelve. Kailisu had ridden Threadfighting dragons since her first Impression on her twelfth birthday - a lithe green beauty named Sannith.

You didn't Impress a green named Sannith! Rhavishath said in confusion. I would have known if you'd Impressed before. I wouldn't have wanted to Impress you!

Shards! When would she ever learn to hold her thoughts back from Rhavishath? "Sweetie, I only did it in a Harper's tale," she said soothingly as they trotted forward, changing positions within the wing with one of the bronzeriders. "It's not something that really happened - I . . . I wanted to be a Harper before I realized I could have you."

Mollified, Rhavishath quieted and Kailisu went back to thinking.

When she was somehow transported to the real thing, the danger of Thread had been foremost in her mind. Not the native Pernese. They didn't have role-playing games, computers, mail, or even leisure time. She giggled at herself when she thought of leisure time. When, in the past three years . . . uhm . . . Turns, had she had enough leisure time to play at Threadfighting. Well, that's what she was doing now. Walking in formations. In a few days, according to Z'lek, the class would be ready to chew firestone.

* * * * *

While the fighting dragons were learning how to chew firestone, Kailisu and Rhavishath were learning how to work with a flamethrower. Anyone who said that people who used a flamethrower wasn't a proper fighting dragonrider was liable to get a punch in the gut. Just using the thing required a lot of coordination. Kailisu climbed aboard Rhavishath just to see what it would be like, and realized that the so-called fighting-dragon riders had it easy. They just had to sit on their dragons and let the dragons do all the work. Oh, sure, once in a while they would need to pop a piece of rock into the dragon's mouth, but otherwise, they just rode.

Not her, or Mareena, Loryan and Rhanda. No-oo. They had to make sure they were situated securely on their dragon, with their flamethrower securely attached to their upper torso. This was not a lightweight aluminium piece of equipment, either. These things were sharding heavy! Then, they would need to make sure that the spray-hose was pointed away from any parts of their dragon before hitting the trigger. Privately, Kailisu wondered how many queen dragons ended up with scorched necks. Add in the fact that there would be flying, and the wind speed, she wondered why the queens even bothered fighting Thread. Sure, equal rights and all, but wasn't this going a bit too far? Thinking back to the first time she read "Dragonflight", she wondered just why she cheered when Lessa was "allowed" by F'lar to fly in the Queen's Wing and the idiot was happy about it. Probably changed her tune once she had that two hundred pound cannon strapped to her back.

Her frustration-laden reverie was broken by Rhavishath. That flamethrower doesn't weigh two hundred pounds, the young gold said in confusion. Tosquith says it only weighs about thirty or so. And who's Lessa, or F'lar? Tosquith says his rider has never heard of these riders. OH. This was another Harper tale, wasn't it?

Amazed, Kailisu hugged Rhavishath's neck, clonking herself in the head with the flamethrower canister in the process. Weren't dragon memories supposed to be short?

Adexith asks me to tell you, only as short as they need to be.

Oh. She wondered what that meant, then mentally shrugged. She was sure she'd find out one day.

* * * * *
Z'lek made sure that the dragons only chewed enough firestone to produce one or two bursts of flame before they were literally out of gas. This kept them from hopefully hurting themselves or another, since a panicked dragon would almost always go between. Once the firestone chewing and flaming was mastered, the next step was learning to fly on the dragons, then learning the ins and outs of between.

The day the weyrlings were slated to learn to fly, excitement filled the air. Even though they'd all been on the ride-alongs during their candidacy, that was nothing compared to being aloft and awing on their own dragon. The special bond shared by dragon and rider made this feat even more special, and the excited weyrlings stood next to their dragons in chill morning air, dressed in their first flying leathers and chatting amongst themselves.

"I don't know who's more excited, me or Zizzakath," Haneset said, all but bouncing in anticipation. Delroedi and Fabergh were standing by Yiprath and Yiproth, their echoing sentiments palpable. As Kailisu looked over at the two best friends and their green dragons, she was once again struck by the similarities of the two dragons. If Delroedi hadn't been standing next to Yiprath and Fabergh by Yiproth, she would never be able to tell the difference between the two greens. Weren't identical twins supposed to be impossible in dragons?

