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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

Acorna’s Search

BOOK: Acorna’s Search
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A
NNE
McC
AFFREY
AND
E
LIZABETH
A
NN
S
CARBOROUGH
 
 
A
CORNA’S
S
EARCH
 
 
 

To Nelda Wythe and Doris Saario
with many thanks for help during hard times

 
 
Contents
 
 

O
NE

Home! The word sang in Acorna’s mind, a…

 
 

T
WO

Many hours later Acorna looked at her…

 
 

T
HREE

During the second week of the mission,…

 
 

F
OUR

Neither Acorna nor anyone else on her team…

 
 

F
IVE

The fly-over of the territory they had been…

 
 

S
IX

Unlike their descendants, the Linyaari, the…

 
 

S
EVEN

Imaara woke Acorna and Thariinye before first…

 
 

E
IGHT

You’re taking Mac,” Becker told her on the…

 
 

N
INE

You sure you can track them, Nadhari?”

 
 

T
EN

During the journey to Vhiliinyar, Mac had…

 
 

E
LEVEN

“Where?” Thariinye asked, scanning the…

 
 

T
WELVE

Acorna looked up from her passage-marking…

 
 

T
HIRTEEN

RK found Acorna as she started climbing the…

 
 

F
OURTEEN

Getting Liriili into the flitter had been hard…

 
 

F
IFTEEN

The miner’s lanterns did not cast enough light to…

 
 

S
IXTEEN

Yaniriin and Vilii Hazaar Miirl surveyed the…

 
 

S
EVENTEEN

Maati’s strongest concern about her recent…

 
 

E
IGHTEEN

From the vantage point of their three skyscraper…

 
 

N
INETEEN

When confronted with the short, hairy…

 
 

T
WENTY

“Oh, Captain Becker!” Acorna cried. “Thank…

 
 

T
WENTY
-O
NE

Maati shrieked as she plummeted into the…

 
 

T
WENTY
-T
WO

The sea that was no longer a sea lapped at the road…

 
 

T
WENTY
-T
HREE

Halfway through the tunnel to the surface, Mac…

 
 

T
WENTY
-F
OUR

Maati was now completely serious, her face…

 
 

T
WENTY
-F
IVE

With three more pairs of hands to help,…

 
 

T
WENTY
-S
IX

Acorna dived deep, deep, deep into the pool…

 
 

T
WENTY
-S
EVEN

Acorna was a patient person, but by now she…

 
 

T
WENTY
-E
IGHT

“Never in the history of our people have…

 
 
 
 
One
 
 

H
ome! The word sang in Acorna’s mind, a song of chiming silver streams and drumming waterfalls, of wind fluting across the tops of bending blue-green grasses and through the spade-shaped leaves of gigantic trees in vast forests. The song echoed in the minds of every Linyaari present as they beheld Vhiliinyar-that-was.

The first homecoming place was on a high plateau, overshadowed by a conical mountain. Among deep purple and azure wildflowers lay a sprinkling of snow, while a pinkish cap of glacier frosted the distant peak, silhouetted against a delicate violet sky. A cascade flowed majestically from a plateau, the water forming a roaring curtain that plunged down to the mountain’s base, ending in a froth of rainbow mists and white water that smoothed out into a broad plum-colored lake.

Acorna felt instinctively that this lake had tremendous significance for her but she didn’t understand what that significance could possibly be. She wanted to stop and stay there, gazing into it, looking for something she was sure she could find if she just had time to look for it, but the world around her swooped onward, as if she and her traveling companions were flying through it in an open-topped flitter.

The violet skies of Vhiliinyar arched overhead, edged by the scalloped beauty of snow-covered mountains, as the spectacle swiftly segued from one glory to another.

Acorna almost forgot to breathe. This was the world she had dreamed of for so very long. She didn’t hear the thoughts of the others, not even Aari or Neeva, nor did she seek them out. Surely they were as overwhelmed as she was by the sheer beauty of Vhiliinyar.

Abruptly the sky darkened, the moons rose, and sunset-colored words blazed overhead:

 

Brought to You Courtesy of Harakamian Homeworld Holograms and Terrestoration—Making Any World a Better One
®

 
 

A collective sigh went round the room as the images faded. Everyone began talking, aloud and with thought-talk, all at once, so that the resulting words were little more than confused babble.

Despite all the verbal confusion, Aari’s communication was very clear. He was trembling and looked rather greenish. His jaw was firmly clenched and his brimming eyes stared straight ahead.

“What is it,
yaazi
?” Acorna asked, using the Linyaari term for “beloved.” Taking Aari’s arm, she led him quickly to the main exit from the holo-bubble. She felt, rather than saw, Aari’s parents, his sister Maati, and Thariinye, who had become Aari’s friend, following them.

