BEYOND BETWEEN ANNE MCCAFFREY FOREWORD When human colonists first settled on Pern, the third planet of the sun Rukbat, in the Sagittarian Sector, they paid little attention to the eccentric orbit of the sister planet they called the Red Star. After all, the star system had been surveyed and declared safe, and the Earth-born colonists, all war veterans, were more concerned with building a peaceful, low-tech, agrarian society for themselves and their children. So they were ill prepared when disaster struck, eight years later, in the form of a menace from space—a mindless organism that fell from the sky in thin strands, consuming all organic matter in its way. The colonists called it “Thread,” and although it could be destroyed by water or fire, and could not penetrate stone or metal, it fell so relentlessly that it seemed virtually unstoppable. Then a solution was found: Using their old-world ingenuity and genetic engineering, the settlers altered an indigenous life-form that resembled the dragons of legend. The resulting enormous “dragons” became Pern’s most effective weapon against Thread. Able to chew and digest a phosphine-bearing rock, the dragons could literally breathe fire and sear the airborne Thread before it could reach the ground. Able not only to fly but to teleport, as well, the dragons could maneuver quickly to avoid injury during their battles with Thread. And their telepathic bond with their human riders—a bond forged at the moment of hatching—enabled dragons and humans to work in perfect harmony in their campaigns against Threadfall. The dragonriders became the heroes of Pern, and it was many a child’s dream to grow up to be a dragonrider, to share that incredible mental and emotional bond with one of the great dragons. But that bond had a down side, as well: Death was a separation neither could endure alone. If the rider died, the dragon would suicide. If the dragon died, the rider might likewise attempt to take his own life or, at best, would be doomed from then on to lead but half a life. Once the first fifty-year-long attack of Thread ended, three disparate societies developed on Pern: Holds, where strong-minded men and women managed the bounty of the land and kept people safe during the Falls of Thread; Halls, where crafts were practiced and perfected; and Weyrs, where dragons and their riders lived. During the Sixth Pass of Thread, in 1543, on the third day of the tenth month, an unusual situation occurred for which the carefully kept records in the Harper Hall and individual Weyrs could find no precedent. A plague had raged across the continent, and the Healers had developed a preventive vaccine that needed to be administered as soon as the dragons and their riders brought it to every individual Hall and Hold from sea to sea. In an effort to perform this unusual delivery, dragons and their riders relied on a little-known, or -understood, ability in the dragons to teleport not just anywheretheir riders could visualize, but anywhen. It was very dangerous to cross not only distance but also time and, when tired and confused, even the best-trained dragon and rider could make mistakes. When the runnerbeasts first started acting up, Thaniel wasn’t paying much attention. As happened so often, he was dreaming fondly of his beloved wife, gone these long Turns and still missed. The two of them had been like two halves: once united they became a perfect whole. He pulled a worn little kerchief from his pocket and fingered it fondly, feeling the blue and green embroidered flowers in one corner—the careful stitchery so typical of his wife’s work. He sighed heavily. Death seemed so unfair—and so frighteningly final. “Why should trees and plants always come back to life after every cold season whenwe only have this one short time?” he’d rail when thoughts of death overwhelmed him. Thaniel was in his late middle Turns, honed to a wiry frame from decades of riding and working runnerbeasts. Three Turns before, a sharp hoof to the knee had left him with a permanent limp. No longer quick enough on his feet to handle the runnerbeasts, he had been forced to let his children take over the endless routine of hold chores while he took over much of the work his wife used to perform, keeping the hold in proper order, and cooking the meals for his family. The youngest was Bill, whose difficult birth had cost his mother’s life. Maynar was the oldest and most competent in breaking and schooling the runnerbeasts. Jerra was a solid young woman who would soon, Thaniel hoped, make a match with one of the nearby holder lads. Brailli, the younger of the two girls, was quite clever and would go to the Weaver Hall for training once the plague was under control. Destry, the dreamer of his kids, aimed at BeastMaster training. The high-pitched squeals of his favorite riding beast, old Rusty, distracted him, and with a shake of his head he dragged his attention back to the present. What could be upsetting the old runner like this? Nothing terrified Rusty like dragons, but the likelihood of dragons coming here was distant at best. Then Thaniel remembered: His hold was due to receive vaccine for the plague that was spreading across the continent. He knew thatsomeone would deliver the vaccine with instructions on how to use it. A dragonrider? With the cup of hot, sweet klah he had just poured in hand, Thaniel left the kitchen and went out the front door of his hold. Scanning the scenery, he saw nothing amiss, just the rolling plains of grass spotted with copses of the hardy trees that could survive in the windswept, often freezing open lands. Nearby was their modest beasthold—not a “real” stone beasthold such as could easily be built in Crom or Nabol with the stones some of the holders said was their only crop, but it was sufficient for birthing animals. Beside it, a stretch of fence led to the nearest paddock: sturdy wood palings on posts that had taken an entire day for a strong man to situate in the dense soil. Beside the gate, there was a watering trough that some ingenious ancestor had rigged to be continuously supplied with water from the Waterhole twelve dragonlengths away. Sure enough, a dragon was sweeping in to land in the open space by the watering trough. Good old Rusty never missed a trick, Thaniel thought, mentally chuckling at the runner’s uncanny ability to sense dragons. Thaniel quickened his pace to meet the newcomers, careful not to spill hot klah on his hand. What first struck him as odd was that the dragon was a very pale gold and her head sagged, which suggested she was very tired. As she landed, her nose almost touched the ground, but she pulled herself up and regained her balance with a long sigh of relief. Queen dragons were the strongest and largest of the Pernese dragons, and he’d never seen one so ungainly, not even after the fatigue of a long Threadfall. “Thaniel,” said the rider, and his amazement was complete, for he recognized her as Moreta, the Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr. He knew her from Gathers, to which people often came from all over to celebrate, but Ista was the Weyr Thaniel was beholden to, and it was Ista that was usually responsible for keeping Thread from dropping on his land. Moreta reached into the sack slung across her dragon’s neck and held out two packages to him. He hurried to take them and to offer his cup of klah to her. “I just poured it, and you look like you need it more’n I do,” he said. “You’ve no idea how much I appreciate this,” she said, giving him a grateful smile as she sipped the hot beverage. After her first swallow, she seemed to shake her shoulders as if to release the tension in them. She looked out at the westering sun and sighed again deeply, this time from a satisfaction she did not explain to him. Not that queen riders and Weyrwomen were required to explain their actions or share their thoughts with mere holders like himself. “That’s the vaccine for your runnerbeasts and you and your holders, Thaniel. There should be a Healer coming if you don’t want to inject it yourself.” The word “inject” made Thaniel shudder, but he took the package and thanked her. “It must be done, better today, definitely tomorrow,” she said, and told him how to press the needlethorn into the fleshy part of the upper arm or thigh. She looked around at the large yard, as if she expected to see more people. Thaniel understood her curious glance. “They’re all out, checking on yearlings,” he said, as he peered into the smaller of the two packets at the nest of carefully padded vials that would protect him and his family from the plague. “There’s exactly enough here for all in my holding.” He glanced up at her with gratitude and then realized that she was utterly exhausted. He remembered her as a very pretty woman, with short blond hair and deep-set eyes. Now her eyes were underscored by dark circles of fatigue, her body was listless, and her skin was tinged slightly gray, making her look far older than he knew her to be. It was Leri who was the old Weyrwoman at Fort, not Moreta. Maybe it was just the light of the setting sun shining on her face. But there was no question that the dragon was tired. Her skin drooped and sagged on her withers and haunches, and the light of life barely shone from the many facets of her eyes. “Why are you doing a green’s work, Weyrwoman?” he asked, allowing his tone to be critical. Surely others less important than a gold could have delivered the vaccine to a small hold like his. “I grew up in Keroon. I’ve been here to Waterhole Hold before. None of the Ista riders would know the area as well as I. Just use the vaccine as soon