Last time, dragons finished helping get refugees settled and surveying the damage caused by the tsunami. F’lessan opened his home to several riders and their dragons who are displaced from Monaco Bay Weyr. And now comes the part where everyone has to rebuild.
The Skies of Pern: Part 3: Segments I, II, III, IV, : Content Notes: Rape, PTSD,
F’lessan wakes up to a request from Ramoth to return to Benden, and after a quick shower (!), he heads to grab klah and stumbles into Mirrim dressing Tai down for having gone to get the pelts instead of saving humans during the evacuation. Tai fiercely protests, saying that if she went back for something, it would have been books and notes, and Golanth provides witness that Zaranth was never away from him during the rescue. Mirrim is undeterred, though, but F’lessan tells Mirrim to leave off, and then “took a menacing step toward Mirrim who unexpectedly gave ground.”
Let’s think about that for a moment. F’lessan is currently host to Mirrim and is now threatening physical violence toward her. Mirrim is already upset about what she perceives to be a lack of duty. So the fact that he’s a bronze rider probably means that if he attacks her, everyone will assume she deserved it, and because it’s Mirrim, they will probably believe it doubly so, since the opinion was that T’gellan tamed Mirrim to something more like what they expect a woman to be. The whole thing is very much resting on the threat of violence in so many different ways and exposes how terrible dragonrider society still is. I also wonder if that menacing gesture might be a trigger for Mirrim, from her time before Impression, and possibly even some afterward. Tai pointed out that green riders are often seen as targets by bronze riders. Before T’gellan, Mirrim might have been in Tai’s boat.
A large part of the next bits of the narrative is F’lessan having to explain that dragons could not avert the comet strike, that Thread still falls because the Red Star dragged it along with it, and how waves could cause such destruction. It still hasn’t been explained to our satisfaction why they can’t stop the comet strike.
After having to do all that explaining, F’lessan is determined to figure out how dragonriders can stay in the business of planetary protection in the After. He thinks a lot of that will have to do with getting a clearer picture of objects in the skies of Pern and resurrecting the old telescopes and possibly learning how to send up a satellite array so that ships can have a better picture of their cosmic neighborhood. And then schemes how to get the necessary components and expertise to build a computer that will run the Honshu telescope.
The narrative then switches to Circle Runner Station, 1.18.31, where two late arriving guests get to hear the story of the big celestial object that left a giant crater when it impacted a very long time ago. The not-accented strangers spin out rumors about relationships between then and now, and talk disparagingly of the AI and what a terrible deed it was to alter the traditions and the Red Star. Which puts the runner that greeted them at unease enough that he sends them on to bed and then places them as the people that waylaid a Runner on the trace and asked them to deliver something (which they paid proper price for), rather than coming to a station and having it correctly logged in.
The narrative bounces to the Harper Hall, where Pinch has been trying to track some material shipments and listen in on specific conversations, but since nobody has a fire-lizard (“which proved that fire-lizards wouldn’t come to just anyone who fed them”, according to Pinch, so that’s why they’re not the universal carriers, I guess) and Pinch can’t get close enough to eavesdrop without being noticed, there’s not much to report.
Sebell is up to his ears in petitions, and the narrative would like us to believe the following has always been part of Oceania, err, Pern:
Traditionally, all petitions presented at Turnover were forwarded to the Harper Hall and read by a special group of journeymen and masters who determined which were urgent enough to be submitted to the Council at Telgar on the first of the Third month. Some of the petitions should have been handled at the Hold level. However, if there were sufficient complaints brought against major or minor Holders, the Council was the best place to decide if the matter should be investigated further. Pinch was often assigned to get specific information.
Because the Harpers have always been advocates for the petitions of the least powerful to the most powerful. It’s why they spend so much time talking about those small people to everyone that will listen and visibly taking the side of the oppressed against their oppressors.
Pinch and Sebell talk about the people Pinch sketched in an earlier segment. The woman (later identified as Fourth) apparently washed out of Healer training, then petitioned to receive her Hold as the eldest. Since the father explicitly said she was to get nothing, that went nowhere. The others aren’t yet recognizable. Pinch mentions the Runner network is still receiving requests and payments to disseminate Luddite propaganda, points out with a little glee that the only windows that shattered from the shock wave of the impact were Norist-cast (Morilton’s new glass survived just fine), and would like to know if the original exiles were killed in the tsunami flood. Sebell nocomments. (Also, older glass is more brittle and more easily shattered.)