Aari’s answer to her question came into her mind in a wave of pain and shock, the sort of emotional trauma he had seemed to be free of for some time now. Acorna placed her gleaming horn against his cheek to reassure him. Normally, among Linyaari, this caress would have been horn-to-horn, but Aari had been mutilated during his capture by the evil Khleevi. His horn had been destroyed. Thanks to hard work by some of the best Linyaari healers and a tissue donation from his younger sister Maati, Aari’s horn had regrown to a short, twisted knot protruding an inch or so from his forehead and in time would be fully restored, but horn-to-horn gestures weren’t possible for him yet.

His friends and family, emerging from the holo-bubble that had been temporarily transformed into their lost home, sensed Aari’s anguish and joined their horns with Acorna to try and soothe him.

Hafiz Harakamian bustled out, the silk panels of his robes flying behind him like the wings of varicolored butterflies. His round face retained its geniality, but Acorna, raising her head to watch her adopted uncle’s approach, felt a subtle blend of pique and embarrassment beneath his surface cheer, and saw the right half of Hafiz’s mustache twitch irritably.

“How is it that my small conjuring trick to bring to life your once-exquisite home world has so distressed our heroic Aari that all of you must leave so precipitously, O She Who Is Closer to My Heart than Any Daughter of My Flesh Could Ever Be?” Hafiz complained, addressing Acorna.

But it was Maati, a youngling not afraid to rush in where diplomats feared to tread, who raised her horn from her brother’s chest and answered, “The Khleevi made him watch while they destroyed it all, Uncle Hafiz. It was awful. They killed all of those beautiful animals for sport, and ate every living plant and tree. Then they fouled the lakes and streams with their horrible excrement before they blew the mountains apart and filled the valleys with rubble.”

“Yes, yes, these regrettable circumstances are common knowledge. But have we not just demonstrated with our science which is so much like magic how the damage can be repaired and the planet reterraformed so it is as good as—nay, better than—new? You cannot but be aware of the extensive interviews we have conducted with Linyaari who lived on Vhiliinyar, in order that we may gather their memories of the place so that our scientists’ efforts can bring them to life once more? Now all that remains is a simple aerial topographical mapping expedition and…”

“Nothing remains to map,” Aari said, his voice flat with a lack of emotion that was painful to hear. “How will you know where to put a river when there are no mountains to feed it or seas for it to flow into? Even Joh Becker could find nothing to salvage from the planet except the bones of our ancestors.”

Acorna considered this statement as the holo-bubble emptied of the rest of Hafiz’s Linyaari guests. From them she heard random snatches of troubled thought.

(I don’t remember that mountain as being quite so high.)

(No, and there was always a summer settlement near the mouth of the Paazo river. The channels were all wrong.)

“There is still at least one recognizable landmark,” Acorna said thoughtfully. “Maybe more than one…”

Liriili, the former
viizaar
of narhii-Vhiliinyar, was standing nearby, waiting to find fault, as usual, and to contradict anyone who seemed to have something positive to contribute. She was that rarest of creatures, a Linyaari with very little empathy for her fellow beings. She snorted, broadcasting her thought not only to Acorna but also to all the other Linyaari near enough to receive it.

(How would you know, Khornya? You have never been to Vhiliinyar.)

(That’s not quite true,) Neeva defended her niece. (Khornya was born in space, that is true, but my sister and her husband brought their babe back to Vhiliinyar while Vaanye finished his work on his new defense system. However brief that sojourn, and however young she was during it, Khornya
was
there.) Neeva turned back to Acorna. (So what landmarks remain, dear Khornya?)

“The cave where Aari and his brother Laarye were,” Acorna told them all. “And the final resting place where the bones of our forebears were once buried before Aari and the captain brought them to narhii-Vhiliinyar. We could use them as a starting point to rebuild the planet just as it was.”

Hafiz wrung his hands. His wife Karina, arriving in a drift of lavender draperies and scent, cooed solicitously and massaged his shoulders.

Hafiz protested in a wounded tone, “But rebuilding it just as it was will take a very long time. We certainly can recreate the most beloved portions of Linyaari topography, my dear girl, as you have seen with your own eyes. Surely it is enough to replicate only those features best remembered by your people. How can they possibly miss that which they cannot recall?”

The
aagroni
Iirtye clearly understood enough of this to make his opinion on the matter known. He pushed to the front of the crowd and cleared his throat. “Human recollection has nothing to do with what is necessary for a planet to function,” he said in an authoritative voice, though in the Linyaari language. “Appearances are only an outward manifestation of the processes that enable life to grow and develop naturally upon a planetary body. Restoring the vitality of a world is much more complicated than providing pretty mountains and panoramas of rivers, Lord Harakamian. It is based to an equal or greater part in getting the most minute and fragile details of the ecosystem right, many of which are virtually invisible to us. I have said this repeatedly to those who have interviewed me, Khornya. If our planet is to flourish again, it must be fully restored biologically as well as topographically.

