By Thomas Mc

Authors Note :

This story has been rattling around in my brain for years ever since I read 'The Ship Who Searched' and I finally just had to try to give it life. I was already a big fan of the 'Dragonriders of Pern' series when I discovered 'Brainship' series. This story is a crossover between and sequel to Anne McCaffery's 'The Skys of Pern' and 'The Ship Who Searched'. I really would like to get some feedback on this one. - Hint. Hint. ;)

The Brainship Hypatia and her Brawn Alexander are now independent contractors and are working on a new project that is making an extensive survey of all of the known failed human colonies. When they arrive at the planet Pern to survey the remains of the dead colony, on a planet that was supposed to be totally uninhabitable, they encounter something totally unexpected.

( rev 130828 )

Chapter 1 : Another Failed Colony

For Hypatia Cade, (Tia to her friends), the brainship part of the brain-brawn team designated AH-1033, life was good. Her hull was the newest and most advanced model currently in production from Central Worlds and, even better, she owned it outright. She had also spared no expense in outfitting her passenger cabins for the maximum comfort of any VIP's that she might be called upon to transport. Hypatia was a shell person and the brain of her ship. Tia's real living human body resided in a hardened titanium shell that was sealed and mounted inside the virtually impervious central column that ran half the length of her ship. Tia's shell also held the complex self-contained life-support systems that kept her nerveless paralyzed body alive as well as the myriad of ultra fine wires connecting her brain directly to the rest of the ship. Baring some catastrophic event that completely destroyed the ship, she could expect many hundreds of years of life span. To Tia the ship was her body. She saw, heard, and felt through the thousands of ships sensors and every function within her ship was directly controlled by her will. As a brainship she was able to run freely through the vastness of space as easily as someone might run through a grassy meadow or dive through a singularity like a surfer shooting the curl. She wouldn't trade the freedom and adventure of her current life for anything.

Best of all her recent improvements was her brand new 'avatar' body. It was Moto-Prosthetics Corporation's latest and most advanced model of synthetic human body. It was so close to normal mass for her dimensions that most people could not tell the difference. The sensory systems throughout the avatar mimicked 'all' the sensory nerves and the control systems perfectly mimicked the muscles of a living body. The comlink-systems were so much more sophisticated than previous models that it truly felt like it was her own body, especially where it really counted (when she was with Alex). With the addition of her synthetic body she had everything that a normal person could have without the bothersome mortality issues. If something destroyed her synthetic avatar body (like the collapsing wall that destroyed her last one) she simply had Moto-Prosthetics build her a new one.

The state-of-the-art AI computers she had purchased for her ship also allowed her to spend more time in her avatar body while cruising in normal space. The new super high traffic comlink module she had added to the communications turret on the outside of her hull gave her nearly three times the range that she was able to wander from her ship without losing full control of her avatar body. When combined with the portable repeater module it gave her a maximum excursion range of almost fifty kilometers from her ship.

Moto-Prosthetics, the manufacturers of her synthetic body, had become a financial juggernaut over the last eight years and she owned seventy-five percent of the stock, making her independently wealthy. On top of that, the EsKay home world expedition had been hailed as one of the greatest archeological finds of all time. This had made her and Alex famous as contract members of one the top archeologist teams currently active. There had even been two major popular holo's come out about the Brainship, Hypatia, and her Brawn Alexander. One holo was about their short stint hunting artifact smugglers, the other was about the discovery of the EsKay home world.

One important aspect of finding the EsKay home world was the discovery of the source of the nasty little virus that had wiped out Hypatia's nervous system. It was the same virus that eventually wiped out the EsKay's home world and drove them into their nomadic existence. The most important aspect of that expedition however was the discovery of a wide spectrum cure for a whole host of nerve destroying diseases including the one that got her. At one time she would have welcomed a cure for that disease but now she wouldn't trade her current life as Hypatia-1033 for anything.

As for her personal life, the love affair between her and her 'Brawn', Alexander, had become the stuff of legend. Among those in the Brain-Brawn Service, it rivaled even Helva-834 and her 'Brawn' Niall Parollan. The pride she sensed in the many communications from her parents was particularly gratifying. Long forgotten was the pain they had felt over what the EsKay nerve disease had done to her; to be replaced by the pride and joy they felt for her accomplishments as a shell person and as a 'famous' brainship. She still savored the memories of her parent's visit just before this current mission began. One keepsake from that visit was a picture of her new synthetic body with Alex on one side and her parents on the other and her newly outfitted ship in the background. That picture was mounted on the wall next to the display case containing her little blue teddy bear in the Courier Service t-shirt (A gift from another brainship given to her a year before she became a shell person).