There are a lot of differences between the two, Rhavishath interjected. Yiproth is one or two degrees darker than Yiprath, and Yiprath is an inch longer. Besides, their minds are totally different. Why can't you see it?

"I guess I'm just not as good at seeing these things, love," Kailisu said, causing her three friends to give her quizzical looks. She nodded her head at Rhavishath and shrugged, grinning sheepishly. Knowing nods from the others assured her that her point was made - dragons!

"Does anyone know how Z'lek does these first flights?" Delroedi asked.

Kailisu shook her head. "After An'jer Impressed, I didn't talk to him that often so didn't ask him anything about training." She turned to Haneset. "Did R'lan say anything about his training to you?"

"The subject never came up, and I never asked," the weyrbred girl said somewhat sheepishly. "And even though I've lived in the Weyr all my life, I've never paid attention to weyrling training."

Fabergh laughed. "As if you had time. If you watched when you were a child, you probably don't remember a lot now, and once you were able to be useful to the Weyr, you wouldn't have had the time."

"True. And don't forget, we didn't have a lot of Clutches when I was younger. So, no, I don't know."

Kailisu pointed. Z'lek was making his way over the grounds, wherhide jacket thrown over his shoulder while talking to a slightly older man. "Looks like we'll find out," she said. Other groups who had been talking slowly went quiet one by one, until you could hear a pin drop in the Weyr bowl. Z'lek quietly strode to a spot in front of the waiting weyrlings, seemingly enjoying being the center of attention, along with prolonging the anticipation of his watchers. The older man took a place next to him, his lips twitching as if holding back a smile.

Without any warning, two bronze dragons landed on either side of the men. Kailisu recognized Z'lek's Tosquith, but was at a loss as to who the other was.

Stoughnath. He looks to N'val, he's here to teach also.

Just as Kailisu was going to relate this information to the others, Haneset spoke. "I was wondering when N'val would make an appearance." At the quizzical looks from her friends, Haneset gave a small laugh. "N'val has been Weyrlingmaster here much longer than Z'lek. But with so many more dragons being Clutched, it's no wonder that Z'lek was promoted. He's good, just not as personable as N'val."

Not as personable was an understatement, Kailisu thought. While he was easy to look at, and seemed to be no stranger to what went on in the furs, he was so. . . so stone-faced that she wondered if there was a personality beneath that hardened exterior. N'val, on the other hand, just oozed personality.

I can tell Tosquith you'd like to share furs with his rider, Rhavishath said helpfully. Kailisu looked on in horror as Tosquith turned his head to look straight at her.

"Rhavishath! No! Please, NO!" she cried, putting her hands over her face in the age-old attempt to hide. Haneset, Fabergh and Delroedi looked to see what was wrong, then Haneset started laughing as Zizzakath told her what happened. Fabergh and Delroedi began giggling a moment later. Face bright red, she peeked through her fingers to see what Z'lek was doing, and now he was looking in her direction. Not only that, his lips were curved in one of his rare smiles. Kailisu leaned against Rhavishath and slid down to the ground, moaning in embarrassment.

What? Tosquith says his rider wouldn't mind either.

Delroedi, Fabergh and Haneset burst into gales of laughter, while Kailisu glared at them. "Some friends you are," she muttered. "Weyrling training lesson number two-hundred seventeen: don't let your dragon hear every stray thought you have." This wry comment caused the three girls to laugh even harder, causing the other weyrlings plus the two weyrlingmasters to stare at them.

A few aborted attempts later, the four girls were standing by their dragons, attention upon Z'lek and N'val. Every so often a giggle escaped from the throats of Haneset, Delroedi or Fabergh, but otherwise they wore a serious facade.