as you get back to your hold, Thaniel.” As she held the empty cup out to him to take, he noticed that her other hand was gripping the neck ridge in front of her as if to prevent her from plunging forward off the dragon. “That was just what I needed, Thaniel. My thanks.” “And my thanks to you, Weyrwoman.” He stepped back, aware, even if she did not seem to be, that her queen was shaking under her. “This is our last stop, Holder Thaniel,” she said as she stroked the old queen’s neck and smiled at him. “We have delivered all the vaccine on our run.” She looked again at the westering sun. “Fly in safe skies, Weyrwoman. The light is surely fading fast.” “One last jumpbetween , that’s all we have to take, Holth,” she said encouragingly and kneed the dragon to the right. Thaniel heard the relief resonant in her voice and it seemed to give energy to the queen as well, for she sprang into the air and disappeared. Rather close to the ground, he thought, but who was he to judge? He took the cup and the packets of vaccine back to his hold, carefully placing the medicine in the center of the big table where his brood took their meals. He poured himself another cup of klah, sweetened it, and felt a glow of pride for having served the Weyrwoman himself from a pot of his own brewing. He brewed a good cup: Everyone said so, and now the Weyrwoman had praised him, too. He sat down, work-worn hands around the warm pottery cup, easing his finger joints. “Holth?” He said the name aloud now in surprise. Now that was odd! Not that everything about this day wasn’t unusual—like a queen dragon delivering a parcel—but there was nothing wrong with either his memory or his understanding of Hold and Weyr. Fort’s Weyrwoman, Moreta, rode Orlith, not Holth. But Orlith had clutched recently, which might be one reason why Moreta wasn’t riding her own queen. Gold dragons tended to be very proprietary about their eggs. And the report was that the clutch numbered twenty-five, one of which was likely to be a queen. Holth, now, was old Leri’s queen. He was sure of that, as she had been Weyrwoman ever since he had taken hold of his family’s land. He’d heard that she suffered badly from joint-ail and her physical condition had deteriorated past the point where she could lead the Weyr against Threadfall. And, if Moreta was riding Holth, maybe that was why the dragon had looked so pale and tired: separated from her lifelong rider who would never, he was sure, have pushed the old queen past her strength. Just then the herd, which had settled back to grazing, spooked again, racing to the eastern side of the paddocks. Old Rusty gave another of his back-chilling shrieks as if a field snake were squeezing him. Oddly enough, the big flat-bodied plain snakes never frightened Rusty. He even seemed to enjoy trampling them to death under his large hooves. But this time Rusty’s shriek made Thaniel shudder, as if something terrible had happened that he didn’t understand. Thaniel could see no dust in any direction to suggest that his children were on their way back home, or anything strange in the sky to account for Rusty’s shriek. He looked out at the wide, flat, shallow lake from which his hold derived its name. The lake never went dry—water bubbled up in the middle of it from some subterranean source—and so he was able to supply water to any who came looking for it. There was always the Keroon River, but the Waterhole was closer for some of his western neighbors. And everyone said the water was sweeter. He shrugged off the sensation of malaise he had felt when Rusty shrieked and returned to his hearth to give the stew a stir; the pot was warming up nicely. He poured himself more klah and mused over the events of the day. Ever the worrier, Thaniel clasped his fingers tighter around the cup. Why was Moreta doing delivery duty anyhow? And why was she riding another’s dragon? Holth, she had said, too clearly for him to mistake the name of the queen she rode. Oh well, it was not his place to criticize queen riders. Maybe when the Healer came, he’d have an answer for that. He stirred the stew, inhaling the meaty odors with pleasure and eager for the return of his family so he could tell them what had happened. Maynar, Jerra, Brailli, Destry, and Bill all arrived back just as twilight was beginning to fade. They were full of news of well-grown, healthy-looking yearlings, and had made good notes of landmarks so the smaller herds could be easily found. Thaniel explained how Moreta herself had brought the vaccine. His tale was greeted by amazement at the very idea of a queen rider delivering to their small hold, but after a brief, lively discussion, he drew their attention back to the packages of vaccine on the table. As soon as a Healer arrived to do the necessary, they would all be safe against the plague. “Nonsense, Father,” said Jerra, “I will inject the vaccine. We’re not supposed to wait.” She added: “The plague could come on the next wind, and wouldn’t we look stupid with the medicine sitting on the table and useless to us.” We wouldn’t look stupid, we’d just look dead, Thaniel thought. “We will eat, and then I will inject us all,” Jerra continued in an imperious tone. “I’ve seen how the Healer does it. Just jab it in the flesh of the arm.” Maybe Jerra was a trifle domineering at times—so unlike her mother—but she always had the good of the family at heart, Thaniel reminded himself. So he nodded acceptance of her offer and the entire family set to eating, though no one looked away from the little parcel all during the meal. Rusty’s shrill shriek nearly toppled Thaniel off his stool. “Whatis going on?” he exclaimed. “That poor animal has been spooking all day.” Maynar, closest to the window, jumped off his stool to look outside. Thaniel joined him. “Visitors? And we’ve not enough supper left to fill the bottom of even the smallest bowl,” Jerra said, embarrassed. “It’s more dragons,” Thaniel said. He took the glowbasket from its hook and, opening the door, strode forth to make proper welcome to their guests. He was astonished to see three dragons and riders, each with a passenger, descending to the ground. “Waterhole Hold? Is this Waterhole?” cried a man. “It is, and who might you all be?” “I am MasterHarper Tirone, here with Kamiana, queen rider of Pelianth, and Desdra of the Healer Hall . . . And with us are A’dan, Tigrath’s rider, and D’say and Critith. We must know if Moreta came here sometime this afternoon!” “She did, just at sundown, and left us the vaccine,” Thaniel replied, his voice carrying easily in the dark. “Come to the Hold. We have wine and klah.” As he waved them toward him, all Thaniel could think of was that one of these people was from the Healer Hall and could possibly inject them, saving the entire family from Jerra’s well-meant but inexperienced attempts. Fortunately there was fresh klah being brewed, and Jerra and her siblings had found their hold’s precious glasses in which to serve a hastily uncorked bottle of wine: a drinkable red made in the Crom hills. “You are kind, Thaniel, Jerra, but we have no time to spare, though we appreciate your hospitality,” Tirone said as he and the others entered the hold. “Only tell us what you know of Moreta and Holth.” His eyes, and those of his companions, were dull with grief. Fear struck Thaniel to the heart, for Moreta and Holth should long have been back at Fort Weyr. Hours ago! And so he said. “I gave her a cup of klah to help her on her way,” he added, hoping he had done the right thing. “What did she say?” asked Kamiana. “She thanked me,” Thaniel replied. “Did she say anything as she and Holth went off?” “Oh, aye, and I felt sorry for the poor queen. She was quite faded with fatigue and she looks so old, you know.” Thaniel worried that his observation was irrelevant. “She said, and my memory’s good, ‘Just one last jumpbetween , Holth, that’s all we have to take.’ I thought that was odd, as I’m sure Moreta’s queen is Orlith.” No one contradicted him. “Surely she visualized Fort Weyr?” Desdra murmured to the others in the silence that had fallen. The visitors looked nervously at one another. “But they would have been exhausted by the time they reached here,” Kamiana said. “Moreta had been riding all morning on Orlith. And riding all the stops here in Keroon would have been a lot for an old queen like Holth to do.” Ever the Healer, Desdra pulled the smaller bundle of vaccine to her and looked inside. “Would you object to my giving you the injection?” “No, no,” Thaniel said quickly. “We have no idea when our own Healer will drop by—we are out of the way of most paths—although my daughter said she’s seen the Healer do this sort of thing.” If Jerra was upset to have to forgo the pleasure of inoculating her family, she gave no sign, hurriedly unbuttoning her sleeve and rolling it up. “Thaniel, was Holth’s leap-off steady?” Kamiana asked anxiously. “Oooh, I’d say steady enough, but they were both of them very tired, as I said.” Kamiana breathed out a sigh. “Very tired. Maybe too tired to do that one more thing that a rider must always to do with her dragon, especially an unfamiliar one.” “Moreta knew Holth very well,” MasterHarper Tirone protested. Kamiana dismissed that. “As a friend, since Moreta was so often in Leri’s Weyr, butnot as a rider. I think that has made more of a difference than we thought it would.” “And all the timing they must have done. It would be enough to scramble anyone’s wits,” Desdra said, pressing the little piece of cotton firmly to Jerra’s arm now that the deftly made injection was complete. The visitors lapsed into worried silence at her words. Thaniel and his brood