For the last two years, Tia and Alex had been taking part in a massive new project to survey every known human colonization attempt that had been lost. Some of them had merely lost contact; some had gone astray; some had been abandoned. The saddest of all were those that simply died out. The last two dead colonies had been pretty bad. One had been wiped out by an unknown disease, which, unfortunately, happened far too often. The other was destroyed when the planet had been hit by a meteor large enough to disrupt most of the surface crust of the planet. Both of those had been pretty depressing.

The latest target of their survey was a failed colony attempt on a planet listed in the official records under the acronym P.E.R.N.\C 273 in the Rukbat star system. Despite an extensive search of the records Tia could find no explanation for the cryptic acronym. "I have no idea wha stands for. The original survey records gave no other designation for it; though the logs of the original rescue effort listed it as 'Pern'. That is apparently what the original colonists called it. This star system was the only possibly habitable system found in this region of space. Lucky for us it is near a recently discovered singularity point otherwise it would have taken over a month to get here." Tia reported. She and Alex continued studying all the existing records of the original colonization attempt and the report of the expedition to rescue the few remaining survivors. The reports of the rescue mission were pretty definite about the planets unsuitability. There was also a fairly complete report on the cause of the colony's demise. As a result, extensive investigation was not necessary. This would just be a standard orbital survey of the original colony sites purely for the sake of completeness. They probably wouldn't even need to touch down on the planet. Then it would be on to the next target star system. No more than a day, tops.

Alex and Tia were sitting side by side going over the details of the rescue mission report while her ship continued onward under control of her AI computers. They were both startled by the collision alarm followed almost immediately by the sound of hundreds of tiny particles hitting her hull's outer skin at thousands of meters per second. Instantly Tia's synthetic body froze in place as she shut down all the links between her synthetic body and herself. At the same time her meteor shields automatically powered up. Tia was once again the ship. A quick check of all her sensors assured her that her hull had, so far, taken no damage from the still continuing bombardment.

Tia's voice now came from the main cabin speaker. "Alex, I've scanned the area and the particles we are passing through are of relatively light mass. They appear to be made mostly of ice and semi-biological matter. There is no immediate danger to my hull, but I think it is best if I maintain control for now. Would you stow my body in its closet for me? Then I want you strapped in, just in case I have to make any sudden maneuvers."

"Sure thing, Love." Alex nodded towards the central column that dominated the control room. He stood up and gave a jaunty salute to the fuzzy blue teddy bear sealed in its glass case. "You have the comm. Captain Bear." Alex stowed the apparently lifeless body of his lover it in the coffin size closet that Tia had ordered built into the corner of her control room, specifically to store her synthetic human body when she wasn't using it. As he closed the closet door, Alex glanced at the small picture of an adorable eight year old girl that had been mounted on the wall next to it. It was the last picture taken of Tia before she had been stuck down by the terrible disease that had nearly destroyed her nervous system.

Meanwhile, Tia had taken in a couple of the pebble sized fragments through a small remote controlled sampling port for compositional analysis. Half an hour later she had the results. "Alex." She announced. "This stuff is biologically active. It's alive. I've placed samples in the bio-scanner for a more complete breakdown of it. The analysis should be complete in an hour."

The density of the ort cloud they were passing through increased so Tia reduced her speed and used the extra energy to boost power to her shields.

Once the analysis was completed Tia reported on the data she received from the bio-scanner. "I've got the results on what's inside the Ice pellets." There was a momentary pause, much longer than normal. "Alex, this is nasty stuff. It eats anything that is even remotely biological. If this were to fall onto a planet, it could probably strip that planet of all life in a matter of weeks." If Tia could have shuddered inside her titanium shell, she would have. As it was, she had to adjust her nutrient intake in order to keep her composure.

Alex had no such restrictions and his reaction was enough for both of them. "Could that be what wiped out the original colony? What does the rescue report say?"

Tia called up the original report from her data banks. "That's what the rescue ship reported. It says that they found the surface pockmarked with large area's totally denuded of vegetation. The report also states that a small mercury sized planet, with a highly elliptical orbit, passes through the ort cloud once every two hundred and fifty years. Then it swings in close to the inner planets, trailing a long tail of this stuff. According to this, the particles fall on the planet like a deadly rain. It wiped out the colony a couple of years after they arrived. That was about two thousand years ago." Again Tia had to adjust her nutrient intake to remain calm as she contemplated the kind of devastation that deadly rain of horror must have produced the first time it fell on the unsuspecting new colonists.