“Your uncle promises to reproduce those landmarks that are stored in the memories of our people and in what few records of our planet that now survive, but he also says that he cannot replace them exactly as they once were nor with a full suite of native flora and fauna. He would merely give us vistas, and try to make them live without the forests, the fields, the hills, and valleys, and indeed the very grasses, lichens, mosses, and ferns that colored their beauty. He would give us rivers and waterfalls, but not the associated swamps with all of their myriad microorganisms, plants, and animals that were once so essential to our world. But the greater beauty cannot exist without the life that once gave it form, for biology as well as geology brings its vital contributions to our ecology. And even the right geology is essential to its function.”

Acorna translated this to Hafiz. From his blustering growl and defensive posture, she shrewdly suspected, knowing her adoptive uncle’s piratical nature, that while he realized on some level the truth of the
aagroni
’s arguments, Hafiz had his own agenda. His bursts of altruism frequently had a deeper commercial motivation that was not immediately apparent.

In the case of the restoration of the Linyaari homeworld, Acorna did not need her telepathic abilities to guess that Hafiz had it in the back of his mind that eventually he would convince the Linyaari to allow off-worlders to visit. Maybe he was even plotting something as crude as an intergalactic attraction called
Ki-Lin
Land or something similarly exploitative. Although the need of some Linyaari for peace and privacy in an inviolate world of their own had been explained to him repeatedly, such feelings were so foreign to Hafiz’s own nature that he found them inconceivable. A master of hologrammatic illusion, he was himself deeply involved in surface appearances and loved an audience for his work, and thus felt that the same was true of everyone else.

Seeing that his niece was reading, if not his mind, at least his character, Hafiz protested, “Acorna, dear girl, have I not moved heavens and planets to help your people? I am willing to pour out my fortune for them, to beggar my house in order to help them, but how can I restore those areas of Vhiliinyar no one can describe to me, much less provide images for or specimens of the native lifeforms? In my employ are the best terraforming engineers in the universe, but without detailed maps or charts or biological samples, they can hardly be expected to revivify Vhiliinyar with such precision as your so-eminent scientist insists upon.”

Acorna nodded slowly and turned to the
aagroni,
to whom she had been transmitting Hafiz’s remarks after translating them into Linyaari. (
Aagroni,
I know that most of the written and visual records of Vhiliinyar’s features were destroyed in our battles with the Khleevi, but perhaps with your help, and the help of your fellow scientists, I can help locate the original positions of these landmarks upon our old planet using the resources available to us. Once we have these features in place, we can gather further information on the location of other less prominent areas. It won’t be perfect, but it will be a good start. Then we can start thinking about the biological issues.)

(And just how do you intend to locate those sites, young lady?) the
aagroni
demanded.

Acorna smiled. (I have my methods,) she said. (We have promised the memory of Grandam Naadiina that her home will be again what it was and her people will thrive upon it. She died so that we might have this opportunity.)

The
aagroni
hung his head respectfully. (Did you think I would forget? But believe me, Khornya, the restoration of Vhiliinyar must be done properly.)

Suddenly Karina Harakamian’s body swayed and her eyes turned up in her head. She spoke up in an eerie far-off voice. “Ground surveys,” she said, in a rasping practical tone that was far removed from the dramatic voice she used when she was purporting to be, as she put it, “a conduit for the Other World.”

Karina continued to speak in a voice and a language that was not hers. “Everyone who once lived on Vhiliinyar must walk its ruined surface to participate in ground surveys. Vhiliinyar will be healed only by the love in the hearts of those who once inhabited her surface. Perils will be many, but you will—aaaaaaah…” Karina sagged and flopped somewhat gracefully into her husband’s arms. Since he could not entirely support her ample form, not being an athletic sort himself, Hafiz staggered backward to lay his beloved on the ground. Aari intervened, however, swooping up Lady Harakamian in his arms and gently lowering his new stub of a horn to her cheek.

Karina, who did not speak more than a few phrases of Linyaari, had been speaking it fluently. Furthermore, distant and eerie though her words had sounded, they were readily recognizable as being in Grandam Naadiina’s voice. Since Karina did not know Grandam, this was no mere imitation of a voice for effect. Karina claimed to be psychic far more often than she actually showed any evidence of psychic ability, but this was one of those rare times when her claims would appear to be true.

Hafiz, who like Karina had never met Grandam, was the only one unfazed by his wife’s behavior. “Excellent suggestion, my little couscous,” he said, patting his wife’s hand and giving the others a look that seemed to say, “Isn’t it adorable how she comes up with these things?”

 

 

 

Captain Jonas Becker, the only non-Khleevi who had the coordinates for Aari’s cave in his data banks, took time off from salvage gathering in the ruins of narhii-Vhiliinyar to assist the remaining Linyaari space vessels in transporting survey crews to the site on their old home world.

BOOK: Acorna’s Search
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