“Atlas, the map maker. The cartographer. Atlas would be an easy name for them to remember you by.”
Something about her tone was different. A weight to her words that had the tall man fidget again. “Them, Monique?” he asked.
“The riders.” Her tone was distant, unfocused. “The riders of Pern.”
Atlas is a tall, broad shouldered man with shoulder length hair that seems to have been bleached blonde by the sun, and a thick, full beard more red and gold. He has clear gray eyes that shift to a molten gold when he feels particularly passionate about a project.
Atlas is big: he fills up a room physically with a strong, commanding presence touched with a little bit of awkwardness in crowded situations. Normally dressed in thick, boldly patterned layers, he would be more at home on a large ship as second man to a captain, or in the woods, living in the wilderness.
There is something a little bit bear-ish about the man, from the way despite his side he seems to be able to sneak up on you, and his slightly awkward grasp at remaining completely human. Shy swears there is no ursine DNA mixed into the equation: but Shy has been quite forgetful of late.
Atlas is quiet, stoic. He barely speaks, and in most occasions, is misunderstood as being a telepath who does not have the ability to communicate with verbal speech. It is not that he doesn’t like to talk- on the rare occasions when he is in a bit of a mood he would spend hours passionately discussing alternate plans and mapping coordinates for parallel universes on one map. It is just that, he does not have an interest in oversharing, and he does not have a high opinion of other people’s intellect.
Atlas is quiet and staunch supporter of Shy and his mission: he believes in his scientist and although he is not usually prone to fits of violence, he can be when it comes to protecting Shy and his interests.
Atlas is socially awkward with other people, even other projects. He does not know how to handle himself in large, crowded gatherings, and can most often be found in his study, looking over his maps and trying to plan the next big adventure.
Atlas is Shy’s cartographer. No one is quite sure how his ability works: they have theorized it combines an eidetic memory with a type of telepathy that has him in tuned with the universe. He has a precise understanding of the Nexus and the different planets in the system, as well as how alternate realities and parallel universes work. Atlas is the reason that Shy and his projects have been able to travel from world to world, without ending up in the wrong time or location.
He has an avid hobbyist passion for Pern: on the side, he delights in tracing out timelines of the multiple realities and alternate versions of the same planet.
It was a party of unexpected proportions at the labs.
Atlas was uncomfortable.
He sat in the corner of the room, nursing a beer- wondering if thirty minutes in the company of his fellow projects was enough time to be considered ‘polite’. It was not that he minded the celebration: this was the first wave of projects to return bonded to dragons. It signified change, the next chapter, and everyone was giddy with excitement.
Everyone except for Atlas.
“Planning your escape already, dear one?”
Sultry tones from a tiny, dusky woman. Atlas looked up and stood up immediately, his shoulders bowed in respect for Monique. The Oracle was dressed in silk robes no doubt stolen from Shy’s own collection- and although she barely made it up to his, there was power and wisdom in her eyes that made him distinctly uncomfortable.
But to be fair, nothing made him very comfortable these days.
“You don’t have to stand for me, map maker.” Amusement in her words. “I am quite fine the way I am”
“It is Atlas”
“A new name then?” she arched a brow. “And what gave rise to the occasion that you decided you needed a real name, map maker?”
Atlas did not know why the Oracle goaded him. She who had power in her words and could predict the future- or create one, if she was so inclined. He shifted back, taking a step away from her until his back touched the wall and there was no room for further escape.
“Atlas, the map maker. The cartographer” Monique’s words was slow, careful. She smiled. “Atlas would be an easy name for them to remember you by.”
Something about her tone was different. A weight to her words that had the tall man fidget again. “Them, Monique?” he asked.
“The riders.” Her tone was distant, unfocused. “The riders of Pern.”
Atlas stiffened at the Oracle’s words. The future then, not just idle conversation. And Pern? The unusual planet that was supposed to be so simple in theory, a straight forward timeline- but with multiple alternate realities built on top of each other until a simple between could rip a rider from their universe and place them in a new one.
“What are you doing here old friend?” a smack on his back and a jovial arm around his shoulder. Atlas did not need to look to recognize the smug tones of the newly returned Search Rider. “Monique, are you scaring my friend again?”
The tiny, golden eyed princess laughed. “Just exchanging small talk, Search Rider.”
Atlas allowed Ishaan to pull him away, going willingly and far from the woman who told secrets with her words. He turned, expression softening at the sheer joy on his friend’s face.