The whisper of the particles hitting the hull dwindled and Tia announced that they were emerging from the ort cloud. She began her survey of the planetary system and displayed the results on the main display screen. She started highlighting the points of interest as she described them. "There are seven planetary bodies in this system. This is the planet they labeled a \ C 273, whatever that means." She paused a moment. "The cometary body is just past its closest point here. Those parabolic smears are the trail of particles from the cloud. The third through the sixth planets all pass through that stuff and pull it into their own orbits. From then on they would experience periodic falls of the material until their orbits are eventually swept clean of it. It should take between forty and seventy years to completely clear out that stuff, by which time there would be very little left alive."

Alex shook his head. "Not a very pretty picture."

Tia was running orbital calculations when an anomaly popped up. "Alex, there's something odd here."

He could hear the uncertainty in her voice. "What is it Tia?"

"One moment, I'm recalculating." She was silent for several seconds. "I've calculated the rogue's orbit and it doesn't match the expected path of the tail. In fact on its current orbital path, the tail wouldn't come near the inner planets. And its orbital period is closer to three-hundred-fifty years."

Alex looked over at her central column. "Maybe there is another cometary body that we haven't found yet."

Tia reached out with her sensors at their most sensitive, scanning the entire planetary system. Finally she reported the results. "That's the only large cometary body that even comes close to the original reports, Alex." She sounded puzzled by the results. "I have located an artificial satellite orbiting the planet we're interested in."

Alex blinked at the sudden shift in subject then caught up. "Did you find any kind of activity?"

"So far all I've got is the beacon signal from one of the colony transports." Tia reported then she changed subjects again. "We should be close enough to make orbit in five hours. After I swing around that odd asteroid swarm that is in our path."

Alex nodded towards her central column. "I'll study the background reports to see if I can find an explanation for these anomalies while you scan the system and guide us in." He walked into the galley and fixed himself a sandwich while Tia's servos prepared coffee for him. Taking the coffee and sandwich, he returned to the control room, plopped down into one of the two acceleration chairs, flipped on one of the unused screens and began to go back over all the reports related to the Rukbat system looking for anything they might have missed.

After about an hour Alex looked up. "You know Tia, according to this info, the planet is poor in industrial and military resources but it's very rich in gems and it was rich in biological resources. The original colonists apparently wanted to get away from the constant warfare of that time and chose this planet because it had nothing worthwhile for the military interests and appeared to be perfectly suited for an agrarian society."

"Sounds like paradise, except for the slight inconvenience of that nasty parasite from the ort cloud." There was a bit of both regret and sarcasm in her voice.

~ o ~

As Tia eased into a geosynchronous orbit near the ancient colony ship, Alex was studying the displayed images of it as it was now and as it had last appeared to the original rescue mission. "Tia, do you see this? The entire engine structure is missing from that ship."

"I noticed that." Tia responded.

Several indicators on the instrument panel bleeped once, startling Alex. "Tia, what was that?"

"We've just been scanned." She replied.

"Where did it come from?"

"It came from that old relic out there. The scan was very primitive, couldn't have gotten much more than our basic configuration. Apparently that old wreck is getting just enough power from its solar panels for orbit maintenance and planetary observation."

"And to scan us." Alex added. "It's fascinating the odd bits we find left behind by these dead colonies."

Tia consulted the records from the Central Worlds Colonization Service. "There were originally three ships in the fleet that came here. They were already obsolete when they were purchased outright for this last expedition." She continued scanning the surrounding space. "Alex, I found the other two colonization ships close by. They're also missing their engines. They're both totally dead. They don't even have their solar panels."

Alex nodded as he responded. "That would probably explain those extra solar panels I see tacked onto the still active ship." He scratched his head. "So, what happened to those ships engines and who moved the solar panels?"

"I don't know. I've scanned the planet and there are no signs of atomic power. If the engines had somehow been moved to the surface as a source of power, I would have been able to detect them." She sounded puzzled. "Alex, the surface is covered with lush vegetation so there is plenty of life down there, in spite of the incursions of those deadly ort cloud spores."

Alex gave an exasperated sigh. "So what happened here, Tia? There are plenty of signs that extensive technological activity has taken place around those ships, but no indication who could have done it or why." He shook his head. "And no signs of any type of high tech civilization." He studied at the screens for a few minutes then turned towards her central column. "Tia, could it have been …"

"Uh, Alex, I think we have visitors." Tia interrupted with a distinct tone of surprise to her voice.

Alex turned back to face the image that was now displayed on the main view screen and remarked in a startled voice.

"What the . . ."

Continued in Part 2

( rev 130828 )

'The Ship Who Searched' and'The Dragonriders of Pern' and their characters are owned by Anne & Todd McCaffery and Del Ray Books. No infringement on copyrights is intended. (I'm only borrowing the characters and promis not to damage them, too much.) This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be freely used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.