Pinch is dismissive of Fourth’s reasoning for being in the group.
“She wants to lead and she hasn’t hit the personality for it. She’s too concerned about doing things the old way, the right way, the way she was taught that ought to be the way everyone does it.” Pinch paused. “Too hidebound to know the color of her own pelt.”
None of the other characters get nearly as strong a dressing-down as that.
Sebell finds it more than a bit funny that the technological faction is developing and using ever-greater amounts of tech to try and keep out the anti-tech factions, and Pinch lays in with his own thoughts about what the Ancients wanted.
“I’ve read enough in Aivas’s historical files to feel that Pern will never be in danger of becoming over-technical. Takes too long to develop the skills needed, except in special instances like the digital locks, and we certainly don’t have the production systems the Ancients had. As a population, we have been conditioned to this slower, more methodical rhythm of living and only a very small portion will ever feel the urge to aspire to Aivasian heights.”
Says the person who did not study the period of industrialization that happened on Terra not too soon after several of the recreated technologies of Pern came into being. And that was without any external faction or planet-destroying force in existence.
Further discussions have to wait, including the question of “what do dragonriders do when things fall from the sky?” that seems to be on everyone’s mind, by the appearance of Robse. And the narrative flutters away to Benden Weyr, where unexpected guests are arriving.
It’s M’ran and Pilgra, Weyrleaders of High Reaches, come to talk that they are ready for retirement, and want to soothe any lingering doubts about “deserting” by talking to and getting assurance from the Benden Weyrleaders. G’dened is still hanging on at Ista, convinced there will be a Tenth Pass all the same, but these two are ready to retire. They’ve marked out where they want to live out their lives, so the Benden Weyrleader pulls out registration documents and starts filling out a deed for them to have as their proof of ownership. A few witness signatures later, and it’s all done, with a side remark about how reading and understanding the Charter is so important, because it sets forth the terms that someone needs to move themselves and establish a new hall or hold.
I might take a small moment to chuckle about how literacy has now apparently become such an important thing, after all that time Clisser spent trying to distill knowledge down into the most basic that can be learned in song.
Anyway, the matter continues with the Benden Weyrleaders deciding to accompany the retiring leaders to help them settle in and to smooth over any issues that might appear with their retirement. First, to High Reaches, to announce and pack, and there wouldn’t be anything interesting here, except that the perversity of the narrative manages to shine through, even in the mundane.
Yasith’s rider was Neldama, weyrborn in High Reaches twenty-five Turns before, and twelve Turns younger than the oldest of the queenriders. So she was of this Pass, which, in Lessa’s estimation, meant fewer problems. Not exactly a pretty girl–attractive enough to rate a long look from [the Benden Weyrleader]–with green eyes that looked right at a speaker and a considerate, sensible manner as she set about collecting the items that Pilgra said she’d wanted to pack.
Tell me again why the attractiveness of the queen rider has anything to do with her ability to run the Weyr. It seems very much like all of the characters in these stories judge someone else based on their attractiveness as much as their competence, and that’s a terrible idea.
Back to F’lessan and Tai, 1.20.31, where F’lessan is grousing about everyone asking what the dragonriders are going to do to prevent the next celestial object from falling on them. He’s also planting saplings sent by Paradise River to help restart the ecosystem at this particular hold (and, incidentally, helping shield against the next giant water wave or the soil being spirited away).
Planting was not work most riders would volunteer to do but, when F’lessan saw Tai’s was the only name on that list, he added his. He had done very well getting on work teams with Tai, mostly jobs as backbreaking and thankless as this, waiting until he saw where she was going to spend her spare hours before he signed up.
So, F’lessan, how do you think Tai is going to react to the fact that you’re stalking her. Not that the narrative believes anything of the sort.
She was willing enough–even eager–to discuss their mutual interest in astronomy. They were sometimes the only dragonriders on such sites. She seemed to know many of the more isolated cot holders and was welcomed warmly. The two dragonriders had been shown where to find tools, where fresh water could now be obtained, and what was available for their lunch.
I’m going to read Tai’s eagerness to talk about astronomy as deflection so that F’lessan doesn’t get onto other topics that Tai will definitely not want to talk about with her Stalker With A Crush. And that they’re the only dragonriders around means that F’lessan could probably get away with anything he wanted, and Tai’s account would be dismissed, both because “wimmins, amirite?” and because “she’s a green rider, she wanted it.”