“Welcome home, Sh’an.”
His compatriot’s eyes widened, and he shook his head. “I will not ask how you found out my Pernese name so soon, old friend.” He grinned. “Pederth says hello, he says he enjoys that we are celebrating for his return, but prefers to be in the company of the ladies.” He shook his head. “That blue, from his birth- so attuned to me.”
Atlas smiled. There was something new lighting his friends eyes. Joy, purpose. Sh’an had only recently fallen into his new role and rank as ‘Search Rider’ with no dragon to call his own. Now he was a Search Rider in truth, with a blue Pernese who seemed delighted at being the official Search Dragon for the labs.
Sh’an slapped Atlas on the back again. “You have gone somewhere else again, my friend. Tell me- what is it that had distracted you so?”
Atlas shrugged again, the beer warm and forgotten in his head. He placed it blindly on one of the surfaces, turning instead to his friend.
“How does it feel?”
Sh’an did not have to ask for clarification. His smile faded. “It feels” he said slowly. “As if there was a hole in my heart that I did not know existed, which has suddenly been filled by a friend and a brother who I needed with my whole begin. It is as if I have purpose now, and someone who will be with my always.”
Atlas tilted his head. “Sidhu?”
Sh’an shook his head at the mention of their oldest friend, the dream walker. “Different. Pederth is mine in ways no other person could ever be. He is half of me and I am half of him.” He stopped. “Which does not make sense.”
“It does not.”
Atlas did not know why his somber response had the man toss back his head with laughter.
“It is good to see you my friend. Now come, escape. I know you have been counting down until you can return to your work.” A conspiratorial wink. “I will not tell others.”
Atlas felt tension leech from his shoulders and a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding escape in a rush of air.
He sat behind the large oak desk, feeling calm replace the tension, a sense of righteousness.
Sh’an may have meant it as a joke, but it had been true. Atlas did not feel as home anywhere as he did in his quarters.
Fashioned to look like a larger scale ship captain’s quarters, the tinted windows looked up to the rest of the ship, the current weather one of turbulent storm, thunder and lightning. Atlas did not know who controlled the weather in his windows, but that uncannily, it did seem to reflect his mood.
Thunder and lightning flashing and cracking in the sky. His office a calm oasis amongst the chaos that was the other projects and now, new dragons.
He needed calm. He needed center.
With a feeling of almost childish guilt, he pulled out well worn maps, parchment that curled into round rolls. Four, five, he laid out in front of him, unrolling them and watching as they snapped into place in an invisible grid.
Atlas enjoyed the tactical feeling of paper and parchment. Of quill and ink. Five maps stretched out in front of him, and well worn ink pulsed for a moment before rising into three dimensional shapes, floating above the parchment.
Maps. Maps of a world that was supposed to be easy to navigate and easy to understand. But it wasn’t. Here was the reality where Sh’an had returned from, a Pern attacked by zombies. And there, there was off shoot that had led to the creation of a different world, a different colony. Alskyr.
Atlas did not understand why one planet had so many alternate dimensions, alternate realities.
But he revelled in it.
He opened his journal, a leather bound book that flipped open to a page full of cramped writing.
“Log today’s date” he spoke, and cramped writing appeared on the pages. “Sh’an, previous name Ishaan the search rider has returned from Isla Weyr, set in the alternate Pern coordinators” he rolled out coordinates that clung to his brain. “No changes in that alternate Pern, but new ones appearing in an older Pass. Trajectory” he paused. “Trajectory seven degrees off the existing timeline.”
“Time travel seems to be the cause, a dimensional tear with dragons from the Nexus arriving at’” he knew this Weyr. It was special to him- and to his scientist. “Istabitha’s”
Now. This was interesting.
Shy watched him with amused eyes, a delicate porcelain teacup in his hand. “Istabitha’s, did you say?”
Atlas nodded. “A new change, shifting their timeline. A new clutch on the sands, dragons that had moved on to Alskyr.”
Shy nodded his head, interest a sharp gleam in his eyes. “What happens to their timeline after?”
Atlas hesitated. “It depends.” He said carefully.
“On who impresses.”
“And if the right people impress?”
“The Vella Crean.”
Shock. Clear, clean across Shy’s face. Two words he had not thought to hear from the cartographer- from any other than the eyes and the oracle. “You mean if we send the right people, we might be one step closer to the Vella Crean?” he said slowly.