hardly noticed, however; their attention was fixed firmly on the needlethorn and the vaccine. Thaniel took Jerra’s seat close to the MasterHealer, his sleeve rolled up. Desdra pinched the skin of his arm and jabbed him. He winced just a trifle as the needlethorn punctured him and then sighed as the vaccine coursed into his arm. How lucky they all were that a Healer journeywoman had come with the others. Once all the injections had been given, the visitors rose, apologizing for their haste and thanking the holders for their hospitality and time. “I think they have diedbetween ,” Thaniel heard Kamiana say unsteadily as he lit their way back to the dragons. “The dragons have keened them.” “Such a waste,” Master Tirone said. “You must protect others from the same fate, Kamiana.” “Never fear. The Weyrs will take immediate steps. I just can’t understand why an experienced rider like Moreta was unable to visualize her destination. Or why Holth wouldn’t automatically head for Leri. Their mission was done.” “Where do we go now?” Tirone asked quietly, settling himself behind the blue rider. “Back to Fort Hold, for you must be exhausted yourselves, Master Tirone, Journeywoman Desdra,” Kamiana said. “I would see you safely back to your Halls.” As the dragonriders clearly spoke their destination, the dragons rose from the ground. In a moment they winked out, goingbetween , leaving Thaniel alone with the rising moon and the shrieking runnerbeasts. The night after Moreta disappeared, Thaniel was alone at Waterhole Hold. His children had been out vaccinating their runnerbeast stock and would be late returning home. Suddenly Rusty shrieked louder than ever. Wondering if a wherry was attacking his old runnerbeast, Thaniel cautiously drew back the curtain to look out the window. Rusty was the only beast upset; all the others were calm, although curious about Rusty’s behavior. Thaniel wondered if Rusty was just getting too old, and was perhaps a little addled in the head. He might have to put the old runner down. A strange shiver of apprehension palpably shook Thaniel. Gripped by a huge sense of terror, he dropped the curtain. Breathing hard, heart pounding, he went to the door, opened it a crack, and peeked out. He saw nothing untoward save for the terrified Rusty. He opened the door wide and stepped out into the night. “Who is it? Who goes there?” Thaniel called out, walking toward the paddock. Rusty shrieked again and he turned toward the beast. “Stupid beast. There’s no one here.” He swept his hand, indicating empty space. Rusty continued shrieking, showing the whites of his eyes and flaring his nostrils as he galloped around the enclosure in terror. “Shut your bawling!” Thaniel shouted loudly at Rusty. “The riders looking for Moreta have all gone back to their Weyrs. There’s not a sign of a dragon in the sky.” Suddenly Thaniel felt as if he’d been touched on the arm by a shaft of sheer ice. He pulled his arms to his body, muttering quietly, “What was that to make me shiver as if this were midwinter and me catching a cold?” And then more loudly, as a horrifying thought hit home, he said, “Am I getting the plague after all?” Trembling violently, Thaniel turned and ran, terrified, to his hold, slamming the door shut behind him. Some time later, Jerra, Maynar, and the others returned to the Hold and found their father noticeably distraught. He was sitting by the fire on the edge of his seat; his hands, palms together, were clenched tightly between his knees. “What’s wrong, Da?” Jerra asked, concern stamped on her face. “It’s nothing, nothing.” “Did you see something?” Maynar asked. “I saw nothing,” Thaniel replied sharply, and stared intently into the fire. The following day two dragonriders visited Waterhole to check that all the holders and runnerbeasts had, indeed, been vaccinated and that no one had suffered any ill effects from the injection. Their arrival was, of course, punctuated by Rusty’s shrieks of terror. Assuring them that all in his hold had been injected by none other than Journeywoman Healer Desdra, Thaniel wanted to add that the only ill effect was his old runnerbeast shrieking from the appearance of dragons every day. But he held his tongue instead, conscious of the grief the dragonfolk endured. He couldn’t help but think that he was the last person to have seen Moreta and Holth. That thought preyed on his mind and he grew anxious. His anxiety did not go unnoticed by his children, so that night and the following day one of Thaniel’s daughters or sons stayed with him in the hold while the others went about the routine of checking stock. But, then, just before dusk, Bill came charging back on his little runner, self-important with the news that a beast had trapped itself in a narrow gully and couldn’t find enough foot purchase to get free. All hands were needed to hoist the animal to safety so Jerra, attending her father that day, would have to go back with her brother. Thaniel and Bill assembled ropes, straps, and lanterns and stowed them carefully on Bill’s runner. Jerra and the boy were clearly reluctant to leave their father alone, but Thaniel reassured them that he would be quite all right and, after all, the animal must be rescued. The dust kicked up by Bill’s and Jerra’s mounts had only just settled when Thaniel was overcome by a terrible sinking feeling that was punctuated by a frightful scream from Rusty. Heart skipping several beats, Thaniel crept to the door, holding a thick stick as long as a man’s arm. He opened the door and scanned the horizon for any sign of dragons. All he saw was Rusty rearing on his hind legs, striking out with his forefeet at some invisible foe. Within a few moments the runner started to calm down, only to start shrieking again. He was so frightened that he backed away from the fence as fast as his feet could move. Then he stopped, firm in his tracks, starring intently ahead of him—at nothing. Concern overriding fear as the terrified beast started pawing the ground, Thaniel left the safety of his hold doorway and approached the enclosure, beckoning Rusty to him. The animal ignored him, his ears pricked forward and his eyes fastened on to something in front of him that only he could see. “What is it, old fellow? What’s bothering you?” Thaniel asked as he watched the muscles on Rusty’s shoulders quivering. Rusty pawed the ground again. Thaniel passed a hand over his eyes, rubbing them, before he peered again at the empty space that transfixed Rusty. Suddenly, the runnerbeast took a huge step backward, nearly sitting on his hindquarters in his attempt at high-speed retreat. Then, after kicking his hind legs high behind him and prodding the ground with his forelegs, the distraught animal tore around the enclosure like an unbroken yearling, wheeling and rearing as if Thread or some other unthinkable terror were engulfing him. Thaniel’s jaw dropped. “He only does that when there’s dragons about,” he said to himself. “Maybe Rusty’s just beyond it, and the kindest thing would be to put the old fellow down. Can’t have him screaming like that every night!” Shaking his head, he turned away from the runnerbeast and walked back into his hold. And so Rusty’s wild behavior continued, night after night, until the fifth evening after Moreta had vanished intobetween . That night, Thaniel was watching at the right time. To his utter amazement, the full moon illuminated the ethereal forms of a dragon and rider. Hollering louder than Rusty, Thaniel dropped his club, turned, and fled back to his hold, where he slammed the door quickly behind him. Five days earlier . . . Moreta felt the better for the klah the old holder had given her. She couldn’t remember when she had last eaten, though she must have, as her stomach didn’t feel all that empty. But she was so tired, and even the longest Fall had never seemed so endless and draining. Just this one last jumpbetween and then Holth could rest, too, for the old queen had been valiant. As she sprang from the ground on this last leg of their day’s journeying, Moreta began her litany against her fear ofbetween . “Black, blacker, blackest . . .” Never hadbetween felt so cold to her, even with the warmth of klah seeping into her veins. Hugging herself with her arms to ward off the chill, she closed her eyes against the unrelenting blackness ofbetween . Then she opened them again, as, out of the corner of her eye, her brain registered something different about her surroundings, something unexpected. Is that a light?She turned toward it, shaking her head, waiting for the darkness to greet her eyes once again. Instead, a grayness lay before her, imperceptibly blending with the black ofbetween . Somehow, she did not feel so cold anymore. She felt an overwhelming desire to move away from the grayness and suddenly realized that Holth was motionless. Surely more than the usual eight seconds had passed. She had nearly finished the verse of her litany and they were still—immovably—between . . . Holth?she cried.What has happened? We are not back at Fort Weyr! We arebetween.I did not “see” where we should go, replied Holth in a querulous tone, bugling in distress. Panic welled in Moreta’s chest and she tried to think back to what she had said to Holth as the tired old dragon had lurched off the ground. She shook her head. I had to have visualized Fort Weyr for you, Holth!she protested, forcing her time-wearied mind to recall exactly what she had said.I’ve been a rider too long to make such a weyrling mistake. We are both tired,Holth replied blandly.We went between,as you said. That is all we did. Why didn’t you ask me where?Moreta demanded sharply, wondering