The work is exhausting, and F’lessan remarks that he enjoys restoring things in one of their breaks in the planting, which gets them on the subject of Honshu, and the binoculars that F’lessan has been letting Tai borrow and use at night. Tai finally asks to see the observatory, and F’lessan promises to take her there when they’re both not flat exhausted from work. He also notes that their dragons are close enough to be touching (which is apparently odd).
He’d had a few ideas of his own but with a personality as reserved as Tai’s, he deliberately kept his manner as casual as possible.
[…astronomy helps keep tensions low and make Tai feel like she’s contributing…]
Today, certainly tomorrow, the very last displaced riders would be gone to new quarters. As far as he knew, Tai had not found any. She might have, when he was at Benden; he hadn’t wanted to appear to be keeping a watch on her. And Zaranth.
They share a space, he signs up to go where she is after she chooses, he teases her about her observations, but he doesn’t want to give off the impression that he’s keeping tabs on her, so he doesn’t ask what she does when he’s gone to Benden. Yeah, still totally not stalking her. [/sarcasm]
There’s also a segment which introduces some amount of chicken-and-egg to the situation. It would be nice if we had studies and science at work as to how much dragons and riders influence each other, and whether strength of emotion is strength of influence as well.
F’lessan did not add that Golanth was showing more and more of a proprietary interest in the green’s well-being, one of the subtler reasons why he was glad Tai preferred to work away from the other dragonriders. He wasn’t ready for others to notice the growing relationship between Golanth and Zaranth.
At what point did F’lessan’s interest in Tai become Golanth’s interest in Zaranth, and did that feed back into F’lessan becoming a stalker of Tai? Are they both mutually reinforcing each other, even as they disclaim they’re doing it? It would be nice to know, but that kind of worldbuilding has always been in short supply.
F’lessan and Tai unearth trundlebugs, which gives Tai an opportunity to demonstrate how Zaranth telekinetically moves them away from her nose. Once they finish planting, Tai goes to take a shower, asks F’lessan to find her towel and clothes (he does), then strips off his own clothes while he waits for her to get done.
Riders were not as bothered by nudity as holders or crafthall folk so he stripped down, glad to be out of the sweaty, dirty shorts. As she emerged, she toweling her body dry, she gave him a fleeting glimpse. He stepped courteously past her, into the shower, and looked around for sweetsand.
This is much more in line with what I would expect between dragonriders. It could be reconciled with the earlier not-looking, but it would take some doing.
Also, F’lessan has noticed, and continues to notice, that Zaranth is definitely displaying the coloration signs that she’s about to want to mate. F’lessan has even asked Tai about Zaranth’s color directly, and Tai shrugged and said nothing was weird. This makes F’lessan very nervous and suspicious, and while Golanth is more than ready to go, F’lessan makes Tai look again and see what has been plain to him.
Tai does not take this well.
Tai gasped, eyes widening with an expression of such fear and intense loathing that F’lessan wondered just what had happened during Zaranth’s other mating flights.
[…F’lessan runs back through what he knows of green flights and remembers that green riders eventually choose a mate…]
“Tai, did you never choose?” he cried, outraged for her as he started to close the distance between [them.] And halted. He mustn’t crowd her. The others had. How much time could he give her? How could he soothe her?
She was trembling violently, her eyes wide–not in an answer to her dragon’s sensuality, but in sheer terror. She seemed to draw into herself, denying what was about to happen. Crossing her arms in a defensive position! Shards! Had previous riders raped her as their dragons twined?
I’m kind of shocked F’lessan knows the word and can apply it properly in this situation. I also think this might be the first time that mating flights aren’t being portrayed as a universal good.
Also, Tai is very much displaying the signs that this is going to be mentally perilous for her. I suspect she being triggered by it, and that explains why she isn’t up to admitting what’s about to happen.
“They were all the same,” she muttered. “There’s no escape from them. From their…” She swallowed, trying to lick dry lips, white-faced with revulsion: her green eyes stark.
“Tai, were you forced?” With those words Tai shot F’lessan a look of such fear laced with guilt that he felt his belly fall flat. “You didn’t choose?” He spoke very gently, appalled. This should be the most wonderful experience: a doubled ecstasy as both dragon and rider exalted in the union. He thought he’d made it so fit those he’d partnered. The queen riders had always known: they had chosen him. With the state she was in, there was no way Tai had ever chosen. “It shouldn’t be a violation. It should be a celebration for you and your dragon. The most glorious union!”
“Union?” She snarled the word, the panic in her eyes telling him that mating had been far from that.