Atlas nodded. The Vella Crean. Home to the scientist that had been lost in space and time. Atlas had been created after their exclusion from their home planet. He had no association or need to return to a home he had never known. But he was devoted to Shy- and he could see hope in the scientist’s eyes.
“Bring me Monique. Bring me Ishaan.” Shy’s voice shook with excitement. “Bring me Savas.”
Atlas got up. “I will-“
“No, my Atlas.” He crooned. “You will stay. We will need your insight, cartographer.”
Atlas decided at that moment he would never consider a party of unexpected proportions to be uncomfortable.
This. THIS was uncomfortable.
Monique, the golden eyed princess who words warned of the future.
Savas, an even more androgynous version of Shy who heard whispers in the air.
And Sh’an, the Search Rider who could uncannily pair projects and people with the exact right clutch.
He did not belong in this room with the heavyweights. He did not belong with these eyes that watched him with avid interest.
“Tell me map maker.” Monique purred. “Do you keep tabs on Istabitha for the scientist?”
“Do you not know, Oracle?” a cultured croon. “Our map maker has an unusual interest in this Pern.”
“Oh?” an arching note that was held in the air. “What sort of fantasies do you have about this world, that even Savas would consider it unusual?”
Atlas could feel a blush creep up his neck, blaze across his face. He was glad now, that the beard hid half of his face.
“There is nothing unusual about it, Savas, Monique.” Sh’an cut in. “Pern is the birthplace of the Vella Crean, Shy’s home. Our home. That one planet has duplicated and has branched off so many alternate realities, only with Atlas’ help have we managed to keep track of all the timelines.”
“Precisely so. And it seems, there will be a special clutch at Istabitha’s that I need to direct the right candidate to.”
“Lineage.’ Savas whispered, the word escaping in more of a hiss. “You need a candidate with lineage. To her.”
Shy’s hands stilled, his shoulders stiffened.
“Created, from your hands. Your memories. Your emotions.” Monique intoned. “They will represent her lineage, but your joint history. You need to take care, scientist. She can be the key to getting you home: or she will have the one you seek turn against you forever.”
Atlas fidgeted in his seat. This careless talk of creating people, of creating projects: he did not enjoy this. Atlas knew he was a project- he had been created in labs, and only Shy knew his true origins. But to hear of it talked so lightly, as if they were mere toys.
Atlas fidgeted in his seat, and he did not enjoy a second of it.
Shy looked up. “Thank you, Atlas.” He said, and for a moment, Atlas felt a rush of relief. The scientist had realized his discomfort. “I will call on you again, later. We will need to fill her mind with knowledge on Pern.”
He nodded his head, rushing to his feet. Something knocked against his boot and he looked down to find Sh’an tapping his boot with his own.
‘Later’ the Search Rider mouthed.
Atlas nodded his head, and excused himself.
“A reward?” Atlas did not know what to think of the little pigeon that stood in front of him, shifting from foot to food. It bobbed its head in response. “Like what?”
“Anything you desire, cartographer.” The humanoid being chirped. “The master says you have granted him the next step to re-enter the Vella Crean. He will grant you a reward. Whatever you desire.”
Atlas looked down at the maps in front of him. An idea slowly curling through his head. “Tell your master.” He said slowly. “Our master.” He amended. “I would like to go on vacation.”
“Vacation, cartographer?” The pigeon flared their wings in confusion. “To where?”
“Pern.” He looked down at the maps.
If this girl was going to be the answer to finding the Vella Crean, if she was going to reside on Pern- Atlas needed more knowledge. He had a curiosity about the planet with multiple planes and realities that he wanted answers to, and most of all… he just wanted to experience it himself.
“Good decision, my friend!”
Atlas started. He had not heard the Search Rider enter his office, had not expected the man to track him down so soon. Sh’an rubbed his hands with glee as he strode forwards.
“I had a feeling,” his tone was smug. “I had a feeling and it kept growing, and now I have a knowing. I know exactly where you need to go, friend. And I will take you there myself.”
“A candidate from where?” A’ra frowned as he watched the blue dragon landed in the Weyrbowl, two somewhat burly figures descending from the back of the dragon.
“He said Istabitha’s, a Weyr on Pern.” The rider shrugged. “Introduced himself as a Search Rider.”
“Then why is he bringing us a candidate?”