how a dragon so experienced could have forgotten something so basic. You have been telling me where to go, and at what time to get there, all day. You always gave me the directions. Specific directions, according to the sun. This time you only told me to gobetween. Despair crept into the dragon’s mental tone. Frantically quelling her own mounting panic, Moreta recalled that she had indeed only told weary old Holth to gobetween , assuming that the dragon had also heard her say that this was the last time she’d have to jump. Meaning, of course, for them to jumpbetween to “home,” Fort Weyr, where they could both rest after the arduous day; home to Leri and home to Orlith and her eggs. She hugged herself tightly and looked longingly behind her, as if she were looking at her past. A past she could not change.Move, Holth! Maybe we can find our way back. Holth uttered a disbelieving noise and made no move with either wing or leg. I cannot go anywhere.There was just the slightest emphasis on “go.” “What do you mean, you can’t ‘go’?” Moreta cried out loud. Not yet, and not with you,was Holth’s cryptic reply. We must go home. They are expecting us. Leri will be worried about you, and Orlith will be frantic. I know,the dragon replied.I cannot reach them, she added after a brief pause. Frightened, Moreta pushed her thoughts out for the comforting touch of Orlith, ever present at the back of her mind and often stronger when they were separated. For the first time, it was not there, and Moreta gasped. This couldn’t be happening! She thought as, unbidden, tears flowed down her cheeks. Overwhelming grief consumed her. ORLITH!she cried. Just then, she saw something moving, gray against grayer, but shaped like a dragon with its rider on its withers. “Hallo there!” a male voice called. And he waved an arm at her. Moreta momentarily froze and then desperately wiped at her wet face. This was an impossible nightmare, and now she was hearing things as well as seeing—inbetween ! “Wait for me!” the man called out. Stunned, Moreta numbly waited while an unusually small, brown dragon halted neatly just a nose away from Holth. The old dragon put her nose forward and made the expected courtesy touch with a newcomer. Then Holth backed up with far more energy than she had previously shown. Duluth?the gold dragon asked, surprised. “What’s happening? Who are you? Why can I hear and see you?” Moreta cried. The panic was rising in her again. The old queen backed up a further step. “I’m Marco Galliano,” the young rider said in a measured, calming tone. Or at least Moreta thought he was young. He had to be a new rider, for she didn’t know of a brown dragon named Duluth. “Don’t worry, I can help you. Are you cold? You’re both shivering.” “Not from the cold,” Moreta said, trying to control the panic in her voice, but what else would one feel, stuck inbetween ? “Look, I know you’re new to all this, up here in the fold. Duluth and I do the rounds every day to look for strays.” “Do rounds? Look for strays?” Moreta echoed, incredulous. She felt as if the grayness was closing in around her and clutched at her riding harness, fearful that she was losing consciousness. If she fell off Holth now, she’d be falling intobetween . A whimper, unbidden, surged up her throat. “C’mon, I’ll take you where it’s warm.” His dragon turned. “Wait! Where are you going?” she yelled. Just follow me. It’s easy,said the dragon. “I don’t know why it works,” Marco said casually, “but I can always get back to Paradise.” Duluth took off on a good run and in a moment was so competently airborne that Moreta quickly urged Holth to follow. Holth took off at speed, as if she, like Moreta, wanted to get anywhere but here, no matter where that might be. Moreta’s vision blurred again as panic continued to exert its grip on her. She felt totally disoriented. They flew straight for what seemed a long time, and then suddenly, unexpectedly, Marco and Duluth suddenly dropped, flattened out, and dived down through the dark floor ofbetween . A hole appeared to engulf them, and Moreta urged Holth to follow. They broke out over a very blue sea, facing a spit of white sand and tall frond-waving trees along a shore. The sound of the water washing onto the shore rushed into Moreta’s ears. Duluth landed on the beach, followed by Holth, who, sighing mightily as she instinctively kept her wings open to absorb the heat all dragons enjoyed, dug her feet down into the warm sand. The hot sun slapped Moreta in the face and she gasped with relief. We’re safe! We can go home now, Holth!she cried with relief. Holth didn’t answer her. Quickly, Moreta tried to get her bearings, but the heat, combined with the complete exhaustion she felt, was too much to bear. She began to slide off Holth’s neck, but fell halfway down, landing on all fours on the hot sands. “Look, you’re both awfully tired now. Your dragon has the right idea. C’mon,” Marco said, lifting her to her feet with great ease. Moreta wanted to correct him, tell him that Holth was not her dragon, but her mouth wouldn’t form the words. He put a hand gently under her elbow and started to propel her toward the shade. The heat was enervating, and she unconsciously opened her heavy flying jacket. Mute from shock and fatigue she followed Marco’s lead, looking over her shoulder to be sure that Holth was comfortable in the sand. The old queen snorted once, wriggled her shoulders, let her tail fall down on the sand, and exhaled noisily into a snore. “Here, sit down for a while; you’ll feel better if you have a little rest.” Marco swept away some dry fronds from the tough grass that grew under the shading trees. His hand changed position and practically forced her to the ground. She had no strength left. When he took her jacket from her limp hand and made a pillow of it on the grass, she lay down. Closing her eyes, Moreta hoped that when she opened them, she’d be back in her own Weyr and that this was all a terrible dream. The strange young rider murmured a gentle reassurance she didn’t hear as she fell almost instantly into a deep sleep. When Moreta roused, suddenly alert to the noise Holth made while changing position in the sand, Marco was still there. He placed a hand on her shoulder and spoke to her with all the calm assurance of a man five times his age. Strangely, the panic she had felt before she slept did not rise in her again. A calmness now pervaded her senses. “It wasn’t a dream, much as you would like it to have been. This is real. You wentbetween and didn’t come out. But I found you,” he said reassuringly. Marco gestured for her to sit up and lean against a tree trunk. She noticed for the first time that he was clad in odd flying gear; but concern for Holth had her eyes swiveling to the dragon, who was resettling herself on the sand. “She’s fine,” Marco said. “I think she needs to get the other side warm, too. This is the first she’s moved since she lay down, except to snore. Which she does loudly, as you must know.” Marco was an attractive young man—though nowhere near as handsome as Alessan, she thought to herself. But she put thoughts of her lover away. This frightening situation was hard enough to comprehend without being tortured by thoughts of being lost to him. “Where are we, Marco?” she asked imploringly. “And, if we didn’t make it out ofbetween , then what is all of this?” She gestured to the beach and the water lapping gently at the shore. “Holth says your name is Moreta and that you’re the Fort Weyrwoman,” he said calmly, looking at her with respect. “Duluth is impressed.” “Which Weyr did you say you were from?” “I didn’t, because Duluth and I were never in a Weyr. You don’t know your dragonrider history?” He looked disappointed. Moreta, startled to be so accused, glared at him. “Of course I do.” “Then who,” he asked very quietly, “were the first riders?” She was aware that her jaw dropped as she stared up at him. She knew who the first riders were and . . . she tried to grasp the concept. “You and Duluth . . . ,” she said, dragging the facts from memory, “were the first pair to gobetween , to avoid a collision with an air sled at Paradise River Stake . . .” She paused, glancing around. “Of course, the mechanics of goingbetween safely were learned later,” Marco went on. “Duluth and I just acted out of instinct.” “And you’ve been in—between—ever since?” Moreta asked, a large knot clenched deep in her gut. “More or less. It took me a while to realize that I could return to Paradise River whenever I wanted to. Of course, by the time I figured that out and got back here, everyone in Jim Tillek’s armada had moved on. I flew east in the direction I knew they were headed, but a fierce storm blew up and damned near knocked me off Duluth’s back, so I quit following. Duluth had strained a ligament in his right pinion. Fortunately I had enough numbweed left to ease the injury. By the time we could follow on, we figured they’d been hit pretty badly by the storm, too. There were even some pieces of wrecked ships among the debris washed ashore. No bodies—we looked. So we came back to Paradise and made it our headquarters. There are some buildings back there. At first I stored the things that washed up on the beach there, just in case anyone came back looking for them. No one ever did. And then, I sort of found others caught the same way.” “Others? Where are they?” “Probably hunting. The dragons still like to hunt, you know. It’s instinctive. But once they’ve made the kill, they don’t even bother to blood it. There were a lot of fine cattle that had to be let loose for the Second Crossing. Not enough room for any but the prime breeding