"It seems that nervousness exhibits itself in various ways," Z'lek finally said, glaring at Kailisu and company while sternly appraising the rest of the group. "Weyrlingmaster N'val or I will fly with you and your dragon on your first flight. After everyone has had a chance, you will be allowed in the air again, in groups of two or three. Starting tomorrow, we will begin wing drills, and in a month's time, you will all learn how to go between."

The silence that Z'lek had required was broken once again by excited whisperings amongst the weyrlings. Tosquith bugled, and everyone was quiet once again.

"N'val will take the bronzes, blues and browns while I will work with the greens and gold," Z'lek added, causing Kailisu to look at her friends in consternation. Of course, there was scant sympathy from them. A few more giggles, sure, but no sympathy.

The two groups of weyrlings broke out, the greens and gold following Tosquith to one side of the Bowl while the male dragons went to the other side. Splitting them up this way did seem to make the most sense - after all, half of any clutch was green dragons. It was better than counting off by ones and twos, and fairer. Kailisu wondered who Z'lek would choose to go first, then winced as her name was called.

"Kailisu!"

"Yes, sir." Taking a deep breath while she was in the crowd, Kailisu and Rhavishath stepped in front of the group. To all outward appearances she was calm and in control. Inside she was a roiling ball of nerves.

"You're first. Mount your dragon." Z'lek still had that slight secretive smile, which made Kailisu even more nervous. Awkwardly she mounted Rhavishath while Z'lek stood beside her. He checked her riding straps after she had fastened and tightened them, then had Tosquith query Rhavishath as to the comfort of the straps. Once he was satisfied that the newest goldrider of the Weyr wasn't going to fall off of her dragon, he mounted his own bronze. She looked to him to give the signal to rise. When he did, she gave the command to Rhavishath who leapt from the Weyr Bowl with her powerful hind legs, and they were aloft!

Rhavishath had flown prior to this without Kailisu astride her, exercising her wings and legs. Tosquith had handled the air manoeuvres with the riderless dragons while Z'lek had trained the weyrlings in theory they needed to know. Now the two halves had finally come together - and it was wonderful.

This is how it was meant to be, Rhavishath, Kailisu said, not bothering to talk out loud. No way would anyone be able to hear a voice up here in the air with the wind whistling past their ears. The wherhide cap was heavy and covered the ears, keeping them warm and safe from the cold wind. Down on the ground it might be a fairly warm day, but up here it was different. Kailisu looked down and saw the rest of her class looking more like ants than like people.

I like having you with me in the air. It felt lonely without you, the dragon replied. Obviously Rhavishath felt the beauty of the flight as much as she did. Tosquith says it's time to go down. There are others who need to fly. The gold sounded sad, but Kailisu wordlessly assured her there would be more flights together. Rhavishath glided down, landing a bit harder than Kailisu would have liked and kicking up quite a bit of dust.

Eh, no one's perfect love. Perfection comes with practice, she assured her dragon as she unbuckled her flight straps and slid to the ground. Rhavishath swung her head around and nuzzled Kailisu before they headed back to their friends. For the first time since she Impressed, Kailisu felt like a real dragonrider!

* * * * *

After the euphoria of their first flight, going between was a letdown. First you were here, then you were here. It didn't help that the climate of between was so inhospitable, then add in the fact that it was gray nothingness and an easily excitable weyrling would be disappointed with the lack of bells and whistles. At least, that's how Kailisu felt, and she had a feeling that was how the others felt as well. Sure, everyone had been between on the ride-alongs, but for some reason every one of them, Kailisu included, imagined it would be different with them. Some type of epiphany, maybe.

Rhavishath didn't even understand her disappointment. It's between. Nothing is in between[i], she said matter of factly, then went back to napping. Kailisu mentally shrugged. Que sera sera.

Graduation day came upon them all too quickly after this last lesson, and soon the tightly knit group was disbanded to fly with the real wings. It said a lot for Z'lek's training that he lost no one to firestone poisoning, or to the dreaded between-ing. Yet all the newly graduated dragonriders knew that the danger was not over. Any one of them could die during drills, and the Pass was a mere five and a half Turns away.
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