How many times had Zaranth mated? How many times had she been…he struggled to find the appropriate word…violated? He knew hold and hall girls often were; it was one reason so many sought sanctuary in a Weyr.
The word, F’lessan, is rape. You yourself used it, and “violation” not a few paragraphs before. (I’m chalking it up to a mistake in editing and proofing – it can be easy to forget that you moved an earlier segment later and to not have someone catch it.)
I also really like the way that F’lessan’s illusions about mating (because he’s a bronze rider) are being shredded by having to confront the reality that is Tai’s experiences as a green rider. We can call it good characterization that F’lessan’s privileged upbringing is making it difficult for him to understand this, despite having example after example coming to the Weyr for sanctuary from the same treatment in their holds and crafthalls. F’lessan says he’ll have some “well-chosen” words with Mirrim after this, still demonstrating his lack of understanding. It’s likely Mirrim has suffered the same kind of fate repeatedly, and probably worse from those who thought it a perfect opportunity to put her in her place.
It almost sounds like the author is ready to confront the idea that dragon mating is not all good and give it the hard, serious look it deserves.
Because F’lessan never considers the course of action to get away from Zaranth once he realizes what is happening. When Zaranth launches and Golanth pursues, F’lessan doesn’t consider the idea of going away and leaving Tai alone.
Tai screamed in anguish, reaching out futilely as if she could have stopped her green.
“Tai, listen to me,” he said, keeping his voice light. “Let me explain how it should be.” Carefully, slowly, he held out one hand but she backed away along the terrace, eyeing his hand as if even his touch would sully her. She cowered away, her green eyes frantic.
“Oh, Tai, my friend, if I could, I’d stop Golanth,” […and F’lessan curses himself for not recognizing her reticence as trauma instead of shyness…] “I can’t, not now when Zaranth wants him so badly.”
“How can she want him? I don’t want you! Not that way!”
[…F’lessan continues to try and convince Tai that Zaranth does want Golanth, and to reach her before the gestalt takes over…]
If he couldn’t reach her, she’d never realize that it needn’t be rape. He knew he could control his human self, no matter how much he might want to revel in orgasm with Golanth.
Cocowhat by depizan
You do not have a magical healing cock, F’lessan.
(Of course he does. We know that. But still.)
And furthermore, if you can control yourself in such a way, then the best thing for you to do is go somewhere else and masturbate to your heart’s content. Tai is not giving you consent, and is not in a mental state where she can give you consent. There is no reason for you to be anywhere close to her.
And yet, F’lessan pleads with Tai to choose him as a mate. And chooses to believe that when she reaches out, that it’s a sign that she has chosen him, even though he asks “Was there enough of the human there to have made a choice?”
He guides her away from the danger of falling off a terrace and gets her inside before she fully gets into the gestalt. All the while, he’s murmuring about how glad he is that she chose him as a lover (NO, SHE DID NOT) and giving her kisses and gentle touches for as long as he can stay human before his own gestalt takes over.
Then the narrative switches to F’lessan-Golanth and it reads a lot like a skeevy popular guy stalking the girl he wants, thinking she’s a lot more sexual and open to him, unlike those stuck-up gold dragons. It’s a really good example of what life looks like through a rape culture lens. Not that any of that was what the author intended. But it does skirt having to put on screen what the nonconsensual sex between F’lessan and Tai was like by focusing on the maybe-consensual sex between the dragons.
And then, now that it’s done, and it’s been done properly, Tai is totally in agreement that she chose him, and that it was much better than anything else she had experienced, and she stops F’lessan from going on a rant about how she shouldn’t have been treated that way, and I’m going to take this romance trope out back, cut off its head, stake its heart, and then bury it in a very deep hole.
F’lessan blames Mirrim for prejudicing Tai against him by telling her about his reputation, and Tai defends her by saying that Mirrim told her about needing to choose, just that she didn’t want any of the available suitors. Which is a thing, F’lessan, and totally believe that Mirrim would be supportive of the idea of “none of the above,” even if none of the other riders there wanted it.
Tai also picks up that F’lessan has a temper, and while he downplays it as being mad on her behalf, it’s something that she is likely to keep in mind. Because it’s not that far of a stretch from being mad on someone’s behalf to being mad at them.
The afterglow of it all winds the segment down, and I think, after that instance, we can stop with the narrative. I’m still seeing red about how this whole sequence went, how it could have been so much more, but instead turned into a story about how you can make someone fall in love with you if you ignore their trauma and have nonconsensual sex with them.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least on Pern.