stock on the boats going to the new settlement. They’ve multiplied, and the cats—” “Cats?” Moreta exclaimed nervously. “Yes, cats. The big felines that Ted Tubberman bred and let loose down here.” “Oh! But they’re the creatures that brought us the plague. Don’t let any of them come near you!” Marco laughed, and the knot of tension gripping Moreta’s innards gently dissolved. “Not ruddy likely, Moreta. For one thing, they’re usually scared of dragons; and two: We have no weapons”—he opened his hands wide—“so we keep our distance. How could they spread a plague?” Moreta said, “Believe me, they can. I don’t know how many people have died. But Healers managed to develop a vaccine.” “How did cats get to the north?” Marco wondered. Moreta clicked her tongue. “Some seamen who’d been shipwrecked on the coast found the animal and brought it back, thinking they’d make a mark or two displaying it at Gathers. Before we traced the disease back to the cat, too many people had been infected.” “Don’t your people know about quarantines?” Marco asked, taken aback. “Of course we do, but the plague spread too fast. At first no one knew what had started it. We get contagious diseases now and then, but they’re usually just seasonal and only affect a small number of folk. This plague affected almost everyone.” “Riders and dragons died, too?” “Yes,” she replied sadly. “How did you know that?” “I saw quite a few of them,” he said, grimacing. “Far more than would have been accounted for in a heavy Threadfall.” “But if you saw them inbetween , then you must have seen where they went!” Moreta felt a rush of hope. He shook his head slowly. “I don’t know where they went. I haven’t been there yet.” A curious expression touched his face as he talked. Duluth warbled gently to his rider. Moreta stared at him, having figured out that he and the first riders had all been about nineteen or twenty Turns at the time they Impressed those first dragons. Why, he must be more than fifteen hundred Turns old! That is, if he really existed at all! She wanted to reach out and touch him. “I still don’t understand . . .” Her voice quavered with uncertainty and she felt fresh tears behind her eyes. “How I could be hereand between ?” He shook his head. “I don’t understand either, but demonstrably I am.Cogito, ergo sum. ” “I beg your pardon?” “That’s a very old Earth language, called Latin. It translates as ‘I think, therefore I am.’ ” “Oh.” “A double big oh, Moreta. What year—I mean, Turn—is this?” Moreta stared at him for a moment even as she said the words. “Fifteen hundred and forty-three. We’re nearly through the Sixth Pass.” He nodded, staring at some far distant spot on the horizon. A gentle sigh passed his lips. “Buthow have you survived?” “I’m not sure, but I’ve decided that time must be different inbetween . Which supports my notion that it’s another dimension or level, or something.” “Aren’t you—” Moreta stopped, reluctant to hurt this gentle young man with her prying. “—lonely?” she asked. “I have Duluth.” He looked toward his dragon, lounging next to Holth on the sand. As he made mental contact with his life partner, Moreta saw his eyes shining with the bond that all dragonriders knew. It made her long even more for Orlith. Duluth rumbled with affection for his rider, and Holth stirred briefly as she lay in the warm sands. “What happened to you and Holth?” “Bad luck, bad imaging. Ours, I can candidly say, was due to fatigue and too many time changes.” “Time changes?” Moreta took a deep breath, composing herself before she began her story. As she recounted the events of the last few days, the pervading calmness that had overcome her faded. With the conclusion of her tale, her emotions welled up. “All I said to her was ‘we only have to take one last jumpbetween , Holth, that’s all.’ And then we were stuck until you found us.” Moreta broke down in tears at her failure to give a clear picture of where she and Holth should have gone. Through sobs she cried, “I never said goodbye to Orlith.” “This is where I help,” Marco said gently, as he shifted his position so he could put an arm around her shoulders. He rocked her slightly until she was calm again. “You delivered parcels to forty different places in the space of an afternoon?” He couldn’t help sounding incredulous. “But taking off and landing take up a lot of time.” “Well, we made each hour work for two, or maybe three. Dragons can gobetween time, too, you see.” “Dragons can gobetween time?” Marco asked, astonished. “Well, as you can see, it can be very dangerous and totally disorient the rider. I’ve done it before, and even gone to the future, but only because the necessities of fighting this plague made that unavoidable. But we were short of riders. Since I was the most familiar with Keroon plains and holds, I offered to make the circuit. I used the position of the sun to guide me, but in order to get the medicine to everyone today, as promised, I had to backtrack. We were both exhausted by the time we made the last delivery.” He touched her shoulder, studying her face with such a look of understanding that she blinked in surprise. “Marco, why have you been here so long?” He shrugged. “No place else we can go or come back to.” “But haven’t you tried to follow any of the other dragons and riders when you see them inbetween ?” she asked. “Yes, we’ve tried. But it’s all just endless grayness. We’ve flown for hours, no, days! But it’s always been the same. At first, I thought I could see an end to it, and tried to get to it, but I never could. It always receded as fast as Duluth and I approached.” He took another breath and said in a rush, “Sometimes, though . . . I see dragons, usually with their riders, just heading away—sometimes heading up . . .” He waved his hand in some inexplicit overhead direction. “They aren’t heading forbetween , because they are alreadybetween . They are aiming for some destination . . .beyond between. ” “Beyondbetween ?” A shiver ran down her spine. “But there’s nothing beyondbetween .” A heavy silence fell over them and it was quite some time before either one spoke. “Are you sure?” Marco asked quietly. “You should know. You arrived here in a spaceship, so you should have seen all there was to see of Pern.” “You better believe it.” His tone was nostalgic. “They put the forward view up on all the screens so we could watch it getting closer. Most of us were awake, preparatory to landing, and I don’t think many of us bothered to eat or sleep. We couldn’t get enough of watching.” His eyes glowed. “Prettier than Earth, beautiful blue seas and green lands, and some desert spots, too. But beautiful—and ours!” “And did you seebetween ?” He gave her a very thoughtful look before he shook his head slowly. “Betweenwas something we needed the dragons to find for us. It’s somethingthey do. We don’t. Their own special place.” “Dragons gobetween to die,” Moreta said flatly. “They may go throughbetween ,” he retorted, “but they don’t stay there. No bodies. I’ve gone to check when I see a dragon in the grayness.” “You’re sure?” “I’m sure.” Moreta wasn’t sure of anything anymore, but she said nothing. She knew that dragons would gobetween if their riders had died. She knew that sometimes riders and dragons wentbetween together if the life of one of them had become insupportable. Her head snapped back as she was gripped by an overwhelming sense of urgency. “I have to be with Orlith and get Holth back to Leri somehow,” she said. “I understand,” Marco said. “Didn’t you say I could go back to the place I came from? Waterhole?” She stood up, dusting sand from her clothing. He looked up at her, almost expressionlessly. “You can go back to Waterhole, yes, but I’m not sure it will do you any good.” “If I can get back to Waterhole maybe I can get back to Fort Weyr.” He tilted his head sideways, a wry look on his face. “Now that may be the problem. You see, you’re dead.” She stared at him with a combination of horror and disbelief. “By the shards of my dragon’s egg! Then why am I here withyou ?” She tilted her head to one side, looking intently at his eyes, and reached out her hand to pull him to his feet. He stared at her outstretched hand and then, clenching and unclenching his jaw, he returned her unwavering gaze. Moreta held her breath but did not break eye contact. “You’re not with the right dragon. You should have gonebetween with Orlith, not Holth!” he said, and in one smooth movement he gripped her forearm and pulled himself to his feet. “Couldn’t I find a way to get a message to Leri?” He gave her an odd smile. “I don’t think they’ll see you,” he said in a measured tone. “And I’m not sure writing a message will work either.” “Why not?” He sighed. “It’s the problem of making it visible.” She looked frantically at the sun, which was very low on the horizon. “I must go now,” she said, shrugging into her riding jacket. She was about to call to Holth when Marco put a heavy hand on her shoulder to prevent her moving. “I should have gone right back and waited,” she said, ducking her shoulder from under his grasp. “No!” he said in a loud, firm voice. Holth raised her head and Duluth looked over at him from where he was drowsing in the sun, a peaceful green color in his many-faceted eyes. “It wouldn’t have done you any good. I’m positive of that.” She subsided, more out of confusion than because he had prevented her. There’s something he knows that he won’t tell me, Moreta thought. Marco stared hard at Moreta’s face. “I’ve had a great deal of time to think, Moreta. More than any man should have. And I’ve begun to believe that dragons can be immortal. I think that’s why I’m still here with