Something was… not quite right about the men, the one who seemed to overshadow the other and stand with a slight awkwardness to his footing.
“Said he was meant for her, A’ra.” The rider hestated. “You can, you can ask him yourself?”
A’ra frowned, nodding his head he strode towards the new visitors. Darkling Dawn existed in his own area between dimensions: they were not ‘Of Pern’, not in the traditional sense any more. These two, they looked like men dressed from Pern, but something about the way the light hit their eyes, a slight metallic sheen to the irises- A’ra would bet the hide off a dragon’s back that they were as Pernese as Rahel.
“Greetings, Weyrleader!” it was the shorter one, that greeted him first, arm extended and a smile creasing his cheeks. “Sh’an and Pederth, Istabitha’s.”
A’ra nodded, clasping the other man’s hand in his own. “You must be the candidate?” he asked, doubtful. The man looked old- definitely past his mid twenties. Maybe that was why he had been brought here: this man would be too old to be an official candidate on Pern.
The burly man with a red beard hesitated, nodded his head. “Yes, sir.” His tone was quiet, formal, and A’ra relaxed a little bit.
Despite his large stature, he seemed harmless, really.
“Atlas, candidate from Istabitha’s.” Sh’an proclaimed. “A candidate, but a scholar also- he has… a passion, for collecting stories and traditions of Weyrs.” A small twinkle to his smile. “And we thought this might be a good location. For proximity’s sake, of course.”
A’ra realized that this Search Rider knew Darkling Dawn was different: unique. And something about this was precisely why he wanted this candidate to stand here. A’ra nodded his head. “We will need to verify his candidacy with our own search riders, of course.”
“Of course.” Sh’an murmured.
A’ra turned. “Then welcome, candidate Atlas. Welcome to Darkling Dawn.”
“Why did you tell him we were from Istabitha’s?”
“We will be heading there after the hatching, so it’s not too much of a lie.” Sh’ans gaze was innocent.
“Going somewhere is not the same thing as saying you are _from_ a place.” Atlas said with exasperation.
Sh’an grinned. “See, you suit it here already. Look how verbous you have gotten.”
Atlas scowled, which only caused Sh’an to laugh.
“This is a good location, Atlas. I have a knowing about this place and you, we need to wait it out. For a clutch or two at least.” His eyes gleamed, flashing molten gold. “It is at the crossroads of Pern, which means traveling to and from the different Pernese realities will be easier, than from the labs. I will be here to fetch you, and take you where you need to go for observation. In the future.” He shrugged. “You may be able to do it yourself. Didn’t you want a vacation?”
Atlas gestured around him. “Candidacy? Dragons? This is not a vacation.”
“No, my friend. This is exactly a vacation. Enjoy yourself. Learn of Pern and dragons and riders from more than behind your screens and your office. Live it, and then.” He grinned. “I will be. Back.”
Taken from Darkling Dawn’s Hatching
She wasn’t alone on the sands for long, because the other eggs finally broke apart entirely, with a brown claw and muzzle breaking through one crack, and another kicked open by the back legs of its white inhabitant. The brown soon showed his own two-toned coloring, though his wings were a flat, matte black rather than his sister’s showy rainbow, and their other sibling’s hide rippled with the pseudo-iridescent sheen typical of Pernese whites.
The green-rainbow did not seem displeased at the attention. In fact, she seemed to preen as she prowled towards the candidates, a vicious glint in her eye. Innocently curious, the brown-black trailed after her, humming in a friendly manner. The dragoness snorted and reached out a claw–to trip him? Shove him aside until she’d Impressed? Whatever her intention, she didn’t even have a chance to touch him before a snarling ball of white slipped between them. The white hatchling stood with spread wings as if trying to make herself look larger as she stood protectively in front of the brown-black, hissing at her sister.
The white hatchling didn’t relax until Akheth was off the sands with her rider. Finally, the brown-black crooned and nuzzled her encouragingly, and they both approached the candidates. The white Impressed first. Merina! Sorry I couldn’t go to you earlier, but I had to protect Hereth! You understand that, right? Oh, and I’m Verinath!
Hereth seemed more amused at Verinath’s protectiveness than anything, and he looked at Atlas fondly. The places in your head are so interesting! I’d love to learn more about them, the brown-black told his new rider as they walked to the feeding station.
Atlas’ Brown-Black Hereth
Friendly, curious, loves learning for the sake of learning