Duluth.” “Immortal?” “I mean, they do not age, as we do, nor do their bodies decay. They can live hundreds of Turns.” “But dragons can get injured in Threadfall and get sick,” Moreta protested, seizing on the one fact she did understand. “Sure, but their organs don’t degenerate, so technically, they could last as long as they want to. Usually, they last as long as their rider; because the bond between the two is so strong they don’t wish to live after the rider is gone.” Marco paused and then, taking a deep breath, struggling to find the right words, continued. “Dragonmen, and I guess other folk on Pern, have rules and beliefs they live by. Where I came from we had quite a few belief systems. Some were very useful; some were very misused. But I won’t go into allthat now. Beyond everything, though, the one tenet the people of my world cherished was that there is a part of us that’s more than bones and blood.” When Moreta shook her head, more confused than ever, he went on. “Don’t you think we all have something about us that is special, different?” Marco asked. “An essence that makes you different from everyone else?” “I’m not very different from everyone else I know,” she said, almost defensively. “Well, you are a queen rider,” he said, “and your essence—power—and that of your dragon are eternally interlocked. You will never be parted.” A tortured expression marred Moreta’s pretty face. Marco’s words were confusing her. All his talk of beliefs and blood and bones made her head reel. She needed todo something. Now! She feared she was wasting time. “I’m apart from my dragon right now,” she said and walked toward Holth. “If I can get back to Waterhole, I must go now.” He followed her, glancing over at Duluth, who immediately struggled out of his comfortable sand wallow. Holth woke, startled, her eyes beginning to whirl with the orange-red of alarm. What is wrong? “No, dear, no dear, it’s all right,” Moreta said. “We’re going back to Waterhole. I have to try to get back to Orlith. Somehow I’ll get a message to Leri to join us.” Leri,Holth echoed, a piteous tone tingeing her mental voice. Moreta turned to Marco. “You’re sure I can make the journey back?” Marco nodded slowly. “Every one of us here can get back to our last point of entry. Just nowhere else—except of course Paradise River, because I can lead them in.” Heaving a sigh, he touched her arm in sympathy. “You can’t jumpnow to where you intended to gothen .” He shrugged into his worn riding jacket. “We’ll come with you—to guide you through.” Holth moved slowly until Duluth leaned toward her, touching her muzzle. That revived the old queen. Moreta made much of her, patting her neck and murmuring suitable reassurances and endearments as she hauled herself onto the dragon’s back. “Now, you’d best visualize Waterhole just after dusk,” he said, securing his helmet and giving it a brief rub to settle over his hair. “Me and Duluth will wait for you inbetween to help you get back here.” Moreta held the landscape firm in her mind: the way the fences came to a point for the three fields and the hold off to the left; the way the lowering sun had caught sparkles from the gray-blue roof slates. “Go on,” Marco said, showing her both hands with his thumbs pointed up. “Let’s go to Waterhole, Holth,” she said, and the queen, slithering a bit in the sand underfoot, managed a much more energetic ascent than her last two. “Black, blacker, blackest,” Moreta mumbled out of habit as she felt the dragon’s body lifting. “You’re ready to drop, Moreta,” Marco shouted and, before she could draw another breath, she and Holth dropped through the grayness and were out in to fresh crisp air. Above them, Timor, the smaller moon, was just rising. A runnerbeast was shrieking at the top of its lungs, a gray-muzzled roan animal, his unusual markings gleaming in the moonlight. The other runners in the paddock were galloping around him in mindless terror. With neither Marco nor Duluth nearby, Moreta was afraid. Holth managed a graceful glide to their destination of the intersecting fence lines. Lights, warm and yellow from glowbaskets, were visible in the nearby hold. Moreta heard sudden shouts of fright. All the lights went out, as the hold door was slammed tight by whoever looked out to see why the runnerbeasts were shrieking. She was just about to nudge Holth to walk to the hold and see why they had been so frightened when the doorway opened again, a mere crack, and a figure was silhouetted in the light. “Who is it? Who goes there?” Moreta recognized the voice as Thaniel’s. “Moreta, of course, Thaniel,” she called, but he didn’t seem to see her. Rusty shrieked again and Thaniel turned toward the sound. “Stupid beast! There’s no one here.” He swept his hand in a wide gesture as if he saw nothing but empty space. An empty space that Moreta was sure she filled. “Thaniel! I’m here. Can’t you see me?” she shouted as loud as she could, urging Holth to move forward. Rusty increased his complaints, racing up and down the fenced enclosure, showing the whites of his eyes in terror. “Shut your bawling!” Thaniel roared at Rusty. “The riders looking for Moreta have all gone back to their Weyrs. There’s not a sign of a dragon in the sky.” Moreta was stunned. She ought to have returned earlier. If he could hear that wretched creature, surely he could hear her shouting? She dismounted Holth quickly and ran up to Thaniel, to stand right in front of him. In fact, when he turned his head back in her direction, she had to take a step back or their noses would have touched. She reached out to grab his arm, and Thaniel immediately gave a visible shudder that ran from his dusty boots to his long hair. He mumbled something Moreta couldn’t hear and wrapped his arms about himself. “Am I getting the plague after all?” he cried out loud. “No, you old fool. I’m trying to make you see me,” Moreta answered. But he did not appear to hear her, though Rusty continued bawling and wheeling around his enclosure, stirring up the other animals. Thaniel turned abruptly, trembling, and ran back to his hold, slamming the door firmly behind him. “Marco was right. How can I possibly communicate with him if he doesn’t see or hear me?” Moreta exclaimed as she marched back to Holth, and then vaulted to the dragon’s back. In the lights from the front window of the hold, Moreta could see that Thaniel still had his arms crossed in front of him—a recognizable stance of warding off fear. They don’t see us, Moreta,Holth said mournfully.We went betweenbut never arrived. Think hard about Fort Weyr, then, Holth, and take us there. Think of the mountain range behind the Weyr. Think of the ledge on which you have lain so long, protecting Leri. Think of home, Holth. Take us there. Moreta’s last sentence was a wish as well as an order. Summoning strength from deep within, Holth leapt from the ground, her wings valiantly stroking her body upward, and then they wentbetween . It was cold and . . . gray, but not as bone-numbingly cold as before. And Moreta’s litany did nothing to reassure her that they would come out at sunset above Fort Weyr, with the range of familiar mountains, the familiar bowl, and the ledges where dragons lay basking in the sunlight. A vast shiver caught Moreta at the back of her neck, ran down her spine and to her toes. She leaned forward on Holth’s neck, feeling the warmth of the dragon through her gloves and the cheek she laid against a neck ridge. They remained inbetween , and grayness stretched around her, merging in the distance with black. “No luck, huh?” Marco appeared before them, edging Duluth forward. “Thaniel was talking to himself, or his terrified runnerbeast, perhaps. He said riders had come back to look for me,” she said, trying to keep the panic she felt out of her voice. “But he didn’t see me.” She shivered again. “Then let’s go back to Paradise River—it’s warmer there. We’ll figure out what we can do,” Marco said, an air of optimism in his voice. “What do you mean?” Moreta tried to keep the tension out of her tone. “You said Thaniel was talking to himself, or his runnerbeast. And the beast was terrified?” Moreta nodded her head. “Although Thaniel didn’t see you,” Marco continued, “maybe his runnerbeastdid . If you keep returning to Waterhole, terrifying the poor runner, Thaniel might start to wonder why.” He sounded as if he was containing some private amusement. “Keep returning to Waterhole?” Moreta repeated. “Why?” “Let me explain. On Earth some people believed they saw the ‘essence,’ if you will, of a person who had died. Some even claimed that the ‘essence’ or ‘ghost’ would return, again and again, to a favorite place.” He paused again as Moreta regarded him with incomprehension. “Ghosts, they claimed, appeared in order to make the living do their bidding.” “I don’t know a thing about ghosts. But I knowI don’t want to go around scaring people,” she said dogmatically. “Hell’s bells, woman, you’ve done half the job already! You’ve scared the runnerbeast, probably scared Thaniel half to death, too. They know you’re dead! Youhave to keep going back.” “What?” “You keep going back and maybe Thaniel will see you. Then maybe you can find a way to let him know what you want. It’s the only option I can think of to reunite you with your dragon.” “Should I go back to Waterhole now?” “Hmmm, no, I think not. You should return at the same time every day—or night, better yet. Otherwise Thaniel will think his runner is quite mad. Go back tomorrow, same time. Now, you and Holth should come back to the beach.” Moreta couldn’t imagine how Marco’s plan would work, but she followed him nonetheless. Marco urged his dragon aloft and then, with all the assurance of a long-term wingleader, pointed downward and disappeared through the uneven floor ofbetween . “Tired, yes, she must have been very tired,” Leri said, and Kamiana wondered how many times the old Weyrwoman would have to go over the tragic events that had left her without her beloved dragon. This tragedy had aged the old Weyrwoman terribly. “The plague was so virulent and we were short of dragons and riders. Orlith was fretting over her eggs and I was weary from the ache in my joints. They were both willing to complete the deliveries and I encouraged them. But,” and now her eyes flashed with anger as well as tears, “theyboth should have made it back to Fort, of all places.” Leri groaned and reached for the cup that was always close to her badly twisted right hand. She sighed before she sipped—a long swallow, and then waited until it began to ease her pain. “I do so completely desire all this to be over,” Leri said wearily. “I’m tired of this old body. Orlith says if I stay until her clutch is ready to hatch, then she’ll take me with herbetween .” Kamiana bowed her head; she had no words of reply. She sat silently, a gentle hand resting on Leri’s arm. Footsteps sounded along the stone passageway outside Leri’s quarters, and Kamiana heard someone clearing their throat. She rose quietly from her seat next to Leri’s bed and went to the door. “We have come to see Leri,” said Sh’gall. He gestured to Desdra, Lidora, Levalla, and the MasterHarper Tirone, all of whom stood quietly behind Sh’gall, concern and anxiety clearly stamped on their faces. “Please, come in.” Kamiana gestured for them to enter. “She is weary from the pain, tired of life, yet I think your visit would be welcome—to help pass the time . . .” She led the group into Leri’s quarters, and the old Weyrwoman greeted them with a wave of her hand. “I have been berating myself,” Leri said to those gathered around her. “I should not have encouraged Moreta and Holth to deliver those vaccines. High Reaches was to cover Tillek and the small holds on the Telgar plains. But M’tani refused and so we split up the remaining loads. With all the queens flying in and out of the Weyr, Orlith grew defensive of her eggs and would not leave them . . .” She paused, the terrible pain of her loss making her unable to continue. “And Holth . . . ,” Kamiana continued for Leri, dropping her head in respect, “volunteered.” “At my urging,” Leri said sharply, and Kamiana nodded respectfully. “Holth said she could do it. She knew I ached from our morning’s runs and was eager to help Moreta finish the deliveries. She insisted!” She frowned at the memory. “And I wished her well.” Tears overflowed her eyes and trickled down her lined face until Kamiana passed her a soft kerchief. “Holth may have been old, but she was sure and steady.” Kamiana exchanged looks with Tirone and Desdra. No one would ever know exactly what had happened to Moreta and Holth. Whatever the reason, both were now gone. Leri straightened her bowed shoulders, not wanting the others to think her last statement was one of criticism. “Not that Moreta wasn’t one of the finest riders in our Weyr. Remember the time she saved V’sen when his dragon was so badly wing-scorched? Why, she and Orlith got so close to the pair that V’sen only had to swing over Orlith’s back from his dragon. And they were able to ease Kordeth to the ground, too. No one but a top-flight rider could have done that!” Everyone agreed: that mid-air rescue had been a sheer triumph. Both the rider and his blue dragon were still serving the Weyr. Leri fretted at her bed linens, fresh tears in her eyes. “Will I forever be lost to Holth, and Orlith to Moreta?” The beseeching look the old queen rider cast about her was too much for the assembled group to bear. The men shuffled their feet and the women hastily dabbed at their eyes; Kamiana was not the only person trying hard not to weep. “It is something I have thought often about,” Sh’gall said quietly. “When our lives as dragonriders are over, do we go on with our dragons to something else, or is this all we are?” “I like to think that there is more for us, somewhere else,” Leri said wistfully, through her unchecked tears. “Another part to this life. But I am just a foolish old woman, hoping I’ll find my belovedbetween .” “As to that,” Master Tirone cleared his throat, rocking back on his heels as he assumed an academic stance, “we know only that it is an area of nothingness separating here from there. But there is—” He paused dramatically. “—more to it than we will ever know. Another dimension, perhaps, through which only the dragons may travel.” “Another dimension?” Lidora looked startled. “As height and width and depth are dimensions.Between may be another such.” “But we don’t know, do we?” Levalla, the Benden Weyrwoman, said in a puzzled tone. “No, we don’t and I’m not sure how that applies to this . . . situation,” said Sh’gall. “Has Orlith heard Moreta?” Tirone asked hopefully, whipping his head around to stare in the direction of the Hatching Ground. “She says not,” Leri replied. “I asked her first,” she added in a tone that suggested Tirone shouldn’t have intimated that Orlith hadn’t been asked. “She is devastated.” Then Leri drew a deep breath. “Orlith and I shall gobetween as soon as the eggs are ready to hatch.” There was a furious dispute from everyone in the room. “And why should I stay?” Leri demanded when Sh’gall had waved for silence. “I had planned to leave anyway. Without my own dragon, I have no reason to stay, and much more for going.” “Dear Leri, if your pain has worsened, I can increase the dose of fellis juice in your cup,” Desdra said, but Leri met her eyes. “You haven’t a palliative strong enough to ease my loss of Holth,” she said, almost angrily. “It is no time to mourn,” she added, glancing at Lidora, who was weeping openly. “There is a queen egg to hatch, and twenty-four others. They are our future and deserve all our care and devotion. Your care and devotion.” She stared hard at Kamiana, whose eyes were dimmed by the tears she did not shed. The younger Weyrwoman gently folded sympathetic arms about the old woman, careful not to squeeze her sore body. “You have more courage than the rest of us, dear Leri.” The second night Moreta and Holth returned to Waterhole, she tried a new tactic. Dismounting, she made her way directly to Rusty’s paddock, where he was standing, front legs splayed, as he trumpeted his usual announcement about the proximity of a dragon. “Boo!” Moreta shouted, leaning over the fence toward the runner. Letting out a piercing squeal that made Moreta grab tightly to the top rail, Rusty kicked away from her, shooting pieces of dirt in all directions in his haste to flee. Hearing the commotion, Thaniel appeared in the doorway. Rusty was rearing on his hind legs and striking out at some menace only he could see. Now that Moreta had an audience, she took several steps backward and then stood very still, waiting for Rusty to calm down. Then, aware that Thaniel might go back inside the house, she ran forward again until she was right under Rusty’s nose. “Boo!” she shouted again. He screeched, backing up as fast as he could move his feet. Then Moreta stepped back, which so confused the trembling old runner that he just watched her intently, evidently afraid of what she might do next. He pawed the ground in front of him, as if daring her to come closer. But it was Thaniel who came closer, and he beckoned the mount over. “G’wan. Rusty, do your stuff!” Moreta shouted loudly. “Can’t you see Holth over there? You always shriek when there are dragons about. Let’s hear it for old Holth!” Quite willing to oblige, Holth moved from where she was standing. That did it. Rusty almost sat on his hindquarters in an effort to put distance between him and what his instincts told him was the bane of his existence. He cut some very fancy shapes on the ground and above it as he protested the dragon’s presence. Moreta saw Thaniel’s incredulous expression. But with that, he turned and walked back into his hold. Moreta believed that Rusty had felt her presence and had lookedat her, not through her. So there had to be some way to get Thaniel to understand what she wanted. This time Marco wasn’t waiting for herbetween . She took a few deep breaths to stifle her concern, but a twinge of fear added to the cold she was already feeling. Holth, do you sense Duluth anywhere near? Holth’s concern doubled Moreta’s. What would happen to them if they were forced to remainbetween ? Where was Marco? Holth, can you get us back to Paradise River?Moreta asked, already knowing the answer. No,was the glum reply.If I could go betweenas I used to do with no trouble, I could take us there by flying straight, but it’s a long way from Waterhole. Moreta began to shiver, earnestly wanting the warmth at Paradise River to revive her. What would she and Holth do if Marco didn’t come? Then abruptly, she sensed movement in the air to her right, and a dark shape loomed toward them. “Sorry. You didn’t take as long as I thought you would,” Marco said. “Where were you?” she demanded. Then, contritely, she added: “I was scared.” “Ah, now, Moreta, you know I wouldn’t leave you here.” Marco gestured expansively at the darkness around them. “I went to check on some movement I saw.” He pointed over his shoulder in the direction from which he had come. “Nothing.” He shrugged. “I’m sorry for giving you and Holth a fright.” With a nod, she accepted his apology. “So how’d your haunting go today?” Marco asked when they had landed back at Paradise River Cove. “Haunting?” “That’s a word we used on my homeworld to describe what you’re trying to do.” “Oh, I see,” she replied, and proceeded to fill him in. He was highly amused by her tale of saying “boo” to Rusty and chided her for being so mean to a poor old runnerbeast. “Right now, I’m glad that anything sees me.” She rubbed at her face. “If only I could just give Thaniel a message.” They were both watching their dragons sprawling in the hot white sands. He gestured for her to sit on the rocks surrounding the fire pit, where, he told her, he lit a fire every night because it was comforting. “If I could just get him to see me once, Marco, I might get him to see me as a message of some sort,” she said as she jabbed aimlessly at the sand with a charred, broken stick. “I wonder what will work.” “Something has to. I can’t keep ‘haunting’ him forever. Thaniel is supposed to be smarter than Rusty.” Marco leaned across and took the stick from her hand. With the end of it, he wrote a large M in the sand. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before. No rider has ever been stuckbetween with the wrong dragon.” He rubbed his eyes, and continued. “I really don’t know if it’ll work, but youcould try writing a message for Thaniel in the dirt. What do you want to tell him?” “Get Leri. Moreta.” “That’s short, sweet, and to the point. Let’s hope he sees it,” Marco said. And so Moreta returned again and again, every evening at the same time, until it became such a routine that Thaniel came out of his hold to stand by Rusty’s enclosure as if he were waiting for her. And each evening Moreta performed the same scare tactics with Rusty and then scratched her message in the ground. It was obvious to Moreta that the runnerbeast saw her, stared straight at her, while she gouged her message in the dirt, but Thaniel still looked through her, oblivious to the message she wanted him to see. She was at her wit’s end by the fifth evening when the full moon suddenly burst from behind windswept clouds, outlining her form just long enough for Thaniel to see her as she scratched her message in the dirt. “Moreta!” the old man gasped, then ran, shrieking as loudly as Rusty ever had, back to his hold and slammed the door shut. “Now I think I’ve got him,” she said with great satisfaction as she remounted Holth. How long are we going to have to keep doing this, Moreta?Holth asked plaintively. Not for much longer, Holth.She caressed the old dragon’s neck affectionately.Let’s go back to Marco in between. After Marco had guided them back to Paradise River Cove, she told him of her progress. “You probably scared him so much he thinks he’s going as mad as his runnerbeast.” Marco grinned. “I think you’re nearly there.” It was the Runner Stationmaster himself who carried the message immediately to the Weyr, for Leri from Thaniel of Waterhole Hold. Everyone read it: “She comes every evening at the same time, just after sundown, when it’s growing dark. She asks for Leri. What can I do?” “Ha! Weare stupid folk!” Leri said scathingly. “Orlith! Aren’t your eggs hard enough yet?” A grumble echoed back from the Hatching Ground from Orlith, who was still fussing over a proper little mound of sand to raise her queen egg higher than the rest. She moved so slowly and carefully that it seemed as if she were putting each grain of sand in place individually. This, however, made her task seem too sadly pathetic to watch for very long. “It’s her way of passing time,” Leri had remarked when this was pointed out to her. Now she thanked the Runner Stationmaster graciously for the personal delivery and slipped him a full Harper Hall credit for his trouble. “My pleasure, Weyrwoman. May I send back a message for you?” “That would be most kind of you,” Leri said with great dignity, and hastily the Stationmaster took out a small pad and writer. “Give him my thanks and say we shall be there soon. He can do nothing, like us, but wait until Orlith decides the eggs are ready to hatch. My thanks for your trouble.” The Stationmaster bowed himself out of the Weyr. It was before dawn one morning not long after, that Orlith informed Leri that her eggs would undoubtedly hatch that day. With gentle wing strokes, she rolled the queen egg to its special mound, while Leri waited in her Weyr, dressed in her warmest clothing. “Not that warm clothing will do much good inbetween ,” she remarked in her acerbic way, and hobbled to the entrance to her Weyr without a backward glance. She looked up toward the skies; a magnificent dawn would soon break. “Just the day to start the rest of my journey,” she said. I hope this day is not marred by any unnecessary sadness, Orlith. A Hatching Day is to look to the future, not to regret the past. Thaniel had remained at Waterhole Hold that day to bake bread. He needed to keep busy. The whole affair had already turned his hair white but, nonetheless, when the Stationmaster brought back Leri’s reply, he felt his ordeal might soon be over. Ignoring his children’s pleas to join them on their rounds to check the herds, Thaniel was determined to remain by his hold waiting for Leri. At his father’s suggestion, Maynar saddled Rusty and rode off with his siblings. With Rusty gone, Thaniel was not aware that a dragon and rider had landed at the nearby waterhole. But when he looked up from his work, he saw the great gold queen, and Leri, huddled in furs, on the dragon’s back. Quickly he took a piece of fresh, hot bread and a cup of klah to the waiting Weyrwoman, who thanked him and ate willingly. He was sorry to see how gnarled the old woman’s fingers were and how awkwardly she held her body. “If there is aught else I may do for you, Weyrwoman, you have but to call me and I will come,” Thaniel said. “I am well enough as I am,” Leri replied in her brisk way, returning the empty plate to the holder. Thaniel went back to his work, but kept an eye on the pair from the window as he kneaded the second batch of dough. He was clearing off the last of the flour from the worktop when he noticed that the sun was beginning to sink. So he poured himself another cup of klah, wondering whether he should bring more out to the old rider before he realized he had already poured two. He took one out to Leri, who thanked him for his thoughtfulness but sipped so slowly that Thaniel, whose bad leg was aching after the day’s baking, returned to his house, to rest himself for what else might happen on this unusual day. It was about an hour later when the second dragon appeared. Thaniel let out a deep sigh when he heard the glad cries from the women, and the loud trumpeting of the dragons. The reunions brought tears to Thaniel’s eyes as he looked on from the doorway. Moreta leapt from the back of Holth and ran to Orlith. She caressed her queen’s head, touching the pale gold neck with great tenderness as she gazed adoringly into faceted eyes that whirled bright blue with happiness. Leri dropped her cup and walked as quickly as she was able to meet Holth; she hugged her dragon’s neck fervently, as a newly Impressed weyrling would. Thaniel later said that he thought his heart would break at the old Weyrwoman’s joy. “I never thought I’d see you again, dear heart,” Leri said amid tears of joy, while her fingers remembered the texture of Holth’s wattling hide. The two weyrwomen spoke quietly to each other in the first light of the rising moon. What they said Thaniel would never know, but when he saw Leri settled, with some difficulty, on her dragon, he hurried out to them. “Thank you, Holder Thaniel, for having the wit to know what we needed. The Weyrs will always be grateful to you and your family, as will Orlith and I.” Moreta’s voice, though faint, was full of warmth as she spoke to the old holder, regarding him intently. Then she turned her attention back to Leri. “Now, we are matched correctly,” she said with an air of intense satisfaction. Just then, Orlith jerked her head upright, swinging her eyes around in the direction of Fort Weyr. She gave a triumphant bugle, which Holth echoed. “The queen egg has hatched; her name is Hannath and her rider is Oklina! Oh, I am pleased! Good news makes even the longest journey easier.” “Young Alessan’s sister has Impressed?” Leri said. “I told you there was rider blood in Ruatha Hold.” “Well, I am glad,” Moreta repeated. She squared her shoulders, putting all other thoughts from her head. She could not think of Alessan now. She turned to Leri. “We can go now, together, you and I, Orlith and Holth.” She urged her dragon into motion. “Just the one more tripbetween , Orlith,” she said. “And I mean that.” The dragon nodded her head once and, wheeling away from Holth, trotted a few paces to spring upward. Holth was right behind her, a front foot clipping the klah mug that Leri had dropped, scattering the pieces about. The tired old queen just managed to clear the ground and was into the air, urged on by her own eager rider. Both dragons were soon high enough so that their wings could sweep downward in a magnificent ascent. Emblazoned in the full moonlight, the two queen riders raised their right arms high above their heads, punching the air with clenched fists. Thaniel held his breath as suddenly both dragons disappearedbetween . Thaniel wished them well, as his tears at last brimmed over. He bent to pick up the handle that was all that remained of the mug. He suddenly felt reassured for the first time in many years. Perhaps there was some other place he would go eventually; some place he did not yet know. Some place where he might even see his beloved wife again. He slipped the broken handle into his apron pocket and patted it—a keepsake by which to remember Moreta.